Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Link of the Day: Biscione on Italian Democracy

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker's Weblog, with picture and not just the link to it!

Image above show publicity for Luchino Visconti’s Film The Leopard

Today’s link is to Francesco M. Biscione’s ‘Italian democracy and its opponents’ in Eurozine

Biscione looks at the problems in Italian democracy since the late 19th Century, with regard to the difficulty of the established power centres setting up a system of effectively sharing, and alternating in power. I don’t entirely agree with Biscione’s rather Marxist (with strong leanings to left Catholicism) framework but I find his sense of the crises in Italian democracy very convincing. A liberal oligarchy moved late to democracy and way from repression as a response to social problems, and was not able to resist Fascism. Biscione sees a bright shiny moment in the anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi resistance of 1943-5 which united Catholics, liberals, and leftists including Communists. The post-war settlement saw a return to a very exclusionary model of power, shored up by the Cold War. Any hope that it’s crisis at the end of the Cold War would inaugurate a new inclusive democracy has been shattered by Berlusconi, as he he has protected his economic interests, with illiberal right-wing governments despised by conservatives and liberals outside Italy, never mind leftists.

It seems to me Biscione has far too little to say about the faults on the left and their destabilising effect on democracy: influence of revolutionary anarchism and then Leninism; the ease with which some leftists, including Mussolini himself who had been a very prominent left socialist, moved to Fascism; the domination of the Cold War left by the Communist Party, which though it edged away from Stalinism from the 1950s onwards was never acceptable as a party of power to a large part of Italian society; the truly dismal leadership of the left, and performance in government, since the post-Cold War transformation of the party structure, which allowed the merger of ex-Communists with left Catholics. The convincing century long narrative ,and the visceral sense of crisis at key points, makes this a really good essay.

I’ve illustrated this post with a publicity image from Luchino Visconti’s 10963 film The Leopard (starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale), based on Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard, set in the 19th Century struggle for Italian independence and unity, the Risogimento. Lampedusa looks back from a Sicilian perspective of dependence on, and resentment of outsiders, together with a sense that genuine idealism and self-sacrifice in the national struggle very soon gave way to debilitating corruption and clientalism. Visconti is a favourite director of mine, and he achieves the rare feat of a great interpretation of a great novel here. The film and the novel are both great examples of very aesthetic and reflective works, which are great political historical works, from that fatalistic perspective of the Prince, himself a mixture of energy and melancholy, progress and decadence, Very good background for Biscione’s essay.

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