by Michela Beatrice Ferri (Ph.D. Philosophy, 2012, State University of Milan, Italy)
Giuseppe Antonio Borgese was born in Polizzi Generosa, Palermo, on November 12, 1882 and died on December 4, 1952. He was initially drawn to the school of philosophical idealism headed by Benedetto Croce. After receiving a master’s degree, in 1903, and the publication of his thesis, he was the first Italian professor to earn a chair in German Literature at the age of 27 years old. He first taught at the University of Turin and then moved to Milan, where he was the first professor to teach Aesthetics. He taught his last class in Milan during the academic year 1930-31 before leaving for the United States.
Borgese rejected both socialism and fascism, and he decided to quit his job and, thus, his career. After refusing to take the oath of loyalty that the Fascist regime required of all university professors, he left his homeland. His self-imposed exile started July 1931. Once he arrived in the U.S., Borgese taught at the New School for Social Research, and he was visiting professor of Aesthetics at the University of California, Berkeley. He also taught at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and, from 1936 until 1948, at the University of Chicago. In 1936, Borgese published Atlante Americano. Written in Italian, this book is a diary in which he describes his first encounter with the city of New York – and New York remains the protagonist of this book – and then with Chicago, Washington, and California State. His most important work, however, was Goliath: The March of Fascism, published first in English in 1937 and then translated into Italian in 1946. Borgese described fascism as a cultural malady that afflicted the bourgeoisie class of Italian society.
During his stay in the U.S., he wrote for the journal Social Research and his first essay published in English, “The Intellectual Origins of Fascism” (1934), was a part of concerted effort by many Graduate Faculty members to understand the causes of the rise of fascism in Europe. He obtained American citizenship in 1938. Together with Gaetano Salvemini and others the founded the Mazzini Society in 1939, a political anti- fascist, democratic-republican society, created by Italian-American immigrants. Other important members included Max Ascoli, a colleague of Borgese’s at the New School, Lionello Venturi, Michele Cantarella, Renato Poggioli, and Carlo Tresca.