Hanging With Our Friends

A year and a half ago, Umberto Bossi delivered a brilliant speech in t:he Italian parliament. Describing Italy's political system as organized corruption, the leader of the Lega Nord declared that left and right showed two faces but were joined into one body. A new Italian regime had to be born, but this two-headed monster, he declared, could not make it through the birth canal. Either the heads had to be separated, or the new Italy would have to be born by Caesarian section.

Even though few of the deputies caught the hint that Bossi intended to declare the independence of Northern Italy, they were outraged by his description of right and left as corrupt collaborators in a regime whose only function was to despoil the taxpayers. In plain English, Bossi was saying that either Italy would find a way of breaking up the power cartel established by the responsible left and the respectable right in combination—and therefore liberate both sides to be themselves—or else more drastic means would be necessary.

Italian history parallels our own experience to a large degree. In its most brilliant periods, Italy was a patchwork quilt of city-states, kingdoms, dukedoms, and papal appendages. Between 1859 and 1869, however, the statesmen of tiny Piedmont, through a series of strategic alliances and double-dealing, managed to unify Italy, establishing the kind of unitary state created in France and Prussia and imitated...

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