Mario B. Mignone. Italy Today: At the Crossroads of the New Millennium.
In the late fall of 1998 Peter Lang published a revised, updated, and expanded second edition of Mario Mignone's book on contemporary Italy. This second edition features a new subtitle, which alludes to the future of a country facing contemporary challenges and difficult decisions in a world in transition.
The new edition is not just an update of the earlier text but contains necessary additions and conclusive discussions on the major events that were taking place when the first edition was published, such as political and juridical reforms, new laws regulating immigration, and the much awaited Italian admission to United Europe. The second edition also includes cultural manifestations, such as communications, mass entertainment, and cultural consumption, that were overlooked in the first edition. These new inclusions, together with the valuable observations on Italian history, literature, and culture make Mignone's book a must for students, neophytes, and experts.
The text is thematically divided into four parts: Politics, Economy, Society, and Cultural Changes. The first chapter starts with an in-depth analysis of the Italian political system. Mignone first explains how Italian political identities came about and then addresses the many misconceptions surrounding the frequently abused concept of immobilismo [immobility] within the Italian political system.
The next chapter deals with the expulsion of the Communists from the government in the immediate postwar period. To cite Mignone: "The expulsion ... with American assistance was probably the most important turning point in modern Italian history." It is true that it was a decisive turning point, but we must not ignore that beginning with the ouster of the Communists in 1948, Italian politics was obliged to struggle with the contradictions of a government that excluded a large number of voters. They supported a party which had fought for the liberation of the country from Nazi occupation, and had also made a strong contribution to the formation of the new republican constitution. Perhaps further elaboration here on the role played by the Communist Party (PCI) as an opposition force might have shed a clearer light on its role in the passage of progressive legislation and reforms, particularly for non-experts on Italian politics.
The last two chapters of Part I expand on the struggles between the extremist Left and Right factions in the highly polarized political climate of the Cold War, which resulted in dangerous undemocratic plots, and thus set the stage for terrorism. In order to explain the complex Italian political situation of the fifties, the author explores in detail the dynamics of the US-Italian relationship. Mignone brings new insights into the peculiar character of these relations by addressing old stereotypes and by investigating the deep, contrasting, and varying influence of American culture on Italian literature, cinema, and mass culture. The reflections and conclusions of the author stem from his thorough knowledge of Italian culture as well as from the cross-cultural perspective and insights of a scholar who has spent most of his adult life in America. From this unique vantage point the study of modern Italian culture is more stimulating and non-traditional.
In the second part, from the disastrous conditions of the Italian economy after WW II, Mignone traces the growth and outstanding achievements of a country that, without major natural resources, has become a world economic power. This escalation has followed the classic pattern of western capitalist economies, proceeding from protectionism to a welfare state, and the present effort to reconcile these policies with globalization and privatization without causing social and political instability among the lower income brackets, the victims of down-sizing, and the elderly. Mignone also deals with the Southern question, but instead of following old cliches and stereotypes, he gives a well-balanced account of the present social and political situation of the South. The picture that emerges from his study is that of a modern consumer society with some of the ills of prosperity, still struggling against organized crime and the widespread lack of civic consciousness on the part of its citizens. The author cites hindrances caused by historical and cultural developments, such as the work force's exodus from the South to the North, as well as the unbalanced allocation of government subsidies that prevented the flourishing of self-sufficient, local industries. The author states: "The future of the South lies in its ability to become a mature civic society and in the prospect of seeing the young generation fully integrated into a productive Italy and Europe."
The third part of the study centers on the democratization of the educational system. Through a well-balanced cross-cultural comparison between the American educational system and the more traditional Italian counterpart, Mignone concludes that without reform and without making the teachers accountable for the quality of instruction, Italy will face a rough future in the competitive world of free marketing and globalization. He also assesses the major changes in the traditional extended Italian family, the spread of women's emancipation and equality, secularization, the problems associated with an aging society, a zero population growth, and sexual liberation.
In the last part of the book Mignone examines more cultural transformations by commenting on the trends in Italian mass culture, contemporary cinema, the arts, literary representations, and the impact of American English on the Italian language and on the youth.
In conclusion, the reader is left with the picture of a nation that has undergone tremendous upheaval in the past thirty years. From one of the poorest countries of Western Europe, Italy has become a rich society, still struggling to find a new identity. At the crossroads of the new millennium, Italy has yet to resolve the problems of its overwhelming and byzantine bureaucracy, and has yet to create a more efficient and equitable tax system and significant antitrust legislation. It must continue to fight organized crime, and cope with an aging society dependent on an expensive retirement system. Italy must also find a way to deal with foreign competition and reform its educational system, but Mignone is optimistic that the resourceful Italians will find ways to deal with the ills of prosperity and will be able to strike an equilibrium between the new and the old.
Mignone's study is well written, informative and provocative. It constitutes a fresh and new approach to the study of modern Italy by addressing the culturally interrelated dynamics of many complex national realities. The author starts his investigation with the premise that in order to understand a country it is not sufficient to study its economy, social interactions and political maneuvering. They most be placed in their broader cultural context, especially in the case of Italy, a country with a complex and heterogenous society in continuous, dynamic cultural transformation and in constant redefinition of its own past, its religious beliefs, morals, laws and folklore. Mignone does not share the traditional interpretation of these forces, often read as impediments to a complete Italian national identity. He sees them not as 'peculiar Italian abnormalities' but as dynamic forces within a rich and multi-cultural society that has proven to the world its ability to surmount crisis and adverse forces without resorting to illegal measures.
Antonio Vitti, Wake Forest University
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|Title Annotation:||Italian Bookshelf|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1999|
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