Yesterday Fjordman posted a tribute to Italy, in which he speculated about the reasons why Italy has shown itself to be more resistant to the viruses of Political Correctness and Multiculturalism. In the ensuing discussion, commenters speculated that Italy’s innate regionalism might be one of the key factors that inoculates it against the most pernicious post-modern political diseases.
Our regular Italian commenter Ioshkafutz confirmed this viewpoint, and provided us with a comprehensive and engaging summary of Italian culture, which is reproduced below. It has been edited minimally for spelling, punctuation, and clarity:
Italy is many countries. A Milanese is closer to an Austrian than to a Sicilian, A Torinese to a Frenchman than a Calabrese. When I go to my Roman caffé / bar at night and Neapolitans truckdrivers enter, I don’t understand a word, or rather, just barely enough to know they are Italians. The rest could be Ancient Greek.
They — the Neapolitans — have their own musical genres, theater, and even cinema… all still thriving.
They’ll defend the legacy of the Borboni when Naples was a Capital city. They never really digested the Piedmontese invasion. The Romans instead have, also because when Rome became the Capital city and Mussolini brought cinema to Rome (he is responsible for cinecittà) Turin was marginalized.
It was Italy’s great fortune to have many capital and in some cases “imperial” cities: Rome, Turin, Milan, Venice, Naples, etc. Different kingdoms meant different and richly different cultures… spread across a land with three seas and two mountain chains and a sunny climate.
Years ago I went around the country, accompanying my brother, a stand-up comedian. Emilia-Romagna is a officially a single region, yet the material that went over great in Romagna bombed in Emilia and had to be changed. Milan always did okay, Tuscany to this day is a mystery, and the South, more than a change, required a whole radically different mentality. A sort of mind warp.
But even a breakdown by regions is not correct, as Avery says: she’s locally oriented and each locale has its specialties (half of them blessedly based on pork and wine).
This is the land of campanilismo, local pride, parochialism. Allegiances are to family, friends and partners, and the State comes in at around 27th place. There are no real American-style founding fathers to venerate.
It’s a mishmash: the Torinese will be selling engines to BMW. Go down the boot and some people are sleeping with their donkeys. Brescia sells state of the art trash converters to the USA; go down a ways and trash is burning in the streets.
With all these regions, every Italian is a “foreigner” the minute he steps out of his region. So making fun of people is almost like treating them like brothers.
It’s my pet theory that because of the laws governing pasta (overcook it and you’re dead) Italians have a sense of “orthodoxy”… that things have to be “just so” or anyhow within certain bounds. A stew you can cook twenty minutes more, or twenty minutes less… but pasta has a low margin of error.
If you want to see the impossible side of Italy, go to a Roman condominium meeting. My wife (German) and I attended one and gave up. Five hours and absolutely no discernible sense, just loud voices, laughter, threats, insinuations, blackmail… and everybody kissing each other good night. I dreamt of Sweden where imaginably it’s all done rationally in fifteen minutes and if there’s a new gate to be installed, there’s nobody calling a brother-in-law.
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If you want to see the heavenly side, go to the local bar-café (especially in Naples, but even here in Rome) and ask for something they can’t possibly have, like juice of cactus with a dash of fig peel and truffles. Then enjoy the theater. You’ll get an answer that will keep you laughing the rest of the day. Or just go to a small gas station and make fun of the guy’s shirt, suggesting that he should dress better with all the money he’s making from the oil price hikes. It’s a joy to be told to go to hell, barefoot and row the boat with your grandmother’s suitcases!
A country of charlatans and comedians, which for a twenty year period, an ex-Socialist called a “popolo of poets, saints, heroes and navigators” in which everything that is beautiful, tasty, shiny, stylish is either first, second, or third in the world (wine, cheeses, flower arrangements, furniture, hairstyles, shoes, jewelry, speedboats, lingerie) and where everything serious (pensions, schools, hospitals) rates much lower (though vastly improved over the years).
The Italians are painfully aware of it and that is why if you want to be a successful TV comedian in this country, make fun of Italy and Italians, all of them, even the particular “race” in front of you. They’ll love you. In the rest of the world the crowds line up, in Italy the lines crowd up.
PC is only possible in those countries of “high and remote” personal dignity and sense of privacy. There is little “gravitas” here, except when absolutely, positively necessary… and then it reaches melodramatic proportions. They keep trying to train the people to be more PC, but we may be grateful that they’ve been unsuccessful (possibly because the trainers only got the job through friends and brother-in-laws and so don’t take it too seriously).
One can understand why a Gramsci might’ve even made sense in Italy, why he felt it was so important to take over the culture. Precisely because there was so damn much of it and oftentimes it was a problem. Even criminals have their own culture. Even curse words are cultural events, not short and snappy like in English, but real, long and delicious.
And the leftwing was even successful at it for awhile, but always an “Italian” leftwing, a charlatan seize-the-day leftwing, that eventually came up with a “third way” Prosciutto and Melone Communism.
Well of course it was successful after the Fascists with all their “Believe, Obey, Fight!” and “The Duce is always Right!” “Books and Muskets!” posters dragged Italy into a war.
I often look at Mussolini’s declaration of war against the USA and Great Britain and wonder what some people see in Fascism. I look at the oceanic crowds, all reacting as one, performing celebrative gymnastic exercises, and all cheering even when their set-jaw fearless leader announced hostilities against two super-powers.
“Our wonderful but woefully unprepared and not particularly combative mishmash of peoples are gonna fight America and GB!”
Viva! Viva il Duce! Viva il Fascismo!
“We’ll be suffering hunger, and your children are gonna die!”
Viva il Duce!
And I always stop to look at war memorials. Usually there are a helluva lot of names for WWI (even in small towns), then much fewer for WW 2 and then about as many (especially up north) for those “lost in Russia”. The fearless leader sent them in flimsy clothing to wage war against Russia. A beautiful thing the State, the State, the State!
Actually if there’s a moment of Italy that was truly magic it was the reconstruction period, approximately from 1948 to 1968. More was done in that period and in a far saner and happier spirit (under the Christian Democrats, a party practically invented by Pope Paul VI, when he was simply “Don Battista”) than under all the wild, eventually senseless and ultimately murderous enthusiasm whipped up by the Fascists (also through their ceaseless, non-stop, forever, ubiquitous, enough-already propaganda). It gets kinda scary when everything, all art, architecture, journalism…. right on down to the method of dating, has to be Fascistic. Not dating girls, but dating books and magazines. Along with the Christian calendar date, there was also the year of Mussolini’s rise to power (in sexy and macho Roman numerals of course).
But it’s not that simple. The good that Mussolini did, the schools, technical universities, the minimal sense of the state, the city planning, the spread of industrialization, the swamp-clearing and self-sufficiency in food production, and the wonderful Fascistic style egalitarianism, no doubt helped Italy. The Italians were relieved for the end of the madness, but they had some discipline at last (some discipline) and now they could enjoy it to the happy beats of Glenn Miller or Renato Carosone instead of all the “We will crack the kidneys of Greece” military marches.
I think Fascism can work, like the National Guard can work, in times of riot and upheaval, but for the rest it’s an insult to intelligence. It was in Italy anyway. It became a farce, because Mussolini himself was a farce. Probably Balbo, the aviation hero, would have done a better job, but his plane crashed and some say he was done in by the Duce (as some say Castro was behind Che Guevara’s elimination). Others say that the ideologue of Fascism, the philosopher, Giovanni Gentile was also done in by the Fascists themselves (or partisans, or Allied agents). As a “good” Fascist, he was calling for national reconciliation and so all sides had good reason to bump him off.
So in conclusion there’s no country like Italy. And if for any reason you think it’s time for the national guard and you look admiringly at Italian Fascism, well you won’t get it, not if you’re in a cold, serious, fifteen-minute condominium meeting, reliable, Protestant country. You’ll get something much more serious and most likely even more dangerous, though it depends on the strongman.
Pre-war Mussolini hardly had anyone killed, just a few. Most of his political enemies were made to drink Castor Oil (so that they’d s**t in their pants) and then were arrested, or banished or sent to do time in out-of-the-way places: islands, or small isolated towns in the South. Gramsci himself wrote his best (worst) stuff in a Fascist jail. And under Fascism, there WAS a modicum of intellectual freedom, but only in the Universities. Certainly there was more freedom than in present day Little Green Footballs.
First God (I know the invisible spaghetti monster is a drag), then the State. The National Guard is fine, but you don’t want it led by someone who confuses himself with God more than necessary.