Narrator: Renato Moro
Interviewer: John Tortorice
Date: 27 March 2018
Transcribed by: Teresa Bergen
Total Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Renato Moro biography:
Renato Moro is a Full Professor of Contemporary History at Roma Tre University. At Roma Tre, Prof. Moro has been Vice-Rector for Research from 2004 to 2008 and Director of the PhD. Program in Political Studies. He is now a member of the Ethical Board of the University. Since 2005 he has been co-editor of the quarterly journal Mondo contemporaneo. Rivista di storia.
His studies concern the relationship between politics and religion in 20th Century history:
- Catholic political culture
- The relationship between Italian (and international) Catholicism and Fascism
- Catholic anti-Semitism and anti-Protestantism
- The history of peace and anti-nuclear movements
Since 2018 he has been President of CIVITAS – Forum of Archives and Research on Christian Democracy, and since 2016 President of the National Edition of Aldo Moro’s Works established by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Endowment.
Prof. Moro also participates in the Scientific Board of the journals Hispania, Historia y Política, Modernism/Modernismo and Franquisme & Transició, in the Scientific Board for the Italian Museum of the Shoah, the Scientific Board of the Fondazione FUCI and Edizioni Studium (Rome).
Professor Moro is the author, editor and co-editor of several books including La formazione della classe dirigente cattolica (1979), G. Bottai–G. De Luca, Carteggio 1940-1957 (1989); Renzo De Felice. Studi e testimonianze (2002); La Chiesa e lo sterminio degli ebrei (2002; sp. transl. 2004); Cattolicesimo e totalitarismo (2004); Fascismo e franchismo (2005); Guerra e pace nell’Italia del Novecento (2006); Aldo Moro negli anni della FUCI (2008); L’immagine del nemico (2009); Una vita, un paese. Aldo Moro e l’Italia del Novecento (2014); Salire a Barbiana. Don Milano dal Sessantotto a oggi (2017); Il mito dell’Italia cattolica. Nazione, religione e cattolicesimo negli anni del fascismo (2021); Storia di una maestra del Sud che fu la madre di Aldo Moro (2022).
**To access the OHMS oral history page for Renato Moro, which allows listeners to search text or keywords and to listen to specific sections of this interview, click here.**
John Tortorice: Testing, one, two, three. Okay, yeah. So it’s the 28th — 27th of March, 2018. And I’m here in Rome with Professor Renato Moro, professor of political science at Roma Tre, who has worked extensively in the field of religion and politics, an area in which George Mosse was also deeply interested. Professor Moro, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Renato Moro: Thank you. It’s an honor and a pleasure.
Tortorice: Well, thank you so much. So, what is your current title in your —
Moro: I am full professor of contemporary history. In Italy, it meant late modern history.
Tortorice: Okay. Not political science.
Moro: In political science yes, the department that means political studies. Political affairs. I teach both undergraduate then graduate courses. Basic, general course on contemporary history, and a graduate course on, the title is International History of Peace. There’s sort of introduction to the, for the graduate students to the peace issue, that there’s history of peace ideas, peace movements, peace organizations in the last centuries. And then a course about fascism.
Tortorice: And where were you born? When and where were you born?
Moro: I was born in 1951 in Rome. My family was partially a Roman family because my mother was born in Rome, too. His [her] father and mother were born in Rome, too. That is from the side of my mother, my family was an old Roman Catholic family who stayed in Rome since the nineteenth century. A middle-class family. Attorneys at law. And notary.
Tortorice: Notary public. Yes.
Moro: Yes. From my father’s side, on the contrary,
the family came to Rome from Apulia, that is the Italian south. It was very different. But I am really a real Roman. [laughs] There’s not many —
Tortorice: You look Roman.
Moro: Yes. It’s not very common because Rome is a capital city full of people coming from outside.
Tortorice: So what was your childhood like?
Moro: Yes. Well, my family was really an engaged Catholic family. Not only my uncle was one of the leaders of Christian Democracy.
Tortorice: That’s Aldo [Moro] (1916-1978).
Moro: Yes, that’s Aldo Moro. A prime minister, a foreign minister. He came out from Catholic Action in his juvenile years. He was president of the Catholic Federation of University Students, FUCI, Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana. And then secretary general, that means president of the Catholic organization for Catholic graduates and professionals.
And my father, too, had been president of the FUCI. And vice president of the Catholic Graduate Association. So really a family very involved into the Catholic movement and Catholic Action in Italy. Sort of engaged but I think also open Catholicism. Because the FUCI, that is, the university federation, and then the laureates, graduates movement were inside Catholic Action the more progressive ones. They were linked to the personality of Giovanni Battista Montini (1897-1978) [Pope Paul VI]. That is the future, Paul the Sixth. This was a group who was trying to open Catholicism to modernity. They did not want to react against modernity and propose a sort of Catholic alternative. They were working for a sort of fusion,
that is Catholics had to recognize and absorb all the new needs of the modern man without contrast but with sort of dialogue. So this was a Catholicism not fundamentalist, not anti-modern, not closed to secular thinking.
I remember very well the enthusiasm of my parents when the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was opened and the enthusiasm for the new pope, John XXIII (1881-1963), his new habits for the world. I remember when I was very young, it was 1961, I think. And I was brought to the opening, well it was the opening day of the council. And the pope gathered people in Piazza San Pietro [St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City]. And I was there with my father. We listened to this famous speech by the pope about the moon. He invited fathers to bring the popes, salute the popes, hail to their children, a very human perspective. I remember so well the hopes and expectations of a changing Catholic Church there.
Tortorice: That’s fascinating. Well, it was part of that religious revival after the war.
Moro: Absolutely. They were absolutely the fruit of the religious revival, about which George Mosse has written in his books. My family had also, I would say, high intellectual standard. That is, the friends of my father and mother were relevant personalities and figures in Italian Catholicism. I remember one president of the constitutional court, Leopoldo Elia (1925-2008), a woman, Paola Gaiotti [De Biase] (b. 1927), who became one of the representatives to the European Parliament in recent years. Some journalists, one, Piero Pratesi (1925-2000) was the editor of the Christian Democrat newspaper, Il Popolo. The other one was the editor of the
Italian bishop’s newspaper, L’avvenire. There was a very good and relevant historian, Pietro Scoppola (1926-2007). Pietro Scoppola was a historian, but was also the founder of an intellectual movement that attempt to renovation of Christian democracy, the Lega democratica nazionale…non nazionale, the Lega democratica, the Democratic League, in the 1970s. So it was a very stimulating environment.
Tortorice: And optimistic.
Moro: Very optimistic.
Tortorice: I remember some of that myself because I remember when our bishop went off to the council in 62.
Moro: Yes, yes.
Tortorice: And the excitement. It was a time, the beginning of the 60s, it was a time of optimism, potential for change.
Moro: Great optimism.
Tortorice: And you did have that religious revival in the Midwest, too, with people like Gene [Eugene] McCarthy (1916-2005) and politics and religion and a kind of progressive Catholicism.
Moro: Yes. This was exactly my formation.
Tortorice: Very interesting. So your family was political. And it always —
Moro: Yes, was very political in the sense that they discussed about politics very much. It was not political in the sense that they did not participate to any active political movement, because of the existence of my uncle. My father was a judge, and as a judge, it was impossible for Italian judges to belong to every political party, to be politically active. Second, there was the problem of possible involvement of my uncle in any political militancy. So while the family discussed so much about politics, nobody was really engaged in it. So I developed, I think, a sort of attitude of the committed observer more than the militant. I have never participated to every political movement.
Tortorice: So you’ve kept your distance and analyzed
Moro: Yes. Yes.
Tortorice: And understood.
Moro: Yes. I had my sympathies, of course. In a certain period, I was a progressive Catholic. So people knew me.
And for example, at the beginning of the 1970s, I think it was for the municipal elections of 1976, somebody from the Communist Party asked me if I was willing to enlist not in the communist electoral lists, but in the list open to independent people. I refused, of course, because I didn’t want to have a political career of any kind.
Tortorice: Well, it’s a rich and fascinating political period in Italy after the war, in the civil war and the history and politics of Christian democracy. Of course, we can’t go into all of that. But so where did you go to school? You went to Catholic schools?
Moro: No, never. This was another — well, never is too much. Two years of elementary school at the beginning. But only because we were in a new Roman district with very few public schools. It was not easy to find a public school there. But my family was Catholic. They were engaged Catholics, but they were also very loyal to the public service of, the conception of the public service of the state. My grandfather with my same name, Renato Moro, was a teacher of elementary school and then he was an inspector, supervisor of schools. And then he became a relevant official of the Ministry of Education, as responsible of rural schools. He was one of the founders of the rural school in Italy. So my family had a sort of cult of public school. But there’s Catholic private school, well, it may be good because they will teach you Catholic doctrine, Catholic values, but we will do this in family, while you need to meet every Italian of every condition, of every economic level, of every culture. You need to mingle yourself with society. So you’ll have to go to the public school. So I have always attended public schools.
Tortorice: So this kind of civic culture, civic engagement, is not in many ways a long-term part of the Italian social culture, if I understand it correctly. Is it something that comes after the war and there’s a kind of engagement with that?
Moro: No, I think it is an old story beginning with the liberal state, with a strong idea of be civil servants as a status, dignity, independence, and I think also laity, that is secularism — my family was really Catholic, but they were secular Catholics, not confessional ones. Of course, they revered the church, but they were also independent. I remember so well, they taught me you have to think by yourself. I remember when I went to the preparation to the first communion, the nuns, well they prepare, I was six years old. They told this terrible story about a young boy who did not make, well, it was a, well, he take an apple, he take an apple, he took an apple, he was a thief. Took an apple from a garden. He did not confess. And he had his first communion. And the story was terrible because the story was that Satan came to take his soul away the day of his first communion.
I didn’t tell anything. I came back home and I did not succeed in sleeping the night. I awake with nightmares. My parents ask me. I explain I think the day after. My father took my hands and brought me to the parish priest. And he protested. Took me away from the nuns and passed to another —
Tortorice: Good for him.
Moro: Yes. This is the first time I learned that to be a Catholic did not mean to obey to priests. You have to think yourself, it was possible to have a different Catholic culture, even contrary to what the church was practicing. So this was the kind of Catholicism I learned from my family.
Tortorice: Different from me, I must say.
Tortorice: So where did you then go to university? How did you get interested in — well, I understand your family background and culture would have made you interested in your subject.
Moro: Yes. Yes. History was my last choice. I came to history in the last year of high school. Before, well, I was really interested in humanities. My family had a very strong humanities background. My mother was professor of Latin and Italian in the secondary school. My aunt, the father of my father — the sister of my father, was professor of Greek in high schools. So, very strong humanities background.
So my first, my first, well, I have to add something. My mother’s sister worked at the university with a professor of the history of music, played the piano, he then became an official in the Italian television. Educational programs. So I developed very strong love for music, for classical music. Well, this may be interesting. She was a widow. Then she married with an American Jewish mathematician who came to Italy, in order to study the Italian educational TV programs. They fell in love. They traveled to the US. This may be interesting. Because his [her] husband, Howard Levi (1916-2002), was a Jew. He came every summer to Italy. He participated to the Manhattan Project as a very young man. And he, well I remember clearly,
Well, he visited Europe every summer together with my aunt. They visited France, Italy. They never went to Germany. He repeated that he couldn’t listen to German anymore. Even if he was an American Jew, only some relatives were involved into the Shoah. But he was still injured by the German language. Well.
Tortorice: That’s so different than Mosse.
Tortorice: Who went back so quickly after the war and, I guess in a way you’d have to say he didn’t take it personally. He didn’t think it was about him directly, although he probably had more reason to think so, since Hitler had attacked his family so directly.
Moro: Yes, of course.
Tortorice: But, yeah, I think he was unique in many ways, in the sense of how he approached all of that.
Moro: Yes. I imagine that the normal reaction might be that of my —
Tortorice: Yes. And there may have been a time that that was his reaction, too. Yes.
Moro: Yes. So the first idea I had was about to become a scholar. This was clearly my option. I remember my mother asked me, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know,” was my answer. “The only thing I know is that I want to study, continue studying.” And my first option was humanities literature. And the first years of the high school I would like to become literature critic or something like this. Second option was music. My love for classical music was so high, I was dreaming of becoming a historian of classical music.
Then the last year of high school, I began to listen to my grandmother’s tales about his [her] youth. He [she] told that, well, he [she] married in 1919. And his [her] wedding journey was in Vienna during this Red Revolution. So their tales about this city after the war ruined and now poor with the red flags, the revolution, they fascinated me. Then he continued with something about the Italian intervention into the First World War,
that Radiant May 1919 . She told that they lived in Piazza [dell’] Esquilino in Rome. That was very near [Giovanni] Giolitti’s (1842-1928) apartment. And he rememb — she remembered the day in which there was the crisis, the parliamentary crisis around intervention. And all the Giolittian deputies went to Giolitti’s apartment and left their card as a form of solidarity to Giolitti against the aggressions that were in the streets, against these well, the aggressions, the mob that cried that Giolitti was a criminal, a bad affair minister and also these tales fascinated me. Then I had in my third and last year of high school a very good professor of history. So I changed my mind, and I decided to try history at the university. But my family intervened. Not heavily, not heavily, but they tried to convince me that history well it a very good idea, but an historian will not have social condition well off enough.
Tortorice: Even then, people were concerned about this. Yes.
Moro: So my father, especially my father, suggested look to Pietro Scoppola (1926-2007), who’s now an historian. He has not come out from history courses. He attended law school. He’s become a member of the studies of the Italian senate. It’s better that you go to a law school. There is history of Roman law, there is history of the Middle Ages law and early modern law. You may find satisfaction in your aspiration even in a law school.
So I enrolled to jurisprudence. And I began to attend my first courses. And my first reaction was not negative, because the first course I met was philosophy of law. So it was a very humanistic perspective. But the second one was history of Roman law. There was a history course, a sort of history of the Roman constitution. Very fascinating.
The third one was political economy and so this was easy. So, then the first law course came, private law. And I went to my father and asked him, “Daddy, what is law?” The first courses or this one. And I said, unfortunately I have to admit that the second, I want to change. And I passed to humanities.
Tortorice: Oh, good.
Moro: And it’s interesting. Because I passed the humanities, I began to attend the modern history course of Rosario Romeo (1924-1987), one of the greatest Italian scholars.
Tortorice: At La Sapienza? Or?
Moro: Alla Sapienza, alla Sapienza, the faculty, the School of Humanities.
Tortorice: Which was excellent.
Moro: It was excellent. He was excellent. As an historian, one of the greatest Italian historians in the second half of the twentieth century. But also a great teacher. His lessons were probably the more beautiful lessons, university lessons, I have ever heard. And his first course was about Europe in the sixteenth century. And there was a book he indicated as required reading. It was George Mosse and the [Helmut] Koenigsberger (1918-2014) Europe in the Sixteenth Century (1968). So I was immediately, I met not George Mosse as a person, by one of his books. And I was not only fascinated but already the Romeo’s lectures but also the book confirmed me that my choice was good. I felt to be at home for the first time.
Tortorice: So it sparked an interest —
Tortorice: — or confirmed an interest.
Moro: Confirmed my history. Because do you remember, that book is, well, for me it was completely new because popular culture, Mosse’s perception, not only high intellectuals but mentality, popular religion. And there was a second aspect that I immediately realized that fundamental. This was not dualistic,
dichotomical approach to the sixteenth century. Mosse showed how much it was modern, new, and at the same time how much irrational, traditional, not humanistic there was in that culture. So I was fascinated by the, an historian who was able to think in ambivalent terms, and show how much ambivalence was important for history.
Tortorice: Mm hmm. Well, it was written in a unique way because they wrote alternate chapters.
Moro: Yes, but —
Tortorice: You could tell the Mossean ones, right? Yes.
Moro: Yes. Koenigsberger was more about economics if I remember well.
Tortorice: Right. Yes.
Moro: Economics. It was so important for the sixteenth century, discovering of the Americas, the problem of gold from America, the market, the prices, the Fuggers that was so important. But what fascinated me was the part about popular culture, religion, witchcraft, I remember so well.
Tortorice: I was fascinated by the chapter on Baroque Rome. I thought that wonderful.
Moro: Yes. Too, too, too. Absolutely.
Tortorice: So then you decided to study with [Renzo] De Felice (1929-1996), is that correct?
Tortorice: How did that come about?
Moro: I began to attend to the history courses. One I attended immediately after Romeo was exactly De Felice. De Felice was making a very, well, interesting course. It was about the relations between Italian Fascists and German Nazism before the Nazi seizure of power. This in the 1920s up to 1932. De Felice, contrary to Romeo, De Felice was not a good speaker. He had problems in speaking. But his lessons were, for me, were really fascinating nonetheless. Because while this course was about the Weimar Republic, the German right in general — Stalin,
the völkisch culture — and it was a sort of first immersion for me into mass society. Press agencies, newspapers, lobbies, trade unions, parties, mass parties, small parties, institutions. I found it really fascinating because before I had a very conventional idea of mass society. So I was really involved into the complexity of mass dynamics. This was revealing, and so I continued to follow De Felice’s courses. I perceived how new they were in their image of fascists because I, too, came out from a tradition in which while Fascism was not a problem, fascist was negative. Old fascist values were something we had to refuse completely. But that was all. That was not intrinsic. For the first time, I found Fascism was real intrinsic, something was an issue, a problem, even for today. And this was the reason why I began to follow every year De Felice’s courses. And then I decided to ask him to be my supervisor for my dissertation.
Tortorice: So this would have been in the early 70s?
Moro: In the early 70s, as I enrolled to the law school in fall 1969 then passed in the spring 1970 to the humanities school, and I attended De Felice’s course within the following year. That is between the fall and the spring 1970-1971.
Tortorice: So already by then he was challenging the received opinion of —
Moro: He was already challenging, even though the De Felice’s affair, the scandal will arise some years after, even after my graduation, that is, I graduated in December 1974. And all the De Felice affair was born in 1975 with the interview on Fascistm and the publication of his volume about the Mussolini (1883-1945), il Duce [eight-volume biography, 1965-1997], that is the consent to Fascistm. But it happened in 1975.
Tortorice: So you were right there during those years.
Moro: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Tortorice: So what was he like as an advisor? It seems to me that he was a fairly austere person, perhaps, and a bit distant —
Moro: No, he was not austere, absolutely. He was —
Tortorice: Did he engage with you in your work? Or was it more a distance relation —
Moro: He was continually suggesting new perspectives, documents, and interpretations. But he never, almost never, intervened in my texts, that is he read them and his reaction was, “Well, they are very good. I would suggest you to go deeper in these documents, read this new essay,” something like this.
Tortorice: That’s great. Encouraging way of teaching.
Moro: He was very encouraging and very liberal in his approach. He never tried to suggest me any interpretation. Any.
Tortorice: That’s great. And somewhat unusual in the Italian academic —
Moro: I think so. I think so.
Tortorice: So what then did you write your dissertation on? What did you end up writing?
Moro: I began in 1972 and 73 with researches, and I wrote that in 1974. It came from my formation, because it was about, and they call it the cultural origins of Christian democracy. The title of my thesis was, “The Political Culture of Catholic Action During Fascism.”
Tortorice: That’s an important topic.
Moro: I tried, it was not Mossean as, I had met Mosse as early modern historian, but at the moment I think I had not read much more about him. I met him in another seminar, I attended also in the political sciences called “The Course of History of the Relations between Church and State,” held by Pietro Scoppola, who was a family friend but also
very good historian. I attended his course. and during his course he asked us if we want to prepare a paper about some readings. And I chose Interpretations of Fascism (1969), I read De Felice’s book about Interpretations of Fascism. And I remember I was impressed by the not many, but two or three pages De Felice devoted to Mosse’s The [Crisis of] German Ideology and also a couple of his essays about interpretation of fascism. But this was all, that is I had no more specific knowledge about Mosse’s work. This happened after. So my dissertation thesis depended much more on De Felice. His approach to the culture of fascism.
Tortorice: Mm hmm. Well, before we talk more about your work and your research interests, perhaps we should briefly discuss your uncle, Aldo Moro.
Tortorice: In your New York address, you pay tribute to him. But I was surprised, I didn’t realize that he, it’s so unique in that he wasn’t the typical Italian politician by any means. He was an intellectual —
Tortorice: — deeply religious. But religious in the way you mentioned that your family was religious.
Moro: Yes, exactly.
Tortorice: It was a way of being, that it wasn’t to be imposed on the political situation in a harsh way. It wasn’t a necessarily political program that needed to be imposed on the culture at large. But that there was an ethical duty to engage in politics, that you couldn’t stand back from politics. That he was essentially optimistic and that he was interested in governing. I mean, how to make systems work, how to figure out how to make it, representative—
Tortorice: Which seems to me to be so different from what we have now, where these parties really aren’t interested in government.
Tortorice: They’re interested, really, in power.
Tortorice: And perhaps that was always there in Italian politics, or politics in general.
Tortorice: But I was always thinking in reading a little bit about your uncle that it seems to me that that Machiavellian, the core Machiavellian idea of how does a good man live in an evil world is very applicable to your uncle.
Tortorice: So perhaps if you’d like to talk a little bit about him and about your relationship with him and your, and some of the —
Moro: Sure. Of course he was so busy politician that the family perceived in some way that politics had taken him away from us. There was a common feeling of sort of he lacked the family because he was so important as a politician. We saw him seldom. That is of course at Christmas, at Easter, and not much more.
Tortorice: Did he have a family of his own, a wife?
Moro: Yes. Of course a wife and four children.
Tortorice: Oh, four children.
Moro: And of course when we met at Easter or at Christmas, his brothers and sisters monopolized him. So we boys, not that we were not admitted, but I played with my cousins, stayed with them. He was, I remember him as a very gentle man. And not absolutely similar to the stereotype the Italian media have built about him. That he’s a very pessimistic, sad, stern personality. It was absolutely not so. Probably he was a realist. He did not ignore all the difficulties he had had. But at the same time, he was ironic, ready to smile and to jokes. My father built a house in Terracina, there’s a sea, small town near Rome, south of Rome, to spend summer holidays there. Below the apartment of my uncle.
So we spent the summer always together. Even during the summer, he was busy.
I have some memories about him. He was one of the more — well the things that hit me was that he spent many, many mornings and evenings in a small balcony out at the apartment in front of the sea, with newspapers up to his knees, reading them one after the other. Hours and hours.
Tortorice: Looking for specific things, I wonder? Trends?
Moro: Looking for specific things. I think trends. It was his way of, one, of course, of his ways of keeping himself in touch with the country. With collective mentalities. He was not looking for political plots. I think it was looking simply for what the country was.
And another thing I remember were his very long walking. He walked, his way of thinking was walking. And he walked very swiftly, often with my father. They went up and down for kilometers talking.
And a third memory, when I was working on the political, cultural Christian democracy, so I asked him, “May I have an interview with you?” It was very difficult. Many times it was delayed. In the end, I went to his home. And I appreciated how good a politician he was because we talked for a couple of hours of everything. From music to records —
Tortorice: But not — [laugh]
Moro: But not about the —
Tortorice: He probably didn’t necessarily want to talk about that.
Tortorice: Yes. Well he did have, seems to have had a vision of Italy that was a country of diversity, of tolerance. Some idea of how that could develop in the Italian situation, that he had a very progressive vision.
Moro: Yes. Yes.
He was the children of a generation, a generation formed during Fascism. And they had a very different approach to postwar democracy from the approach of the old leaders of the Catholic movement, like [Luigi] Sturzo (1871-1959), for example. This generation passed through Fascism. Some of them were Fascists. Some of them were critical of Fascism, but inside the new society Fascism had brought. Some of them were anti-Fascists. But all the new generation was convinced that Fascism was a wrong, obviously wrong, answer to essential issues. That is, how to have mass participation into politics.
The previous generation, Sturzo’s generation, was formed by liberals in the traditional meaning of the word. It is, they thought that well, fortunately Fascism’s ended. Now we go back to the pre-fascist liberal democracy, representative democracy, without any intervention of the state, without any popular participation of the masses.
The young generation had a very different approach. They have very confused ideas, I think, in general. But there was one thing they had very clear. That is, we cannot go back to the elitist liberal state as before. We need masses’ participation, and intervention of the state, capable of promoting equality and participation. So this was a different and progressive version of Catholicism.
And this may explain the militancy of my uncle into the leftist group of Christian Democracy at the beginning [Paolo Emilio] Taviani (1912-2001), and then he is, policy of opening to the socialists in the 1950s and 1960s.
Tortorice: And then shortly before he died, his role that, with the communists.
Moro: Well, the communist affair is much more complicated. That is I am convinced — not from my memory, or remembrance,
but because of the studies that has been made on him in the last decades, that well, he would have preferred always keeping the center-left policy. He was not a pro-communist, absolutely. But now the conditions had made impossible the center-left policy. Because there was, the Socialist Party had refused any government without the communists. And an electoral situation, because the situation of the chambers in Italy after the elections of 1976 in which there were only two major parties, Christian Democracy and the communist, they shared almost 80% of votes. So it was impossible any other majority.
So an exceptional national solidarities was required. But as a temporary solution with only a more long period goal that was sort of possible future legitimation of the communists as not any more revolutionary party, anti-democratic and linked to Moscow, but as a sort of social democracy fit to Italy.
Tortorice: Well, I’m sure he perceived that the Italian Communist Party had changed dramatically.
Tortorice: Yeah. But well, unless we have anything more to say about your uncle, I think we can —
Moro: I think not.
Tortorice: Okay. We can talk then a little bit more about your own work.
Moro: And Mosse.
Tortorice: And what you’ve written a little bit, perhaps, and then we’ll go into Mosse. So essentially your research interests are in religion and politics.
Moro: Yes. At the beginning, I was interested in the relation between religion and politics in a very traditional way, that is cultural ideas, political cultures. This was the main subject of my first years, that is, the book I wrote about the formation of the Catholic rule in Italy. Then I met Mosse. And I changed a little bit my perspectives.
I think it’s not necessary to explain why Mosse was so relevant in changing my perspective from the history of ideas to popular culture. But in this way, I saw something that I was not able to see before. That was that religion and politics were not linked only at a cultural level, but that modern mass politics influenced religion and transformed religion. I was studying fascism and Catholicism. At the beginning, I would trying to understand how much Catholics were independent or not from the Fascist vision of the world. How much they consented or not to Fascism, and something like this.
But slowly, I realized that the real issue was how Catholicism was transformed by the impact of Fascism. Because totalitarianism imposed to Catholicism the change, that is the competition inside the totalitarian society was so high that Catholicism had to rebuild itself, presenting itself as an alternative to totalitarianism. That is organization, the latency, propaganda, numbers, mobilization. All those things were so relevant that I began to work on a more wide subject, that is the politicization of religion. That is, of course, religion has always been politicized, a little bit. But I individuated a more precise transformation during the late nineteenth and twentieth century in which religion became a real mass ideology as the other mass ideologies, competing with them on all possible fields. Philosophy, Weltanschauung, Thomism, a social doctrine, mass organizations, parties.
This is my subject about which I worked so much. For example, I worked about Catholic antisemitism. And here I found exactly the same thing. There’s traditional Catholic religious anti-Judaism was religious. That is, we do not like the Jews because they are following a wrong and obscure religion, and they do not recognize the truth. You’re in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century, Catholic antisemitism was not anymore based on religion. It was based on the fact that the Jews were a minority, a powerful minority, with its values, without nation, with the domination on wealth and richness. Secular arguments.
Tortorice: Which were influenced by political developments —
Tortorice: — and they responded.
Moro: There’s mass politics, politicized and secularized even the Christian, the Catholic discourse on the Jews.
Tortorice: I could see where Mosse’s work would really resonate with what you were working on.
Moro: Exactly. Exactly. So Mosse was fundamental for my — that is, De Felice was fundamental for me in the methodology, for the methodology I applied to history, the way of working on documents. But Mosse gave me a broader perspective in which to work.
Tortorice: So that continuity in Mosse’s work between his work in early modern —
Moro: Early modern.
Tortorice: — and how that carried through all of his work, his main themes were really, well, the fate of liberalism, of course.
Tortorice: But mass politics, how mass politics works, how you can make it work. Can you describe some of the overarching questions that he engaged with and how it influenced you? And also the Italian scene, the Italian scholarly scene? His impact here?
Moro: Yes. Yes. Yes. I have always perceived that the main, Mosse’s question was about irrationality.
Moro: I have told this also in my speech.
This was my perception. Of course, the Holocaust, the problem of the issue of the Jews. But of course, as the revelation of something that came through centuries since early modernity, there was the, I remember the first book by Mosse I read was Europe in the Sixteenth Century. Well, the modern, modernity begins. Humanism, ration[ality], science. But, but, at the same time, how may we explain that our irrationality remains so powerful in the sixteenth century?
Tortorice: How did, how did reason or rationality, come to be somewhat accepted by the church, by religion, and that there even was a possibility of rationality?
Tortorice: And this is optimistic, but how those other forces always bubbled below and this was always a fragile, a fragile structure.
Moro: Yes. Yes. Exactly. I remember that my Camerino speech honoring Mosse, I called him the historian of modern-day rationality. Since then, this was my main idea, that is, that the ring that united all these works was an attempt of explaining and understand in rational terms the power of irrationality in modernity. And I think very negative the fact that in Italy, for example, almost everything Mosse wrote has been translated as for the late modernist studies. But nothing has been translated of, almost nothing, of the early modern.
Tortorice: Really? I didn’t realize that.
Moro: Yes. Neither The Struggle for Sovereignty [in England: From the Reign of Queen Elizabeth to the Petition of Right (1950)] nor The Holy Pretence [: A Study in Christianity and Reason of State from William Perkins to John Winthrop (1957)] has never been translated.
Tortorice: We should do that.
Moro: So in Italy, Mosse is known as a historian of Nazism and nationalism, and not as an historian of early modernity, as he was, really.
Tortorice: Mm hmm. That was a, it’s important to know about that part of his work, to understand —
Moro: Absolutely. For me it was absolutely indispensable. Because I told you, my first reading was of the early modern Mosse, because the book about Europe summed up many of his discoveries. So when I, after I came to The Nationalization of the Masses, all the other Mosse works, in my perception it was clear the path Mosse was following. But in Italy, it was not so.
Tortorice: Yes, that does limit the understanding of him, if you don’t have access to English and having to see the overall trajectory of his work.
Moro: Yes. Yes. Yes. I think so.
Tortorice: So, well, perhaps we could talk just a little bit about your own personal encounters with Mosse.
Moro: Mosse. Yes. I already told that I read him in 1970, his book that I met in the seminar, Scoppola’s seminar. But when my real discovery happened with the publication of The Nationalization of the Masses. De Felice told us of the importance of this book and urged us to read it. And I remember his preface was comparing Mosse with [William] Inge (1913-1973) or Marc Bloch (1886-1944), so very high standard.
When I read the book, I shared completely his vision. I was really fascinated. I was one of the students who were working with De Felice. There were other people around me. There was Emilio Gentile (b. 1946), there was Luigi Goglia (b. 1943), there was Mario Toscano, there was Niccolò Zapponi (1941-1994), who died very early. But he was probably the person who wrote, I think, one of the best analyses of Mosse’s perspective of The Nationalization of the Masses in a short essay in Storia contemporanea. So we began to discuss about Mosse. We began to read extensively his works. And we understood quite well the novelty of his,
well, the novelty of the methodology he was applying to history. I remember we promoted a seminar about The Culture of Western Europe when he was translated in Italy. And together, everybody, each one had to prepare something about his, what, for example, I worked extensively of the way in which Christianity was analyzed in Mosse’s book. But Mosse became absolutely central for us, for the work of the group around De Felice and Storia contemporanea.
And then we met him. Because at the beginning of the 1980s, De Felice invited him to take a seminar at La Sapienza, the school of political sciences, and he came. Around the table were twenty people. He talked about his new researches on the First World War and racism, racism and war. So we knew him by person. It was interesting, too, because he was not absolutely the standard scholar we expected. Because he dressed in a very unconventional way. He had no attitude of being a personality or a luminaire.
Tortorice: He wasn’t pretentious the way some —
Moro: Absolutely. Absolutely. His aspect was not so fascinating. He had these big and thick glasses. But he began to speak. I realized immediately that he was a great orator. He fascinated out of the mobility of his eyes. And another feature I remember so well was his, he addressed to us without any form of hierarchy. We were accustomed in Italy that those high standard academics,
they seemed to make you a great concession speaking with you. This was not absolutely the case. He was curious. He was interested in everything you may say. He had a very strong love for discussion, different perspective. It was very, very, very interesting and very fascinating.
And then from then on, Mosse became one of the fundaments of my work as a historian that I began to, I became in 1990 full professor. I had my courses. And I began to teach very much depending on Mosse’s research. My third course was about the history of antisemitism in contemporary world. And I began to — another of my first courses was about religions of politics. So I began to use his books, to have them as required readings for students. And you’ve seen the group of students who follow with me, they, as I am, they are in love with Mosse. For them, too, his work has been fundamental.
Tortorice: So then you went to Camerino.
Moro: My first university was Camerino, a small university with few students enrolled in courses. I remember I took, when I took Mosse to Camerino, we made the car journey together. I don’t remember — you were in Camerino?
Tortorice: That was for the Laurio?
Moro: For the laurea [graduation].
Tortorice: Yes, I was there.
Moro: You were in car together with us?
Moro: Yes, I had thought.
Tortorice: It was a wonderful trip.
Moro: But I remember that Mosse was completely astonished when we, when I told him we work in Camerino, but do you live in Camerino? I said, no, I live in Rome. “Where do you go there?” Well, not every week. Three days, every fifteen days. He was completely astonished. “But the students. They must live there!” “No, they do not live there. They come every day which there is class and go away.” And he commented,
it was completely contrary to everything he was thinking about the university as a community of professors and students.
Tortorice: Very different vision of this yes.
Moro: Well, of course Camerino was a sort of extreme case. But even in a big university, large university, as it is Roma, a community of professors and students as it happened in American campuses is not so here.
Tortorice: It’s changing because of technology.
Tortorice: And because of —
Tortorice: Yes. And so many other distractions. But essentially, students, the undergrads, still live —
Tortorice: On campus. A lot of them do. So you do get that sense of community, but it’s much different than when George taught or when I went to school, certainly. But I remember that as an extraordinary event in Camerino.
Moro: Yes, it was.
Tortorice: And the dinner where [Giorgio] Spini (1916-2006) was there, and so many of your colleagues that were students of De Felice.
Tortorice: And that dinner in the castle of Cesare Borgia (1475-1507) and the performances, those incredible, the Alpini, the choir.
Moro: Yes. Yes. The choir about the songs of the First World War, the Alpine troops.
Tortorice: And the dance, the dance concert. Yeah, it was really very well appreciated event. Yes.
Tortorice: So, but well, maybe now I guess we could, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. We’ve already gone an hour and a half.
Moro: No, I have time. If you want, I have time.
Tortorice: Okay. Well, unless you want to talk more about Mosse’s impact here in Italy, we could talk a bit about the interview. Well, this group of students that you have engaged in Mosse’s work, but also in, well, reviving interest in Aldo Moro, in Christian democracy, in that part of the Italian history. But the interview came out in 81,
I think. And this was done, I think three years. Or I think it came out —
Moro: I think it was made in 1979.
Tortorice: Seventy-nine, that’s right, the beginning. And came out. Yeah. So, I think the interview really illuminates what your uncle was up to in many ways.
Tortorice: And also how appropriate George’s ideas about mass politics are for the Italian political situation and how sophisticated an understanding your uncle had of the issues involved.
Tortorice: The first edition wasn’t received that well.
Moro: No. No.
Tortorice: And there are probably lots of reasons for that.
Moro: No. That is really surprising. If you read the interview now, and you read many of the things written about Moro in 1979, 1980, 1981, Mosse’s interview is still a very clear, interesting, and valid text. While much of the literature written about Moro has not stood the test of time so well. Clearly. They seem, many of those writing, not Mosse’s, but those writing, seems to come from prehistory now. Nonetheless, at the time, this vision of Mosse was not well-received. The causes, I think the reasons were many. One of the merit[s] of Mosse was the deep provincialization of Moro’s case, that’s to put the Moro’s case inside the framework of the issue of parliamentarian mass politics today in general in the West. At the time in Italy, the majority of people was convinced — wrongly convinced — that Italy was absolutely peculiar, different case that stood no comparison with anything else.
Second prejudice was that an American scholar could not understand everything about the Italian situation. This was
the immediate consequence of the first point, that is if Italy’s different, no foreigner may understand us. We are too much complicated, we are too much different from the rest of the world.
The third possible reason of not understanding Mosse was a linguistic problem. That is, of course Mosse used the adjective liberal discussing about Moro’s policy. And this was correctly translated in Italian as liberale. But liberale in Italian has a very different meaning than the Anglo-Saxon, American, and British “liberal.” This is something I have to explain every time I met not Italian students. Not continental European students. Because for Germans and French it’s probably the same that it is for Italians. That is that liberalism in the Anglo-American sense means not only the choice of the individual as the first absolute value, and so a liberty of thinking, of press association, and so on, but also commitment to equality and possibly of reforms, and in some cases, even intervention of the state in a democratic sense.
Tortorice: Very much so in the American context.
Moro: Yes, especially in America it means progressive. So, Italian readers perceived the definition of Moro as a liberal politician as though it meant a conservative moderate liberal. It was not the case for Mosse. So there was sort of reaction against this wrong idea of an author who was defining Moro more conservative than he was.
And the last, and I think not least, element of negative reaction was Mosse’s discourse about mass symbols in politics. The importance of not
rational, not doctrinal, not theoretical discourse, but of symbols and myths. This was new for many of the readers, and this was considered unacceptable. That is, Italy was divided at the time, I think in two dominating culture[s]: Marxism for which superstructures have no particular interests, interest, and political sociology, for which the symbolic, they mention of politics, was not considered relevant. I read Murray Edelman’s (1919-2001) book.
Tortorice: Oh, yes?
Moro: Yes! Because I found inside it in the notes of Mosse. Never translated it into Italian. The Italian political sociology was absolutely not interested in the symbolic dimension.
Tortorice: In this country, that’s extraordinary, given its history.
Moro: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. But it was so. So, Mosse’s discourse seemed extravagant. Again, a foreigner with very extravagant views about Italy. This was his negative reaction. Now the situation is completely changed.
Tortorice: Really? With the new edition.
Moro: With the new edition. Now Mosse’s quoted by almost everybody who’s working on Moro now, but that was very incredible.
Tortorice: Mm hmm. Wonderful.
Moro: And even the path of researchers, at the time, when first the interview was published, there were very few scholars of Moro, but the few researchers were Italian. Almost totally devoted to the Italian framework. Now Moro is studied in a comparative, international perspective that is the same pearls of Mosse’s interview has received now quite an acceptance.
Tortorice: I think it’s quite extraordinary how prescient and relevant Mosse’s work is in the current political context.
Tortorice: That his work has held up so much better than many of his contemporaries.
Moro: Yes. I agree completely.
Tortorice: It’s extraordinary.
Moro: Yes. If you read again just the interview on Moro, there is an analysis of the perils of modern democracies on the fact that of course the problem of fascism has probably ended as such, but the issues and causes that pro-fascism are still there.
Tortorice: The techniques.
Moro: The techniques. The problem of fitting masses with life to make sense to have a politic in which there is feeling and sense to life. Irrationality, anxieties, doubts, needs, this is always with us. And I think that few readings as this may be an introduction to more recent politics.
Tortorice: Well and that whole idea that in a sense in fascism, the alignment of the individual and the state, and the level of satisfaction that that can give or perceived security or sense of a whole is something that is lacking and very much needed or required by the current generations. You know, sometimes I think it’s to some extent, just boredom, but of course it’s just a kind of cultural satisfaction, you know, because we have such a, well, mercantile economy now, and advertising, and everything is about satisfaction. Even literature is about pushing buttons, you know.
Tortorice: And this, I think, carries over to politics. I think it’s, you know, we see that dimension, where you find that.
Moro: Yes. Probably politics is even more spectacular than it was at the Nazi and fascist or communist age. And I think that the main reasons of Mosse’s research are even more evident now than before.
And another element that is really clear is that we are now in an age of again, an age of economic crisis, disemployment, acceleration of progress that is a digital dimension, the internet. Immigration. That is —
Tortorice: Mass immigration.
Moro: Mass immigration. So the problem of the well-furnished house is still there, absolutely.
Tortorice: And then also those questions of environmental degradation, which is partially to blame for the 65 million migrants that are on the road. But the complexity of the problems of rapid population growth and, well, the disconnect of the technology elite from the concerns of the masses. I mean, they have a belief in technology that is positivistic.
Tortorice: Everything is solvable by this —
Tortorice: — creation of a new gadget, or a new AI, without much thought about the consequences, or responsibility for them. It’s extraordinary.
Moro: Absolutely. Yes.
Tortorice: But we shouldn’t go off too far in our —
Moro: Another great result of Mosse’s research was, I think of the researches about racism, how irrational science may be, too, and not to have too much confidence in science itself when science comes out from its limits. Today we are leaving another age of irrational, irrational devotion to some aspects of science.
But there’s another thing I would like to point. Reflecting about the Italian case, I think we have an extraordinary contradiction, paradoxical situation. The Italian political system was one of the most stable system[s] in the world, contrary to what many may think. Because since 1945, up to 1992, one party was central and had the government, that is Christian Democracy. It was formed during the Cold War, it was a blocked political system. Very dangerous, because numbers were
never, well, they made never possible a very strong democratic majority. But it was very stable.
Tortorice: It worked.
Moro: It worked, very stable. This system was blocked, but was based on a sort of mutual consensus. That is, well, the communists were out of power. They were the opposition. But [Alcide] De Gasperi (1881-1954) especially, but all the Christian Democratic leaders after, they kept a sort of democratic relation with the communists. It was mutual. The communists did not pass, did never pass to revolutionary action as they would have made for daylight. Christian Democrats never thought to put communism out of law. So there was a sort of mutual consensus.
Paradoxically, when the Cold War ended and Italy would have had the possibility to enter into a normality status of common legitimization of political forces, a normal alternative to government, well, I think we have never seen a situation of more strong delegitimization of political forces, as it happened at the age of Berlusconism and anti-Berlusconism, and today we have political forces, the Northern League, the Five Stars movement, that are very ideological. When you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation the fact that Moro was a man interested in governing more than in ideologies, now we seem to have entered a new age of mass ideologization and mutual delegitimization of political forces.
Tortorice: And it seems no consequences for not being able to govern. It’s almost as if that doesn’t matter. Another irrational —
Moro: Yes. We will see, we will see what will happen, but of course there is also a push of facts with this. They will have to find some solution in the end, but the starting point is absolutely not let’s find a solution. The starting point is
I have my truth and I will not compromise it with everybody.
Tortorice: Then “compromise” is almost a dirty word.
Moro: Yes, in Italy, it has become a dirty word. This is something very interesting. Because for example, my uncle, Aldo Moro, was a man of compromises, but not in the low and negative meaning of the world. If you think “to compromise” come from Latin, who permitted it? It is to promise together something. I think it is not a mean practice, a high practice is what politics is about: to find the best possible common solutions. Now we invented, in Italy we invented the word “inciucio,” which means very, almost criminal.
Moro: Accord. Political forces consider every compromise negative. I don’t see why. It’s another feature of the ideologization of politics.
Tortorice: Well, you see it in the US, too, I think probably it’s the same. And of course he’s attempting, or that movement is attempting to align with European movements. So it’s a worldwide phenomenon, it seems to me. A new age —
Tortorice: — that may rapidly burn out. We can only hope. Well, perhaps we’ll talk a little bit about your current work —
Tortorice: — with the Accademia [di studi storici] Aldo Moro and your students. And some of the collaborations with the Mosse Program. So I understand you’re conducting research on Aldo Moro?
Tortorice: And a number of the students that have come through the Mosse Program have been working on aspects of this.
Tortorice: And I hope in the future we can continue that, this collaboration with you and Roma Tre. So what are you working on?
Moro: At the moment, I am just, I am working on the juvenile years of my uncle. I have already published many years ago, in 1983, a long essay about his cultural formation. But my perspective now is completely different. I was very much impressed by the books of John Tedeschi (b. 1931).
Tortorice: Oh, yes. The memoir of John Tedeschi, which brings in Italian Jewish history —
Tortorice: — with his family history.
Moro: Yes. And by another book I have read many years ago, this Michael Ignatieff (b. 1947) [The] Russian Album (1987). They proved to me that you may be a member of a family and an historian and write a good history book on your family. And second, they suggested to me a family perspective. That is not any more research devoted only to Aldo Moro as an intellectual, but as an intellectual inside a familial and social milieu, that is more brighter and a little more emotion perspective, I think. So I have intensively worked on the papers of my family, the private papers, private life. I am convinced that what a politician is is not only culture, ideas, product. It’s also what private life builds with his feelings, needs. Not, even not conscious values.
So working on this, and working through this I discovered a very extraordinary case in my family. That is the history of my grandmother, who was a southern elementary teacher in Cosenza, Calabria, but was also a feminist, a journalist, a speaker in meetings. So I have gave to Bompiani, the editor and publisher Bompiani, a book about her that I’m working toward, the book about my uncle.
And the third engagement I have is also related to Moro. I am president of the national edition of his works. There’s a great enterprise funded by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs that will publish, not in paper, but in digital format, all his writings:
journalistic, religious, political, law writings.
Tortorice: And so some of the students are working on that.
Moro: Some of my students are working on a new biography of Aldo Moro, Donatello [Aramini], Laura [Ciglioni] and Nanni [Giovanni Mario Ceci], they are working with three parts. They divided the periods of his life into three parts. A political biography, but a biography inspired by this international, comparative perspective, that is to locate Moro’s case as a case of later western democracy into mass politics.
Tortorice: That comes out of this interview, to some extent, some of the insights. Well, thank you so much, Professor Moro.
Moro: Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to think about a man who has changed my life so much.
Tortorice: Thank you so much. Perhaps we’ll continue in Madison if we see each other.