Stefania Ragaù, review of “La contemporaneità del passato. Studi in onore di Renato Moro”

Donatello Aramini, Giovanni M. Ceci, Laura Ciglioni, Maurizio Zinni, eds. La contemporaneità del passato. Studi in onore di Renato Moro. Roma: Carocci editore, 2021. 399 PP. Cloth € 44.00. ISBN 9788829013234.

La contemporaneità del passato

«La contemporaneità del passato» [The Contemporaneity of the Past] is a collective volume dedicated to the Italian Professor Renato Moro by his students and colleagues. The book title should not deceive. Even if it sounds Deleuzian, the title likely aims to refer to a specific idea of making history where history is conceived as going beyond the simple coupling of the words “implied praxis.”[1] “What is history?,” wondered Benedetto Croce. “It is the contemporary thought of the past,” he replied quickly. Such a quotation is pretty common within the writings of George L. Mosse. Indeed, within the title and the notion of making history, we find right away the allusion to Mosse, who was a source of inspiration for Moro. In this way, beginning already with the cover the editors intended to commemorate the connection between the two scholars. Moro himself has frequently acknowledged his debt to Mosse’s studies since he was a young PhD student of Renzo De Felice. As Moro has in fact commented, he always “turned to Mosse’s work as a constant source of comparison, inspiration and reflection.”[2]

The seventeen contributions in the book roughly follow the evolution of Moro’s historical research, beginning with political religions, and then considers the troubled confrontation with the processes of secularization, on to the question of antisemitism, and then to the history of non-violence and peace movements. In this sense, the chapters offer a general overview on the key themes of Moro’s academic oeuvre and, at the same time, provide a look at the new directions that have emerged. It is no coincidence that the editors are all his former students. As Luciano Zani so well summarizes, this volume queries different territories of investigation and research that have a common, rigorously documented, and anti-ideological inspiration (93).

As the editors explain in their brief introduction, the book is divided into two main sections (8). The first nine essays address general reflections on the relationship between religion and politics in the contemporary age, the process of the sacralization of politics, the question of political leadership up to the key figure of Aldo Moro, and the history of the Italian Christian Democracy Party (DC). The three initial contributions of Francesco Traniello, Stanley G. Payne, and Daniele Menozzi immediately help to establish the perimeter within which the subsequent articles will be developed. This field concerns the role of politics – particularly the DC Party – and the political role of Catholicism in light of the modernization processes during the twentieth century.

In the first part, Mario Toscano’s contribution considers how new research on antisemitism, racism, and the Shoah represented for Moro a moment requiring further investigation. Over time, these topics “became a crossroads through which Moro deepened his reflection on the Church and Catholicism, especially in Italy” (81). Guido Formigoni’s essay helps to situate Moro’s work within the long historiographical tradition of the DC (69). Luciano Zani’s article examines the theme of war as an experience of violence and death through the figure of Felice Guarneri (1882-1955) in order to analyze how combat experience penetrates consciences and is preserved over time (96). Zani’s chapter is useful in identifying the other central line of research that explores the history of pacifism and non-violent movements in depth, as the following contribution of Stefania Bartoloni demonstrates. Bartolini’s chapter, in fact, deals with Irma Melany Scodnik (1847-1924), who was a feminist committed to battles for women’s rights and “a leading figure in the Italian pro-peace movement, with positions at the international level as well” (105).[3]

The second part of the volume includes the remaining eight chronological contributions and represents the most interesting part of the book. Indeed, the second section offers an overview on the most recent studies that Renato Moro’s students developed by treasuring his teachings. In this sense, the contributors do not simply survey and evaluate Moro’s work, but also testify how these lines of research have been further developed by a new generation of scholars.

What immediately emerges is the predominance of interest in the history of Christian Democracy in Italy. Indeed, half of the chapters in this section are devoted to the history of the DC political party both in Italy and beyond. Maurizio Zinni’s contribution reflects on the issue of “Catholic culture.” According to Zinni, focusing on “Catholic culture” helps historians to recognize the inner evolution of the DC, both structural and ideal (157).

Then, the two following chapters by Paolo Acanfora and Andrea Argenio analyze DC political relations outside of Italy. While Argenio’s contribution concerns the affiliation between the DC and Charles De Gaulle, Acanfora reflects on the role that the Christian-inspired parties have played “in the unification process and in European institutions.” He states that Pro-Europeanism definitely “has been one of the basic elements of Democratic-Christian ideology and propaganda” (164). But this ideology has limits; Aconfora concludes by arguing that a failure to promote a concrete idea of a European homeland, especially due to the divergences within the various delegations from Christian-inspired parties, restricted European unification (185).

Giovanni M. Ceci’s article is the last one dedicated to the DC Party. Portions of a larger project, his dense contribution aims to reconstruct the reactions of the Christian Democrat ruling class to the possible consequences of the end of communism and the Cold War on the national political system (230). He argues that mixed feelings and positions emerged among DC leaders following the fall of the Berlin Wall. If Flaminio Piccoli (1915-2000) claimed that an “immense light” had “opened in our favor,” other proponents were more cautious due to the future instabilities, high tensions, and potential risks that such policy changes would have induced (233).

Two other chapters by Leopoldo Nuti and Laura Ciglioni focus on the historiography of peace and anti-nuclear movements. Here, the underlying debt of Moro’s research led not to Mosse’s work as to that of another University of Wisconsin-Madison historian, Merle Curti (1897-1997), who helped found peace and conflict studies as a field of research in its own right. Along this line, Leopoldo Nuti retrieves his own previous research on the nuclear debate in Italy and the Euromissiles Crisis. Following Renato Moro’s writings on the topic, his contribution concentrates on the mass mobilization against nuclear weapons which represented an extraordinary moment in Italian history. Although the anti-nuclear movement did not achieve its desired results, according to Nuti, similar forces played a more prominent role later, especially in the crisis of the early Italian republic (227).

Laura Ciglioni’s article deals instead with the development of the peace movement in relation to the outbreak of the Gulf War (1990-1991). Italian public opinion at the time was against military action and sending Italian armed forces to the Gulf. Indeed, a heterogeneous pacifist front mobilized in Italy and attempted to oppose armed intervention, strongly contesting the nature of the ongoing military action (288). According to Ciglioni, the Gulf War thereby represented for the development of peace movements a pivotal moment in a difficult transitional period between the Cold War and the post-1989 world (319).

With his chapter, Donatello Aramini continues the discussion of antisemitism, racism, and the Shoah which De Felice had begun and Moro later continued. Indeed, this study focuses on the relevant document Noi ricordiamo [We remember] which was released in March 1998 and prepared by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism. As Aramini recalls, this declaration was part of the long journey that John Paul II had undertaken in pursuit of a “purification of memory” and “recognition of the culpability of Christians in view of the Jubilee” (337). After analyzing the text and reconstructing the debate that followed, Aramini concludes that the document displeased everyone to some extent (364). Aramini also notes that ambiguities present in Noi ricordiamo were the product of the Church’s religious and political goal of avoiding new rifts within its own already-divided community (367). Finally, the last contribution by Anna Scarantino deals with the school reforms in Italy in recent decades. Her chapter concentrates on the role of public schools in developing a sense of active citizenship in young students, especially referring to the issue of the civic education (378). While Scarantino’s topic is interesting, it turns out to be isolated from the other main themes of the volume.

La contemporaneità del passato offers many interesting insights, but is most unified around the political history of Christian Democracy. In this perspective, it might be useful to recall that Moro’s early research focused on the cultural origins of Christian Democracy. It is therefore no coincidence that most of his former students pursued this route. Besides this emphasis, there are two other notable limitations of the volume: the first concerns the structure. It would have been better if the editors made a precise choice in the division of the chapters. For example, organizing the contributions by identifying three or four main themes would have certainly helped the reader, and have better highlighted Renato Moro’s main topics of research. In connection with this point, the other limitation regards the introduction. It would have been useful to offer the reader a more structured foreword in order to guide them through the book’s many contributions and sections.

Even so, La contemporaneità del passato sets out Renato Moro’s relevant contribution to Italian historiography. It covers several territories of inquiry and research, all of them rigorously well-documented. In doing this, it succeeds in its task, offering both scholars and generally interested readers an excellent tool for analyzing and exploring the core issues of Renato Moro’s historiographical research.

In this sense, it is sure to be inspirational reading for many.


[1] I refer to Deleuze’s first paradox of time according to which ”no present would ever pass were it not past ‘at the same time’ as it is present.” See: G. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, Continuum, New York, 2004, p.103.
[2] See: Renato Moro, George Mosse, historian of Modern Irrationalism link:
[3] For insights on Irma Melany Scodnik, see: S. Bartoloni, Scodnik Irma Melany, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, v. 91, Roma 2018. Online:


Stefania RagaùStefania Ragaù earned her PhD in contemporary history at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa with a work on the flowering of Jewish utopian novels in relation to the emergence of Zionism. In her challenging studies on Jewish utopias, she deals with the secularization of Jewish thought between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, analyzing the influence of a modern messianism through which Jewish nationalism configured itself as a secular religion. These projects led Ragaù to Mosse’s works. She is currently developing her studies along two further lines of research, which is related to the encounter between the European philosophy of history and Jewish thought: one line is the Jewish utopian imagination beyond Zionism, while the other is the historical reconstruction of the Nationalhumanismus, a concept which seems to have been created by Max Brod and Felix Weltsch in the so-called “enge Prager Kreis”. Finally, she is currently drafting her first monograph on the Jewish utopian novels before Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland (1902).

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