The Italy I Love is Dying

It is impossible for all but the most regimented authoritarian mind not to fall in love with Italy. I was reminded of as much on a recent visit. We all know of the heritage of magnificent works of art and beautiful architecture from the Roman Empire, through the Renaissance, to the present. A dolce vita is manifested in leisurely dinners, evening strolls, and the conspicuous warmth of friends and family. One has to admire any country where a kiss and embrace substitute for a handshake and where women accept no contradiction between independence, intelligence and ambition on the one hand and stylishness, elegance, and beauty on the other hand. The fact that someone may fairly or unfairly judge them on their appearance is not an excuse in the perspective of Italian women to eschew the disciplines of beauty. Rather the care of appearance is a moral good as is intelligence and learning. I suspect that Italian men adhere to the same aspiration, but I could not appreciate it as much.


Save for the fateful decision by my American-born father to bring my Italian-born mother to the United States, I could easily been raised in Italy. Despite an appreciation for Italian culture and style, every time I visit Italy and my parents hometown, I am ever more grateful that I am an American. Judging from my contemporaries and their children, the opportunities continue to be far greater in the United States. My children have managed a level a success: wives, jobs, and homes in their early twenties, that none of their Italian cousins have achieved. It is not because these relatives are less smart or less ambitious than those in the US, but the opportunities in Italy are significantly curtailed. Education usually lasts several years longer and it is not uncommon for many to wait until their thirties before they experience significant levels of achievement. Moreover, the dependence of young people well into their twenties, by necessity, on parental support, stunts growth and delays adulthood.


In the United States, the current economic downturn has significantly increased levels of unemployment. Nonetheless, this is situation commonly viewed as an aberration from which we will recover in time. In Italy, a culture of unemployment induced by a generation of lost opportunities, has diminished expectations. Young people have reconciled themselves to small families, if indeed they can support families at all, resulting in a fertility rate that is far from replacement. The Italian culture we love may be a remnant of a more energetic and vital past.


Another consequence of diminished opportunity is a corrosive cynicism that sees the common person as a victim of elites of the government or of business. This helplessness robs people of ambition, undermines government legitimacy, nurtures a culture of corruption, and stunts economic growth. Thus is created a land of unresolved contradictions.


On the next ridge near the town of my ancestry a modern wind farm of a dozen turbines has been installed. Most people are simultaneously convinced that the installation is hideous (I disagree), a waste of money that went largely to insiders, and an important contribution to alleviating global warming. The only problem was that the turbines were not turning because payoffs to local organized crime have not been made in a timely manner.


For whatever, the reason the modern European welfare state is correlated with the withering of the Italian family and middle class aspirations. It is sad.

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