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Andrea Mammone and Giuseppe Veltri, ed. Italy Today. The Sick Man of Europe.

Andrea Mammone and Giuseppe Veltri, ed. Italy Today. The Sick Man of Europe. London: Routledge, 2010.

The editors of this collection have set for themselves quite an ambitious task: to speak of contemporary Italian politics, economy, and society, ignoring "the elephant in the room" (8), (ex-)Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. They have thus opted for producing a study focused on the "chronic fatigue" and "systemic crisis" (8) that are affiicting Italian society, but they seem to ignore the cacophony of conflicting and incompatible representations that characterize contemporary Italian public discourse. To accomplish this task, the editors have assembled a truly remarkable slate of twenty-three first-rate scholars, each of them dutifully assigned to and quite successfully accomplishing a diagnosis of the several socio-political tumors affiicting this novel "sick man of Europe" (an unfortunate image bearing no useful parallel with the original one attached by Tzar Nicholas I to the Ottoman Empire). The results, in this reviewer's estimation, are quite impressive, if not comforting--given the seriousness of the malady analyzed. In the first place, the strategy of systematically avoiding personalizing the crisis around the figure of Berlusconi is not only refreshing but also quite foretelling in the light of current events: with Berlusconi forced out of power not by a vote of the Italian electorate, but by a crisis of confidence in the international markets and among European leaders in both the Italian economy and the ability of the Italian political system to come to terms with the crisis, the theoretical premises of this book have been bored out by reality. Accordingly, particular attention may be given by some readers (and this reviewer) to some of the prescriptions proposed by some of the analysts in the collection.

A second praiseworthy trait of Italy Today is its organization and the proportional relationship among the various illnesses identified: the political system is given the crown of the sickest organ in the overall organism with ten articles (in two sections, respectively called "Politics and Society" and "Institutional[ized] Exclusion?') dedicated to politics and institutions, followed, symptomatically, by a section of four articles on the economy. Two articles each are reserved instead for two topics, the politics of memory and the southern question, that may have commanded first place in comparable collections dedicated to the "first republic." Accordingly, the first message emerging from the organization of this collection is that while the intertwined maladies that have mined the unity of the Italian nation in its first 130 years of life--the southern question and the memory of fascism--persist, the bubonic focus of the contemporary Italian plague resides in the way its political and economic systems have changed their traditional relationship and configuration over the past two decades. In this respect, the final strength of this collection is to suggest a reversal of the all-too-comfortable image of an anthropological divide between Berlusconi(sm) and the healthy body of a nation: in Mannone-Veltri's editorial hands, Italy sheds its tragic composure of character in search of an author, to assume the posture of an Arlequin wearing an appropriately grotesque mask. There is much to commend in every single chapter of this collection, and I am certain that a different reviewer would pick completely different essays and aspects to characterize the overall tenure of the enterprise, but, to this reviewer's eyes there are some key continuities among some or all of the essays that are worth highlighting. First of all, a season of radical reforms, that had begun in 1991 with the commitment of a new political class to normalize the ltalian political system on the model of bi-polar mature democracies, has produced instead the most cynical ruling class, the least ideologically differentiated electoral coalitions, and the most "unstable stability" (191) in Europe today. Secondly, this new "partyless partyocracy" (196) has made the compenetration of politics and economics more systemic than ever at all levels of government and society. Today, write Felia and Percy Allum, it is no longer the politician that seeks to tie business to its network of clients, but vice-versa, a patchwork of still mostly family-owned businesses that creates, flatters, and directs its own politicians--the mask of Berlusconi could not be more appropriate for this systemic trait of the new Italy. And yet, in the cracks of this systemic crisis, there are some analytic and prescriptive aspects that--in hindsight--emerge from the collection, and give the reader some hope and material for reflection on today's developments. Although the "southern question" is given comparatively little space as a topic, almost all of the articles seem to pay particular attention to emergent socio-political realities from the South: from the less cynical political class emerging from some regions in the south, to the relatively unsuccessful but significantly novel season of Neapolitan politics ushered in by the mayor-ship of Bassolino. Finally, in the last two essays in the collection, we find a note of healthy countercurrent in the Italian political economy to some of the most disturbing trends in world politics and capitalism. Marco Simoni shows how, in Italy, the labor movement has not only maintained but even augmented its political capital within the left, while at the same time contributing to the passing of crucial (and non-labor friendly) reforms to the Italian social system. One needs to only think at the current situation in Greece to gain some hope from this configuration of forces in Italy. In parallel, Roul Minetti focuses on the anomalous disproportion between family-owned (over 50%) and corporate businesses compared to what happens in 'model' mature economies today. Minetti's analysis points out that this situation is principally due to the much more solid cultural-economic barriers in Italy between financial and industrial capital. The irony of this unique "strength" of the Italian economic system will not be lost on the Anglo-American reader.


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Author:Fogu, Claudio
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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