The Liberty of Servants: Berlusconi's Italy

The Liberty of Servants: Berlusconi's Italy

The Liberty of Servants: Berlusconi's Italy

The Liberty of Servants: Berlusconi's Italy

Synopsis

Italy is a country of free political institutions, yet it has become a nation of servile courtesans, with Silvio Berlusconi as their prince. This is the controversial argument that Italian political philosopher and noted Machiavelli biographer Maurizio Viroli puts forward in The Liberty of Servants. Drawing upon the classical republican conception of liberty, Viroli shows that a people can be unfree even though they are not oppressed. This condition of unfreedom arises as a consequence of being subject to the arbitrary or enormous power of men like Berlusconi, who presides over Italy with his control of government and the media, immense wealth, and infamous lack of self-restraint.


Challenging our most cherished notions about liberty, Viroli argues that even if a power like Berlusconi's has been established in the most legitimate manner and people are not denied their basic rights, the mere existence of such power makes those subject to it unfree. Most Italians, following the lead of their elites, lack the minimal moral qualities of free people, such as respect for the Constitution, the willingness to obey laws, and the readiness to discharge civic duties. As Viroli demonstrates, they exhibit instead the characteristics of servility, including flattery, blind devotion to powerful men, an inclination to lie, obsession with appearances, imitation, buffoonery, acquiescence, and docility. Accompanying these traits is a marked arrogance that is apparent among not only politicians but also ordinary citizens.

Excerpt

I wrote this book at the suggestion and with the encouragement of Ian Malcolm, an editor at Princeton University Press, who asked me to explain to an English-speaking audience what is happening in Italian politics. the publisher Giuseppe Laterza bears responsibility for the book coming out first in Italian. He persuaded me by suggesting a title, La libertà dei servi—The Liberty of Servants—that synthesizes in a way that cannot be improved upon the ideas that I am setting forth here.

I do believe that Italy is a free country, in the sense that there is liberty, but it is the liberty of servants, not the liberty of citizens. the liberty of servants or of subjects consists in not being hindered in the pursuit of our own ends. the liberty of a citizen, instead, consists in not being subjected to the arbitrary or enormous power of one or several men. Given that an enormous power has established itself in Italy, we are therefore—by the sheer fact that such a power exists—in the condition of servants. the power in question is that of Silvio Berlusconi, possessor of immense wealth; proprietor of television networks, newspapers and magazines, and publishing houses; the founder and the master of a political party that . . .

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