Fleming_01-1991
Perspective

Divorce Italian Style

When I told friends that I was going to Italy to study the political situation there, the usual response was an amused puzzlement. Italian politics, I was informed, is like the Italian army: a grand opera performance of a comic opera plot. I am not so sure. Since the later Middle Ages, the Italians have been feuding and fighting in a grand style that often looks suicidal, but what are the results? The Renaissance, Italian opera, and—most recently—a standard of living that combines a high disposable income (largely unreported) with an everyday life that the American leisure class can only envy. The difference between Italy and the United States can be measured most simply by considering the table. Over there, everything is fresh, local, and wonderfully prepared—four and five course meals, washed down by wine that cannot be successfully exported beyond the region. Here, on the other hand, hardly one American in five knows how to prepare the simplest meal from scratch.

Even in politics, the Italians may have a few lessons to teach. Perhaps because Italian public life has always been a cynical game, Italian political thinkers have written about politics with a remarkable candor. In The Machiavellians, James Burnham traces an intellectual history from the author of The Prince down to Mosca and Pareto. Today one might wish to include the occasionally brilliant Communist Antonio Gramsci as well as Giovanni Sartori,...

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