April 7, 2008

In search of ideas, not votes

Non-Italians are almost always baffled and confused by Italian politics, and they are fully justified. No matter about that. In fact, Italy’s political life has always been too complicated—even for us Italians, to tell the truth—and requiring not only some special expertise and knowledge of our recent political history, but also some particular attitude of mind, midway between Kafka and Pirandello, I dare to say, passing through the immortal Italian melodramatic tradition ...

That is why it’s remarkable what The New York Times writes today about the outstanding figure (“the most gripping personality”) of the general elections campaign:

In the Italian national elections next weekend, the charismatic billionaire and center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi may rise once again from the ashes, this time to defeat Walter Veltroni, a rock ’n’ roll-loving baby boomer who just stepped down as mayor of Rome. It would be Mr. Berlusconi’s third stint as prime minister — or Mr. Veltroni’s first.

But those two aren’t the most gripping personalities. They’re the usual suspects in a political landscape nearly incomprehensible to outsiders, where the same politicians fade in and out, promising reform and delivering stasis if not decline.

One fringe candidate is different.

He is Giuliano Ferrara, a Communist turned conservative who is Italy’s most operatic and most mercurial intellectual provocateur. A newspaper editor and former government minister, Mr. Ferrara is best known here as a television talk-show host. He combines the political theatrics of an Abbie Hoffman with the rhetorical flair of a William F. Buckley.

Italy’s political life has always been absurd, but Mr. Ferrara’s recent theatrics touch on something deeper. He is a cultural barometer, highly attuned to the desperation of the national mood. More than the real-politiking of the mainstream candidates, Mr. Ferrara, with his insistence on ideas, taps into Italian anxieties about the future of Europe, the loosening of national identities, the rise of immigration, the decline of Christian belief.

In his latest incarnation, Mr. Ferrara is running for Parliament on a small slate devoted to a single issue: “pro-life,” which he defines loosely. An avowed atheist and nonbeliever, he has called for a “moratorium,” but not a ban, on abortion, to call attention to the value of life.

Click here for the continuation of this thoughtful article. It is well worth a careful reading.

[See also my previous posts on Giuliano Ferrara: here and here.]