De Monarchia Hispanica Discursus, wr. c. 1598, pb. 1640 (A Discourse Touching the Spanish Monarchy, 1654)
Civitas Solis, wr. 1602, pb. 1623 (The City of the Sun, 1885)
Apologia Pro Galileo, wr. 1616, pb. 1622 (English translation, A Defense of Galileo, 1994)
Tommaso Campanella, 1999 (poems, letters, and writings)
Tommaso Campanella (kahm-pah-NEHL-lah), born Giovanni Domenico Campanella, was a universal thinker, for he was philosopher, theologian, political theorist, educator, utopian, astrologer, and poet. More important, he is significant in the history of ideas as one of those who led in the movement from a medieval worldview to a modern, more scientific one.
The son of an illiterate shoemaker in southern Italy, Campanella entered the Dominican order at fourteen. He became a great scholar, gifted with an extraordinary memory. He was also a prolific writer, producing at least a hundred works in both Latin and Italian. His life and his writing are inextricably linked, for his writings not only expressed his thoughts but also brought about the terrible events of his life.
As a Dominican monk, Campanella was trained in the Aristotelian tradition. The Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas had used Aristotle for his defense of Christian belief, a defense based upon the reconciliation of reason and faith. Influenced by other readings, especially those of the naturalist philosopher Bernardino Telesio, Campanella rejected Aristotelianism as being abstract and pagan. He argued for a more concrete explanation of the world, although he never rejected reason. Nor did his Catholic faith waver; however, he wished to propound another kind of defense of that faith. Unfortunately, the Church of the day was unwilling to accept such a defense.
His first writings and his own stubborn strength would lead to his being thrown into prison, tortured horribly, and tried for heretical religious ideas as well as for conspiracy against the Spanish rulers of southern Italy. He would remain in prison for nearly twenty-seven years, from 1599 to 1626, writing almost all the time, even in solitary confinement. These prison works include A Discourse Touching the Spanish Monarchy, written possibly as early as 1598 and, paradoxically, a kind of defense of Spanish power; The City of the Sun, written in 1602; and A Defense of Galileo, written in 1616, a treatise that added to his troubles.
As a philosopher-theologian, Campanella held that the things of this world show forth the things of God–that is, humankind can arrive at the knowledge of God’s existence by studying the actualities of the world. In brief, he believed in a kind of scientific method. Yet Campanella was not a practical scientist himself, and some of his ideas about the world were neither modern nor objective. For example, he never quite accepted the idea that the sun was the center of the (local) universe, even though he knew the arguments of Nicolas Copernicus. He also believed strongly in astrology as a science. Nevertheless, he was a friend and defender of Galileo, since Galileo was examining the actual world.
In 1626, Campanella was released from prison; accused once more of heresy, however, he was jailed again, and only in 1629 was he finally freed. For a short time, he was in favor with Pope Urban VIII. Nevertheless, suspected of further conspiracy, he fled from Rome and went to France, where he was received with favor. In 1639, despite his efforts to put off death by using astrology, he died at seventy-one.
As political thinker, Campanella had, in A Discourse Touching the Spanish Monarchy, proposed a universal state with the pope as spiritual head and the Spanish as political defenders (despite his own possible conspiring against the Spaniards). At the end of his life, he argued that the French were the ones to establish that universal state. Campanella’s political theorizing has been seen as a type of Machiavellianism, if one considers Niccolò Machiavelli’s work only as a guide to how to seize and hold power. Campanella, though, would reject the relativism implicit in Machiavelli’s thought, for Campanella held that there were absolutes that the good–not merely the successful–ruler must follow. What Campanella really wanted was a universal, theocratic monarchy in which humankind would be happy, productive, and Christian.
Campanella’s wish for such a state lies behind his most famous work, The City of the Sun, a description of a utopia that he set in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka). The citizens of his “city” are practical, hardworking, and content. Here, too, Campanella develops his argument that education for the masses should be useful, not merely theoretical. Yet Campanella is not a liberal democrat. His utopia is communistic and, thus, opposed to individualism. Everyone shares the goods produced by common labor; however, virtually absolute power is in the hands of an educated elite, whom Campanella considered most capable of governing justly. Moreover, his state is not Christian, although Campanella suggests that it will become so when it learns the truth about Christianity. Still, Campanella offers some rather “un-Christian” ideas–for example, there are no families in his imagined city, for he believed that love for one’s children leads to a desire for property to pass on, a kind of egoism. Therefore, to populate his state, men and women must come together in a kind of “free” sex. Still, although sex may seem free, it is really for procreation, and the children are raised by the state. In brief, in Campanella’s universal state, community, not personal pleasure, is the highest good.