Strongly inspired by a book I’m presently reading - Edoardo Montolli’s Il caso Genchi. Storia di un uomo in balia dello Stato (Aliberti, 2009), the history of one of the latest Italian scandals (and possibly the biggest one) - I would like to write an essay of Italy’s last almost-three-centuries’ history.
It would start with the expansion of a sort of robber baron dinasty, the House of Savoy - they were Dukes until the Treaty of Utrecht ending the Spanish Succession War conferred to them the crown of Sicily in 1713 - from their original mountain region in the Swiss-French Alps to the richer lowlands of north west Italy.
I would like to explain how the potential of southern Italy, and the smooth mechanism of well run administrative culture in the Austria administered north east were soon dismantled by the new rulers - most of them even unable to speak anything else but their French patois until well into the twentieth century - eager to suck energies and resources from the newly acquired country, before launching their late-colonial, ridiculous adventure in northern and eastern Africa.
It would be easy to explain the present evolutionary hiatus between a relatively affluent northern area and a sadly underdeveloped southern one starting from this premise. Even today, looking at the road- and railroad net in Northern, Central and Southern Italy makes one wonder if these regions do really belong to one and the same country. Studying the localization and concentration pattern of any other infrastructure and service providing agency couldn’t however but lead to the same sense of disbelief.
Politically, the almost total absence of a healthy middle class - and of its cultural values - have their roots in a make-believe capitalism (far from innovation and any risk related approach, as it is near to subventions - possibly public ones - and mock competition) and their most lethal product in an evident, generalized trend towards familism, individualism, and a decidedly courtly attitude.
I would like to stress the impact these trends have had on the Italian elite forming process: rarely based on individual merit, it is mostly based on cooptation - a calling from “above”, implying an extremely obsequious behavior and patience on the one side, and unpredictable, unchallengeable, condescending patronization on the other.
It would be much clearer, than, that it is mostly either by birth or by courtly belonging that an individual becomes part of one of the different layers of a basically oligarchic society. This is true in most professions and in most socio-economic profiles. And this pattern, in turn, explains the longstanding contacts tying together political elites, financial oligarchs, and variously denominated mafias. As stated in a recently disclosed letter dated June 28, 1979, written by the late Sir Alan Campbell on leaving his office as Britain’s Ambassador to Rome, it would be very difficult feeling optimistic regarding the Italian democracy, judging with western Europe’s standards. It could perhaps, he added, be best thought of in terms of United Kingdom in the eighteenth century, when political clientelism was a wide-spread factor.
This was true in the late-seventies. How much more so after thirty years of further value dilution by commercial TV, in post-modern Berlusconistan.