This is a remarkable book by a remarkable man. Mr. Marcolla is well known to many conservatives in Europe and the United States for his observations on modern philosophy contributed over the years to Osservatore Romano. He is a keen student of Anglo-American conservative thought as well as having been a friend and translator of the late Russell Kirk. Dr. Kirk and the editor of this magazine are only two of many Americans whom Marcolla has served as cicerone in their explorations of Italian political and intellectual life.
Despite frequent bouts of ill health, Mr. Marcolla exudes an air of benign understanding, though not complacency. What this little book reveals, however, is the long and hard road that has been traveled on this spiritual itinerary. Born into a family reduced to poverty, Marcolla watched his father trying to preserve his dignity working in the factories of Torino. The young Mario was sent to work in a bakery. As he grew older, he drew up plans for his self-education, only to see them founder for lack of time and energy. He found time to study Italian literature, and learned German and English eventually.
After studying some accounting, Marcolla went into the textile industry and by the time of his retirement had worked his way up to plant manager. His real life, however, was intellectual and spiritual. As a working man, he took an eager interest in Marx and the Russian Revolution, eventually finding in it a “Luciferian rebellion” of matter against form. Working among the looms and shuttles, he contemplated the great problems of existence and came to regard the factory as “a place of pain and sorrow, a nursery of men and women devoid of deep relations, without spiritual roots.”
Factory work, he realized, was inhernently dehumanizing:
The influx of machines modeled on scientific reasoning appeared . . . to be diabolical: assembly-line work mortified the personalities, creating psychological dissociations which were noticeable in the old workers, in their worn-out look, in a kind of inattention which was Hie sign of an unconscious crisis, of the impossibility of being whole men like the old-time artisans and peasants from which they were descended.
Much of this memoir is devoted to Marcolla’s progress through books, from leftists to Nietzsche and Evola and finally to the wisdom of the great Italian philosopher Augusto del Noce. The higher truth is to be sought, he concludes, in the human work that “binds each and every person to a supernatural destiny of love and grace.” This is not the mysticism that flees the everyday world of hope and fear, but an appreciation of the mysteries woven on the loom of life. “Every man has his talents and spends them not by himself but, in his liberty and autonomy, in harmony with a providential plan that hangs over him and protects him.”
[Una vita in fabbrica: itinerario spirituale, by Mario Marcolla (Milano: Maurizio Minchella Editore) 101 pp., Lire 18,000]