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I-1011ED fr1 CHAR Mf LLRK FOREWORD BY MOLLY VI NS Untenable as the utopian aspirations of the last century now seem, the stories of flamboyant utopians are often good ones. Gabriele D’Annunzio, an Italian poet, fiction writer, bon vivant and self-promoter served as a torpedoboat commander in World War I; and after the war he advocated passionately for the Italians’ right to retain the port Dalmatian coasta city renowned for its beautiful girls, extraordinary pastries, and all-night parties. At the Versailles conference the Allies granted Fiume to the new Yugoslavia, but in 1919 a rebellion in Fiume suspended the transfer. D’Annunzio set out with a convoy of soldiers to assume command of the city. \(At the same time, well-dressed women persuaded a group of Italian sailors with kisses to remain in Fiume, and their ship, the Dante Alighieri, became one of the Bacchanalia ensued; Woodrow Wilson was very annoyed. The city existed as its own political entity for sixteen months, with an experimental constitution and an elected assembly. Fiume achieved universal suffrage and aspired to class lessness, but D’Annunzio’s governing style, according to Pfaff, was a precursor to Fascism: “his romantic commitment to war and violence as forces that could set people free contributed to the swindle the Italian people subsequently were offered by Mussolini when he told them that conquest and empire would make Italy great again.” Repeatedly, Pfaff identifies utopian aspirations as having been parties to heinous crimes. It would be difficult to consider the history of twentieth century Europe and conclude otherwise; but it’s also a tricky thing to indict an idea, or in this case an entire category of ideas, on the basis that people have been led to deny reality and commit awful crimes and wage wars in its name. You could indict any political ideology on the same groundsand in the end this is what Pfaff comes close to doing. Utopian thought, he writes, denies the tragic aspect of life: “that history is a struggle by humans against their limitations, in which their dignity is found in the struggle, itself without a resolution in historical time.” But so does the liberal faith in progress, according to Pfaff. The lesson of the twentieth century, he says, is that the “rational case for progressive expectation” has collapsed. Civilizations may progress in areas such as human rights, but such progress is reversible, and countered by disaster and decline elsewhere on the planet. The human condition itself does not improve. Pfaff pronounces these things swiftly, proposing that we abandon our nave faith in progress, follow Aristotle’s injunction to cultivate virtue, and “look for solutions within, rather than without, in experienced reality rather than imagination about the future?’ But doesn’t any search for “solutions” depend on some conception of a better future? Pfaff’s conclusions are too vague and quickly delivered to carry as much weight as he wants them to, at least with this reader. But insofar as they are motivated by a wish for a realistic, antiideological, humbled approach to politics, even the unrepentant progressives among us may be very sympathetic. Karen Olsson is a former Observer editor. Her first novel will be published by Farrar, Straus&Giroux later this year. Fifty Years of the Texas Observer Edited by Char Miller Foreword by Molly Ivins “From Molly Ivins to Willie Morris, Jim Hightower to Larry McMurtry, no other against-the-grain publication in America has helped to nurture such a stellar array of writers.” Adam Hochschild For updated event information, go to wwvv.tri nity.ed u/tu press TRINITY UNIVERSITY PRESS Distributed by Publishers Group West 1/7/05 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25