Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Italy and the Dirty Don


Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s sleazy and priapic prime minister, is a puzzle. This shady, corrupt, dirty old sexual predator, ever preying on young girls, should have been ejected from office long since. He would have been…in any other country but Italy. But the Dirty Don is a product, a product of history, a product of the Risorgimento, the nineteenth century ‘resurgence’, which saw the creation of the modern state, the imperfect end of an imperfect process.

There is a very interesting piece by Alexander Lee in the History Matters section of the March issue of History Today, in which he argues that Berlusconi type – yes, he is a type – is a direct consequence of Italy’s democratic deficit. It’s a timely article, coming on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the country’s unification, which falls on 17 March.

The thing is, you see, Italy emerged as a state before it became a nation. I would go further: Italy is the nation that never was. Unification was only a partial process, a political process unaccompanied by any deep-rooted sense of common identity. Even today one of the strongest forces in Italian politics, the Northern League, is committed to separation from the south, the old Kingdom of Naples, frogmarched into Italy by Garibaldi and his Red Shirts in 1860.

So there it was: the new nation thrown up on the European shores. But while there may have been some enthusiasm for the ideal of Italy, at least among the educated classes (peasants in Sicily thought it was the name of the king of Piedmont's wife!), there was little or none for democratic accountability. Garibaldi himself saw the individual as less important than the state. The old bone-head and his Red Shirts; Mussolini and his Black Shirts - there is really no difference, just so long as there is a shirt!

Cynicism over democratic accountability was compounded by the style of parliamentary politics that emerged after unification: one of cronyism, localism, corruption and naked self-interest. As Lee says, even for leading figures of the Risorgimento parliament was no more than a market place for sinecures, jobs and contracts. The kickback culture was king; it remains king.

Parliament, then, was simply a theatre of organised abuse, which explains why Italian ‘democracy’ died so readily in 1922, typically in a backstage deal, not in Mussolini’s ludicrously theatrical March on Rome. After the end of the fascist dictatorship it was back to business as usual, with the post-war Christian Democrats retaining a prolonged hold on power by a mixture of cronyism and patronage. Prime ministers Giulio Andreotti and Amintore Fanfani even made government contracts dependant on support of the party, a situation that would not have been tolerated elsewhere.

Politics was just about manipulation and management, not transparency and accountability, and management was about largess and bribes. This culture was aided by the failures of unification, which left people with a local rather than a national consciousness. Italy, Prince Metternich once said, is no more than a geographical expression. Really, once the dust of Garibaldi had settled, once he had taken off his shirt, that’s exactly what it remained, even so far as today. Fragmentation effectively means that politicians can get way with all sorts of chicanery and malfeasance.

Berlusconi is not the antithesis of the Risorgimento, a bogus ‘rebirth’ which never valued liberty and accountability. In so many ways he is its modern representative, the inheritor of a long tradition of corruption and democratic abuses. He continues to hold power not by the will of the people, assuming it’s possible to identify such a thing in Italy, but by the will of a cabal; by deals done behind doors, by offers made that could not be refused. Hey, chase those girls and cue the music. :-)

16 comments:

  1. Italy is a country divided, the industrious North is of of the Germanic tribes and the South is of the North African Moors.

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  2. Silvio is a pasta Mitterand. The Latin countries need term limits on their prestige posts. Power corrupts, and all that . . .

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  3. There is a super cauldera volcano near Naples Italy, one in Germany and in Yellowstone national park in the US ,if they have a major eruption there will be severe destruction.

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  4. My knowledge of Italian life is based on the novels of Donna Leon and Michael Dibden. Interestingly, neither is Italian. Donna Leon lives there, but doesn't publish her books in Italian. They both paint a picture of a totally corrupt country which has very sharp differences in geographical culture. It seems like a country that is really a collection of smaller countries. But overall, they seem like a nice bunch of people! The Italians that is.....

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  5. Anthony, have you been to Italy? From Palermo in the south to Venice in the north there is really not that much to distinguish people. Mussolini was right: the only pure race in Europe is the Laps. The north was always more economically advanced, a bit like the United States in that regard.

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  6. Calvin, and in Italy it clearly corrupts more than others. :-)

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  7. Anthony, I take it you are referring the Vesuvius in Italy? I have a great-uncle who was there when it erupted in 1944.

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  8. Michael, they are a delightful people. I've had several super holidays there. All I will say is that the guys are ever so slightly over sexed, in the model of their PM. They are worse than the Turks, rather surprising considering that they have more opportunities. :-))

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  9. As in the US, more economically advanced in one region vs another? this is directly relevant to the mentality of the inhabitants of the region. It is in the genes my dear.

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  10. I am not defending him but italian women are very beautiful, sexy and hot, I think with all the power that he has could be difficult resist the temptation, most of the men are cavernicole, and beautiful and young women can be the sky. I do not know about the corruption of his government but about the girls in relation of him let him be, over 18 years old of course! Very interesting and nice to read it. A hug. Mario.

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  11. Anthony, I would have said it was far more to do with natural resources rather than genes. The spur for the industrial revolution was most often the presence of coal deposits close to good transport systems and large population centres, a feature of both the north of Italy and the United States.

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  12. Ah, Mario, at his age he should know better.
    :-))

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  13. A wee bit more to it than a lump of coal.

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  14. It takes reasoning to develope the technologia that is required to utilize the resource, comprehend?

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