Are Italians the most creative nation

Can Italy Still Be Saved?

The salvation of Italy could come from the lively democracy in the cities and municipalities, says Paul Ginsborg, and anyone who looks at the local elections in May can only agree with his judgment of a well-functioning local democracy. While the nation is not really interested in who is mayor of Stuttgart, Hanover or Munich, in Italy everyone is staring in spell at the local elections in cities like Milan, Turin and Bologna.

In his book Save Italy, Ginsborg explores the political role of cities and the intellectual traditions of local self-determination and finds all kinds of interesting things. The Anglo-Italian historian offers a legible mixture of English history, which operates in terms of social history, and the Italian school, which is well versed in the history of ideas. On the occasion of the 150th birthday of the Italian nation-state, Ginsborg, who has made a name for himself as a Risorgimento historian as well as an expert on modern Italian history, is trying to update and update some thinkers of the Risorgimento - i.e. the period between the Congress of Vienna and the unification of Italy as a nation-state to transfer their ideas to the present. In doing so, he relies primarily on thinkers who are far removed from politics such as Cattaneo, Sismondi or Manzoni. In well-written historical passages, he introduces their thinking, with what Save Italy pleasantly different from the usual anti-Berlusconi books.


Ginsborg considers meekness and an orientation towards cultural rather than martial values ​​to be positive traditions of the intellectual Risorgimento. Using Garibaldi's example, he also demonstrates the virtue of political modesty. Although Antonio Gramsci liked to criticize these “virtues” as passivity, they are important for Ginsborg and represent a clear contrast to the currently dominant, newly rich swanky culture of Berlusconi. As meritorious as these statements are, they can also be an indication of the disorientation of the Italian left to which the author belongs.

Because the pleasant moralism that Ginsborg's sources from the Risorgimento displayed has often proven to be a weakness and is not more attractive in updated form. Many Italians do not value moral sermons too much. If you absolutely want a higher authority to interfere in your private life, then you turn to the Catholic Church, whose great power Ginsborg rightly laments. One authority that he particularly blames for Italy's moral decline is television. Italian TV is trashy in a glaring way and is dominated by the constant presence of many surgically padded half-naked girls. But is the attracted trash that the German or English broadcasters offer so much higher quality?

Not automatically better

The strong parts of Ginsborg's book include the passages in which he states that the parties of the left have no better answer to the old sufferings of Italy, that is to say to clientelism, corruption and chatters of office, but simply believe that they are themselves People in office would automatically change things for the better. The conclusions that Ginsborg draws from these problems of the Italian left are only partially understandable. He says that only a policy that upholds justice and equality can save Italy, but he doesn't expect much from politics in this regard - the post-social democratic PD is too timid to quarrel with the left. Drawing on memories of the Risorgimento, when writers, intellectuals and artists shaped the movement's civil society, Ginsborg hopes that salvation will come from the middle class. He rightly states that in Italy it is not the parties but the political movements that are by far the most lively and politically creative force.

Since Berlusconi won the elections in 2008, they have successfully prevented many of his political plans from being implemented. It is understandable that Ginsborg values ​​this, but that he assigns these movements to the middle class can only be astonishing. Even with a very broad middle-class term, these are mainly recruited from students, precarious, women, peace or gay movements and left-wing activists, i.e. they are intellectually and habitually rather anti-bourgeois. The middle class orientation is probably due to Ginsborg's Tuscan view, after all, he is a professor in Florence. Here and in central Italy as a whole there is still a bourgeoisie who spends their free time at demonstrations and political meetings.

In the rest of the country - in Milan, Rome, Naples - on the other hand, the piling up and showing of status symbols and consumer goods are more the preferred leisure pursuits: in a designer outfit with a fashionable car to the hippest restaurants and choosing Berlusconi is much more like that The tendencies of these middle classes to drive to the demonstration in comfortable shoes and rainproof clothing in the union bus.

Save ItalyPaul Ginsborg from the Italian by Friederike Hausmann and Rita Seuss. Wagenbach 2011, 128 pp., 10.90

Christina Ujma taught in Pisa, among others. Most recently she published: Fanny Lewald. Studies on a great European writer and intellectual (Aisthesis Verlag 2011)