Magazine article The Spectator

Giving Italy the Boot

Magazine article The Spectator

Giving Italy the Boot

Article excerpt

Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future by Bill Emmott Yale University Press, £18.99, pp. 299, ISBN 9780300186307 If a pollster were to ask us which country we thought had produced Europe's greatest artists, which had built its most beautiful cities and which had provided the world with it finest singers and composers, most of us would put Italy in first or second place.

And if we were asked which country had developed the best cuisine, which one contained the loveliest man-made landscapes and which had produced the most stylish designs in clothes and motor cars and many other things, we would also rate Italy highly, perhaps in the first four or five, certainly near the top of the premier league.

by way of factory visits to a chocolatier in

Piedmont, a maker of cashmere clothes in

Umbria and a manufacturer of gym equipment

in Emilia-Romagna. These and similar

places provide grounds for optimism, as do

improvements in the judicial system in the

north and the spread of youthful anti-mafia

movements in the south.

We reach the end of the book, however,

without feeling we have come very much

closer to the frontiers of paradise. The

author's optimism seems to dip too, and

he becomes hortatory, urging the Italians

'to admit their sins' and 'face up to them'

if their country is to prosper again. He

urges such remedies as spending cuts and

the liberalisation of the economy, but rather

more is needed to remedy such 'sins' as

bad universities, poor infrastructure and an

economy unhealthily dependent on small


In the book's final paragraph, Emmott

admits that the future of Italy -- the

chance of the Good overcoming the Bad --

'remains in the balance'. He also suggests,

rather out of the blue, that Italians need

to find a 'sense of common purpose'. This

is of course another question that requires

another book. If a century of propaganda

from Mazzini to Mussolini didn't succeed in

'making Italians', such an ambition is surely

unlikely to be achieved now.

Yet if we were asked which country was the best governed, which one was the least corrupt, which has been the most successful in dealing with the problems of organised crime, we would be unlikely to place Italy even in the second or third division. …

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