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The July 4th Man Has The Right to Happiness

The declaration of independence of the United States has a Neapolitan father.

photo by author

In October 1999, I was with an American friend, a sociologist at Oxford. The discussion fell on that document of humanity, which is the American Declaration of Independence. I found it extraordinary, and I told my friend, that in 1776 a group of men illuminated by a philosophical and civil “enthusiasm,” in drawing up the document had conceived of a right never before affirmed: the right to happiness.

“Man has the right to happiness” is one of those epigraphs written in heaven, a cry of liberty destined to echo forever in the universal concert of history and in the heart of every man. I showed openly my admiration for a country, then just being born, which had been able to conceive of a goal so high and of such everlasting validity, an ideal asymptote towards which history would have waited forever.

I told how, for many years, this solemn affirmation had enchanted me and that I’d considered it one of those vessels raised to the only real revolution, the Individual Revolution: that overthrowing of ideas and conventions, that shock of thought that can happen only within the individual. Revolutions, wars, and revolts have left everything as it was and from century to century have all failed miserably because they are external to man.

“Man has the right to happiness,” is the cry of a new humanity, a song stronger than a thousand paeans, able to make the immense assembly of mankind tremble and to put in motion thousands of men towards the conquest of their own dignity.

A man was not cursed forever. To suffer, age, get sick, and die is not an inevitable condemnation, and can’t be accepted anymore as the common destiny of man in his natural state.

Man has the right to happiness; here is the vision capable of unhinging the old mental implant of defeated humanity — the luminous idea able to redeem us.

These were the words that circulated in the house in Lucca with the American friend in the winter of 1999. That conversation would have remained such, an exchange of ideas between friends, if, on that occasion in passing I hadn’t gotten wind that the expression I’d always believed coined by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin wasn’t really American.

“The first stanza of the document, still in rough draft, in that point said: “man has the right to own property,” my friend told me, but the proposal, which was John Locke’s, didn’t convince Benjamin Franklin, the father of the American Revolution, and he wasn’t satisfied with it. He, only he, knew the invisible completion of that document which, like a body, to live needed all its organs. And there the most important one was missing: the heart.

Then he did something extraordinary. He sent a delegation to Italy.

I was charmed by the unhoped-for developments of the conversation. I was tracing backward the trail that could have conducted to the origin of that idea that would have transformed the happiness, from visionary concept, from fantastic aspiration or wishful thinking to natural right — inalienable and inviolable to humanity and reason.

I would have wanted to know more. I was following the Nile on the hunt for her mythical sources. But my friend didn’t know other than that delegation had with it the rough draft of the declaration of independence of the nation being born and the mission to meet who would complete it. But whom they had come to meet in Italy, who would have substituted Locke’s expression with that luminous splinter of intelligence was impossible to know. There was no book that had it, neither research that confirmed it.

That 1999 was ending like that, leaving unresolved that enchanting enigma that continued to occupy my thoughts for the following days. From then on for a few weeks, in the December of 1999, I had to go back to Naples for an activity linked to the new campus of the European School of Economics. On that occasion, I visited Palazzo Serra di Cassano, the seat of the Institute of Philosophy, and the exhibition set up for the bicentennial of the Neapolitan Revolution; the revolution of the philosophers that would have conducted to be martyred an entire intellectual class from among the best-educated and illuminated of Europe. That year the thinking mind of an entire nation was tragically pruned and its palpitating heart stopped for centuries. I understood that the palace had remained closed for two hundred years, from the day in which the young son, reverent follower of republican ideas, befell martyr to that repression. To relive the end of that dream of liberty, the pruning of that flower of Neapolitan and European culture, in that palace where republican ideals had echoed and the words of those men and women that had sworn to want to live free or die made my head swim.

From among the works exhibited, one of the paintings that represented a condemned man of noble visage struck me — the dreaming gaze, and over his shoulder the executioner. If not for the small detail of the hangman’s noose in the hands of the latter they would have seemed like a couple of young lovers, lustfully close. Lives entwined in the same destiny that led one to be the victim and the other the executioner.

It was there that I found a small book of about 70 pages, the last publication of the Institute: homage to Gaetano Filangieri and his work, “The science of legislation.” He was the inspirer, the legislator-philosopher, and the father of the Revolution that I didn’t see. In that room resounded his ideas that now I found still palpitating in that page that I had in my hands. The man that had been known to be the Plato of Naples, that had solemnly consecrated his life to the State, had signed the “Political reflections on the Sovereign’s last law.” Appearing in September of 1774, these represented the real beginning of the Neapolitan Revolution and its manifesto. That day I discovered the information that my American friend was missing; Benjamin Franklin had sent the text of the Constitution to Gaetano Filangieri using two intermediaries of symbolic value: Luigi Pio, Neapolitan diplomatic in Paris, a supporter of Robespierre, and Abbot Leonardo Panzini who adhered to the Republic and was represented at the Directory.

Marvelously, the tiles of that mosaic were falling into place. A shiver of unreality overran me. At the ending of exactly two centuries, in Cassano’s Palazzo Serra, precious secrets were being revealed to me. The two fragments of that story left separate for hundreds of years, like the pieces of an amulet, were reunited projecting a blinding light.

Now I knew that that idea was born from the intelligence and civil passion of Gaetano Filangieri, one of the highest voices of the European conscience. Benjamin Franklin mounted him, like a jewel, together with the right to life and liberty, in that Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America that will remain a monument to the hope of humanity to become one day a happy and immortal species.

Between “man has the right to happiness,” coined by Filangieri, inserted in the text of the Declaration, and “man had the right to own property,” proposed by Locke an eternity passes. The rise that the USA will know from among the nations of the earth, her ability to attract and assimilate men from every part of the planet, attracted by that intense perfume of liberty, the American dream, find origin and explanation in that grain of immortality, in that luminous seed planted in the Declaration. From this, the economy and the power of the United States developed. The slogan becomes more American than the stars and stripes flag and the highest expression of the principles of the mission of that country.

The Declaration of Independence of the United States, in its most luminous part, has a Neapolitan father. Leaving from Italy, the story of the United States, with Columbus’s discovery, comes back to Italy with Filangieri for its birth certificate, like a symbolic return to the father that shows the strong intertwining of the destinies of our peoples.

I’ve never written about it before and couldn’t find a better occasion than the July 4 recurrence to tell you the story on the pages of the Opinion as if among a group of friends. I’m convinced that that fragment of immortality, penetrating in that manifesto is the real origin of every wellbeing that America has enjoyed in these years. The signs of the decadence of that society have now become many and have become acute. That promise to the world of availability towards its problems in a significant universal perspective, able to embrace peoples and civilizations in a wide and dialectical vision was not fulfilled. The destruction of the Twin Towers of September 11, is only a visible sign of a long degradation of the ‘dream’ that gradually transformed itself into greed, will for power, and not infrequently exploitation and oppression.

Conflict, crime, and economy that is a death machine with at the center the biggest war industry in the world, is going in the opposite direction to those values of dignity and liberty indicated by the ‘dream.’

When a society has a number of obese well over 50% it doesn’t need terrorists to meet with sabotage and disaster.

The massacre of civilians in Afghanistan bloodied the Declaration of Independence a few hours before its anniversary. It is a foreshadowing best sworn against than ignored.

Filangieri — idealist and jurist, still believed that happiness could arrive externally. Like Rousseaux, believed that the changing of laws, the republic, and democracy, the freedom of political and civil institutions can bring happiness to the people. Rousseaux, on the first page of the “Contrat Social,” makes note that man speaks always of freedom, “but wherever I look I see him in chains.”

He hadn’t realized that happiness is possible only on an individual level. Only he who has defeated in himself conflicting logic, the opposing forces that have always fought in the hearts of every man, has the right to happiness. And only a happy man can change the economy and heal the age-old problems of the world.



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Elio D'Anna

Elio D'Anna

Elio D’Anna, Founder and President of @eseschool, best-selling author, businessman, musician and producer