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European Out of Context

Faculty Profile

By Robert H. Neuman

Urbane, acute, and full of the fresh flavor of the Italian Alps, Professor Passerin d'Entreves is a successful combination of continental spice and Oxonian starch. A lifelong student of political science and Italian history, d'Entreves has taken over the Spring semester of Government 106 from Prof. C. J. Friedrich, his close friend and colleague. To this position the Oxford mentor, student of A. D. Lindsay and A. J. Carlyle, brings many full years of varigated experience and academic distinction.

Born and raised on the Italian-French border, d'Entreves is naturally not only poly-lingual but also polycultural. "I consider myself a European," maintains the Professor. "Europe is my home, not merely Italy or England." Beginning his career with a thesis on Hegel, d'Entreves received his doctorate at the University of Turin. For the next three years the professor studied at Oxford and in Germany, and in 1929 began his pedagogic career as lecturer at Turin. The ensuing years found him engaged in peripatetic assignments at Turin, Massina, and Paville, and in 1932 he received his D. Phil. from Oxford. That University, in 1938, appointed him lecturer in political theory.

The War involved d'Entreves deeply, and towards its end the professor engaged in resistance activities in his native province of Vald-Aoste in Northern Italy. Working with British, U.S., French and Italian associates, d'Entreves cultivated the international outlook and understanding that is so much a part of him today. After the War he returned to Oxford to assume the Chair of Italian Studies, which he has filled ever since.

Tall, silver-haired, with electric-blue eyes, d'Entreves finds relaxation in rambling through the Northern Italian Alps near his birthplace. Aside from climbing, he is an avid collector of classical records and has a deep interest in and love of music. Although he has not taught political theory for several years, d'Entreves feels totally at home in the subject, and is glad to return to it.

D'Entreves has strong feelings about national characteristics and international interdependences. England, he believes, is to be praised for its preservation of ancient traditions and institutions. Continental Europe has lost the "old way," as a result mainly of the French Revolution and its consequences. The Fascists tried to restore tradition in Italy but failed, because, once broken, the chain of custom cannot be repaired. For example, d'Entreves illustrates, you could not wear a gown at Harvard today, because that tradition has been broken and lost. England has, however, carefully preserved her customs and culture, and is to be praised for it.

Harvard, to d'Entreves, is a bit of home. He feels that the University has preserved some European strands, and, in America, is closest to European "congeniality." "I am completely lost in New York," he confesses. Although gowns are not worn here, the Professor quotes the Italian proverb, "The garb doesn't make the friar." Harvard's liberal spirit and conservative facade make this University comfortable and familiar to d'Entreves.

D'Entreves finds in the U.S. the heritage of the eighteenth century. Europe, he believes, has grown jaded and disillusioned, and, prima facie, Europe may appear to American eyes almost Machiavellian. America, he maintains, still believes in the "nobility of savages" and the potentiality for human sincerity. Like the eighteenth century, the U.S. contains the qualities of optimism and the defects of naivete.

But Europe and America can mutually benefit each other. Europe can lend us its experience and caution, and the U.S. can renew for Europe the hope and optimism vital to progress. "Europe can teach America only how to learn; America can teach Europe how to believe," claims d'Entreves.

America's major defect is accepting too much, d'Entreves maintains. For example, we make a professor feel too important. We consider lecturers stamped with infallibility. "In Oxford," he points out, "a professor is made to feel immediately that he couldn't matter less."

D'Entreves was about to launch into a discourse on professors, students and not-mattering-much, but promptly at four o'clock he rose, put on his foulard muffler, expressed thanks for the interview, and departed. Halfway out of the door he turned, smiled his thin, winking smile, and apologized, "Tea, you know," and left.

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