Hoisting the Donkey, Conclusion (FREE)

Americans sometimes think theirs is the only “nation of immigrants” beset by ethnic conflicts and bound together only by the flimsy cords of a national ideology.  According to our official propaganda, America is a nation “dedicated to the proposition” and unified by the war to end slavery and republican government.  The Italian state, however, has its own mythology.  According to official Italian propaganda, the varied regions and cultures of Italy were unified in the Risorgimento, a glorious uprising that unified Italy and culminated (after a few disgraceful decades in the middle of the 20th century) in a universal nation more or less like the United States.  They got rid of the monarchy, in a turbulent election with too small a majority to justify any constitutional change, and they fly a “Jacobin flag” (as Umberto Bossi likes to call) with only a change of colors to differentiate it from France’s anti-Christian rag.  Metternich’s Italy (“only a geographical expression”)is now one big happy family, with Sicilians marching in lockstep with Lombards and Venetians into a bright European future.

Italy’s Great Lie is taught in schools, but even a casual visitor can smell the difference between the real Italy of farming villages and small workshops and the massive industrial projects that have polluted the air and water and turned much of Northern Italy into a down-market replica of Cleveland.  Anyone who thinks that regional differences have been eliminated need only walk through a park in northern Italy, where graffiti artists exchange insults:  Southern immigrants call the northerners “polentoni”—big polentas, suggesting that the locals are blond, bland, and dumb—while the northerners respond with “Big Dirts go home,” alluding to the darker complexions and rural backgrounds of Sicilians and Calabrians who go north looking for work.  After spending a great deal of time in Lombardia with members of the Lega Nord, I came to see and embrace their basic position, that they were being bled dry by Rome on the pretext of helping the South.  On the other hand, it was the Freemasons of the north who overthrew the Bourbon monarchy in the South, executed large numbers of Sicilians who complained, and ran off with all the industry and rolling stock.

The Italian political scene is endlessly amusing, partly because some Italian politicians are willing to speak their mind in defiance of the great lies on which the regime—like the American regime—is based, and partly because, even by American standards, Italian “democratic” politicians of the left and right are a pack of strutting clowns who strike attitudes for the television cameras, fill their own pockets, and (at their best) do nothing.

I saw a microcosm of the Italian miracle in the beginning of June.  I was asked to go to the village of Consonno (about 10 miles from Lecco) and to evaluate its possible use as a site for foreign students.  I had driven this way before, climbing up the steep hills that rise above the Adda River from Olginate to Garlate to Galbiate towards Colle in Brianza, leaving behind the crowded streets and pestilent motos and finding the ancient farms and pastures where some part of Italy was preserved.

The day was hot and humid but as we rose above the smog, I could forget the endless traffic jam that Lombardia has become and ignore the unending verbal battles between the phony right and the phony left.  The woods were thick with chestnut trees and in their shade the locals could pick the <r>funghi<r> that grew in abundance—porcini, boletus, and others whose names I had not so much as heard.

The shock was Consonno itself.  Some time in the 1960’s the city fathers of Olginate had decided to construct a model town complete with hotel, disco, and shops. This little commercial community was constructed in the best nightmare Moorish style, complete with a tower that looked something like a minaret designed by the Disney studios.  The place flopped immediately; the shops closed; and the young people who had not gone to the disco came on weekends to trash the place—not that that it could have been made worse.  Everything had been built of such shoddy construction that after only 30 years the sidewalks looked like an earthquake had hit.  Only a mile or two away, you could find farm buildings and churches that had lasted for centuries.  This tribute to America had not survived the end of the Cold War.

We were taken to Consonno by our old friend Elvio Conti, one of the four founders of the Lega Lombarda.  Elvio’s mother had been born there, and her parents were buried in the small cemetery which we could not enter because the city fathers of Olginate had decided—contrary to tradition and probably against the law—to keep it padlocked.  Elvio is a sound businessman who believes in the free market, but he wonders why his mother’s village had to be ruined, why the entire area had to be flooded with welfare cases from the South, why all of Italy has to be transformed into a hybrid of Albania and North Africa whose fitting symbol is the commercial minaret of Consonno.

I tell the story of Consonno to friends at dinner, and Eugenio Cortio informs me that Consonno is proverbial for being a village of idiots, and he retells the story (which exists in many languages) of the villagers who wanted to feed a hungry donkey.  When they find some grass growing out of the bell tower, instead of pulling up the grass and taking it to the donkey in the piazza, they put a rope around the donkey’s neck and hoist him up to the top of the campanile.  Seeing the death rictus on the animal’s face, they exclaim: “See how happy he is to have the grass.”  Later, an outsider comments that the dead donkey was the only creature in Consonno that had any sense.

All of Italy is now Consonno and, confronted with Third World poverty, instead of doing the sensible thing—which is sending the grass to Tunisia or Albania—they are bringing the Tunisians and Albanians to their own campanile.  This time it is not going to be the donkey that perishes, but Italy.

Like most people everywhere, Italians are hypocrites and like to attack the U.S. for its “racist” immigration policies, but when the time came to ship the Albanians back where they came from, most Italians breathed a sigh of relief.  This bold initiative of the Polo-Lega alliance could be, if the policy is actually carried out, the first step toward the creation of a genuine rightist political coalition in Italy, one that will transcend Silvio Berlusconi’s puerile fascination with American consumerism and the German electoral system.

Nearly 10  years ago, the alliance of Bossi, Berlusconi, and Fini offered hope to millions of Italians who wanted a decent government and a decentralized constitution.  For reasons known only to himself, Umberto Bossi destroyed that coalition.  After nearly ten years of Marxist misrule, Bossi seems to know who the enemies are.  Let us hope the Italian people have learned the same lesson.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

3 Responses

  1. Dan Hayes says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    I suspect that Prof. John Rao who is very well versed on Italy would mostly agree with your evaluation of present-day Italian politics, especially the north versus south situation and its historic roots.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I once got a call from an Italian journalist based in New York. He worked for Il Sole/24 Ore–the great financial paper, and one of his colleagues, I had met somewhere, had passed on my name as someone he could talk with. The subject of North/South differences came up, and, although he was a left-liberal, he was also a good Northerner, and, while he had to deplore my relationship with the Lega Nord, he was absolutely horrified when I proceeded to debunk the cherished myth of the Risorgimento..

  3. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    The Giro d’Italia is in progress, providing a target-rich environment this next few weeks. I am praying for the best, but fear the worst.