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Storia della Storiografia

Histoire de l’Historiographie
History of Historiography
Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung
Rivista internazionale · Revue internationale
International Review · Internationale Zeitschrift
Rivista semestrale / A Semiannual Journal

Editorial Board :   

Michael Bentley, Stefan Berger, Peter Burke, Marina Cattaruzza, Antoon De Baets,
Ewa Domanska, Hermann von der Dunk, Sarah Foot, Ferenc Glatz,
Eco O. G. Haitsma Mulier, François Hartog, Gangolf Hübinger, Claude Jouhaud,
Chris Lorenz, Nino Luraghi, John G. A. Pocock, Ilaria Porciani, Giuseppe Ricuperati,
Christian Simon, Benedikt Stuchtey, Richard T. Vann, Edward Q. Wang,
Daniel R. Woolf, David Wootton

Editors :   

Georg G. Iggers, Guido Abbattista, Edoardo Tortarolo

Editorial Assistants :   

Giulia Bassi, Filippo Chiocchetti, Guido Franzinetti, Irene Gaddo, Giulia Lami

Direttore responsabile:

Edoardo Tortarolo

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Storia della Storiografia
Histoire de l’Historiographie
History of Historiography
Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung

Rivista internazionale · Revue internationale

International Review · Internationale Zeitschrift

71 · 1/2017

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Autorizzazione del Tribunale di Milano n. 310 del 26/07/1982

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Anna Maria Voci, Between History and Historiography. Ernst Schulin (12/10/1929-
13/2/2017) 9
Marco Fasolio, The Byzantine Aristocracy. Profile of a Historiographical Debate 15
Pärtel Piirimäe, Official Historiography and the State in Early Modern Europe 47 C
Sandro Landi, “Laissez écrire”. The Call for a Free Trade of Ideas in Raynal’s His- A
toire des deux Indes : a Long Enlightenment Belief
  77 13
Paulo Teixeira Iumatti, Historiographical and Conceptual Exchange between Fer- P
nand Braudel and Caio Prado Jr. in the 1930s and 1940s : a Case of Unequal Positions

in the Intellectual Space between Brazil and France 89 d
Jonas Ahlskog, The Evidential Paradigm in Modern History 111 P
review essays le
Guido Franzinetti, Franco Venturi in Retrospect 131 G
Notes on Contributors 151 N
Guido Franzinetti, Franco Venturi in Retrospect

Franco Venturi in Retrospect

Guido Franzinetti

This review essay intends to provide an overview of the many studies of Franco Venturi’s life
and work which have been published since his death in 1994. The starting-point is Adriano
Viarengo’s recent biography of Venturi. The successive stages of his life (Family and Educa-
tion, Paris, War and Post-War, Moscow, Academic Life, later Turning-points and Twilight
Years) are followed on the basis of the newly available evidence. A selection of publications
on Franco Venturi is provided.
Keywords : Venturi Franco, Historiography, Italy, Giustizia e Libertà, Roots of Revolution,

Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment.

Varieties of Biography

I n 1977, reviewing the second volume of Franco Venturi’s Settecento riformatore,

John Roberts argued that “Dazzling as his incursions into Russian populism and
modern historiography may be, he will be admired and remembered for what he has
done to the history of the Enlightenment”. 1 Has Roberts’s assessment proved cor-

rect ? If ‘impact’ (as understood by audit culture) is taken as the criterion, then Ven-

turi’s Il Populismo russo (1952) has had a much greater impact, at least on a global scale,
than any of his eighteenth-century studies. 2 On the other hand, on a European scale

the response is much more varied (outside the field of specialists of Russian history).
In Italy, Venturi’s name is more likely to be associated with his Settecento riformatore
In 1988, when the Blackwell Dictionary of Historians was published, Venturi was the
only twentieth-century Italian historian to be listed, apart from Benedetto Croce,
Antonio Gramsci and Arnaldo Momigliano. 3 Derek Beales’ entry on Venturi was

substantial and well-balanced in reflecting the diverse aspects of Venturi’s work. 4 In  

1992, John Robertson argued that “Of all great achievements of historical scholar-
ship in the second half of this century, few can claim to have been as truly European
as Franco Venturi’s Settecento Riformatore”. 5 In 2006, when Lutz Raphael edited a

two-volume series of Klassiker der Geschichtswissenschaft, Venturi was the only Italian

 John M. Roberts, “Putting the Pope in his Place”, Times Literary Supplement (1977): 142-143.
  The translation of Populismo russo – Roots of Revolution. A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements
in 19th-Century Russia (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960) – was reprinted as recently as 2001, and may
be found in many academic bookshops all over the world. The same cannot be said of the translations of
Venturi’s eighteenth-century studies.
  Croce and Gramsci would not be considered primarily historians. Momigliano’s case was quite dif-
ferent from Venturi’s. He emigrated to Great Britain in 1939, and his career remained based outside Italy.
  Derek Beales, “Venturi, Franco”, The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians, ed. by John Cannon et al. (Ox-
ford : Blackwell, 1988), 429-430.

  John Robertson, “Franco Venturi’s Enlightenment”, Past & Present, 137 (1992) : 183-206, see 183. · Storia della Storiografia, 71 · 1/2017

132 guido franzinetti
historian to appear. In short, Venturi achieved what no other contemporary Italian

historian ever managed to achieve : recognition at a European and global level. This

fact deserves some kind of explanation.

The publication of a new biography of Venturi by Adriano Viarengo 7 is a welcome  

addition to the steady trickle of studies on his life and work which have appeared since
his death in 1994. 8 It must be stressed that biographies are by no means prominent in

Italian publishing traditions : there is, quite simply, nothing like the tradition of biogra-

phy writing existing in Great Britain and in the United States. Even in the Italian aca-
demic world, the practice is seen as a necessary evil, as demonstrated by the standard
use of titles such as ‘Michelangelo in his times’, as if it were ever possible to describe
a subject’s life without also describing his context. Biographies of historians are even
less frequent (except as topics for PhDs) : at a stretch, one could list 7 historians who  

have been the subject of a biography : Gaetano Salvemini, Federico Chabod, Delio  

Cantimori, Nello Rosselli, Gioacchino Volpe, Rosario Romeo and Renzo De Felice. 9  

The lack of a solid tradition of biographies (scholarly or otherwise) in Italy derives

from various factors : the late appearance of a mass literary market, legal issues, and

literary cultures. 10 Bernard Crick has pointed out the differences between the English

and the French traditions of literary biography. 11 Over the past few decades an exten-  

sive re-evaluation of the role of biographies in scholarly research has taken place. 12  

There are also aspects which go to the heart of English and Italian historiographi-
cal traditions. Beales provided an instance of these issues, in response to an Italian
review of his book, England and Italy, 1859-1960 (1961). Giarrizzo had attacked
the sceptical and polemical nature [of Beales’ book] which connects it to a revisionist ap-
proach which nowadays prevails in English historiography, an approach which began with
H. Butterfield’s 1932 [sic] polemic against the Whig interpretation of history which – in a
singular revival of Vico’s theory of the heterogenesis of ends – uses ‘chance’ to re-intro-
duce God in history : it is an approach which translates historiographically in repeatedly

  Edoardo Tortarolo, “Franco Venturi (1914-1994)”, Klassiker der Geschichtswissenschaft, II, Von Fernand
Braudel bis Natalie Z. Davis, ed. by Lutz Raphael (München : C.H. Beck, 2006), 77-95.  

  Adriano Viarengo, Franco Venturi. Politica e storia nel Novecento (Roma : Carocci, 2014).  

  A selective list of these studies appears at the end of this article.
  Massimo L. Salvadori, Gaetano Salvemini (Torino : Einaudi, 1963) ; Gaspare De Caro, Gaetano Salvemini    

(Torino : Utet, 1970) ; Gaetano Quagliariello, Gaetano Salvemini (Bologna : Il Mulino, 2007) ; Antonella Dal-

lou, Federico Chabod : lo storico, il politico, l’alpinista (Aosta : Le Chateau, Istituto storico della Resistenza e

della società contemporanea in Valle d’Aosta, 2014) ; Giovanni Miccoli, Delio Cantimori : la ricerca di una nu-

ova critica storiografica (Torino : Einaudi, 1970) ; Giovanni Belardelli, Nello Rosselli : uno storico antifascista (Fi-

renze : Passigli, 1982) ; Patricia Chiantera-Stutte, Delio Cantimori : un intellettuale del Novecento (Roma, Caroc-

ci, 2011) ; Innocenzo Cervelli, Gioacchino Volpe (Napoli : Guida, 1977) ; Eugenio Di Rienzo, La storia e l’azione :

vita politica di Gioacchino Volpe (Firenze : Le Lettere, 2008) ; Guido Pescosolido, Rosario Romeo (Roma-Bari,

Laterza, 1990) ; Paolo Simoncelli, Renzo De Felice : la formazione intellettuale (Firenze : Le Lettere, 2001).

  I owe this point to Gianni Perona (Torre Pellice seminar, 1994).
  See Bernard Crick’s Introduction to his Orwell : a Life (London : Secker & Warburg, 1981). For broad

overviews of the English tradition, see Harold Nicolson, The Development of English Biography  (London :  

Hogarth Press, 1927) and Nigel Hamilton, Biography : a Brief History (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University

Press, 2007).
  Derek Beales, History and Biography : an Inaugural Lecture (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press,

1981), and History and Biography : Essays in Honour of Derek Beales, ed. by Timothy C. W. Blanning and David

Cannadine (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1996) ; “AHR Roundtable : Historians and Biogra-

phy”, American Historical Review, 114, 3 (2009) : 573-661 ; and the articles assembled under the title “Biography

and History : Inextricably Interwoven”, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 40, 3 (2010) : 305-435.
franco venturi in retrospect 133
opposing intentions to facts, political calculations to the ‘reasons for success’, in the often
exaggerated (and ultimately moralistic) inclination towards paradox which in reality iden-
tifies not only the defeat of intentions but [also] an enthralling and continuous reversal
of positions (the winner will find that success comes from the success of the opponent’s
plans) ultimately reflecting contempt for the art of politics, which is a mere ‘successful
gamble’, and for ‘politics’ which in the final analysis amounts to ‘unprincipled’ hypocrisy
and cynicism. 13 

Beales explained this somewhat surprising reaction (which lumped him together
with Butterfield, Namier and Mack Smith) in the following terms :  

Philosophical Idealism asserts that ideas (meaning ‘abstract concepts’, such as that of Italian
nationhood) are the true ‘concrete reality’ and the proper object of historical study, because
in the end they are destined to ‘embody themselves’ in institutions, such as the Italian State.
Historians who accept this view necessarily disbelieve that chances or accidents may have
important consequences. They are inclined to suppose that conscious thought commonly
achieves its aims and that right in some sense triumphs. This high-flown metaphysic clashes
violently with English pragmatism. 14  

The issues raised by Giuseppe Giarrizzo’s review and Beales’ subsequent response
are relevant for any discussion of biographies. This is all the more so in the case of
Venturi’s biography, since the review was published in the Rivista storica italiana,
which he directed from 1960 until his death in 1994. At the time, Venturi may have
shared to some extent Giarrizzo’s views, but we cannot be sure if this was still so in
later years. In any case, he always appreciated Beales’ work, just as Beales appreci-
ated his. 15

Venturi as a biographical subject

When it comes to the biography of Venturi, it would be difficult to find, if not impos-
sible, an academic historian with the ability to address the entire breadth of his inter-
ests. After all, his intellectual and geographical horizons ranged from the eighteenth
century to late nineteenth century Russia ; they reflected the centrality of political

experience in his life (Paris in the nineteen thirties, Italy during the Second World
War), and – last but not least – the role he played in the establishment (or re-estab-
lishment) of a network of international relations among European historians in the
Cold War era.
It therefore comes as no surprise that the biography of one of the most important
Italian historians of the twentieth century should be the work of an independent
scholar, Adriano Viarengo. He has already distinguished himself for his edition of the
correspondence of Lorenzo Valerio (a nineteenth-century democrat) and for a recent
biography of Cavour (2010). 16  

  Giuseppe Giarrizzo rev. of Derek Beales, England and Italy 1859-60, Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson, 1961,
Rivista storica italiana, 73, 1 (1961) : 819-826.

  Derek Beales, The Risorgimento and the unification of Italy (London : Allen & Unwin, 1971), 16.

  For Beales’ evaluation of Venturi’s work, see his article, “Franco Venturi and Joseph II’s ‘Grande pro-
getto’”, Rivista storica italiana, 108, 2-3 (1996) : 742-750.

  On Viarengo’s work see Martin Thom, “‘Neither Fish nor Fowl’ ? The Correspondence of Lorenzo

Valerio, 1825-1849”, Modern Italy, 11, 3 (2006) : 305-326 ; Adrian Lyttelton”,“When not in Rome” [review of

Adriano Viarengo, Cavour (Roma : Salerno editrice, 2010)], Times Literary Supplement (2011) : 7-8.
134 guido franzinetti
For all intents and purposes, this is an authorized biography, benefiting from full
access to the family archive, which contains most of Franco Venturi’s correspon-
dence. Viarengo’s objective is to clarify, as much as possible, the details of this life. It
is unlikely to be bettered in any way.
This does not claim to be a strictly intellectual biography. The first part of the book
is a mixture of intellectual and political history, while the second part reflects the es-
sentially academic nature of Venturi’s life in the post-war period. Viarengo has also
made a drastic choice, in (apparently) ruling out any use of oral testimonies. Having
worked for more than two decades next to Venturi (as Editorial Assistant at the Rivis-
ta storica italiana), Viarengo would not have had any shortage of oral testimonies
(at least as far as the post-war academic period was concerned). He may well have
had a fear of being overwhelmed by them. On the other hand, by the time Viarengo
started his biographical research (after Venturi’s death in 1994) there would not have
been around many survivors of the interwar years actually willing to talk about an
individual who was well-known for his reserve. This biography therefore rests on the
available correspondence and Venturi’s writings.
Viarengo has commendably avoided the trap in which biographers who knew the
subject of their work often fall : self-aggrandizement (a typical feature of the writings

of the Angry Young Men of the 1960s). 17 He does, however, incline towards another

sin of biographers, which is that of making the life of his subject appear more consis-
tent than may have actually have been the case. In other words, did Venturi always
follow the same intellectual and individual path ? Were there any radical turning-

points in his life ? 

Viarengo consistently asserts or implies the essential continuity in Venturi’s path,

despite all the turn of events he experienced during his life. The issue of continuity is
complex enough when dealing with general historical processes. As Alexander Ger-
schenkron once put it, “To say continuity means to formulate a question or a set of
questions and to address it to the material”. 18 Coming to individual cases, it creates

insoluble problems. Any biographer’s assertion of continuity or discontinuity in his

subject is part of a rhetorical strategy. What matters is the purpose of any such strat-
egy. This purpose gradually becomes clearer as the biography proceeds.
There is a further element which complicates the picture. Venturi was a highly
reserved individual, who was not usually inclined to reminisce on past events, even
in private conversation. In his historical writing he was always extremely reticent in
expressing directly his views. Reconstructing the different phases of his life – let alone
his thoughts – is by no means a straightforward matter.

Family and Education

Franco Venturi was destined to become an art historian. His grandfather, Adolfo
Venturi, was one of the founders of Italian art history. His father, Lionello Venturi,
was also one of the leading art historians of the subsequent generation. Had it not

  See, for example, Ronald Fraser et al., 1968 : a Student Generation in Revolt  (London : Chatto & Windus,

  Alexander Gerschenkron, “On the Concept of Continuity in History” (1962), Continuity in History
and Other Essays, ed. by Alexander Gerschenkron (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1968), 38.

franco venturi in retrospect 135
been for the rise of Italian Fascism, Franco would most likely have followed the fam-
ily path. This is not mere speculation, but what Venturi actually said to a younger
colleague in the 1960s, in a rare moment of personal disclosure. 19 This remark points  

not so much to some kind of counterfactual conjecture, as to a key element in under-

standing Venturi’s life.
On his father’s side, Venturi’s background was impeccably secular, non-Catholic,
Risorgimento patriotic. This did not, in itself, preclude sympathy for National Fas-
cism. Indeed, Adolfo Venturi rapidly identified with the rising Fascist establishment.
Lionello Venturi was part of the Nationalist movement, although he eventually
broke off from its more radical nationalist component in 1912. Even after Mussolini’s
rise to power, Lionello’s political stance was far from unequivocal. 20  

Franco followed a fairly conventional Italian middle class secular education, go-
ing to a state lycée (rather than to the Jesuits’ Istituto sociale). At the end of the lycée,
however, there occurred a crucial turning-point : Lionello’s decision not to proceed

with the oath of loyalty to the new regime, as all Italian university professors were re-
quired in 1931. Antonello Venturi’s highly detailed reconstruction has demonstrated
that Lionello’s decision was not as straightforward as it is usually portrayed. 21 Never-  

theless, it was one of the only eleven cases of a refusal to deliver the oath, and – most
importantly for Franco – it led to his father’s self-imposed exile in Paris, and to his
son’s transfer to the French educational system (baccalauréat and subsequent enrol-
ment at the Sorbonne).
It is by no means clear whether Lionello intended to direct Franco to an academic
career in France ; he may have had other destinations in mind. After all, the obvi-

ous route to integration in the French establishment would have involved sending
his son to one of the grandes écoles ; first to the khâgne, and then to the École Normale

Supérieure. 22 Lionello may well have guessed that France was not so open to foreign

talents. In those same years, when Albert O. Hirschman was contemplating to enrol
at Sciences Po, Michel Debré pointed out to him that a refugee could never seriously
aspire to become a diplomat. 23  

Whatever the case may have been, the fact remains that Venturi’s move to Paris
marked his entire life. Had he stayed in Italy, and had his father chosen not to make
an issue of oath of loyalty to Fascism – as many anti-Fascist intellectuals did, and con-
tinued to do until the end of the regime – Franco’s life would have worked out very
differently. He could have had a relatively normal Italian academic career, as was the
case for Norberto Bobbio (born in 1909). But even if he had chosen a riskier path of
underground anti-Fascist political involvement while remaining in Italy, as many of
his Italian political friends did, it was extremely likely that he would have been ar-

  Maria Luisa Pesante, personal communication, 2016.
  For Lionello’s political itinerary in the first part of his life, see Antonello Venturi, “Dal nazionalismo
familiare all’esilio. Nuova documentazione su Lionello Venturi, la guerra e la politica italiana, 1910-1932”,
Dal nazionalismo all’esilio. Gli anni torinesi di Lionello Venturi (1914-1932), ed. by Franca Varallo (Torino : Ar-

agno, 2016), 23-113.  Venturi, “Dal nazionalismo familiare all’esilio”.
  See Jean-François Sirinelli, Génération intellectuelle : Khâgneux et normaliens dans l’entre-deux-guerres (Pa-

ris : Fayard, 1988).

  Albert O. Hirschman, Passaggi di frontiera. I luoghi e le idee di un percorso di vita (Roma : Donzelli, 1994),

136 guido franzinetti
rested, or at the very least subjected to internal exile (confino). In Turin, this was the
case of Leone Ginzburg, Massimo Mila, Vittorio Foa, Renzo Giua. Venturi’s move
to France spared him the prolonged experience of prison and confino in the 1930s (he
was only briefly arrested and held by the police in 1932, just before his departure). In
short, Franco’s experience was quite untypical of his social and cultural milieu.

A Parisian education
It is unlikely that the Faculty of Arts of the Sorbonne would have provided a very
stimulating environment for a student whose interests were oriented towards what
at the time Venturi would have been labelled political and social history. Daniel
Mornet and Paul Hazard (two literary historians) were the dominant figures in the
field of eighteenth-century studies. Historians of the French Revolution were more
appealing for him : Albert Mathiez (who died in 1932), and Georges Lefebvre (who

arrived at the Sorbonne in 1935). This is made very clear by the manner in which
Venturi later portrayed Jean Jaurès, Mathiez and Lefebvre in his collection of histo-
riographical essays. 24  

Quite independently, he embarked on a study of Diderot, which was to culminate

in his first major work, Jeunesse de Diderot (1939). 25 But when it came to fulfilling his

actual French doctoral requirements, he chose a Piedmontese idéologue, Dalmazzo

Francesco Vasco. 26 The thèse was going to be discussed on 13 June 1940, precisely on

the eve of the entry of German troops in Paris. It was never discussed ; more press-  

ing issues had come to the fore, and that marked the end of Venturi’s incursion in
French academia.
One aspect which already stood out was Venturi’s interest in the eighteenth-cen-
tury roots of nineteenth- and twentieth-century socialism. This interest was focussed
especially on utopian thought, as in the case of Dom Deschamps. 27 In itself, this in-  

clination was by no means exceptional in interwar Italian academic culture. It was

not even restricted to scholars who may have chosen the topic as an instrument
to express socialist sympathies : many Fascist historians and philosophers – includ-

ing Gioacchino Volpe and Giovanni Gentile – studied heretics and utopian thinkers,
starting from Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella. Even Filippo Buonarroti
– the author of the Histoire de la Conspiration pour l’Égalité dite de Babeuf [1828], and one
of the subjects of Venturi’s early researches in Paris – was studied by Volpe’s pupils.
Venturi’s approach to these topics, naturally, differed. Nevertheless, he would later
remind his students of the effect which Delio Cantimori’s Eretici italiani del Cinquecen-
to had on him in Paris, in 1939, at a time when its author was still very much part of
the Fascist intellectual establishment : “Aldo Garosci and I wondered : ‘What does

  Franco Venturi, Jean Jaurès e altri storici della rivoluzione francese (Torino : Einaudi, 1948). His later col-

lection of essays translated into French – Historiens du 20ème siècle : Jaurès, Salvemini, Namier, Maturi, Tarle

et discussion entre historiens italiens et soviétiques (Genève : Droz, 1966) – included only the essay on Jaurès.

  Franco Venturi, Jeunesse de Diderot :  de 1713 à 1753 (Paris : Skira, 1939). The original Italian text was pub-

lished much later, as Giovinezza di Diderot : 1713- 1753 (Palermo : Sellerio, 1988).

  Franco Venturi, Dalmazzo Francesco Vasco (1732-1794) : les aventures et la pensée d’un idéologue piémontais :

thèse pour le doctorat d’Université présentée à la Facultés des lettres de Paris (Paris : Librairie E. Droz, 1940).

  Dom Deschamps, Le Vrai Système ou le mot de l’énigme métaphysique et morale, ed. by Jean Thomas and
Franco Venturi (Paris : E. Droz, 1939).

franco venturi in retrospect 137
Cantimori really have in mind ?’”. In short, Venturi remained in exile, but he main-

tained a close connection with the Italian cultural context.

It is symptomatic that Viarengo’s book does not provide many references to Ven-
turi’s university life in the 1930s, precisely because of a lack of documentation. On
the other hand, Venturi’s political activities in this period are widely documented.
Paris meant meeting Carlo Rosselli, and joining his militant anti-Fascist movement
“Giustizia e Libertà” (which Lionello also supported, even from a financial point of
view). 29 It also meant meeting Aldo Garosci, who had fled Italy in 1932, following a

wave of arrests by the Italian police. 30 Garosci also worked for Lionello as a sort of

research assistant. But for Franco he represented, first and foremost, a direct connec-
tion to the active and militant anti-Fascism of Turin of the period 1929-1932. Rosselli
had managed to escape from Italy in 1929 ; but he belonged to another generation (he

was born in 1899). Garosci (born in 1907) was much closer to Franco, generationally
and otherwise.
Venturi was extremely active in “Giustizia e Libertà”, and was a frequent con-
tributor to its publications. 31 His contributions can be grouped in three categories :

(i) politics and international affairs (ranging from Fascist Italy to the Soviet Union) ;  

(ii) internal political and ideological debates in ‘GL’ ; (iii) historical topics (usually

concerning eighteenth- and nineteenth-century political history). Many aspects of his

subsequent development as a historian can be traced back to these early writings. 32  

“Giustizia e Libertà” was not just a debating club, but a radical political organiza-
tion devoted to the overthrow of the Italian Fascist regime. It was therefore perfectly
natural for its members to be directly involved in the Spanish Civil War. Carlo Ros-
selli went to fight in Spain, and so did Garosci. Venturi did not, although he was al-
ready 22 years old when the Civil War broke out : his father intervened with Rosselli

to rule out any such prospect. 33 So political commitment clearly had its limits. He

went instead to Leningrad in 1936, for reasons connected to his eighteenth-century

researches, but also to see the Soviet system with his own eyes. 34  

  See Delio Cantimori, Eretici italiani del Cinquecento. Ricerche storiche (Firenze: Sansoni, 1939); new edi-
tion, ed. by Adriano Prosperi (Torino : Einaudi, 1992). Since after the war Cantimori became most promi-

nent historian of the Italian Communist Party, there has been a vast historiographical literature on his life
and work. See, for example, Roberto Pertici, “Mazzinianesimo, fascismo, comunismo : l’itinerario politico

di Delio Cantimori (1919-1943)”, Storia della storiografia, 31 (1997) : 3-168.  

  Carlo Rosselli has been widely discussed in Italian historiography. For a wide-ranging discussion of
his intellectual legacy, see Marco Bresciani, Quale antifascismo ? Storia di Giustizia e libertà (Roma : Carocci,

  For a description of Garosci’s life, see Daniele Pipitone, Alla ricerca della libertà : vita di Aldo Garosci

(Milano : Angeli, 2017).

  Some of his most significant articles have been reprinted in Franco Venturi, La lotta per la libertà. Scritti
politici, ed. by Leo Casalino (Torino : Einaudi, 1996). Approximately 100 items have been attributed to Ven-

turi (who published under a variety of pseudonyms).

  On these aspects see Edoardo Tortarolo, “La rivolta e le riforme. Appunti per una biografia intellet-
tuale di Franco Venturi 1914-1994”, Studi settecenteschi, 15 (1995): 9-42 ; and Tortarolo, “L’esilio della libertà.

Franco Venturi e la cultura europea degli anni Trenta”, Il coraggio della ragione. Franco Venturi intellettuale e
storico cosmopolita. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi (Torino, 12-14 dicembre 1996), ed. by Luciano Guerci
and Giuseppe Ricuperati (Torino : Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 1998), 89-107.

 Viarengo, Franco Venturi, 67-68.
  Venturi’s five articles on his impressions from his Russian trip, published in the weekly Giustizia e
Libertà. Movimento di unificazione socialista (January-February 1937), have been reprinted in Venturi, La lotta
per la libertà, 50-79.
138 guido franzinetti
To situate politically Venturi, it is essential to be aware of the fact that “Giustizia
e Libertà” was by no means a moderate socialist alternative to the Communist Party
of Italy and the Communist International. On the contrary, it proposed a new, radi-
cal kind of politics, and it was on the side of the leftist critics of the French Popular
Front, and therefore critical of orthodox Communists who supported its moderate
policies. 35 This was also the case when “Giustizia e Libertà” confronted the Popular

Front in the Spanish Civil War, even before the Communist attacks on anarchists
and dissident Marxists in Barcelona in 1937.
It was not at all surprising, therefore, that in 1937 Venturi should strike up a friend-
ship with an Italian Communist from Fiume, Leo Weiczen (later known as Leo Val-
iani). Weiczen was still officially an orthodox Communist, but he was also connected
to a secret dissident group within the French Communist Party, known as “Que
faire ?”, which had labelled itself as “Democratic Communist”. 36 This friendship was

to prove extremely lasting and significant, as the correspondence which Venturi and
Valiani maintained throughout their lives demonstrates. 37  

War : Defeat

In the second half of the 1930s there had always been an element which had favoured
a relatively close relationship between “Giustizia e Libertà” and Italian Communists
in France : the distancing from French Socialist pacifism. 38 But the announcement

of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact at the end of August 1939 and the beginning of the
Second World radically changed the situation. The French Communist Party was
banned, and became a clandestine organization.
“Giustizia e Libertà” had already experienced a shock in 1937, when its founder and
leader Carlo Rosselli had been assassinated by French radical nationalists, presum-
ably at the behest of Mussolini. “Giustizia e Libertà” initial reaction to the announce-
ment of the Nazi-Soviet Pact had been initially rather muted, but afterwards it was
quite firm in condemning it.
The Pact and the outbreak of war determined the destiny of Garosci, Venturi, and
Valiani, but in quite different ways, especially after the fall of France in June 1940.
Garosci and Venturi (who had the advantage of not being affiliated to the French
or Italian Communist parties) were able to get visas for the United States. Valiani
(who officially remained a member of the Communist Party of Italy) had been ar-
  For a preliminary overview of these political trends, see Pierre Broué and Nicole Dorey, “Critiques
de gauche et opposition révolutionnaire au Front Populaire (1936-1938)”, Le Mouvement social, 54 (1966) :  

 For a comprehensive account of Leo Weiczen/Valiani’s early life, see Andrea Ricciardi, Leo Valiani.
Gli anni della formazione. Tra socialismo, comunismo e rivoluzione democratica (Milano : FrancoAngeli, 2007).

For discussions of current historiography on Valiani, see Edoardo Tortarolo, “Leo Valiani : storia e politi-

ca”, Rivista storica italiana, 122 (2010) : 158-175 ; and Guido Franzinetti, “Leo Weiczen : Communist, Demo-

cratic Communist, Revolutionary Democrat”, Časopis za povijest Zapadne Hrvatske/West Croatian History
Journal, 10 (2016) : 45-59.

  Leo Valiani and Franco Venturi, Lettere 1943-1979, ed. by Edoardo Tortarolo (Firenze : La Nuova Italia

Editrice, 1999).
  On pacifist attitudes among French Socialists during the interwar years, see Richard Gombin, Les
socialistes et la guerre. La SFIO et la politique étrangère française entre les deux guerres mondiales (Paris: Mouton,
1970) ; Christian Jelen, Hitler ou Staline. Le prix de la paix (Paris : Flammarion, 1988) ; Christophe Prochasson,

Les intellectuels, le socialisme et la guerre, 1900-1938 (Paris : Seuil, 1993).

franco venturi in retrospect 139
rested by the French police in September 1939, and interned at Le Vernet camp, in
southern France. Garosci eventually managed to reach the USA, and was able to fit in
with the Italian anti-Fascist network. Venturi was supposed to follow a similar route,
but – having somewhat naively chosen to reach Lisbon by crossing Spain – he was
detained at the border by the Francoist police (since his name was on the list of indi-
viduals wanted by the Italian authorities), held in a Spanish jail, and then delivered to
Italy. Valiani – who had by then left the Italian Communist Party – managed to es-
cape from Le Vernet relatively easily, and was then able to reach Mexico City, where
he established links with other dissident Communists, including Victor Serge. 39  

Venturi’s arrest proved to be – to some extent – a blessing in disguise. Being an

Italian citizen, he was spared a summary execution. Once in Italy, the fact of com-
ing from senator Adolfo Venturi’s family shielded him from the most drastic forms
of detention (Fascist Italy remained a very class-conscious society). He was sent into
internal exile in Avigliano, in Basilicata, where he seems to have been able to work at
least on publishing assignments for the publisher Giulio Einaudi, and to be in contact
with Benedetto Croce. 40  

War : Resistance

Unsurprisingly, very little documentation on Venturi in the years 1939-1943 has sur-
vived. One recent discovery to have surfaced is a set of two essays on Communism,
one written in 1939 and another in 1941. 41 To what extent do they illuminate Venturi’s

later work ?  

If one has in mind Venturi’s wartime pamphlet, “Socialismo di oggi e di domani”

(1943), there is little which is actually surprising in these two essays. 42 These contain  

fairly general considerations on the history of European socialism, which will be cer-
tainly useful in any overall reconstruction of Venturi’s historiography. 43  

Venturi was not inclined to write and to publish any memoirs, let alone spend
much time on reminiscences of the years of the Resistance. 44 Together with many of 

his friends in the Partito d’Azione, he had shared the hope of a ‘democratic revolution’
in post-war Italy, involving radical changes in Italy, and not simply a return to the
pre-Fascist status quo. But he did not produce any detailed analysis of the subsequent
demise of these plans, unlike Leo Valiani or Vittorio Foa.
  Valiani’s experience at Le Vernet was described in Arthur Koestler’s Scum of the Earth (London : Jona-  

than Cape, 1941), in which he was mentioned with pseudonym ‘Mario’.

  See Benedetto Croce and Franco Venturi, Carteggio, ed. by Silvia Berti (Bologna : Il Mulino, 2008).

  Franco Venturi, Comunismo e socialismo. Forma di un’idea, ed. by Manuela Albertone, Daniela Steila,
Edoardo Tortarolo and Antonello Venturi (Torino : Centro studi di storia dell’Università di Torino, 2014).

  See Leo Aldi [Franco Venturi], “Socialismo di oggi e di domani” (Partito d’Azione, Quaderno n. 17,
1943, reprinted in Venturi, La lotta per la libertà, 221-254). Altiero Spinelli published a highly critical review
of this essay in the clandestine publication of the Partito d’Azione. See Pantagruel [Altiero Spinelli], “Alcune
osservazioni a proposito di ‘Socialismo di oggi e di domani’ di Leo Aldi”, Nuovi Quaderni di Giustizia e Lib-
ertà, 1, 1944, reprinted in Spinelli, Machiavelli nel secolo XX. Scritti del confino e della clandestinità, ed. by Piero
Graglia (Bologna : Il Mulino, 1993), 293-301.

  In addition to the introductory essays in Venturi, Comunismo e socialismo, see Alberto Masoero, “Ri-
leggendo il Populismo russo di Franco Venturi”, Rivista storica italiana, 127, 3 (2015) : 853-868.

  His only significant article on the Italian Resistance was the joint article with Ferruccio Parri, “La
Resistenza e gli Alleati”, Il Movimento di Liberazione in Italia, 13 (1961) : 18-55 (reprinted in Venturi, La lotta

per la libertà).
140 guido franzinetti
He continued to work for the press of the Partito d’Azione, wrote for it throughout
1945-46, and then abandoned the political arena. At the end of the day, Venturi had been
a historian on leave assigned to politics (unlike his friends Garosci and Valiani, who
were essentially politicians, and later politicians manqués). In 1947 he began to prepare
himself for a return to academic life, by publishing a series of essays and short studies. 45  

Given the precarious condition of Italy, Venturi began by hedging his bets, taking
up a significant role in the re-establishment of the Turinese left-wing publisher, Gi-
ulio Einaudi. But he was also able to benefit from a stroke of luck in 1947, in terms of
the offer to join the Italian embassy in Moscow as cultural attaché. The offer was by
no means totally fortuitous. The Italian ambassador to the Soviet Union was Manlio
Brosio, an exponent of liberalism of the pre-Fascist era, and part of the current of Ital-
ian diplomacy which was still attempting direct Italy towards a neutralist ‘third way’,
in between the two emerging Cold War blocs. 46 So the choice of a leftist intellectual,

at that precise moment, made perfect sense.

Venturi arrived in Moscow in 1947 and returned to Italy in 1950. He was accompa-
nied by his wife Gigliola Spinelli, an accomplished partisan fighter, and an intellec-
tual in her own right. From this highly formative experience, Venturi retained a vast
range of knowledge and direct experience of Russian society (‘Soviet’ was an adjec-
tive which never became part of his vocabulary).
How much did he see, and what did he make of it ? Having started off with plans

for a history of eighteenth-century Russia, he soon discovered that there was at hand
a topic which was closer to his interest in the history of European Socialism : Russian  

Populism (which was distant enough not to be totally forbidden territory, but close
enough to be relevant for understanding Russian society). On this basis, he was able
to write his path-breaking Il Populismo russo, published in Italy in 1952. 47  

Venturi was also able to see much more than simply old socialist debates. The pub-
lication of part of his correspondence, and many previously unpublished materials,
has allowed Italian Russian specialists to establish a much cleared picture of many
aspects of Il Populismo russo, and of his views of Russia at the time. 48  

To what extent was Venturi starry-eyed about the actual reality of Stalinist Russia ?  

To what extent did he understand what he saw ? Depending on one’s views of the

Cold War, he can be portrayed in many different ways. Leaving aside disputes of this
kind, it may be possible to point to one factor which played a role in his subsequent as-
sessment of Soviet Russia : the fact of witnessing the full display of the ‘anti-Cosmopol-

itan’ campaign. It was one thing to notice (as Venturi had always done) the nationalist
tendencies in Soviet politics and society, and quite another to see the virulence of that

  These studies included Franco Venturi, Le origini dell’Enciclopedia (Roma-Firenze-Milano : Edizioni U,

1946) ; Venturi, L’antichità svelata e l’idea di progresso in N. A. Boulanger (1722-1759) (Bari : Laterza, 1947).

  For an outline of these positions, see Sergio Romano, Guida alla politica estera italiana (Milano : Riz- 

zoli, 1993).   Franco Venturi, Il Populismo russo, I-II (Torino : Giulio Einaudi, 1952).

  For a wide selection of the documentation on these topics, see Franco Venturi, “Lettere da Mosca”,
ed. by Aldo Agosti and Giovanni de Luna, Passato e presente, 13, 35 (1995) : 97-109 ; and Franco Venturi e la Rus-

sia, con documenti inediti, ed. by Antonello Venturi, Annali della Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, 40 (2004
franco venturi in retrospect 141
‘anti-Cosmopolitan’ campaign. For a non-Marxist Socialist who had been willing to

give the Soviets the benefit of the doubt, this may have been too much.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Venturi had had no qualms (as Viarengo amply
demonstrates) in attaching the label ‘totalitarian’ to Soviet Russia. Yet, in his later
years, he made a point of saying that “It was Gigliola who first saw that it was like
Italian Fascism”. 50 This may well have been a posthumous homage to his deceased

wife, yet it certainly reflected what he thought by that stage of his life.

Academic life, 1951-1960

By 1951 Venturi had managed to win a post in the Italian university system, starting in
Cagliari. By 1955 he was able to move to Genoa, and finally, in 1958, to Turin. In 1960
he succeeded Federico Chabod as Editor of the Rivista storica italiana (a post which
he kept, right until his death in 1994). The Banca Commerciale Italiana assigned him
responsibility for the series of volumes on Italian Enlightenment thinkers. 51 In many  

respects, his life became much less adventurous than it had been in the past. But in
some others, the 1950s were marked by some of some crucial developments.
At an international level, he played a key role in the International Congresses of
Historical Sciences held in Rome (1955) and in Stockholm (1960). These were years in
which there were no easy forms of international communication, and in which these
congresses really made a difference to their participants. 52 In particular, the Rome

Congress constituted the first post-war occasion – indeed, the first after Stalin’s death
– at which a Soviet delegation of historians was present. This also applied to other
Eastern European delegations, starting with the Polish one, which contained most
of the historians who were to shape post-war Polish historiography : amongst others,  

Aleksander Gieysztor, Witold Kula and Stefan Kieniewicz. This happened despite
the misgivings of the Polish security services, which were well aware of the fact that
these were not Communist historians in any way ; indeed, they came mainly from

the Biuro Informacji i Propagandy of the Armia Krajowa, which, after the advent of
the Communist regime in 1945, had been specifically instructed to take part in the
reconstruction of the Polish historical profession, despite their reservations on the
new regime. 53 Venturi established and maintained contacts not only with the Soviet

historians, but also Polish and other Eastern European historians.

  For discussion of the topic by a Polish scholar who was present in the Soviet Union at the time, see
Jerzy W. Borejsza, “Staline et le cosmopolitisme (1945-1953)”, Vingtième siècle. Revue d’histoire, 108 (2010) :  

113-126.   Franco Venturi, personal communication (circa 1992).
  Venturi edited the section on “Illuministi italiani”, in the series “La letteratura italiana. Storia e testi”,
published by Ricciardi, Naples. 
  This is illustrated very effectively by Maxine Berg, “East-West Dialogues : Economic Historians, the

Cold War, and Détente”, Journal of Modern History, 87, 1 (2015) : 36-71. I owe this point to a personal com-

munication from professor Marcin Kula, Unywersitet Warszawski, 2015.

 I owe this point to a conversation with professor Karol Modzelewski, Polish Academy of Sciences,
2015. His statement is also corroborated by other sources. For the case of Witold Kula, see Marcin Kula,
Mimo  wszystko : bliżej Paryża niż Moskwy : książka o Francji, PRL i o nas, historykach  [After all : closer to

Paris than Moscow : a book about France, Polish People’s Republic and about us, historians] (Warszawa :

Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2010). Marcin Kula based his reconstruction not only on his
family’s archives, but also on the declassified reports from the security services. For the case of Kieniewicz,
see Stefan Kieniewicz-Henryk Wereszycki, Korespondencja z lat 1947-1990 [Correspondence from the years
1947-1990], ed. by Elżbieta Orman (Kraków : Księgarnia Akademicka, 2013).

142 guido franzinetti
Venturi replicated the same pattern of networking at the Stockholm Congress of
1960 (together with the parallel Uppsala Conference on “Le mouvement des idées
dans les pays slaves pendant la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle”, 19-21 August 1960).
He was assigned a more prominent role in Stockholm, presenting the Rapport on
“The Enlightenment in eighteenth-century Europe”. But what is most striking,
throughout the 1950s and beyond, was Venturi’s ability to establish contact and ex-
changes with historians from highly diverse backgrounds, not least from very dif-
ferent political backgrounds : Herbert Butterfield (who had sympathised with the

Francoist side during the Spanish Civil War), various German Historians who had
played an active political role under National Socialism (e.g., Fritz Valjavec, Eduard
Winter), 54 independent Marxist historians in the German Democratic Republic (Wal-

ter Markov), and many others. 55 Venturi was not blind to the implications of these

backgrounds, but he clearly considered that – at least in these cases – the value of the
historian’s craft prevailed. The fruits of this historiographical open-mindedness were
fully expressed in later years, and especially in the Trevelyan Lectures in 1969. 56  

At a national level, Venturi was inevitably drawn into the politics of the Italian in-
telligentsia, with highly frustrating results. In 1953, even a minor journal devoted to
the history of the labour movement, Movimento Operaio, was subjected to the stric-
tures of the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Italian Communist Party. The editor of the
journal, Gianni Bosio, a young and promising Socialist intellectual, was promptly
sacked at the behest of the Communist Party by the publisher Giangiacomo Feltri-
nelli. 57 Venturi and his non-Communist friends, who had originally supported the

journal in a spirit of independence from Cold War alignment, decided to abandon it.
A more significant challenge was represented by Venturi’s role in the activities of
the Turin publisher Giulio Einaudi, who was closely (if not totally) aligned with the
PCI cultural policies. Venturi had been working on some of its publications since his
return to Italy in 1941, and had continued to provide advice to Einaudi after the end
of the war.
The effect of the crises of 1956 – de-Stalinization, the Secret Report at the Twenti-
eth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, Polish events and finally the Hungar-
ian revolt – have often been mythologized in accounts left by former PCI members,
  On Fritz Valjavec’s activities during the National Socialist period, see, e.g., Südostforschung im Schatten
des Dritten Reiches. Institutionen - Inhalte - Personen, ed. by Mathias Beer and Gerhard Seewann (München :  

Oldenbourg, 2004). For the case of Eduard Winter (who played a significant role both in the Nazi pe-
riod and in the DDR era) see Ines Luft, Eduard Winter zwischen Gott, Kirche und Karriere : vom böhmischen

katholischen Jugendbundführer zum DDR-Historiker (Leipzig : Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2016). I would

like to thank professor Stefan Troebst (Leipzig) for pointing out these cases. Venturi maintained regular
contact with both historians, although in Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment (Cambridge : Cambridge

University Press, 1971) he referred to an article by Marc Raeff on Winter which made clear the nature of
Winter’s past.
  For the case of Walter Markov, see “Lust am Krimi” : Beiträge zu Werk und Wirkung Walter Markovs,

ed. by Matthias Middell (Leipzig : Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2011). I would like to thank professor

Middell (Leipzig) for information on Markov. Venturi also made reference to the work of the Hungarian
historian Erik Molnár, usually considered a very orthodox Marxist, but who in fact played an important
role in the modernisation of Hungarian historiography. I owe this point to Balázs Trencsényi (CEU, Bu-
dapest).  Venturi, Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment, esp. 1-17, and 117-136.
  A few years later Feltrinelli, departing from Italian Communist orthodoxy, published Pasternak’s Doc-
tor Zhivago. See Paolo Mancuso, Inside the Zhivago Storm : The Editorial Adventures of Pasternak’s Masterpiece

(Milano : Feltrinelli, 2013).

franco venturi in retrospect 143
in terms of an ‘unforgettable 1956’. For many Italian left-wing intellectuals that year
delivered, indeed, traumatic shocks. This was not the case of Venturi, who may have
had a degree of sympathy for the Soviet regime at some stages of his life, but had
abandoned any illusions after his stay in Moscow, as is demonstrated by the corre-
spondence with his closest friend, Leo Valiani. 58  

What instead Venturi had managed to preserve was the hope (or, in retrospect,
the illusion) that something might change inside the Italian Communist Party. This
aspect of Venturi’s attitudes has recently been confirmed by the publication of the di-
ary of the Socialist intellectual Daniele Ponchiroli on the effects of the events of 1956
on the milieu of the publisher Einaudi,. 59 The year 1956 certainly marked a turning-

point in Venturi’s life, but not because of any trauma derived from Khrushev or
Budapest, but, more prosaically, from what he saw as the pusillanimity of intellectu-
als connected to the Italian Communist Party (which included Italo Calvino, Paolo
Spriano and Antonio Giolitti).

The 1960s as a Turning-point ?  

Observers of Venturi’s life have sometimes implied that the 1960s marked a turning-
point. For the (former) Angry Young Men the predictable narrative is the following :  

a leftist historian reaches middle age, academic success and recognition, and progres-
sively sheds his radicalism, and adopts the path towards some form of conservatism.
This kind of narrative says something of the generation of the 1960s, but not much
about Venturi himself. (Viarengo – himself a child of the 1960s – thankfully avoids
such a pitfall).
The 1960s did, undoubtedly, mark a turning for Venturi, but for rather more com-
plex reasons. For a start, the English translation of Il populismo russo was finally pub-
lished, together with a significant Introduction by Isaiah Berlin. 60 This fact increased

enormously his international visibility. For a variety of reasons, he became more

inclined to accept invitations to the United States, and not simply in Europe.
Maria Luisa Pesante has argued that between the beginning of the 1960s and the late
1960s Venturi operated a significant shift in his historiographical perspective, indeed
adopted the United States as a historical model, discarding previous European mod-
els. 61 This interpretation may well be contested by other specialists, but it certainly pro-

vides a much more convincing explanation for Venturi’s views in the 1960s, than any
predictable paradigm of ‘Fathers vs. Sons’ (favoured by many children of the 1960s).
An attentive reading of what comes closest to an intellectual autobiography – Ven-
turi’s Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment – also reveals some interesting presenc-

  Valiani and Venturi, Lettere 1943-1979.
  Daniele Ponchiroli, La parabola dello Sputnik. Diario, 1956-1958 , ed. by Tommaso Munari (Pisa : Edizioni

della Normale, 2017).

  For an extremely detailed and convincing analysis of the shift in Venturi’s thinking between the 1952
edition of Populismo russo and the English translation (entitled Roots of Revolution) see Daniela Steila, “Fran-
co Venturi e Il populismo russo”, and Alberto Masoero, “Il partigiano e il cosacco. Franco Venturi, Herzen e
l’Unione sovietica (1952-1962)”, both in Franco Venturi e la Russia, 401-454 and 463-494.
  Maria Luisa Pesante, “Contro il paradigma : il repubblicanesimo difficile di Franco Venturi”, Il repub-

blicanesimo moderno. L’idea di repubblica nella riflessione storica di Franco Venturi, ed. by Manuela Albertone
(Napoli: Bibliopolis, 2006), 321-343, esp. 337-341.
144 guido franzinetti
es and absences. There are not many signs of any attention to the emerging Cam-
bridge School of intellectual history (with the exception of J. G. A. Pocock, who had
a long-standing connection to Italian historiography). One finds instead references
to Charles H. Wilson, and even more to Frederic C. Lane. These were more than
just polite references : Lane was by no means a welcome figure in radical academic

circles. 62 Venturi was perhaps making a point. He was most certainly making a point

in his presentation of Piero Gobetti’s writings on the Risorgimento, in outlining his

view of a historiography which he might still have considered ‘social history’, were it
not for the risk of being associated with new intellectual fashions. 63  

Whatever the case may be, the late 1960s marked the beginning of the publication
of Venturi’s magnum opus, Settecento riformatore. 64 While the first two volumes were

relatively well accepted, at least in Italian historiography, the third volume (La prima
crisi dell’Antico Regime, 1768-1776) had a less enthusiastic reception. This marked the
beginning of process of gradual distancing of Italian eighteenth-century historiog-
raphy, which became clearer when the volumes on the history of Venice were dis-
cussed in the 1980s. 65 On the other hand, there was enough interest in the volumes

on the End of the Old Regime in Europe, for them to be translated and published in
the United States. 66  

The 1970s marked a turning-point also in other fields. First of all, the publication
of the second, revised edition of Il populismo russo (which had been stimulated by
the preparation for a French translation of the book) allowed Venturi to clarify and
subtly modify his views on Russian history. 67 Among the many signs of changes in

emphasis, there was a re-evalution of Pierre Pascal’s studies. 68  

By this stage, his book was an established classic of the historiography of nine-
teenth-century Russia. Isaiah Berlin made explicit his strong reservations about Ven-
turi’s approach, but in fact these had always existed, as the Berlin’s correspondence
with Walicki amply demonstrates. 69  

  See, e.g., Eric Cochrane and Julius Kirshner, “Deconstructing Lane’s Venice”, The Journal of Modern
History, 47, 2 (1975) : 321-334.

  Franco Venturi, “Nota introduttiva”, Piero Gobetti, Scritti storici, letterari e filosofici, ed. by Paolo Spri-
ano (Torino : Einaudi, 1969), 5-16.

  For an overview of Settecento riformatore, see Robertson, “Franco Venturi’s Enlightenment”, 183-
  Luciano Guerci, Carlo Capra, Furio Diaz, Marino Berengo, Franco Venturi, “Settecento riforma-
tore”, Annali della Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 19 (1985) : 405-454.

  See Robert Burr Litchfield, “The English translation of Settecento riformatore and its Anglo-American
reception”, Rivista storica italiana, 108, 2-3 (1996) : 755-770 ; and Litchfield, “Franco Venturi’s ‘crisis’ of The

Old Regime”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 10, 2 (2005) : 234-244.  

  Franco Venturi, Il populismo russo (Torino : Einaudi, 1972). For the subtle changes between the two

editions, see “Franco Venturi e Il populismo russo”, and Masoero, “Il partigiano e il cosacco”, and Masoero,
“Rileggendo il Populismo russo di Franco Venturi”, Rivista storica italiana, 127, 3 (2015) : 853-868.

  On Pierre Pascal, see Sophie Coeuré, Pierre Pascal : la Russie entre christianisme et communisme (Lau-

sanne : Noir sur Blanc, 2014) ; and Jonathan Beecher, “The Making and Unmaking of a French Christian

Bolshevik : The Soviet Years of Pierre Pascal”, Journal of Modern History, 87, 1 (2015) : 1-35.

  See Isaiah Berlin, “Russian Thought and the Slavophile Controversy”, [review of Andrzej Walicki, A
History of Russian Thought (From the Enlightenment to Marxism) and The Slavophile Controversy], Slavonic and
East European Review,  59 (1981): 572-586 ; Venturi’s response, in his preface to Venturi, Studies in Free Rus-

sia (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1982) ; and for the Berlin-Walicki correspondence, see Andrzej

Walicki, Encounters with Isaiah Berlin : Story of an Intellectual Friendship (Frankfurt am Main : Peter Lang, 2011).
franco venturi in retrospect 145
The end of the 1960s also seemed to mark Venturi’s definite distancing from the
publisher Einaudi and, more generally, the Communist intelligentsia. The immedi-
ate cause of was the publication of a violent attack on traditional academic values
(written by one of Einaudi’s executives). 70 In reality, Venturi had begun the process

of distancing himself from the Communist intelligentsia in the 1950s, first with the
Movimento Operaio affair, then with the disappointment of 1956, and then with the
changes in the publishing model undertaken by Einaudi in the mid-1960s (which in-
evitably sidelined him). Venturi resigned from his position as an advisor to Einaudi,
but in fact continued to publish most of his work with the publisher. It was not so
much a break-up as a gradual process of disenchantment.
The Italian radical Sixties never impressed him much, since, as Viarengo points
out, he had had advance notice of what would come through his experiences on the
American campuses. 71 He saw the Italian rebels of the Sixties as an essentially anti-

political movement. 72  

In the 1970s his attitude to the Soviet Union was marked by a a much more explicit
espression of his views. He took part in conferences in support of Soviet dissent,
and occasionally wrote for émigré journals. He never gave up hope of some kind of
change in the Soviet Union, but never joined the euphoria of the early Gorbachev
years. He was not inclined to make statements on the validity of socialism (however
defined), but he was now inclined to see socialism in terms of a “generous illusion”. 73  

Unanswered questions
Adriano Viarengo has provided the first comprehensive account of Franco Venturi’s
life and work. Given present tendencies towards increasing specialization, it will be
increasingly difficult for any single historian to adequately assess the entire range of
Venturi’s work. The strictly factual, unspeculative character of Viarengo’s biography
is therefore essential.
No biographer should ever try to solve all the riddles in his subject’s life. For ex-
ample, some readers might have wanted some discussion with the ambiguous usage
of religious terminology in debates among antifascists (Venturi was no exception in
this regard). Did a Protestant mother from Geneva make any difference in this re-
gard ? Viarengo does not address this issue, and it is unlikely that there could ever be

a conclusive answer. 74  

On other issues, Viarengo provides clear answers, starting from the issue of conti-
nuity. To what extent did Venturi remain faithful to his youthful interest in Socialist
utopianism and “Enlightenment Communism” ? To what extent did the volumes of

Settecento riformatore signal a gradual shift in Venturi’s perspective ? Viarengo is on the

  [Corrado Vivanti], “La ‘delinquenza accademica’”, Libri nuovi, 2, 1 (1968): 1.
  For his reflections on the United States and American universities, see Venturi, La lotta per la libertà,
  On this aspect see his retrospective view in Venturi, “The Roots of Terrorism”, Quadrant, 26 (1982):
16-19, see 17-18, and the remarks in Pesante, “Il repubblicanesimo difficile”, 336-337.
  Venturi expressed himself in these terms at a conference at the Club Turati in Turin in 1979.
  A preliminary discussion on the meaning of religious terminology is provided in Tortarolo, “L’esilio
della libertà. Franco Venturi e la cultura europea degli anni Trenta”, 93-94. See also Marco Bresciani, “I
giellisti come utopisti ed eretici”, Contemporanea, 20, 1 (2017) : 31-61.

146 guido franzinetti
side of continuity : there is, in practice, no discontinuity between the early studies of

Buonarroti and the later appreciation of Joseph II, the ‘revolutionary emperor’. 75 It is  

difficult to see how the issue can ever be settled, in the absence of a clear statement
from a historian such as Venturi, always reticent about his views. There is a remark
attributed to Ferdinand Lassalle, to the effect that a political party is not like a school-
child, who needs to be taken to the blackboard to correct every single mistake. 76 Sim-  

ilarly, a historian has no obligation to constantly signal to his readers which aspects
of his earlier work should be discarded, amended or considered still valid. Buonarroti
and Joseph II may (or may not) have belonged to the same historical and intellectual
family. Franco Venturi would have considered the question of little interest.

Studies on Franco Venturi : a Selective Bibliography

The most comprehensive bibliography of Franco Venturi’s writings is available in

Paola Bianchi and Leonardo Casalino, “Bibliografia degli scritti di Franco Venturi”,
Il coraggio della ragione. Franco Venturi intellettuale e storico cosmopolita. Atti del conveg-
no internazionale di studi (Torino, 12-14 dicembre 1996), ed. by Luciano Guerci and Gi-
useppe Ricuperati (Torino : Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 1998), 441-478.

Part I : 1952-1994

Alexander Gerschenkron, “[review of Il populismo russo, by Franco Venturi (Turin :  

Giulio Einaudi, 1952)]”, American Historical Review, 59, 1 (1953) : 118-120.

Isaiah Berlin, “Introduction”, Roots of Revolution, ed. by Venturi (London: Weiden-

feld & Nicolson, 1960), vii-xxx.
Walter Maturi, Interpretazioni del Risorgimento (Torino : Einaudi, 1962), 649-657.

Pasquale Villani, “Dalle riforme all’età napoleonica (1748-1815). Gli studi italiani
dell’ultimo ventennio” [1967], Feudalità, riforme, capitalismo agrario. Panorama di sto-
ria sociale italiana tra Sette e Ottocento, ed. by Pasquale Villani (Bari : Laterza, 1968),

[John M. Roberts], “Change for the better [review of Venturi, Utopia and Reform in the
Enlightenment, Cambridge 1971]”, Times Literary Supplement, 13 August 1971, 969-970.
Stuart J. Woolf, “Introduction”, Venturi, Italy in the Enlightenment. Studies in a Cosmo-
politan Century, ed. by Stuart J. Woolf (London : Longman, 1972), vii-xiv.

Alexander Gerschenkron, “Franco Venturi on Russian Populism [rev. of Il Populismo

Russo, by Franco Venturi, second edition]”, American Historical Review (1973) : 969-  

John M. Roberts, “Putting the Pope in his place [review of Venturi, Settecento Rifor-
matore, II]”, Times Literary Supplement, 11 February 1977, 142-143.
Matthew Smith Anderson, Historians and eighteenth-century Europe, 1715-1789 (Oxford :  

Clarendon Press, 1979).

John G. A. Pocock, “The  Conservative Enlightenment  in  England”, L’età dei Lu-
mi. Studi storici sul Settecento europeo in onore di Franco Venturi, ed. by Raffaele Ajel-
lo, Massimo Firpo, Luciano Guerci, Giuseppe Ricuperati (Napoli : Jovene, 1985),  


  See, for example, Viarengo, Franco Venturi, 227.
  This remark was mentioned by Leo Valiani at a public lecture (Turin, circa 1976).
franco venturi in retrospect 147
Luciano Guerci, Carlo Capra, Furio Diaz, Marino Berengo, Franco Venturi,
“Settecento riformatore”, Annali della Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 19 (1985) : 405-454.

Derek Beales, “Venturi, Franco”, The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians, ed. by John
Cannon et al. (Oxford : Blackwell, 1988), 429-430.

John Robertson, “Franco Venturi’s Enlightenment”, Past & Present, 137 (1992) : 183-  

Gaetano Cozzi, Piero Del Negro, Giuseppe Gullino, Giovanni Scaravello, Giuseppe
Ricuperati, Franco Venturi, “Tavola Rotonda sul volume di Franco Venturi La Re-
pubblica di Venezia 1761-1797)”, L’eredità dell’Ottantanove in Italia, ed. by Renzo Zorzi
(Firenze : Olschki, 1992), 439-468.

Franco Venturi, “Una società fondata sulla ragione” (interviewed by Federico Jolli, 23
March 1989), Linea d’ombra, 10, 75 (1992) : 63-69  

Mario Mirri, “Dalla storia dei ‘lumi’ e delle ‘riforme’ alla storia degli ‘antichi stati italia-
ni’, Pompeo Neri. Atti del colloquio di studi di Castelfiorentino (6-7 maggio 1988) (Castel-
fiorentino : Società storica della Valdelsa, 1992), 401-540.

Part II : 1995-2014

Franco Venturi, “La conoscenza dell’altro” (interviewed by Leo Casalino, December

1993), and Venturi, “Cosmopolitismo e realtà locali” (speech given on receiving
the Civic Seal of the Municipality of Turin, 12 December 1994), Linea d’ombra, 13,
101 (1995) : 13-15.

Edoardo Tortarolo, “La rivolta e le riforme. Appunti per una biografia intellettuale di
Franco Venturi 1914-1994”, Studi settecenteschi, 15 (1995) : 9-42, 

Franco Venturi, “Lettere da Mosca”, ed. by Aldo Agosti and Giovanni de Luna, Pas-
sato e presente, 13, 35 (1995) : 97-109.

Franco Venturi, La lotta per la libertà. Scritti politici, ed. by Leo Casalino (Torino : Ein-

audi, 1996).
“Franco Venturi. Politica e storia”, special issue of the Rivista storica italiana, 108, 2-3
(1996) : 499-856.

Derek Beales, “Franco Venturi and Joseph II’s ’Grande progetto’”, Rivista storica italia-
na, 108, 2-3 (1996) : 742-750.

Marino Berengo, “Franco Venturi e la biografia”, Rivista storica italiana, 108, 2-3
(1996) : 717-726.

Giuseppe Ricuperati, “Categoria e identità : Franco Venturi e il concetto di Illumi-

nismo”, Rivista storica italiana, 108, 2-3 (1996) : 550-648.  

Christof Dipper, “Franco Venturi und die Aufklärung”, Das Achtzehnte Jahrhundert, 20

(1996) : 15–21.

Maria Luisa Pesante, “Influire in un mondo ostile. Franco Venturi e il discorso

dell’utopia”, Quaderni storici, 94 (1997) : 269-278.

John G. A. Pocock, “Settecento protestante ? L’Illuminismo riconsiderato”, Quaderni

storici, 94 (1997) : 315-338.

Il coraggio della ragione. Franco Venturi intellettuale e storico cosmopolita. Atti del convegno
internazionale di studi (Torino, 12-14 dicembre 1996), ed. by Luciano Guerci and Gi-
useppe Ricuperati (Torino : Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 1998).

Leo Valiani and Franco Venturi, Lettere 1943-1979, ed. by Edoardo Tortarolo (Firenze :  

La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1999).

148 guido franzinetti
Franco Venturi, “Saggi preparatori per Settecento riformatore”, ed. by Emilio Gab-
ba and Antonello Venturi, Atti della Accademia nazionale dei Lincei. Classe di scienze
morali, storiche e filologiche. Memorie, Ser. 9, 14, 2 (2002) : 41-182.

Gisela Schlüter, “Storia politica e storia letteraria nell’opera storiografica di Franco

Venturi”, La responsabilità dell’intellettuale in Europa all’epoca di Leonardo Sciascia : die  

Verantwortung des Intellektuellen in Europa im Zeitalter Leonardo Sciascias, ed. by Titus

Heydenreich (Erlangen : Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg, 2001 [2002]),

Girolamo Imbruglia, Illuminismo e storicismo nella storiografia italiana ; in appendice la

corrispondenza tra F. Venturi e D. Cantimori 1945-1955 (Napoli : Bibliopolis, 2003).

Franco Venturi, Pagine repubblicane, ed. by Manuela Albertone (Torino : Einaudi,  

Josep Clara Resplandis, “L’historiador Franco Venturi a les presons franquistes”,
Història i projecte social. Reconeixment a una trajectòria, ed. by Josep Fontana (Barce-
lona : Crítica, 2004), 1756-1770.

“The culture of Enlightenment and reform in eighteenth-century Italy”, special issue

of the Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 10, 2 (2005) : 131-244.

Robert Burr Litchfield , “Franco Venturi’s ‘crisis’ of The Old Regime”, Journal of Mod-
ern Italian Studies, 10, 2 (2005) : 234-244.

Davide Grippa, “Dubbi e certezze nel carteggio Garosci-Venturi”, Annali della Fon-
dazione Luigi Einaudi, 39 (2005) : 327-370

Franco Venturi e la Russia, con documenti inediti, ed. by Antonello Venturi, Annali della
Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, 40 (2004 [2006]).
Edoardo Tortarolo, “Franco Venturi (1914-1994)”, Klassiker der Geschichtswissenschaft,
II, Von Fernand Braudel bis Natalie Z. Davis, ed. by Lutz Raphael (München : C.H.  

Beck, 2006), 77-95.

Ettore Cinnella, “Il Settecento russo di Franco Venturi”, Storia della storiografia, 49
(2006) : 17-42.

Il repubblicanesimo moderno. L’idea di repubblica nella riflessione storica di Franco Venturi,

ed. by Manuela Albertone (Napoli: Bibliopolis, 2006). 
Bronisław Baczko, “Curiosité historique et passions républicaines”, Il repubblicanesi-
mo moderno. L’idea di repubblica nella riflessione storica di Franco Venturi, ed. by Manu-
ela Albertone (Napoli: Bibliopolis, 2006), 217-248.
Maria Luisa Pesante, “Contro il paradigma : il repubblicanesimo difficile di Franco

Venturi”, Il repubblicanesimo moderno. L’idea di repubblica nella riflessione storica di

Franco Venturi, ed. by Manuela Albertone (Napoli: Bibliopolis, 2006), 321-343. 
Leo Casalino, Influire in un mondo ostile. Biografia politica di Franco Venturi (1931-1956)
(Aosta : Stylos, 2008).

Edoardo Tortarolo, “Franco Venturi e il comunismo”, La forza dei bisogni e le ragio-

ni della libertà. Il comunismo nella riflessione liberale e democratica del Novecento, ed. by
Franco Sbarberi (Reggio Emilia : Diabasis, 2008), 327-340.

Benedetto Croce and Franco Venturi, Carteggio, ed. by Silvia Berti (Bologna : Il Mu-  

lino, 2008).
Alessandro Galante Garrone and Franco Venturi, Vivere eguali : dialoghi inediti intorno

a Filippo Buonarroti, ed. by Manuela Albertone (Reggio Emilia : Diabasis, 2009).

Michael Confino, “Franco Venturi’s Russia”, Kritika : Explorations in Russian and Eur-

asian History, 11, 1 (2010) : 77-105.

franco venturi in retrospect 149
Franco Venturi, Comunismo e socialismo. Forma di un’idea, ed. by Manuela Albertone,
Daniela Steila, Edoardo Tortarolo and Antonello Venturi (Torino : Centro studi di

storia dell’Università di Torino, 2014).

Adriano Viarengo, Franco Venturi. Politica e storia nel Novecento (Roma : Carocci, 2014).

Alberto Masoero, “Rileggendo il Populismo russo di Franco Venturi”, Rivista storica

italiana, 127, 3 (2015) : 853-868.

Università del Piemonte Orientale “Amedeo Avogadro”

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