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Vittorio Mathieu and the Hope in the Revolution | (dot)philosophy

(dot)philosophy | A space by GIACOMO MARIA ARRIGO

On September 30, the philosopher Vittorio Mathieu, one of Italy’s greatest contemporary thinkers – who alongside his historical interests, has combined original research mainly on the problem of knowledge – has died at the age of 96 in Turin. He was author of over 400 publications on the themes of moral philosophy, philosophy of science and aesthetics.

Vittorio Mathieu also wrote an important book on revolutionary studies entitled Hope in the Revolution (La speranza nella rivoluzione, first edition 1972), where he analyzes the case of revolution from a phenomenological point of view. His investigation is quite innovative, for he distinguishes revolution from all other kinds of reform.

His starting point, which is also the leitmotiv throughout his entire reasoning, is that revolutionary actions have a distinctive propitiatory function in the same manner as prayer. To bring about revolution is the goal of any revolutionary actions – actions that are unescapably liturgical. To understand such an unusual statement, it should be clear how Mathieu uses the category of Gnosticism. The contact points between revolutionary thought and gnostic Weltanschauung are many, he maintains. According to several gnostic myths, the “fall” of God gives origin to the creation – the creation being something evil, something to be overcame. Hence, the drama of the Fall does not concern man but God himself. «Since there is no other reality outside of God, the illusory transition to another order of things is, ultimately, the exhibition of the same divine order but upside down. In fact, in any other conception there is a hiatus between God and the finite, but in the gnostic view there is the overturning of the same and only reality», he writes. The finite reality where we live is the same infinite reality, but upside down, and so unrecognizable to humans. «To recover the positive one should not move to another order of things; on the contrary, one should reverse the same»: this declaration is quite common among contemporary revolutionaries, which are often atheist and anti-metaphysical. The whole (immanent) reality will be saved through humankind, through the act of recognition that humankind is God himself, and through the factual (and violent) overturning of nature.

A consequence is that the subversion of the ancient order is aimed at a new, perfect and everlasting order «only indirectly, like a prayer». The disorder has its own function, to bring chaos, to bring about a new order, an order that would no longer be extrinsic, external, purely mechanical, but finally vital, internal, not something different from things, but which will identify itself with things.

Any reform aims at transforming society through a specific technic; on the contrary, the Revolution (with a capital “R”, the once-and-for-all event) is not tied to any technic in any sense of the word. Revolution is not something that one can do: «Revolution is always beyond everything that could be done in the hope that it happens».