A League of Our Own, Part Two (Conclusion)

Thomas Fleming


October 8, 2018

In Italian politics [in the 1990’s], the really explosive issue, though, is not foreign immigration, but domestic.  Northern Italian hostility to Sicilians and other Southerners is proverbial.  While much of the generalized resentment is unjustified—Sicilians do take jobs that many Lombards are unwilling to accept—it is also true that the Southerners have brought their way of life with them, which includes revenge killings, the drug trade, and their great criminal organizations, the Mafia, the Neapolitan Camorra, and the Calabrian 'ndrangheta.

Italian crime syndicates are no joke.  In America we might entertain the fantasy that the Genoveses or Gambinos are just like Vito Corleone, but their cousins in Italy—the real Corleone “family,” by the way—are lethal parasites upon the political and economic systems.  The leftist journalist Giorgio Bocca, in his book La disUNITÀ d’ltalia, made plain for even the simplest readers what the situation is in the South: "connected" judges rigging acquittals and token sentences; appeals judges overturning convictions; sequestered gangsters returning to Palermo and Naples to resume their careers.  Two honest judges in Palermo were compelled to meet in secret to prevent their colleagues from leaking information to friends in the Mafia. One of them was assassinated in 1983.  More recently, the most famous anti-Mafia judge in Italy, Giovanni Falcone, was the victim of a car bomb powerful enough to have taken out a small village.

Everyone has always known that the Mafia was instrumental in delivering the Sicilian vote to the Christian Democrats. Americans can hardly point a finger at the Italians, since it was our own President, Franklin Roosevelt, who restored the Mafia after it had been effectively scotched, if not killed, by the Fascists.  Ever since the war, the Mafia has been a political fact of life in much of the South, and if the Christian Democrats were going to succeed against the Communists, they could not afford to be selective about their allies.  But who is the master and who the servant in this alliance?  There have been persistent rumors that Salvo Lima, the DC’s power-broker in Sicily and longtime friend of former party secretary Giulio Andreotti, was connected with the Cosa Nostra leader “Toto” Riina.  Despite Andreotti's frequent denials, Lima has been named more than once by Mafia pentiti (informers) as their ambassador to the DC.

Several years ago, when Umberto Bossi declared that a vote for the DC was a vote for the Mafia, his critics cried "for shame," because he had slandered the greatest statesman in contemporary Italy, the fox who had by his own machinations kept Italy in the Western alliance and prevented a Communist-Socialist takeover. If the allegations are proved, they will do little to diminish Andreotti's real accomplishments except to reveal him as one more great man who learned to value power for its own sake.

What really offends Northern Italians about the Mafia is the hold it appears to exercise over DC politicians and the ease with which it extorts millions out of government contracts.  In the new Mafia, drugs and prostitution arc small potatoes. The big-ticket items are highways, office buildings, and welfare fraud.  I spent an afternoon touring a great city in the North [Genova] accompanied by a Sicilian lady of great charm and erudition [professoressa of mathematics at the University]. Although she has spent her professional life in the North, she remains a Sicilian patriot, and as we drove by a great new building, she explained, "It makes me so proud.  A Sicilian company got the contract.  To get work done of this quality, they had to go all the way to Sicily."

It is, in fact, a magnificent building, and the contract may well have been on the level, though none of the locals I spoke with would even concede the possibility. (If the lady reads this, I hope she has forgotten her promise to come to America to kill me if I say anything bad about Sicily.  It was an unusual way to persuade me that Sicilians are an honest and peaceful people.)  The Sicilians do have their own story to tell, of how they were conquered by Northerners who have been complaining ever since about the problem of the South, but it is time to give up those resentments and to acknowledge that a federal system will ultimately do as much for the South as it does for the North.  

As it is, by depending heavily on the largesse distributed by Rome, some Southern Italians have become like the Quebecois in Canada: impotent and resentful. Autonomy would force them to address their own problems.  [Of course it is not the Sicilians who actually reap the benefits of corruption but the entrenched political class.  The Lega has a funny poster, depicting a hen with a scarf.  The message is:  The Lombard hen lays the egg that is cooked in Sicily and eaten in Rome.]

When, in a conversation with a member of the Lega Liguria in Genoa, I argued that regional autonomy would benefit all parts of Italy, he was very skeptical. Federalism will work in the North, he insisted, because Northerners are capable of self-government, but only a strong central government can do anything about the Mafia.  But Italy already has a centralized government, and it appears to be under the Mafia's thumb.

In general, the leghisti [following the reasoning of Gianfranco Miglio] would like a new constitution along the lines of Swiss federalism. The country would be divided into three republics of the North, Center, and South, which would function like Swiss cantons and maintain considerable autonomy in political, cultural, and economic affairs.

The polemics of the leghe [the regional League movements in Lombardia, Piemonte, Liguria, and Veneto] against Southerners caused few problems so long as they were strictly regional movements, but, with the chance for national power in sight, Senator Bossi, it has been predicted, will have to tone down the rhetoric. My friend Paul Piccone, in a special issue of Telos [a Frankfurt School Marxist journal increasingly interested in populism and devolution] devoted to the leghe (Winter '91-'92), notes that "ethnicity was officially abandoned with the launching of the Northern League. . . . The radical decentralization and federalization of the present unitary state . . . should . . . allow the populations of both South and North to put their own houses in order." 

Piccone's analysis—and predictions—were to some extent borne out at the end of October, when Bossi suspended a local secretary in Trent for holding demonstrations telling Southerners to go home.

[In my view, the conversion of the Leghe, from social movements rooted in historical mythology, to a more abstract theoretical reform contained the seeds of destruction, first, because it attached the movement too much to the federalist theories of Gianfranco Miglio, and, second, because in fact the reform movement ended up by becoming as corrupt as the other parties, though the departure of the Old Guard leaders who permit the reemergence of the Lega as a constructive political force.]

Although the power center of the Lega Nord continues to be Lombardia, its strength is growing in other regions: the Veneto, Emilia (where many working-class Reds are deserting the Communist parties for the Lega), Piemonte, and even Liguria.  In the North as a whole, one recent poll gives the Lega 22 percent (which would be up from 10.3 in the last communal elections), just behind the DC’s 25.4 percent (down from 33.4).

In broadening their base, the leghe may run the risk of losing their regional identities.  In Liguria, for example, the emphasis is almost strictly on economic and political reform. I spoke with a Ligurian Leghista, a lawyer, who was faintly amused by the Lombard myths and symbols—the carroccio [the Medieval war-wagon that represented Milano], the oath of Alberto da Guisanno, the songs in dialect—and cast the Lega Nord's program in terms that would appeal to students of Austrian economics: an end to corruption and welfare fraud, the deregulation and privatization of banking, commerce, and industry.

In fact, the lawyer described himself as liberalista in economics and against the current industria dello stato, which means intervention of politicians into all levels of business. It was such intervention that led to the great bribery scandal—the so-called "tangenti"—in which leading members of the Socialist Party have been implicated.  In September, one of the most-beloved Socialist leaders shot himself, rather than face the music.  The response of party chief Bettino Craxi has been to denounce the judges.  Bets are being made on how long Craxi can remain the Socialist capo dei capi, and the smart money is selling short on Craxi and long on his chief critic, Claudio Martelli, the best friend of Italy's illegal immigrants.  Despite his personal charm, Martelli's hip Third-Worldism may make Socialists long for the old-fashioned crook.

Of the Lega Lombarda's original program, decentralization remains an important issue, even in Liguria. The communi [communes, more or less incorporated cities and towns], I was told by my friend in the Lega Liguria, have lost the power to control taxation because of the "need" to drain resources toward the South. As a result it is impossible to have balanced local budgets, no matter which party is in power.

The North/South problem is really a difference in the "modo di pensare" (way of thinking). The Sicilians are not so much lazy as aristocratic and disdainful of manual work. This, combined with their refusal to see government in any but personal terms, has meant the persistence of feudalism, albeit in distorted forms. From one perspective, at least, this description makes the Sicilians seem much more attractive [to American Southerners and traditional conservatives] than the hardworking and responsible borghesia of the North, whose regional and local identities have been homogenized, as my Genovese friend observed, by television.

A few days after leaving Genoa—my kind friend from the Lega had to drive me to the station because of the strike—I had the chance to speak with Dr. Elia Manara, a distinguished physician in Como and one of the Lega's newest senators.  Since Dr. Manara, the Lega's point-man on health care and technology, he is a far cry from the sentimental regionalism of the early days. I asked him if the leagues were in danger of losing their regional identities. He explained that while maintaining their local attachments, the leagues were also discovering a common unity in a larger Northern ecosystem that Miglio and others call Padania.  He derided the notion of the universal citizen and went on to reject Italian nationalism as a fascist idea.  As a metaphor for the whole movement, he described Lombard provincialism as the locomotive of the autonomist train.

Manara regards himself as the very opposite of an ideologue.  As a scientist, he is interested in the self-evident principles of human nature as they are revealed in history and experience.  Federalism, he insisted, because it is rooted in human nature, is a theory for human survival.  We talked of the original American system of federalism as a successful example to set beside Switzerland. I explained that, while our system had been undone by war, the federalist thinking of Jefferson, Madison, and Calhoun had new relevance in both Europe and the Americas.

But if the Italians have much to learn from our past, we can benefit from a study of Italy's present. In Genoa, because of an international convention of philatelists, I had to stay in an old hotel out in Sturla. Neither the hotel nor the neighborhood had much to recommend it, except for the view of the harbor from my balcony. It was from here that Garibaldi launched his invasion of Sicily and helped to inaugurate that process of centralization that every major Italian statesman—from Cavour to Mussolini to Andreotti—has followed. After World War II, various federalist provisions were written into the new constitutions, but few were implemented and those few were circumvented if not hamstrung, corrupted if not ignored. The result is the familiar spectacle of a corrupt conspiracy of a few thousand politicians micro- managing the lives of millions of people, most of whom could get along quite well with a minimum of intervention.

The current economic situation is so acute that many Italians, in and out of the leagues, are beginning to rethink the basic political mythologv of the nation—the Risorgimento, Garribaldi, and Cavour. We are not quite so desperate, here in the United States, but who knows what thoughts we might entertain after four years of "Compagno Bill" Clinton in the White House.

Our own political mythology is built on the doctrine of equality, open borders at home, and the imposition of democracy abroad; the heroes of our myths are Presidents Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt who made war for the sake of peace, suspended laws for the sake of the Constitution, and thought domestic tyranny was the best vehicle for exporting democracy. Some Italians are brave enough to confess the mistakes of the past and intelligent enough to long for the kind of government our own ancestors lived under.  What about us?

POSTSCRIPT [Part of the 1993 article]:

Are Americans ready for something like a League of their own? None of the three candidates in the recent presidential election was willing to face the reality of life in America: the rioting and rampages perpetrated by an underclass that consists, for the most part, of unassimilated minorities. Pillaging, arson, and murder have taken place in Los Angeles and Miami, but since these criminals were fighting under the black flag of racial sensitivity, the leadership of this country refused to defend the innocent. In New York, a murderer was turned loose by a jury, because the killer was black and the victim Jewish.  Shortly afterwards. Spike Lee turned out a hagiographv of a pimp and a con-artist who evolved into a leading anti-white racist, and the only controversy over the film had to do with teenagers who sport the "X" symbol without reflecting deeply on its meaning. They do not need to reflect on Spike or Malcolm; they have already imbibed the symbol's meaning from Ice-T and Sister Souljah.

With widespread public approval, the outgoing President, eager to relive the thrill of the Gulf War, decided to send troops to Somalia.  To judge from the columns, news programs, and call-in shows, Americans think this is a good idea, because they could not bear to see all those pictures of starving Somalians on network television.  Rather than turn off the set and find a book to read, we go to war.  What, in the meantime, is news, big news? News is when the addlepated female [Marge Schott] who owns controlling interest in the Cincinnati Reds is accused of telling race jokes in the office. This calls for investigations, denunciations in Congress, and demonstrations organized by such major-league racists as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Apart from our collective soft head on matters of ethnic sensitivity, what is the connection between Marge Schott and the invasion of Somalia? We no longer know how to mind our own business, take care of our own neighborhoods, defend our own interests. We get our kicks from TV riots and African civil wars, and when the station signs off, we sleep a sleep untroubled by dreams of what we and our representative government are doing, in failing to protect us at home while sending armies abroad to lay down the peace.  We created the problem in Somalia by inflicting the humanitarian aid that resulted in a population that cannot be sustained. At the same time, we are pursuing an immigration policy that even David Broder now realizes will turn the United States into Somalia. If human life is so precious, why don't we protect it in Detroit, in Miami, or in Cabrini Green?

If something like a League movement were to develop here in the States, urban mayors would not be calling upon the National Guard to restore order; it would be up to the cities and even the neighborhoods to defend themselves. We would have a national government, but it would be restricted to defending the national interest, not to giving away American lives to a debating society for the criminally insane—the United Nations.

There are only two alternatives for this continental empire that has never been a real nation: Either we find the means to decentralize decision-making and restore authority to the old institutions of family and town and county (and even state), or else we lapse into a multifaceted civil war of blacks against Hispanics against whites against blacks against Jews. . . . It is too late for a man on horseback leading a militia of populist rednecks. There aren't enough rednecks to go around—besides, Bubba is too busy watching X-rated movies on his Japanese-made VCR.  Bubba and his Midwestern counterparts might have just enough manhood left in them to stand up for themselves and their families, if they have no alternative, but they—or rather we—will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, before we will take responsibility for ourselves.

The revolution cannot be made overnight, and the first step would be the creation of a movement devoted to the long-range goals of political devolution, privatization (ours is not a free enterprise system), protection of the national interest in matters of immigration, trade, and foreign policy, and the reassertion of our old cultural identities as a European and—dare we echo the Governor of Mississippi? —a Christian nation.  If there is no movement or party willing to embrace a Leghist program, then one needs to be formed, and if that is impossible, my advice is to stockpile ammunition and invest in bullet-proof doors and shutters.


Thomas Fleming

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