A country that seems to lean into the void but never really falls into it may actually be firmly anchored there, like the Tower of Pisa.” Joseph LaPalombara
The Italian republic, at forty, is alive and well. Some consider this fact a miracle; many more judge it a paradox. Italy is the country of permanent crisis, where there have been forty-five national governments in forty years. Tax evasion is a way of life, one adult in three votes communist,” the citizens have no kind word to spare for their political leaders and instructions, and the state itself is simultaneously in conflict with the Vatican and at war with the Mafia and political terrorists. How could a democracy take root, to say nothing of grow robust, in such an improbable setting?
In Democracy, Italian Style, the foremost expert on the Italian political system unravels this puzzle and, in the process, suggests that the only real paradox is the failure of so many observers, including Italians themselves, to recognize that what may be pathological for democracy in one climate may actually work in democracy’s favor in Italy. Writes Joseph LaPalombara:
--Although Italy seems rent by conflict, the leftists, laical, and Catholic political enclaves that contribute to these clashes also serve to keep them within bounds. Terrorism itself, far from weakening Italian democracy, has actually strengthened the people’s democratic backbone.
--Italy’s much-maligned political leaders have few peers among democracies, in part because few others have been as severely tested.
--Much of Italian politics turns out to be spettacolo” and rich in nuance. Elections, the legislative process, contacts with public officials, tax evasion, and political patronage do not mean in Italy what they may mean elsewhere.
--More than other democracies, Italy is heavily dominated by its political parties, and many deplore this condition. But, far from being the bane of Italian democracy, the parties are its saving grace. For this reason, demands for radical reform of the present system should be resisted.
Challenging the still-dominant picture of Italy, LaPalombara asserts that in a relatively short span, the Italians have managed to forge a remarkable democracy, one that reveals degrees of toleration, freedom, and sheer political inventiveness others should find enviable.
A wonderful book. It opens an unusual window onto Italian politics, for one thing, but it is also a remarkably sensitive an intelligent introduction to Italian society in general.” Kai Erikson