Tuesday, June 7, 2011

From Il Santo to Bunga-Bunga: Italy’s Road to Political Perdition

The Savoyard writer Joseph de Maistre once wrote that “Every country has the government it deserves.” It is fitting that Joseph de Maistre was a subject of the King of Piedmont-Sardinia, the country that would one day form the nucleus of a unified Kingdom of Italy.

Italians are currently celebrating 150 years of national unity while Italy's government is mired in the so-called “Rubygate” scandal centered around Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged sexual activities with a then-underage Moroccan nightclub dancer, as well as other allegations that the Prime Minister was hosting erotic “bunga-bunga” parties with other women in an underground salon at his Villa San Martino estate. At this point, it may behoove Italians to remember the words of Joseph de Maistre as they ponder the post-Berlusconi future of their country.

While it would be wrong to blame an entire country for the failures of its leader, Italians were comfortable with Berlusconi for much too long. As Hans-Jürgen Schlamp writes in Der Spiegel:

The recipe [for Berlusconi’s political success] was simple: A bit of polemic against the ‘communists’ and the judiciary; a dash of invective against gays, Gypsies and Muslims; a couple of cheap promises, such as imposing caps on taxes and creating jobs. He then spices up the mixture with a few off-color macho witticisms -- and voilà.”

Many Italians were easily seduced by the character of Berlusconi as much of the nation embraced the trash television morality he represented on his networks and in his personal life. As Italians now prepare for the future, they would do well to look back to figures like Giorgio La Pira and others who represented a Christian conception of Italy that was devoted to traditional morality, social justice, and peace. By embracing the trashy values of modern consumerism, Italy lost its nobler traditions that often pierced through the dark layers of the country, whether it was Fascism or the reality of political corruption and organized crime. Italians must choose between the tradition of Il Santo or that of Silvio “bunga-bunga” Berlusconi. They cannot coexist.


  1. I guess as an EU citizen I do have a modicum of respect for Silvio because he stood up to their bullying over crucifixes in schools. A Finnish woman decided that their presence violated her human rights and took the case to the Hague (honestly, I'm not inventing this). They demanded Italy remove crucifixes but Berlusconi refused.

    Perhaps it highlights that Berlusconi may be lucky in his enemies: I admit I don't know much about Italian politics, but most of the European left is very neo-liberal (most Greek conservatives are quite to the economic left of Papandreou) and maybe the voters don't expect them to preserve Italian culture much.

    Still, as you say, a return to Christian socialism would be very welcome.

  2. Hi Gregor,

    Thank you for the excellent comment. I can understand why many people were attracted to Berlusconi. Your example of the school crucifix issue is great point, and I also laud Berlusconi for his position on that issue.

    It is also true that the Italian Left has been moribund for a long while now and that the Right benefits from its image as the protector of Italian culture. Hopefully the Left will wake up soon and realize that managerialism is no replacement for a strong commitment to principles