Guglielmo Ferrero

The Italian journalist, novelist, and historian Guglielmo Ferrero (1871-1942) devoted his life and his writings to the cause of liberalism.

Guglielmo Ferrero was born in Portica, Piedmont, on July 21, 1871. While a law student at Pisa, Bologna, and Turin, his interest was in contemporary problems, an orientation confirmed by his first meeting in 1889 with the Italian sociologist and historian Cesare Lombroso. In 1893 the two collaborated on a study of female criminality, The Female Offender, and soon afterward Lombroso's daughter Gina became Ferrero's wife.

From 1891 to 1894 Ferrero traveled extensively in Europe, working in the libraries of London, Berlin, and Paris on a projected history of justice. The principal result of his travels was Young Europe (1897). He was already active in the Italian Socialist movement and engaged in polemics in the press with the leading nationalist writers of the country. Also concerned with the problems of recognizing whether a civilization is in its ascendance or becoming decadent, he soon turned to the history of Rome.

Ferrero's Greatness and Decline of Rome (6 vols., 1903-1908) was soon translated into all the major European languages. A popular success, it was met with scorn by professional classicists, who looked unkindly on his constant contemporary references, on his passion for brilliant narrative, and on his attempts at sociological analysis of Roman politics. Above all, they took exception to his portrayal of such figures as Julius Caesar. For 19th-century classical historians Caesar had been an antique Napoleon, bringing order out of chaos. Ferrero portrayed him as the cause of the ruin of the Roman Republic.

Ferrero next turned to political essays and novels: Between Two Worlds (1913), Speeches to the Deaf (1925), and The Two Truths (2 vols., 1933-1939); and to articles for journals in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. In these he analyzed the European crisis of values and sought to recover what he called "the geniuses of the city," which governed collective life and had been forgotten by humanity.

By 1924 Ferrero's opposition to fascism was well known. When the reign of Black Shirt terror forced liberal intellectuals to leave Italy in 1925, he refused and was placed under house arrest. In 1929, after officials of the League of Nations and King Albert of Belgium intervened, he was allowed to accept a professorship at Geneva.

Ferrero's last works were devoted to the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the restoration. The Revolution, as he saw it, had tried to create a liberal order but had ended by establishing the first modern dictatorship. The books— Adventure (1936), The Reconstruction of Europe (1940), Power (1942), and The Two French Revolutions (1951)— were filled with the political preoccupations of the interwar years. Ferrero died at Mont-Pelerin-sur-Vevey on Aug. 3, 1942.

Further Reading on Guglielmo Ferrero

Ferrero is briefly noted in Matthew A. Fitzsimons and others, eds., The Development of Historiography (1954).