Friday, 9 March 2018

Italy Beset By An Impious Spirit Of Misrule.

Masque Of Folly: Politically and ideologically, Italy's parliamentary elections resembled the sort of riotous carnivals for which Italian cities became notorious during the Eighteenth Century. Everybody was in costume; every face was masked; nothing was as it seemed; and the whole mad procession was presided over by an impious spirit of misrule.

WHAT’S WITH THE ITALIANS? Viewed from the perspective of a country located about as far from Italy as it is possible to get on a spherical planet, its people appear to have taken leave of their senses. Politically and ideologically, last Sunday’s parliamentary elections resembled the sort of riotous carnivals for which Italian cities became notorious during the Eighteenth Century. Everybody was in costume; every face was masked; nothing was as it seemed; and the whole mad procession was presided over by an impious spirit of misrule.

There is, however, justification for Italy’s apparent madness. What happened on Sunday was the Italian electorate’s entirely understandable response to a corrupt political class which, for the past 70 years, has perfected ever-more outrageous strategies for preventing ordinary Italians from getting what they want.

For more than 40 years Italy was ruled by a single political party, the Christian Democrats, which, in collusion with the country’s leading capitalists, the Catholic Church and organised crime bosses, kept the United States happy by preventing the powerful Communist Party of Italy (the largest communist party in the western world) from taking power democratically.

Oh, yes, we of the English-speaking countries like to joke about the revolving door of Italian politics and its seemingly endless procession of jowly, horn-rimmed bespectacled prime ministers. Less is said, however, about the corruption and manipulation basic to the perpetuation of a permanent anti-communist political regime dedicated to thwarting the aspirations of the Italian working-class.

Certainly, we English-speakers have witnessed nothing-like the exercise unleashed by the Italian magistracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union (and with it the credibility of communism) in 1991. The so-called “Mani Pulite” (Clean Hands) investigations brought to book so many senior members of the Italian political class – most especially the leaders of the anti-communist parties – that people began to refer to the world of politics as “Tangentopoli” (Bribesville) and wondered whether there was even one honest official left in the whole country.

The answer to that question appeared to be “No”. Because “Bribesville”, in the person of Italy’s “Mr Media” – Silvio Berlusconi – struck back at the “Clean Hands” investigations, accusing Italy’s relentless magistrates of wearing “red robes” (i.e. of being pawns of the Communist Party).

Berlusconi’s genius was to gather together against the Left all that was historically disreputable in Italian society: the defensive conservatism of the Italian family; the clientelism fundamental to making one’s way in Italian society; the disdain of Italy’s “civilised” northern provinces for the people of Italy’s “undeveloped” south; and, most worryingly, the resurgent ideology of Italian fascism. “Forza Italia” (Go Italy!) was the Christian Democracy Party reborn as a combination of football supporters club and anti-political crusade.

Did right-wing Italians know that Berlusconi was conning them? Of course they did. But, being conned was preferable to finally facing-up to Italy’s all-too-obvious economic and social decline, and the political putrefaction at the heart of its national life.

As a strategy for defeating the Italian Left it was nothing short of brilliant. To succeed, left-wing parties require an electorate which believes fervently in the possibility of a better future. By the time Berlusconi was finally forced from office, that crucial pre-requisite had been pummelled into a pervasive and despairing cynicism about all forms of political engagement. Increasingly, Italian politics was driven by the issues that most enraged the electorate: illegal immigration; the redistribution of the north’s wealth to the impoverished south; the growth of an unaccountable political bureaucracy more responsive to the urgings of Brussels than Rome; the inability of anybody to actually change anything.

Small wonder, then, that a shady stand-up comedian, Beppe Grillo, has pushed his Internet-based “Five Star Movement” to the front of the political pack. Or that “The League” – formerly the Northern League – has surged ahead of Forza Italia by promising to drive 600,000 illegal immigrants into the sea. Or that the parties of Italy’s increasingly decrepit status-quo have been soundly beaten. Or that there is currently no reasonable prospect of Italy’s mutually allergic political parties coming together to form any sort of responsible government.

Fittingly, it was the Italian communist, Antonio Gramsci, who penned the best description of Italy’s predicament: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 March 2018.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh well, to paraphrase Joseph Goebbels "if you tell a big enough lie and repeat it often enough – you are a conservative."

peter petterson said...

So nothing has really changed in Italy,eh?

greywarbler said...

NZ author Sir James McNeish d.2016, got near to the Italian problems when he wrote about Danilo Dolci's efforts to draw attention to the plight of the poor people in Sicily particularly.

Dolci could be viewed as the antithesis to the thrusting, bold-faced capitalism; Italy's style for so long. The Economist has drawn a full picture of Dolci and his atttempt to make change for the poor people with Christ's teachings as his vision. He has been likened to Ghandi in his outlook championing of non-violence that caught people's notice and gained a large following.

Danilo Dolci was one of the leading commenters on the aspects of Italy's culture that led to people being impoverished with extremely poor conditions which seemed to intensify in the south.
Danilo Dolci. Danilo Dolci (June 28, 1924 – December 30, 1997) was an Italian social activist, sociologist, popular educator and poet. He is best known for his opposition to poverty, social exclusion and the Mafia on Sicily, and is considered to be one of the protagonists of the non-violence movement in Italy.

On James McNeish's time with Dolci in Italy.
He spent three years in Sicily with Danilo Dolci, the non-violent anti-Mafia reformer, and wrote Fire under the Ashes (1965, London: Hodder and Stoughton)[2] a biographical account of Dolci's life which is remarkable for its objectivity and clarity.

I remember Sir James McNeish describing one of Dolci's protests against the misrule of Sicily, its bad governance and the denial of work and poor living conditions of the citizens. They held a protest in the form of a reverse strike, where people objecting to being unemployed when there were obvious tasks needing attention , turned out to do unpaid work on the roads such as filling in potholes. This was frowned on by the authorities controlling the region to their own satisfaction.

Right now we have enough need to provoke a protest reverse strike in New Zealand. There is plenty to be done and a lack of will by those responsible to do it, or properly allocated national finances aren't available for it. Novopay was a large government wage technology contract that went to Australia, so when there is expenditure it may not be sourced from this country. Fletchers is owned by some investment company in the USA I think.

So watch Italy's contortions and learn.

greywarbler said...

While thinking about Italy and comparing NZ actions I thought I would look at whether we are mismanaging and skewing our economy as they had in Sicily. And then found some clear economic facts to assist clarity.

I see us moving towards a similar situation in New Zealand. We have a gloss on our country's achievements, some high-tech businesses which have triumphed and sell internationally, but then are sold to foreigners and may go off-shore. But even when in NZ often the employees are largely international.

Under this colourful, eye-drawing parasol over the country is the service sector for people with wealth, and there are some professional jobs there, but again one hears many different accents rather than our Kiwi tongue. Under that are the small traders, the tradesmen, and then the precariat class. There is a problem at the lower level of business as if it is profitable, bigger overseas companies are buying up those small traders, businesses and shops, and turning them into chains. The franchise system does leave room for New Zealanders to have a major interest in their business, but likely it will be foreign investors who end up owning the franchises.

Now government backed by business, has largely given away small scale industrialisation and manufacturing giving employment in the towns, are we to be a farming country again with small employment available rurally?
But then there is an unwillingness to convey living wages and satisfactory conditions to permanent workers with problems retaining rural workers and attracting town workers, so use of temporary or cheaper foreign workers.
But the information below indicates farming is a small part of GDP, so why is so much news, interest and support directed to farming? Frankly the facts confuse me, and I suspect many others.

For instance:
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 3.9%
industry: 26.2%
services: 69.9% (2017 est.)
Definition: This entry shows where production takes place in an economy. The distribution gives the percentage contribution of agriculture, industry, and services to total GDP, and will total 100 percent of GDP if the data are complete.
Agriculture includes farming, fishing, and forestry.
Industry includes mining, manufacturing, energy production, and construction.
Services cover government activities, communications, transportation, finance, and all other private economic activities that do not produce material goods.
Source: CIA World Factbook - This page was last updated on January 20, 2018

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 3.9%
industry: 26.2%
services: 69.9% (2017 est.)"
There is a theory I learned last year studying geopolitics. Dammit, I'll have to find my notes but it suggests that economies go through various stages until they become dependent on finance rather than production. I think it goes back to the Renaissance and the Italian states, and then the Dutch became 'financialised' when they made more money from lending money than from production, and the British in the 19th and early 20th centuries and now the Americans have gone the same way. One of the points made was that car companies actually make more money lending to people to buy cars than they do selling cars. And I think New Zealand might be going the same way. What happens when were all taking in each other's washing I don't know. But I'm assuming that all actual production will be automated. Which pretty much leaves us all with service jobs unless we can come up with some niche 'artisanal' product. Which is why I think one of the major aims of any Labour government should be to raise the damned wages of people in the service sector. Or at least those at the bottom of the totem pole in the service sector, because those at the top seem to be quite comfortable thank you.

Victor said...

Italia, Italia! Amore mio!

Why are you so bad at politics when you’re so good at everything else?

Why do your multitudinous better angels so rarely flutter their oft-painted wings around the public space (particularly when it’s so beautiful)?

Why must bloodstained Caesars, Machiavelli’s Principe or some pumped-up Mussolini substitute always elbow aside the noble shades of Garibaldi or the wonderful Rosselli brothers?

How many more millennia need to pass before you get a grip on yourself?

And, yes, I know, we’re not perfect either and our shared civilisation (so much of which we owe to you) is in deep strife.

But you, Cara Mia, are so much less than you could be!

swordfish said...

Ahhh, "Tangentopoli" ... a term I still remember after all these years. Did a Pols 200-level essay on this back in the mid-90s. The fall of Soviet / East Euro communism = led to break-up and ideological transformation of the old Italian Communist Party = as a result, the entire raison d'ĂȘtre for Christian Democrat / Italian Establishment cohesion vanishes = unleashes the "Clean Hands" purification of a deeply corrupt system. The PCI was the only Party untainted by corruption. Sadly, Craxi and the Italian Socialists were up to their friggin eyeballs in it ...

greywarbler said...

The blog and the comments are all so intriguing (shades of Machiavelli but in a different way). Perhaps we could touch again on aspects of Italian and also Greek politics and country economics and location in world economics. We study history and geography learning many facts but not so much the progress of the people coping with their environment and outside forces, and comparison with what we are facing, and that is the important understanding so discussions on those lines is interesting and instructive.

(Just listened to Professor Jamie Belich on Radionz who was talking about the Black Death in the 14th century and its effect on the Europeans and it gave a huge boost to creative thinking and development of superior technologies, better guns, better ships, and promoted overseas forays.)

It shows how looking back for the factors that were behind the zeitgeist of older days can give insight into now such as GS mentions.

Victor said...


Thanks for those thought-provoking statistics.

I'm sure you're right about advanced economies moving, over time, from production to financial and other services. The likes of Niall Ferguson tend to see this as progress.

The Japanese, Germans and French have, however, experienced rather modified versions of this trend, though I expect France is in for the full whack under Macron.

This prospect may delight many of the legion of young aspirational French people who've flocked to London in search of glittering prizes. But it won't be popular with the guys in overalls, who keep cars rolling off the production lines.

At the same time, the Brits, who've financialised over a very long period and have little left to sell apart from services and branded luxury goods, are about to discover just how much of their wealth has been derived from becoming the EU's premier banking and business services hub.

Personally, if I won big on Lotto, I'd be buying up top-end real estate in Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Dublin or even (dare I suggest) Edinburgh, as the smarty pantses will need to migrate to somewhere inside the EU with an existent banking structure and with theatres and opera houses just down the road.

Meanwhile I agree with you about the need to raise service sector wages, although it's a difficult goal to attain given the small size of many service companies.

I'm also more and more convinced that we need to move towards some form of UBI, but not the Clayton's version propounded by Gareth Morgan.

In the meantime, the one good thing I've heard about these "Five Star" clowns is that they favour a uniformed basic income payment to everyone earning below a certain level.

No, it's not universal. But, at least, unlike the Morgan version, it doesn't depend for its success on making a specific section of the public (viz. the aged) poorer.

So (who knows?), they may not turn out to be such total clowns after all, although I'm not holding my breath.

Polly said...

The facts are that Italy is Christian and the large numbers of illegal Muslim immigrants is to much for them to bear.
A Political mess is ensuing.
That same mess is showing up in all countries that have taken Muslim immigration.
Christen and Muslim communities, side by side, do not work.

sumsuch said...

Just read Gwynne Dyer's account of the Italian election in my local paper. He mentions at the bottom of his column it'll be shooting at the borders in 20 years when climate change fruishes. Climate change and the end of resources, 'just another issue', no, it is WW 2 in '39. It should be the main talk here and everywhere.

The only exception I allow is the democratization of power, Chris's and our cause, equally vital to us in dealing with this imminent catastrophe. Otherwise we are just the curators of the last leg of a brilliant culture--which is how I view most of the deeds and talk since I saw the 1990 National Geographic climate-change cover.

The media treat it as 'just another issue'. Mary Holm recently on National Radio afternoons saying you can't go wrong investing in the sharemarket, as it always goes up over time. A contacter had the good sense to ask about climate change. Mary admitted she didn't have the expertise to respond to the query. So many commentators don't take into account, well, the best idea of 'medium-term' reality (thanks, Roger, for that term if nothing else). All other issues are out-wingers, that, thus, don't matter.

Nick J said...

GS / Grey / Victor,
The fact that you all highlight different views on the construct that is our economy show just how confusing the whole thing is.

I went looking and found that the definitions of sectors etc really did not indicate dependencies and interactions. I then looked for where the money we earn offshore came from, no surprises here, primary industry. So 3% of the economy supports the rest? Makes no sense unless interactions between sectors are considered.

I get the feeling that we might be better looking at where tradable goods are produced (including all necessary ancillary services) and where tangible value is added to these goods by the "service sector". We might then get a more accurate picture of how our economy functions.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Personally, if I won big on Lotto, I'd be buying up top-end real estate in Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Dublin or even... "

Too late mate. The Lotto win would not get you a property anywhere near the top end of most of those cities, especially London – because rich people have already thought of this and are doing it, partly to avoid taxes. And countries such as Singapore are altering their real estate and tax laws to attract them. The mobile wealthy, who don't seem to have much in the way of loyalty to a country so much as each other. Bit of an eye-opener. (That was another part of the course.) :)

Victor said...


I mean really big.....20 million....that kind of thing. It should bag me an apartment or three in Frankfurt if not in Brussels. And Dublin probably still has empty properties galore, left over from the last boom, even if they're on the tacky side. So let me dream!

Nick J

Absolutely right. But you still need something to sell


Italy's politics have been a mess since forever. Don't blame it on the Moslems. That's too easy.

Victor said...


The Black Death is one hell of a subject!

One of its most immediate results was a sudden rise in the price of labour. This seems to have substantially accelerated the decline of serfdom in much of western Europe and also helped raise the wages of the already free. And, of course, there was more food around per head of population.

By the sixteenth century, the population stats were on their way up again and the Malthusian curse on agrarian societies was making itself felt. In addition, mountains of silver arrived in Europe from the New World injecting runaway inflation into the mix.

There seems to have been much social discontent and dislocation during this latter period, hence Elizabeth I's draconian measures against "sturdy beggars"

I also recall reading somewhere or other the suggestion that (contra to Tudor propaganda) the English of the Elizabethan age tended to look back on the fifteenth century as the "good old days", when, despite baronial wars and associated carnage, stomachs were full and the living relatively easy.

The elergiac tone in some of Shakespeare's works may be ascribable to that feeling, with Jack Falstaffe, for example, the embodiment of a free-living, generously profligate older England, glimpsed through the fireside tales of grandparents.

And we can but hope that the twenty-first century will view us profligate baby boomers with similar affection. For we too have heard the chimes at midnight!

Unknown said...

The EU’s hostile front against the UK in the ongoing Brexit talks faces collapse, as the populists who routed the establishment in the Italian elections insist the bloc must back down and offer a generous and constructive deal.

greywarbler said...

Nick J
Okay. Where would that sort of analysis be done in NZ. I presume that there is an academic/s within the business side of universities, who is versed in this sort of dissection and amalgamation.

You paint the picture of agriculture being the end result of a lot of input at its base from other sectors. If people are working at an agricultural job but are contractors, are they counted as agriculture or service?

Victor said...


Please define a "generous and constructive deal" in these circumstances.

No deal could be as good for Britain as EU membership, particularly with all the special opt outs that have been negotiated down the decades.

Moreover, no-one in the EU27 really knows what the Brits want out of these negotiations. In fact, the Brits don't know themselves. And neither the Maybot nor Jezza are doing much to clarify matters. Guess why?

To my mind, there are only two questions worth asking about this absurd mess.

The first is whether Brexit can be stopped in its tracks, to which the answer is probably "no".

The other is whether the EU might actually be better off without the Brits and their constant winging and time-wasting. Quite a few on the continent seem to think so, although it's still a truth that dare not speak its name in the corridors of power. Anyway, we'll start finding that out for sure in a year's time.

Meanwhile, alas poor Britannia! You are about to get poorer and have already proved yourselves vastly sillier than anyone (including this loving former child of your sceptered isle) ever imagined.

Nick J said...

That Grey is the thousand dollar question. You are correct that it should be a domain of academia, but I'm not sure I would trust their ability to be empirical as opposed to dogma driven in their findings. The other problem I see with academia is the lack of worldly experience with commercial transactions, the obvious point of interchange between "sectors".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Meanwhile, alas poor Britannia! You are about to get poorer and have already proved yourselves vastly sillier than anyone (including this loving former child of your sceptered isle) ever imagined."

Indeed Victor. But I'm keeping in the back of my mind that Charles predicted prosperity. Just keeping it tucked away for future reference.

Nick. Academia should not have any dogma. If it does then it's not doing its job.

Andrew Nichols said...

two explanations appeal.

1. Is this the end result of Gladio that multi decade CIA violent political interference in Italian elections (yet another glaring example to illustrate the hypocrisy of the US in 2018), leading to fragmentation like what has happened to the likes of Iraq and Libya post their interventions?..or

2. Did Garibaldi actually fail to truly unify Italy? Many of these parties have a solid provincial base so could it be that Italy has to break up Yugoslavia next door?

Victor said...

Andrew Nichols

If you think that any country should face the fate of the former Yugoslavia, then there is something distinctly wrong with your moral compass.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Did Garibaldi actually fail to truly unify Italy? Many of these parties have a solid provincial base so could it be that Italy has to break up Yugoslavia next door?"

Good question. I know that in World War I – at the beginning the Italian government wasn't quite sure that it was in control of the whole country, particularly considering the number of German-speaking people in the north, and the lack of unity of the regions. I'm pretty sure they hoped that World War I would be a unifying factor. But to be honest I don't know what happened there. :)

Victor said...

GS (and Charles if you're out there)

I'm still racking my brains to work out where that prosperity is going to come from.

FFS, the EU currently takes 45% of UK exports, whilst another 20% goes to countries which already have FTAs with the EU!

As to the rest of the planet, Germany sells about five times as much as the Brits to China whilst Belgium (I'm told but have yet to confirm) currently sells as much as the UK does to the former Raj.

Last time I looked, both Germany and Belgium were in the EU. So, obviously, it's something else that's holding Britain back.

Let me try a stab at it. How about a shortage of the right products at the right prices, backed by the right marketing, as carried out by people who are willing to learn the mores and (maybe even)the languages of their customers? Do you think I might be getting warm?

Will leaving the EU reverse this situation in any way? Au contraire, mes amis!

If I were Scots, I wouldn't have voted "Yes" in the 2014 independence referendum. But I think I would if Nicola got her Indyref2 now.