Reviewed 3/11/2019

To Fight Against this Age, by Rob Riemen

On Fascism and Humanism
Rob Riemen
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, January 2018




ISBN-13 978-0-393-63586-7
ISBN-10 0-393-63586-4 171pp. SC/SF $19.95

In its Introduction, this brief and cogent book remembers Leone Ginzberg, a Russian Jew born in 1909 who emigrated with his family to Italy. He became a professor of literature and, when Mussolini came to power, one of the ten professors who refused to sign Il Duce's loyalty oath. He joined the resistance, was arrested and deported. When Mussolini fell, he returned to fight the Nazis who had taken over — only to be imprisoned and tortured to death by them.

The first essay, "The Eternal Return of Fascism," recounts how fascism arose in Europe during the 1930s and assesses the likelihood of its reawakening. The second, "The Return of Europa," is a lament for the lost humanity of the continent of which "that beautiful Phoenician princess" is muse and mentor. The author calls it a story, but it more closely resembles a long lecture about the twentieth-century corruption brought about by technocrats who banished spirituality, whether religious or philosophical, from the culture.

"With the loss of spiritual values, not only did morals disappear but so did culture in the original meaning of the word: cultura animi, the 'cultivation of the soul.' The idea that man is a being who must elevate himself, who must rise above his instincts and physical needs, is central to the religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity. It is also integral to the humanistic teachings of Socrates and Spinoza. Only once we succeed in embodying our absolute spiritual goals are we worthy of life. Living in truth, doing what is right, creating beauty—only in these actions is man who he should be, only then will he be free. He who remains a slave to his desires, emotions, impulses, fears, and prejudices and does not know how to use his intellect cannot be free."

– page 38

I've called the book cogent, but that applies mostly to the Introduction. I found the remainder of the book disappointing. It is largely a recitation of the thoughts of scholars like Socrates, Sartre, and others (all male) and a diatribe against the modern dominance of science and technology, the attitude that only what can be measured matters. Nietzche, with his notion of "the death of God," figures prominently. The author tells us of of two elegant hotels, one past and one present, where he has spent rewarding times, and of a recent symposium at one, in which he took part thanks to a last-minute cancellation by another speaker.

I can sympathize with his distaste at the younger lecturer Shashi and his arrogant message that "science and technology, true solutions, have now replaced philosophy and religion with their true knowledge." But, really, Shashi seems an enemy put up only to be knocked down, and the author figuratively knocks him down again and again.1 After his one day at the symposium, Shashi is heard from no more.

The author makes valid points in this book. But he makes them too often, at too great a length, and supports them by citing too many scholars known mostly to Europeans. Perhaps the book is better in the original Dutch. Were it not for the Introduction, I would not recommend this English translation.

1 The late Oriana Fallaci does a better job of debunking such attitudes in her book If the Sun Dies — and, incidentally, she was also a member of the Italian resistance during World War II, helping her father at age 14.
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