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What should we expect for Italy?

by Laurent J. LaBrie
September 2003

Other Articles in the series "The Italian Side of the Bridge"
Ministry in Italy
Italians and Love
Flattery in the Italian Culture
Skepticism in Italian and Romanian Character
Italian and Romanian Economic Similarities
The Italians and Women
What Should We Expect for Italy?

A tempered opposition to war

One of the other differences between Italy and the US cultures is the treatment of criminals.  Traditionally, the higher threshold for ethics makes criminal activity more acceptable.

"The people's dislike of legal persecution and their kind hearts make them indiscriminantly help all victims of the authorities:  they feel irresistibly drawn to bandits, fugitives from justice, escaped convicts, as well as political refugees.  In 1943-1945, at the peril of their lives, they sheltered anti-Fascists, American and English prisoners of war.  They saved thousands of Jews from their German allies, smuggling them to safety or providing them with false documents."  (Barzini)

The vast majority consider the American use of the death penalty to be savage while many will profess that it is
fine to kill one's enemies when necessary.

Throughout history, Italians have been indiscriminantly massacred by Muslim pirates and the Germans in World War II.  But they rarely have ever slaughtered indiscriminantly.  Their distaste for war is not only because the last millenium shows that they are less capable at it.   The opposition to the Persian Gulf War was partly due to pacifism but mostly due to communist political activity and anxiety over US military superiority. 

At the anti-war rallies, there often were as many soviet flags as peace flags.  At one of the larger rallies on May 1, 2003, the crowd cheered deliriously after a rendition of "Ciao, bella ciao" a song promoting violent resistance to the Fascists, an odd choice for a "peace" rally.

The new communist flags were as present as the peace flags, which is understandable since it was a Labor Day concert and the Communist Party is the friend of labor. I turned to Simonetta, the wife of a friend of mine, and asked her what the history of that song was, knowing what her answer would be. She said, "It's a song of the resistance to the Duce." I said, "That's a pretty strange song to play at a peace rally." Clearly disturbed at such a comment, she asked why and I said, "That is a song calling people to FIGHT the Fascist government. It is anything but a peace song." She had no response to that. Then it all came clear to me.

The Communist Party is disguising its objection to the capitalistic and right-of-center US, Brittish, Australian, Italian and Spanish government dominence in the world but repackaging it in a Peace flag to disguise the true intent and to recruit the moderates to join what they are calling the peace movement. The other interesting thing about the concert was to hear talk of liberty and freedom, more the slogans of the right-of-center Bush, Blair, & Co. coalition than the communist Chirac and Hussein axis. Clearly the line between "peace" and "Iraqi freedom" movements is more political left vs. right than ideological.

Economic Consolidation and Modernization

What good does the future hold for Italy?  The repetition of history will probably continue.  However, there
are some movements afoot.  Modernization and consolidation of small companies into large ones will
continue.  The past two decades have been characterized by a disorganized immigration policy. The government has almost annually given clemency to illegal aliens.  Thus, the workers that fill the workforce are of lower quality and of lower ethical convictions. 

Consider how different U.S. immigration policy has been.  Hollywood gave the USA international brand recognition unequaled by any other nation in modern times.  The government of each country places the horizontal bar upon which the eyes of the foreign emigrants train.  The United States made immigration visa approval competitive based on merit, forcing the finest the brains in the world hurdle that bar.  Italy's immigration policy has been to approve anyone who appears on the other side of the bar.  Since it is easier to pass underneath when the arbiter is distracted, Italy has granted visas predominantly to the crafty.  When only crooks are allowed to enter a country, clearly you will have a nation with deteriorating ethics. 

A major economic hurdle

The admission of predominantly manual labor has both resulted from and reinforced the racism and racial polarity of Italy.  In the next decade, Europe faces the demographic crunch of an increasing population of retirees being supported by a decreasing population of workers.  This was the Japanese scenario in the 1990's and American one in this decade.  The latter has had an immigration policy that has been able to supply much of the economic backbone of the country.  It is still questionable whether the zero-population growth, shortening workweek, and graying of the population will be met in Europe with the same quantity and quality of immigrants.  If Europe doesn't resolve this problem, economic difficulty is sure to come.

One of the things in Italy's past that is Romania's present is the extremely political nature of business.

"These, then, are some of the deceptively obvious rules.  Rule One:  choose the right companions.  In order to succeed, a young man must not only join a large and powerful group but also, once in, worm his way to the top, become one of the influential elite, one of the leaders, or even the solitary chief, if he can, in  order to use the whole group to serve his own purposes.  It is clearly impossible for any man to do so alone.  He must have an entourage of his own:  he must choose a smaller group inside the large group, join it, and eventually influence it.  He must recognize, at the start, which of the various existing cliques presents the best chances.  Roughly speaking, there is usually a clique of older men well-entrenched in commanding positions who can defend themselves and who allow only their own friends to prosper, and a clique of ambitious young men determined to oust the older men and take their places.  The choice of which faction to side with is a difficult and delicate one.  Romantic and sentimental prejudices must naturally be overlooked.  One cannot afford to make mistakes, as it is almost impossible to change places later, when the outcome is clear, without paying a heavy price.  Rule Two (perhaps the most important of all):  choose the right protector." (Barzini)
In Romania, one usually has to change subcultures in order to recover some of what is lost by a societal   misstep. 

A distinct lifestyle

"There are obviously more material advantages in the North, but they do not compensate for the dangers of spiritual impoverishment, the crude hedonism, the infantile cultural and emotional life, the dreary leveling, the discipline, which are inseparable from an industrialized society.  The southerner, on the other hand, employs all his faculties keenly in the daily struggle, he frequently overwhelms his competitors, he enjoys, at times, the pleasures of victory.  He has time to pursue idle and wasteful passions.  His life is often more intense, human, nearer nature and natural instincts.  But these advantages may not compensate him for its squalor, poverty, hopelessness, insecurity and injustice." (Barzini L, The Italians, New York:  Bantam Books, 1964. p. 239)

Whenever one is considering a lifestyle for himself and his family, these are interesting insights.  One can apply them when deciding between living in the United States or Italy, northern or southern Italy, southern Italy or Romania.  One cannot judge which society is better for everyone.  When he speaks of the differences between northern and southern Italy, you can usually make the same distinctions between any of the aforementioned groups and any one later in the list:  USA versus southern Italy, northern Italy versus Romania, etc. 

Without waxing too philosophically, I maintain that a certain amount of opportunity exists to make these decisions regardless of one's home country.  Each of us must decide between pursuing riches or relationships with God and others.  One cannot serve both God and mammon, say the Holy Scriptures.  

There is nothing of which to be ashamed for choosing poverty and family over riches and instability.  The Romanians and southern Italians have contributed much to the world as they live gracious, less stressful lives.  These people prefer "dignity, fame, authority, prestige or ease of conscience to mere money:  scholars, poets, artists, novelists, saints, philosophers, jurists, eccentrics, spendthrift aristocrats."(ibid) 

The Italians rode on the tailcoats of the Roman Empire and the Vatican, attracting the greatest minds and talents in the world.  The exchange of ideas greatly enhanced their abilities in these areas.

"Let us recapitulate, for the sake of clarity, these elementary rules:  one must cultivate one's family, entertain as many useful friends and as few dangerous enemies as one can, and therefore perfect the art of being obliging and simpatico at all times and at all costs.  One should always be on the qui vive, watch the horizon for the smallest cloud and people's faces for the smallest variation of mood; one should join a powerful group, sail with a safe convoy; one should beware of History.

"On the negative side these are the things one must avoid: one should never be too conspicuous, daring, confident, explicit, trusting, credulous; one should not officially embrace definite opinions, nor be out of step with the crowd.  Above all, one should remember at all times that conflicts are not decided on the basis of the law, abstract considerations of justice or the relative merit of the contestants, but most frequently by a pure confrontation of power.  Might is not only very often right, but might is often the equivalent of beauty, culture, intelligence and charm as well.  No harm will come to the man who diligently does all these things.  No harm but, of course, nothing really good either."(ibid, p. 227)

Other Articles in the series "The Italian Side of the Bridge"
Ministry in Italy
Italians and Love
Flattery in the Italian Culture
Skepticism in Italian and Romanian Character
Italian and Romanian Economic Similarities
The Italians and Women
What Should We Expect for Italy?

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© 2003 Laurent J. LaBrie