Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Decline and Fall of Italy

With all eyes fixed on London, the canary in the coal mine seems to be Italy. Wall Street Journal columnist Gerard Baker has spent the summer in Tuscany-- tell me you would not have liked to spend your summer in Tuscany-- and he sees in Italy the decline of Western European civilization. It’s not just the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, but the degradation of the civilization itself. Via Rod Dreher and Maggie’s Farm.

Baker begins by pointing out that much of what is great about our civilization comes to us from the geographical area between Rome and Florence:

It’s hard to imagine a better place to ponder the arc of our civilization’s history than the rich, hilly lands from Tuscany down to Rome. It’s partly the views—across vine-covered slopes and cypress-studded hilltops to gorgeous honeyed-stone villages—and the long lunches of pasta and red wine that induce a contemplative mood under the relentless sun.

But it’s also the ubiquitous reminders of our historical roots in this fresco landscape. You can make a solid case that the small swath of hilly terrain between Florence and Rome has had more impact on our civilization than any other territory anywhere on Earth.

The empire that grew out of the little city on the Tiber bequeathed a language, literature and institutions whose heritage continues to shape our lives today. A millennium after the collapse of that empire, the Florentines and their local rivals secured achievements in art, architecture, science and commerce that represent the most intense flowering of human creativity in history. The church that still calls itself universal and ruled much of this land for centuries has guided the lives of billions of adherents.

To bring us up to date, Baker remarks that the Italian government collapsed last week. There is nothing new and noteworthy about this. Italian governments have a notoriously short shelf life. If any country deserves the prize for the most dysfunctional government, it’s Italy. But then, ask yourself, is Great Britain far behind? How much longer will it be before our own government becomes incapable of governing:

You can see here a metaphor for the contemporary condition of the West. In Rome this week, they have just about finished putting together Italy’s 62nd (I think) government in 75 years. The country’s comic political instability was the source of humor for decades.

Italy suffers from other forms of economic and social and demographic dysfunction:

But no one is laughing now. Italy has had no real economic growth for almost 20 years. Its accumulated public debt is almost 1½ times the value of its GDP. Just about all the ambitious Italians I meet want their children to be educated in the U.S. or U.K.

The country was among the first in the West to enter a demographic death spiral. The Italian birthrate is below replacement. The single-child family is almost standard, so millions of Italians have no siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. The extended family, that natural community of love and support, is going extinct.

The traditional centerpieces of life—family, workplace, community—have been eroded to the bone. Religious observance has collapsed. In the beautiful Tuscan churches I visited, there were probably more priceless works of Renaissance art than there were worshipers. A Caravaggio for every communicant.

One feels compelled to remark that America’s young people no longer place very much value on family or country either. 

And, let’s add, Italy is depopulating itself. Population renewal, as we gingerly call it, has fallen well below replacement rate:

In much of the country, however, depopulation is advancing. Moving into the empty spaces have been waves of immigrants, many from North Africa and the Middle East. The migrants have filled vital gaps in the labor force, but the transformation of Italian towns has left increasing numbers of citizens resentful, fearful for their identity.

Waves of Muslim migrants are going to transform the culture. Italians do not like it, and we would sympathize, were it not for the fact that the Italians have created the conditions that attract said migrants:

It was this fear that drove support for the League party and its charismatic leader, Matteo Salvini, who was pushed out of government in the political turmoil this month. Something tells me the unease that produced him means he will be back.

As it happens, the leader of the Roman Church, Pope Francis is all in with the migrant invasion. Clearly, his presence has not helped things in Italy. Then again, the pope was originally from Argentina. Perhaps he could propose that the migrants he wants to welcome into Italy could be shipped to Argentina. I wonder how that would work out?

As for Salvini:

The common media trope is that he and his ilk across Europe are scary “far right.” But their message—strong borders, renewed national purpose, economic dynamism through tax cuts and smaller government—resonates in this decaying economic and social landscape.

We tend to look at modern Italy and see an outlier, an extraordinary place whose past will far outlive its future. But maybe we should see it not as an exception but as a kind of pioneer of Western decline.

Of course, calling them far right is just a slur, a smear, a defamation designed to keep the borders open and to undermine Western civilization from within. China will not need to do very much to win the clash of civilizations. Western civilization is destroying itself, or better, deconstructing itself.


trigger warning said...

And yet... and yet... Andrea Bocelli. Born in Tuscany, of course.

UbuMaccabee said...

The greatest political philosopher of the modern era, arguably the progenitor of modern political philosophy, came from Florence. He died in San Casciano, just outside Florence. To understand corrupted men, there is no better guide I can think of to understand events in the world and place them in the proper context. No better guide for honorable men to understand how corrupt men live and think.

I see no future for Europe (or the US, for that matter) without a re-awakening of the traditional religious impulse. It's nihilism or ethical monotheism. Islam will fill the vacuum of nihilism. They will be slaughtered and sold into slavery, and they deserve it. There is still a debt to be paid.

I can't decide whether to fight or to accept the facts as they are and retreat to a cabin deep in the Southern Appalachians and tend my garden.

Sam L. said...

I don't know enough about Tuscany to opine on any of its seasons, but I do know I don't have the money to go and stay a season. Or even go.

Dan Patterson said...

Far right. A smooth rock thrown at an opponent while his back is turned.
What in the mind of the fool is wrong with sovereign nations protecting and advancing their own interests? To the female mind such things are monuments to be destroyed, to be brought to the same height as the others, for none (excepting their favorites) shall be allowed to be greater than the others. And I do not doubt that the west is now ruled by the envy and jealousy, and the perverse sense of fairness, sprung from the female mind. The open borders and waves of mooslamic immigration are the fruit of that vine as are the misguided constraints on independence and the hysteria-of-the-moment (presently 'climate change' is on the table but before that it was vaccinations, then veeganism, then sex fluidity, then carbon emissions, then oat bran, etc.). Would an average man in 1920 or a boy in 1960 have supported any of that foolishness?

The protections and luxuries provided by thriving communities cannot emerge unless stable families and free societies are present - tribalism and slavery are the other sides of that coin and those will re-emerge in the west as soon as enough unenlightened savages flood the streets of Anytown, USA.

Being a brute I propose that the stable family I referenced is rightly the province of the female personality, and the luxurious economic engine that of the independent male. There are exceptions but those seem to be the patterns that work and have been successful for generations. What is it we are doing now?