By Gaither Stewart | Dateline: 4 March 2008
Berlusconi, protean fascistoid demagogue and inevitable maggot on a decomposing bourgeois state.
(Rome) A peculiar dualism marks the peoples of the Italian peninsula: the conflict of their enduring desire for order with their destructive attraction to anarchy. The consequence of this unresolved twist of character has been Italy’s historical stumbling block: the necessity of some strong-armed authority—whether a homegrown dictator or a powerful foreign occupier—to provide the cement to form a cohesive nation of the diverse Italic peoples. And today … to make them feel more like other Europeans.
Similar to Italy’s permissive attitude toward Fascism last century, many Italians today perceive of the Right led by Silvio Berlusconi and a nucleus of neo-Fascists as a protective shield against the persistent perverse disorder. In effect, protection from themselves. Promises of security and more security, police and more police, are reassuring to those who see today’s enemy in immigrants and crime and above all rules.
When at home a powerful authority to control their inclination toward anarchy is missing, some form of escapism—at which Italians are masters—and servility to a higher power from elsewhere reign. Since Italy somehow continues to exist as a modern European nation this formula implies that the suggestive idea of salvation in escapism and servility have surpassed—if only by a hair’s breadth—the deep-seated emotional intensity of their atavistic anarchic bent.
However that may be, the historic reliance on extraneous authority has left a mark of servility on them. A perverse stain. The servility that reaches back to the roots of these peninsular peoples today smacks of that of a colonial people, extremely sensitive to what foreigners think of them, afraid they are not esteemed abroad.
A case of mild exaggeration. Old cultures have a developed sense of humor, and Italians are certainly world leaders in that category.
At the same time, perhaps also atavistically, Italians are forever in fear of the foreign invader of this land where the lemon trees bloom, jutting out from the Alps toward Africa.
People of Italy’s rich, sophisticated financial and fashion capital of Celtic Milan claim that Africa begins just north of the nation’s political capital of Rome. The Turin writer Mario Soldati was “mathematically certain” that most of Italy’s problems today are due to the choice of Rome as its capital when the Italian states united 150 years ago. Rome writer Alberto Moravia charged that the capital city of Rome is the disastrous proof of the Italians’ lack of the sense of state.
Modern Italy we know today is the end result of two and a half millennia of rule by monarchy, republic and city-states, of foreign invasions and occupation (Greeks and Arabs, Huns and Vandals, Normans, Austrians, Spanish, French and Germans), and of the domination of the Roman Catholic Church and Fascism. That long and complex history counts. For Italy is a country of many peoples, historically not a nation. Peoples speaking Neapolitan, Sicilian, Catalan, Sardinian, Venetian, Friulian (which tormented, gifted director Pasolini was trying to revive)—yes, they count as languages—plus many dialects, and German, French, Greek and Slovene. Peoples who are never in agreement on anything, perhaps because they still do not understand each other.
An ethnic and political potpourri made for anarchy.
A country surrounded by the sea and the Alps.
A country of peoples fearful of foreign invasions, yet servile because of their need of foreigners to defend them against their own divisions.
In the times of the “lean cows,” (vacche magre) as Italians called the bad times in the Dark Ages, not cows but sheep grazed in the Roman Forum and no more than thirty thousand people lived in the former Caput Mundi which fifteen centuries earlier had counted one million inhabitants. From world city to grazing pastures and back again to world capital today. A city in movement. Movida! Probably no other world city has experienced the ups and downs as has the “eternal city”—power and glory, brilliance and invasions, sackings and pestilence. A historical rocking chair of a people absorbed with gods and deities, spirits and ghosts, rites and rituals, kingdoms and empires, and all the religions of Middle Eastern origin, forever wavering between anarchy and submission and servility.
Little wonder then that its people are individualistic and wary and suspicious of authority, albeit accommodating and ready for compromise for short-term gain … or for survival. Each person is an entity. Each, a microcosm. One result of the divisions reigning since the start 2700 years ago is the political-social apathy and lack of civic spirit that degenerate so easily into anarchy.
As a rule, Italians oppose rules. This might appear as a reckless generalization but their hate for rules is proverbial. Yet, they don’t like to risk. Social mobility is limited. A steady lifetime job is the dream of most. Someone said Italy is afflicted with listless passions. Torn by sterile emotions. Angry by default. A country of unresolved problems, incomplete governments, eternal emergencies, eternal transitions.
Pope Ratzinger. A former Nazi, and chief force behind the defeat of Liberation Theology in the Third World, he remains a reactionary influence on the world stage.
Today’s Italians demand new elections, almost perfidiously aware that the vote will change nothing. Despite enormous garbage disposal problems, the majority of Italians pay three times as much for trash collection and run related health risks rather than submit to the humiliation of trash separation. Italians shake their heads, tsk tsk, at the news of a million euro bank holdup. But they admire the robbers—“they did well!”—and oppose the police. Italian films in which the police are the good guys somehow seem false. You watch a police film and side with those who in some way thwart authority. Italians understand “reality” and without complaint pay bribes in the usual bribery places … and they know which they are. Without popular consensus organized crime as a way of life could not exist. The success of the Camorra in Naples, the N’drangheta in Calabria, the Sicilian Mafia in the world at large and “most wanted mafia bosses” living freely in the center of Palermo for 30 years exists on the back of popular indifference always verging on anarchy.
Mafia boss Provenzano finally apprehended in 2006. Most Italians, especially in the meridione (South) have ambivalent feelings toward the mafiosi. With governments that are often highly corrupt and incompetent, mafia rule fills a vacuum certified by traditions of fear and expediency.
Menefreghismo (couldn’t-care-less attitude) and arrangiarsi (fix things as best one can) are very Italian mindsets. The forced historical wedding of fatalism and an acceptance of the apparent immutability of the social order and the nature of man…(untrustworthy).
The two alternative authorities—organized crime and the system of corruption—hold people in submission according to the particular rules of each power system. Bribes facilitate life and progress. Submission is a way of life. Submission to local power systems. Submission to the Roman Catholic Church. Submission to foreign powers.
Natalia Ginzburg’s [nee Levi, in Sicily] wonderful writings are filled with the kind of craziness distinguishing “Italian” anarchy. The Turin writer said she would walk a mile to see the Tuscan cabaretist and female impersonator, Paolo Poli, on stage surrounded by boys dressed as women, women dressed as men, gypsy dances, babies born in wine shops, wives betrayed and buried alive, amid which Poli, perhaps dressed as a Cardinal, suddenly sings the old fascist song, Giovinezza, in a way that made him the opposite of Fascism. There is always a streak of madness in her. As her mother says in Ginzburg’s best known book, Lessico Famigliare (Family Sayings), when father and brother Gino are released from jail: “And now back to the boredom of everyday life.” Ginzburg once told me that she fears above all boredom—being bored or boring others. Fear of boredom is a very Italian concept that fits in nicely with their preference for anarchy.
Because of their atavistic fears of invaders—Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Pisans, Spanish and pirates—wary Sardinians, for example, do not live on their 1900 kilometers of magnificent seacoast. In the interior of the mountainous island they built the most unique houses produced by European culture. Their fortress-like, windowless nuraghi, stone tower houses, date back to the Bronze Age. Finally obliged to accept Italian domination for survival, Sardinians retreated into themselves and their nuraghi. They escaped into their own brand of purgatory.
Also the Tuscans in central Italy are another race, irreverent and anarchic, albeit reflective and solitary, staring into their red wines. Even though Tuscany is the “in” place for rich foreigners, paradoxically there are few places in Italy where foreigners are more foreigners. For Tuscans, hell is just beyond the hill, a fine place, much like Tuscany, where people are bizarre and rebellious. Not by chance was Dante a Tuscan and his inferno in Tuscany. Yet, like Sardinians, in order to protect themselves from themselves Tuscans accepted centuries-long Austrian domination and its Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Stendhal chose the city of Parma north of Tuscany as the setting to superimpose the escapist past on the present in his novel La Chartreuse de Parme. For the French writer, the Renaissance cour de Parme was symbolic of court life in general. Like Tuscany, Parma bowed to the foreign invader. For two hundred years it was marked by French influence, when the upper classes spoke French and Parisian manners prevailed. Parma still reflects that confusion of time, where the past seems contemporary and at certain times and places the present is absent. A bomb destroyed the city’s famous Farnese Theater in World War II but by 1962, Parma people, insecure without their theater, had restored it. Then they let it stand silent and abandoned in the center of rich Parma like some kind of toy for giants. Today it appears as an empty shell, a spirit from the past. In reality, it was born classical: actors occupied the stage, the arena in the center, and the steps. It was a theater of illusions, a labyrinth where actors and spectators were confused, where painted figures of princes melded in with real ones, and images of actors painted on the ceiling looked down on themselves performing in the arena. A game of mirrors. One was both on the inside and outside. The confusion of theater and life, so typical of Italian escapism.
Escapism from their anarchic selves, escapism in imitation of successful and more powerful nations whose standards remain elusive to Italians looking for models: today they look longingly at Sarkozy’s France for a new socio-economic model, or into German and French and Spanish electoral systems in search of a miraculous formula by which Italians too could elect efficient and durable governments.
Fascism as escapism? Hmmm! Such an idea could have been just a slip of the tongue by another Italian revisionist. Yet, it was none other than philosopher Benedetto Croce who oh so reductively defined Fascism “a bad dream that vanished at the first ray of sun.” Like those Rome bourgeois who under the bombs during the debacle of the last days continued to define Fascism as a “revolution” and a “revelation of the Italian nature.”
Il Duce had a strong nativistic appeal to many Italians who had felt overshadowed and “feminized” by their relative second-tier status among Europe’s modern powers, and frequent military defeats. Such feelings of powerlessness exist in many nations and often trump rational class interests.
In February, at the same time the campaign for political elections this April got underway, the 58th Festival of the Italian Song opened in the Ariston Theater in San Remo on the Italian Riviera. While Silvio Berlusconi was launching his bid to return to political power, the eternal kid of over 60 years of age, Gianni Morandi, opened the San Remo Festival singing, Volare, the song of Italian escapism.
Cantare oh oh oh oh
Nel blu dipinto di blu,
Felice di stare lassú
(Just to fly, oh oh, Just to sing, oh oh oh oh
Happy to be up there. In the blue painted in blue)
The most famous Italian song since World War II served to introduce the pre-presenter, a noted comic, who in turn presented the Master of Ceremonies, himself however preceded successively by 13 clones 13 of the Master of Ceremonies. The 73-year old Pippo Baudo, simpatico, dyed hair and all, finally presented the singers. A peculiarity of Italy’s most traditional song festival is that the Master of Ceremonies plays the principal role. The cantanti, the singers of songs, are back up for the show’s central character, the Master of Ceremonies who invites all Italians to escape with him into the spectacle. The seeming is more than being. Bad singers or good singers, the heart of the matter is the Master of Ceremonies.
The next day, the San Remo show was panned, one might believe the proof that modern Italians don’t take escapist San Remo seriously. Oh, but they do! They criticize it but its elimination would be cause for revolution.
The same day of the panning, the media dwelled on the wounding of two Italian soldiers in Afghanistan while hammering home official reports from Brussels that Italy is last in Europe in GDP, the tail end in almost every socio-economic category. One Italian statistical agency claims Italy’s real inflation is 8%, the highest in the West, and Italy along with Great Britain Europe’s most expensive country. Meanwhile workers’ salaries are 20% lower than in France and 30% lower than Germany. According to a popular slogan, Italians earn Greek wages and pay German prices.
Following the collapse of the dissension-ridden center-left government after only twenty months in office, the electoral campaign is in full swing. Though many people declare they will not vote at all in April, “the caste” doesn’t take the threat seriously. Italians always vote, en masse. This time, the two big parties have presented similar platforms. They seem to resemble each other, the allegedly leftish Democratic Party (named, ironically I hope, for the American party and only very slightly center-left) and the new-old rightwing People of Freedom Party of TV magnate Silvio Berlusconi (Silvio believes he has the same monopoly on freedom as his “friend George” has on God), a union of neo-Fascists and right-wing populists, Most people believe the two parties are in cahoots to form a Grosse Koalition, (the German words are popular in Italy today), no matter who wins.
The great Marcello Mastroianni made a career incarnating suave, frivolous and cynical Italians in the postwar period. Such heroes’ facile sophistication often masked a pronounced nihilistic understanding of society’s potential.
In any case, it would be a coalition all’italiana. Each party promises to change Italy. People believe that the real aim of both is “to change things so that nothing changes.” Consequently the real electoral campaign is taking place between the small parties: all fire and fury, accusations and counter-accusations, defections and new alliances, among miniscule parties whose chief hope is at least survival in the next Parliament.
In true capitalist fashion, Italian capitalists are among the first to leap onto each new cheap labor market: today, for example, thousands of companies have moved to Romania and Albania. However, the historical reality that Italy is no less a capitalist-imperialistic power than the USA and the rest of West Europe does not diminish its own colonial-like servility.
One bitter reality among many is that in the sixty years since WWII Italy has been transformed into a giant American aircraft carrier and military base. A year ago news leaked out about a secret agreement between the USA and Italy’s then Berlusconi government according to which a new military base would be built in the north Italian city of Vicenza, just across town from an already existing US base, Camp Ederle. The new installation is rising today on the site of the city’s small civic airport, Dal Molin. It is to become imperial America’s biggest military base in Europe. In a small, densely populated country that already hosts over one hundred American military installations, another base is the cup that runneth over.
Those who know Italy can imagine the situation in the medieval city of Vicenza, one hundred and twenty thousand people, situated between Verona and Venice, an area already surrounded by major US airbases and military installations. A UNESCO world heritage city because of the great number of buildings designed by the sixteenth century architect Andrea Palladio, the placid city at the foot of the Alps has hosted the American Ederle base since 1946, with today 2900 active duty military personnel, plus their families. The new base will not be NEAR Vicenza, but IN Vicenza. Less than a mile from Palladio’s famous church in the central Piazza dei Signori. Plans provide for groups of six and seven-story barracks right in the city and a new express road cutting through the city to link the two bases.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, a crack rapid action unit ready for action anyplace in the world, now divided between Germany and Italy, is to be united in Vicenza. Its paratroopers were among the first troops in the Iraqi war. Their arrival will bring the number of American military personnel in Vicenza to five thousand, 15,000 people counting families and Pentagon and State Department personnel. That is equal to over ten per cent of the city population.
Residents worry that the new base will make Vicenza a target for terrorist attacks. Workers testify that inside the Ederle base bunkers have been dug in the side of an urban hill that borders it. Local people believe those caves contain nuclear weapons. The civic airfield under US control can be extended to accommodate big aircraft for transporting troops to war zones to the east or for top-secret CIA night-flyers transporting terrorist suspects around the world for secret interrogations and torture. Workers on construction sites for the US military describe underground interrogation rooms. Besides noise and air pollution, the new base will strain the infrastructures, services and resources of a small city, while offering nothing to the community or the local economy.
Despite the opposition’s signature campaigns, traffic blocks, sit-ins, and night vigils, construction goes on. “It is not just the American base,” protesters say. “It’s that bomber aircraft will fly directly from this base to intervene in countries where America’s wars are raging.” The charge of the opposition in Vicenza is the same charge that has echoed over the years: Italian servility to Washington.
More US soldiers are currently active on Italian soil than at any other time since the end of the Second World War. Since the creation of NATO in 1949 and Italy’s adherence (then fiercely opposed by the Left and Fascists alike, but promoted by US financed Christian Democracy) and the installation in subservient Italy of military bases up and down the peninsula, US military presence in Italy has grown to the official figure of 13,000. Now the Dal Molin base facilitates the strategic reorganization of American war forces in Italy. Charges are that the Pentagon is realigning its troop levels in Europe in preparation for an attack on Iran. The aircraft carrier USS Italy would play an important role. Accordingly, by the year 2010 the Vicenza base is to become the most important base for US military deployments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Other US military bases in Italy include Camp Darby near Pisa, which is to be doubled in size, and Sigonella air base in Sicily, the US Naval bases at Gaeta, Taranto and Naples. The US Air Force base of Aviano at the foot of the Dolomites (from where America in the guise of NATO unleashed its bombers against Belgrade in the Balkan War in the 1990s for the final crushing of my beloved Yugoslavia!), lies only a hundred kilometers from Vicenza and where, according to the Rome newspaper Il manifesto the US has stockpiled at least fifty tactical nuclear bombs.
When bulldozers began construction work at Dal Molin, Silvio Berlusconi, the most servile of all Italian politicians, in imitation of America’s neocons labeled protest movements “anti-American”. With Berlusconi favored to be re-elected in April, the total conversion of Italy to a US-NATO outpost will be complete. Italy had its chance to withdraw from NATO when De Gaulle’s France did in 1966 but by then Italy was under sway of the US and the Christian Democratic Party —perennially in a symbiotic relationship with the Vatican and the mafia—that governed for over four decades. In theory it could have changed its relationship with NATO on the breakup of the USSR in 1989. But no government could nor dared take the step. Italy had become a colony. It’s easy to envision an Italy and Italians something like India and Indians under British imperial rule.
Though some observers regarded Italy’s military withdrawal from Iraq last year as the revolt of the vassals, it was only a minor deviation. The French had refused Iraq firmly. The Spanish withdrew from Iraq defiantly. Italy’s then Center Left government spoke briefly of “a new course” in Rome-Washington relations. But not for long. The reality is that as a rule US dependent Italy is bullied into America’s wars. Meanwhile, CIA agents roam around the country abducting terrorist suspects and the US military build-up continues. And fresh Italian troops leave for Afghanistan.
But Afghanistan is another story. Like Americans, Italians too have short memories, especially about their servility.
The Roman Catholic Church is doubtless one of the most noxious occupiers of Italy and most powerful authorities over Italians. When other powers are absent the Church is there. When other powers are present the Church goes to war. The Church that survives on alms, that only takes and never gives, has always been a gangrene for Italy. The Church is both cause and effect of the traditional dualism of Italians of yesterday and today: their innate anarchy and their servile tendencies.
As the apex of an ubiquitous church, the Vatican’s casts a very long shadow in Italy’s life. Its power, its wealth, and even its domain over countless monuments, art treasures and historical relics, envelop the Italian consciousness as one of the few continuums in a country often fractured by disunity, wars and disasters.
The evangelical mission of the Roman Church has made of Italians a careless band of blind believers—in word only however, not in practice. For in reality Italy is a country of “technical Catholics”, as Rome sociologist Franco Ferrarotti calls his fellow countrymen. Though the spurious nature of their faith abets them, Italians are instead the chief victims of their Church.
Though formally deprived of its temporal power and its extensive territories since Italy’s unification in 1861, the Roman Church continues to interfere in Italian political affairs today (more than in the Spain of Zapatero where a chasm divides Church and State and where the Catholic Church is always in attack mode). Denying the obvious and boasting of its “rights” to do so, the Roman Church exhorts Catholic parliamentarians to vote down every idea of modernity and social change. No, to divorce! No, to abortion! No, to any kind of euthanasia! No, to stem cell research or experimental scientific research in general! No, to gay rights of any kind! The Church rules against any and all deviations from its orthodoxy.
Moreover, in its hubris, in its battle against modernity, the Church is no longer satisfied with only spiritual power.
Religious historians instruct that the Catholic Church has had two souls since the birth of Christianity: a church of the persecuted on one hand, and a church of persecutors of other religions on the other, a church of Christ and a church of the Pope. The first is described as universal in its mission of charity and love, distant from concerns of secular power. The second is authoritarian, of a pre-modern mentality, and a hierarchical, absolutist organization … that was permissive of Fascism. Corrupt as its notorious medieval Popes, the Borgias and many others who almost singlehandedly detonated the reformation…It is an organization of a privileged bureaucratic-theological apparatus, with at its head a figure dressed in medieval costumes, surrounded by prelates dressed like medieval princes in total obedience to the sovereign. The duality of their church reflects again the dual nature of the first ring of its adherents, the Italians.
Secular Italians cite the proximity of the Vatican as the source of many of Italy’s woes. This age-old influence has only been overcome on the rare occasions of a pope of high spirituality and a strong anti-authoritarian mentality. This is not the case of today’s Pope, Benedict XVI, the German-Bavarian, conservative-reactionary, Joseph Ratzinger. Today, a century and a half since Italy was “liberated” from the Church’s temporal power, the continuing submission to the dictates of that Church reflects the servility aspect of Italian dualism.
A recent rally on St. Peter’s Square called by the Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, became a veritable electoral manifestation, underlining the Church’s eternal interference in Italian politics. Hardly a day passes that the Roman Church does not issue a ruling on secular issues. The history of Italy is closely intertwined with that of the Roman Church. In no other country has this link been as powerful, simply because Rome hosts the Pope and the Vatican. The Roman Church’s influence on Italy has been largely negative, a hindrance to its social development and independence. History simply does not abound with examples of religious progressivism, and the Papist church is certainly no exception.
Pope Benedict XVI himself recently celebrated a mass in the Sistine Chapel under the oblivious Michelangelo fresco masterpieces. His mass in the old liturgical rite is emblematic of the U-turn “his Church” is inflicting on Italy. The Pope spoke in Latin, with his back to the worshippers. A holy mass administered by a priest hidden from the worshippers and speaking in a language they don’t understand has the intent of underlining the mystery of the transformation of the wine and bread into the blood and body of Jesus Christ. His message is that there is no salvation without the intervention of the priesthood and the Church’s mediation between man and God.
To underline his demand for submission, last November Pope Ratzinger appeared at an assembly of prelates wearing the mitre of the ultra-conservative, 19th century Pope Pio IX, the Pope who execrated freedom of conscience, religious freedom and imposed the dogma of papal infallibility on his priests with his foot literally at their throats. Ratzinger instead portrays Pope Pio as “indomitable and courageous in his battle against secularization.”
This Pope, Benedict XVI, is the shining emblem of today’s retrograde Church demanding total submission of its adherents.
Secular observers believe that the answer to the riddle of why this outdated Church continues to exist lies in the fundamental Italian nature of the Papacy. Of 266 popes in the history of the Roman Church, only 22 were not Italian. The popes are Italian. The Church is Italian. This Italian nature of the dualistic Church reflects also the reluctance of Italy to accept wholeheartedly the concept of the liberal, secular state in Europe. And again, it reflects Italy’s age-old dualism: unity and disunity of believers and cynics alike, servility and anarchy. These technical Catholics who seldom set foot in a church except for funerals or christenings are none the less professed Christians, uncertain as to whether Protestants are also Christians.
But by no means should the technical nature of Italian Catholicism or secular resistance to the Roman Catholic Church be construed as an attack on Christianity. Not at all. Italy is the number one defender of Christianity as the basis of European culture.
The reality is that Italians, in the sense of this article, are servile toward the Roman Catholic Church. From a secular point of view, far from finding solace and redemption in their Church’s presence, they suffer from its ubiquity and its invasion in their lives. Perhaps it’s corrupt, but it’s our Church! You don’t have to the live in Rome long to begin perceiving the subservience of even the extreme Left to today’s reactionary Church: even declared atheists pay their respects to it.
I have purposely underlined the Church-State relationship because I believe it is one of the cornerstones of the traditional tendency toward servility of the Italian peoples.
Return to Anarchy
The outgoing Center Left government of ex-EU President, middle-of-the-road Romano Prodi failed miserably to change anything for the better. Much more Center than Left, the main body of the coalition and the opposition alike blame the Communist Left component of the outgoing government, called the Radical Left, for its pitiful showing. The Left instead charges the dissension among the major coalition partners of the Center for the disaster.
Today the Left is running alone, hoping for at least 8% of the vote! That’s what remains of the Italian Communist Party that once boasted one-third of the Italian electorate. The Left has put aside frivolous faith in a swing of the electorate to the left, as in the days when the traitor Tony Blair was the darling and model of the Italian Left. A modest goal indeed! A goal reflecting Center-oriented, bourgeois Italy, where the Left could never—not even if Antonio Gramsci himself were to return—head a government. Unfortunately that is not only an Italian reality…
Today, in imitation of the USA, yes, really! the (Italian) Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party are aiming at a two-party system for Italy, in the elusive hope of making Italians magically controllable and governable. But no one is deluded. One party, two parties, multiple parties will make no difference whatsoever. The “caste” has no intention of changing anything. Not even the political Left which is part of the reigning system seems to desire radical change. (The unraveling began with the shift from “Stalinist” left positions—read: hard left, hard anti-imperialist positions—to “Eurocommunism”, essentially little more than a marketing label for the classical class-collaborationist posture of social democrats). I fear that criticism of the exportation of jobs, the precarious nature of a growing number of jobs and low workers’ salaries is chiefly electoral propaganda. Instead, Italian capitalism, step by rapid step, is creating a safe aerie for its political caste, already cut off from the rest of the people.
The people! Il popolo! One third of the people are disoriented. They don’t understand. They are misinformed, under-informed. Sounds familiar? They want to believe that the victory of the Democratic Party or Berlusconi’s Freedom Party will make a difference. The Center Left flop left the people disappointed, disgusted and disoriented as did the failure of the Right government of Berlusconi before it. Probably a majority of Italians are disgusted with the current system. Again, sounds familiar? Yet, a Grosse Koalition between the two parties would widen even more the chasm between the political class on its mountaintop and the people in nowhereland. Perhaps the problem is simply that capitalist democracy can never deliver the goods because, propaganda aside, it’s just not designed for that purpose.
People sense that any achievable change will only favor the church of the political caste. The mass of Italian society seems destined to continue rambling around in the classic niche of escapism, ready to drop back into anarchy, and anarchism born of millennia of cynicism about the true intentions of those who monopolize power at the top. Either the society described by Dostoevsky in The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, a society of basics, of aimless, non-participatory, uninvolved people reduced to a life of simple pleasures and a bit of sinning. Or, on the other hand, just beyond, a dual society of the caste operating for itself and the people forced into anarchy, atomized despair.
Thus, despite the binds of the European Union, Italy is experiencing a gray, seemingly hopeless, yet potentially explosive situation. A situation which could spawn dreadful and unexpected alternatives. In such a stall, with the isolated government on one side of the chasm and an anarchic people on the other, anything at all could happen.
The official website of Berlusconi’s party not long ago posted the following appeal to the party from the hard line segment of the party: “Argentina is a teacher. Take over power, even against the Constitution, stop talking, otherwise the parasites will continue to grow, act! We don’t need elections. We need strong action.”
Italian society in this precise moment brings to mind the society portrayed by Dostoevsky in The Possessed—a nation morphing from widespread socio-political frustration toward anarchy and nihilism.
If it is true that today a good European—that is, a citizen of the European Union—must be an anti-nationalist, it is also true that a good Italian must be less servile and committed to freeing Italy from the greedy claws of US imperialism and the meddling messianism that some Europeans believe Americans inherited from their puritan ancestors. The good Italian of the new millennium will most certainly have to be more internationalist and more proudly conscious of his true identity.