The heretic sociologist


Institutional Communication Service

4 April 2022

An in-depth analysis of the Philosophie sociale, published in Paris at the end of June 1793 by Moses Dobruska (1753- 1794), businessman, a man of letters, social philosopher and a key figure in the French Revolution. This is what Silvana Greco, professor of sociology of Judaism at the Freie Universität in Berlin, proposes for the first time in her book Il sociologo eretico (The Heretical Sociologist), presented in recent weeks at the Università della Svizzera italiana upon invitation of the Fondazione Goren Monti Ferrari, the Centro Studi Judaica, and USI Institute of Italian Studies. We spoke about it with Giacomo Jori, associate professor of Italian Literature at USI and coordinator of the scientific activities of the Centro Studi Judaica. 

Moses Dobruska, a Moravian thinker of Jewish origin, and his work have long been forgotten by the European social sciences. The author Silvana Greco has brought them back to life in her recent publication, which brings the Philosophie sociale to the forefront of discussion. In its time, it aroused considerable interest, so much so that it was appreciated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant.


Professor, what does it mean to bring back work such as the Philosophie sociale and an author such as Dobruska? 

I want to point out that the important monograph by Silvana Greco is the first volume in the series of the Centro Judaica Lugano at USI, supported by the Goren Monti Ferrari Foundation, on the initiative of Dr Micaela Goren. The series is called Mosaico Europeo and is published in Florence by the Giuntina publishing house. The volume inaugurates it perfectly, for the cosmopolitanism and the complexity of Moses Dobruska, a true "European mosaic". The cover symbolises very well the content of the book. Unfortunately, there are no portraits of Dobruscka. Still, the black silhouette in the foreground depicts the elusive and fascinating identity of an author who, in the course of his life, changed name, residence and religion several times, from Brno, where he was born, to Paris, where he was guillotined and died under the name Junius Frey (Junius Brutus Libero). The handwritten text in the background - a message for his son, written before his death on a freshly printed copy of Philosophie sociale - is his most intense moment of truth, his testament: "Sache que mourir n'est rien, mais qu'il est cruel d'être méconnu, et de ne pas pouvoire continuer à travailler pour la Liberté".  

Silvana Greco is to be commended because, for her monograph, she has chosen an author with a short bibliography and of particular prestige. In the last century, the only one, or nearly the only one, to deal with Dobruscka was the great scholar of Jewish tradition and mysticism, Gershom Scholem, particularly in the essays collected in Italian translation in the volume Le tre vite di Moses Dobrushka, edited by Saverio Campanini and Elisabetta Zevi, Milan, Adelphi, 2014. Scholem, who had studied the Sabbatarian heresy (a heretical current of Judaism in Central Europe between the 17th and 18th centuries), was particularly interested in the kinship of Dobruska, who was perhaps destined to succeed him, with Jabob Frank, an even more radical follower of Sabbatarianism. Scholem left us an unforgettable portrait of Dobruska: "Thus ends the double career, public and hidden, surprising and turbulent of Moses Bobrushka, alias Franz Thomas von Schönfeld, alias Junius Frey, whose heart remained divided through his metamorphoses, a character straddling two worlds, that of occultism and that of the Enlightenment, between his loyalty to the French Revolution and his past in the service of the emperors. We have not revealed all his secrets, but we have seen an unusual man emerge before us, a prisoner of his contradictions: Jew or assimilated apostate, esoteric kabbalist or enlightened rationalist, Jacobin or spy? The doubt remains, but he was certainly an authentic Frankist. He was forty years old when he died". In Italy, these antinomies fascinated Furio Jesi, who spoke of Dobruscka in an essay from the 1970s with the title, Il miracolo secondo ragione (The miracle according to reason).


What are the key themes of this essay?

Silvana Greco was able to orient herself with great wisdom among the contradictions and secrets of Dobruska, thanks to the analysis tools of her discipline, sociology, and solid historical and philological expertise. She has rightly given preference to Dobruscka's work, the Philosophie sociale, and mentioned his other work, Les Aventures politiques du père Nicaise (1793). She has traced the presence of the first treatise to the roots of modern sociology, from Saint-Simon to Auguste Comte, and focused on two themes of the author's political and social thought: "happiness" and "social disorganisation". The first is linked to the libertine and Enlightenment tradition, and is the basis of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America; the second is the principle according to which, to give life to a society of free men one had to disarticulate ("désorganiser") the ancient regime from its foundations, demolish to build, as Cartesian rationalism wanted: "Ainsi ces anciennes cités qui, n 'ayant été au commencement que des bourgades, sont devenues par succession de temps de grandes villes, sont ordinairement si mal compassées, au prix de ces places régulières qu'un ingénieur trace à sa fantaisie dans une plaine, qu'encore que, considérant leurs édifices chacun à part, on y trouve souvent autant ou plus d'art qu'en ceux des autres, toutefois, à voir comme ils sont arrangés, ici un grand, là un petit, et comme ils rendent les rues courbées et inégales, on dirait que c'est plutôt la fortune que la will de quelques hommes usants de raison, qui les a ainsi disposés "(Discours de la méthode). And as the Sabbatean and Frankist antinomianism wanted: "Praised be you, oh God who allows what is forbidden". Unfortunately, Dobruska died at the time when the tragic announcement of that modern that he had dreamed of was moulding. Today, through this book, the core of his thought on man and society, on the social "great self", remains: "Humanity is certainly an indivisible whole because in it we can only find men. Tyrants or narrow-minded legislators, by replacing the great "self" that defines society, have managed to divide man ".