- Paperback: 521 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2003 edition (May 28, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1403973946
- ISBN-13: 978-1403973948
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,589,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Italy and Its Discontents: Family, Civil Society, State 2003rd Edition
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"A valuable reference for anyone studying or teaching Italian and European politics and society." - W.R. Smith, Choice
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"...Complex and fertile with 'thick description', [the book] radiates the paradoxes and ironies that abound in a troubled country." - The New York Times Book Review
"..it offers a complete portrayal of the textures of Italian society." - Publishers Weekly
"Italy and its Discontents is a tour-de force. Anyone concerned about the condition of the country will find it packed with material to think about and argue over" - The Economist
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Top Customer Reviews
"Italy and Its Discontents" is the sequel. Although at times Ginsborg is somewhat cheery and optimistic, this is a depressing tale. In many ways it is a complex and nuanced tale, as Ginsborg discusses with enviable nuance the strengths and weaknesses of the Italian economy, the decline of the industrial working class and the plague of youth employment, the always persistent "Southern" problem, the clash between mass culture and a rising "civil society," and the many weaknesses of the Italian bureaucracy. He pays particular attention to the changes in the family, the rise of secularism, and the decline of Catholic and Communist cultures. He also discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Italian politics, the complexities of corruption and the mafia, the less than impartial judiciary, and the complexities and failures of political ideologies.
And yet in some crucial ways Ginsborg's tale is very simple. Italian democracy in the 1980s was severely flawed both by corruption and by the success of vested interests in preventing, delaying or diluting vital reforms. The most honest and thoughtful party were the Communists, so much of the energy of its political class was dedicated to making sure they never had power. Italian politics in the eighties and nineties would be dominated by three people: Andreotti, Berlusconi, and Craxi. Andreotti was a "Christian Democrat" and deeply complicit in its corruption, patronage and ties with the mafia. Craxi was a "Socialist" who drapped himself in fashionable "Anti-Marxist" rhetoric while taking shakedowns and bribery to new heights. It was a politics of secret anti-communist forces (the Gladio), murdered anti-Mafia prosecutors, the strange and sinister P-2 Masonic lodge, sycophantic intellectuals, and one demagogic president. It was also a politics in which the Vatican banker would pay $7 million to Craxi's secret Swiss bank account and then be found hanging a year and a half later from Blackfriars' bridge. Craxi and Andreotti dominated Italian politics until 1992-93 when revelations of massive corruption decimated the Christian Democratic and Socialist parties. But just when it appeared that the Italian Left would finally be able to take power, Berlusconi appeared. Having been granted monopoly control over Italian television by Craxi, and having used that to help coarsen Italian cultural life, Berlusconi simply bought his own political party. Forza Italia became the new party of the Italian Right, replacing the factionalism and debate of the Christian Democrats with a cult of personality around Berlusconi. He ostentatiously disassociated himself from the Christian Democrats with Thatcherite rhetoric, notwithstanding the fact that he would face charges on ten trials over the coming decade. Making deals with selfish Northern Regionalists and Neo-Fascists, Berlusconi decisively won the elections of 1994 and 2001.
It is a pretty depressing sight by the end of Ginsborg's book. Measures to improve women, the environment and education have all been limited or delayed. Concerns about the gap between formal democracy and everyday life, the presence of clientelistic politics, politics that take into account the modern family: "these seem all to be far down the agenda of government, if indeed they are present at all." The Democratic Party of the Left has purged itself of its Communist Past, it fears that any sign of prinicple or vigor will be cursed as Stalinist. Instead of the popular mobilizations of the past, it pursues an unimiginative Technocracy that so far can't compete with Berlusconi's media monopoly and demagoguery. Ginsborg points to some positive signs. Despite the increasing xenophobia, the crassness of Italian television and the shallowness of soccer culture, there is also increasing interest in literature and culture. Working-class involvement in political and associational life declined, but there was rising voluntarism. And most of all there was the rise of feminism, many of whose challenges could not be ignored. One should not be too optimistic on this score. Certainly Ginsborg's account is full of qualifications and he notes that the new "civil society" is limited to a minority of the middle class. There are good reasons to suspect that it will not succeed or become an isolated minority dismissed as bien pensant elitists. Much of the chattering classes spent much of the past two decades, when not gushing about Craxi, searching for the "normalization" of Italian politics. Leftist and "utopian" ideas have been purged, while Silvio Berlusconi is now a mainstay of Bush's coalition of the willing. Now he is to be honored by an American right, once so easily appalled by Monica Lewinsky. Apparently money can buy you happiness, and much else.
On the other hand, I hate the way Ginsborg writes. He never lets the reader draw his own conclusions. He prefers to let you know what you should think in advance. I'll choose a small section on the Catholic Church as an example: He starts off by saying "... the Catholic Church in the 1980's and the 1990's communicated messages which, to the outside eye, seemed deeply contradictory." Well, OK but why not present your evidence first and then let the reader decide. He goes on to say that Church under Karol Wojtyla has often been interpreted as "the reassertion... of the traditions of the Polish Church heavily marked,,, by rural millenarianism and the fight for survival against a hostile state."(p. 129). Interpreted how "often" and by whom? I get the part about the "hostile state"( Communist Poland) but what the heck is "rural millenarianism"? Maybe it has "often" been interpreted as asserting "urban millenarianism" or Jansenism or something else. How is the reader to know. But not to worry Mr.Ginsborg tells us that the existence of these elements is "undeniable". I certainly can't deny it because I don't know what he's talking about. On the next page he refers to Pius XII's "brutal" phrase of 1931, "the family is not there to serve society; it is society which is there to serve the family." There are a lot of words that come to mind to describe that statement, "pithy", "simplistic" maybe but "brutal" doesn't immediately jump out. There was plenty of brutality in the world in 1931, Japanese militarism. Fascism in Italy, Hitler rising in Germany, Stalinist tyranny. Maybe that statement was meant to counteract some of those truly brutal movements. Anyway Pius XII wasn't the pope in 1931 so maybe he means Cardinal Pacelli or else Pius XI.
Now the overall treatment of the Church is by no means completely negative in this section. It is clear that Ginsborg is trying to be fair and certainly he has a right to be critical, but the book is full of this kind of writing, to the extent that one is uncomfortable with Mr. Ginsborgs pontifications (no pun intended).
In the US Army, when I was in Officer Basic many years ago they had a guide for literary style "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em what you told 'em." That seems to be Mr. Ginsborg's method. This was a perfectly acceptable way to instruct a platoon on the use of a Light Anti Tank Weapon, but may not be the best way to write a book on contemporary history. Nevertheless the book is loaded with valuable information about modern Italy and worth reading if you take it with the proverbial grain of salt.