TRIALOG: Is the Italian ruling class that much different?

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Gui Rochat, Contributing Editor, TGP

Gaither Stewart, Senior Editor, TGP/Cyrano’s Journal Online, and European Correspondent for Europe

Patrice Greanville, Editor, TGP/Cyrano’s Journal

la_dolce_vita

 

<—Marcello Mastroianni in pursuit of nordic goddess A. Ekberg in Fellini’s scathing portrait of the decadent bourgeoisie, La Dolce Vita.

PATRICE GREANVILLE: I just published this comment from our fellow editor Gui Rochat. Thought you’d want to see it. I think he’s quite right about the Italian bourgeois–who are more excremental in their decadence than their opposite numbers in Britain, France, or even the Americans, although the American upper classes do much more horrific stuff around the world because of a power base sitting chiefly atop a thoroughly brainwashed population riddled with confusion, religiosity and infantilism.

GAITHER STEWART: No question. If they’re not more corrupt they are probably up there with the best of this callous mob.

GUI ROCHAT: Having lived in Rome and also having Italian family I can assure you that no class is as viciously opportunistic and closed to altruistic and compassionate ideas than the Italian bourgeoisie. The phenomenon of the rise and victory of the international bourgeoisie is that it reverts to feudalism in a totalitarian sense. Free trade is a misnomer because it is not free but regulated by the power blocs while deregulated in the rules for the producers and consumers. (quod licet Jovi non licet bovi). The descent into seduction and sex is not a feminine trait but a reverting to infantile poly-sensual liberation from a hellishly impersonal exploitation of labor and body. The United States never had a proletarian underclass till the industrial revolution and so slid into capitalism more easily than was possible in Western Europe. Therefore the breaking down of the so-called middle-classes in America (an entirely different entity than those same classes in Western Europe) is the present day only hope for a re-alignment of power down to the public, because the inner workings of the system are becoming [more] visible in economic stress. The pox of the media cannot even distort these facts.

Patrice:

Antonioni directing Monica Vitti, his prime diva.
Antonioni directing Monica Vitti, his prime diva and onetime companion.

The Italians are certainly world class in their putrid decadence, as Italian culture is, by and large, far more textured, complex and astonishingly contradictory than anything we observe among Northern Europeans. Certainly—when it comes to the “masks” we can detect on the ruling social layer or the shameless abandon with which they enjoy their fortunes, they’re galactic distances ahead of the Americans, whose rich are still somewhat self-conscious about their wealth, and hogtied by too many puritanical taboos to give full rein to their hedonism. (Exceptions, of course, do occur, and often, but we’re talking here about overall class tonalities.) Plus the Italians have had more than 2500 years of uninterrupted civilization to perfect every form of human foible and manifestation, from the noblest to the most repugnant. There’s only one thing I would quibble with concerning Gui’s spot-on assessment of the Italian bourgos, and that is his assertion that the Italian superrich are in a class by themselves in their indifference to altruistic and compassionate ideas…I think that the net has to be cast more widely, across the entire Latin world, and especially over Spain and all of Latin America. The history of the upper classes in these regions during the last 200 years is nothing if not revolting in their callous criminality and self-righteousness, with few if any examples of altruism worthy of the name. Michelangelo Antonioni, a peerless chronicler of the Italian bourgeois, remained fascinated with this class, without ever managing to make peace with its individual components, with whom he frequently rubbed shoulders. Most of his films focused on the flaccid languor, moral vacuum, emotional flatness, and endless, self-inflicted boredom underscoring the life of the rich. His L’Avventura—product of a lifetime of observation— was a breakthrough not only in cinematic esthetic but in the manner in which he mirrored the purposelessness at the core of the upper class existence. In the words of film critic G. Nowell-Smith:

What L’Avventura showed was that films do not have to be structured around major events, that very little drama can happen and a film can still be fascinating to its audience. It also showed-and this was harder for audiences to grasp-that events in films do not have to be, in an obvious way, meaningful. L’Avventura presents its characters behaving according to motivations unclear to themselves as much as to the audience; they are sensitive to mood, to landscape, to things that happen, but they also behave in routine and conformist ways. None of them, except Claudia (who had, in her words, “a sensible childhood…without any money”), seems to have much consciousness of the lack of direction that afflicts them. (Bold ours) They are, to use a word very fashionable at the time the film came out, alienated. But to say, as many critics did, that the film is “about” alienation is to miss the point. The film shows, it doesn’t argue. It convinces by the sensitivity and accuracy of its observation, not by heavy signals to the audience to think this, that, or the other.

 

Gui: Indeed Patrice, you are correct and this bourgeois phenomenon spreads to Spain as well (in fact they have their brilliant Luis Bunuel with his French co-production Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie, 1972) , but there one starts getting into French irony, which dulls the bite a bit with its wit. I remember in such fashion the French movie La Grande Bouffe, 1973 whereby the goal of the protagonists is to eat themselves to death, exposing the truth of consumerism as the thanatos urge to fill a spiritual vacuum (and his brother hypnos is the enforcer). The European bourgeois is in contrast to his American brethren an insecure person, because he had the task to keep the rabble in control and away from the ruling classes, while here the upper classes are just the much richer bourgeois. The pure impudence of the European ruling classes has traditionally identified them because they were quite secure until lately. The rappel a l’ordre which came in with Napoleon in France, made a re-entry of the aristo/plutocrats possible. In Italy the Risorgimento did not make such an adjustment necessary because the latifundia were mostly kept going till the end of Mussolinismo, after which the large new industrialists rescued the [old] elites by inter-marriage. The bourgeois elite in America is no less decadent, not because of Puritanism (that is left to the middle manager classes here), just less imaginative. That is also why a revolution in America is unthinkable, because everything here is refied and quantified, leaving no space for ‘imagined alternatives’. It restricts an understanding of older cultures and American perspectives remain within the operational mode, not affecting the soul and thus arid. All revolutions demand pathos and sturm und drang. Just try to apply that to the public here and you will see my point about the status quo.

Gaither: Maybe we use the word bourgeoisie too freely. Patrice’s “ruling class” strikes me as more apt. As Gui notes, the bourgeoisie in feudal France was something precise and identifiable. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of pre-revolutionary France: “For the first time perhaps since the beginning of the world one sees the upper classes so isolated and separated from all the rest that one can count their members and separate them as one separates the condemned part of the herd….” One cannot speak of such a specific class in crass Italy today. If it exists, it is as invisible as it is in modern France. Most certainly Italy’s former borghesia is no more in condition to control the ruling class headed by populist Silvio Berlusconi than it did Fascism. During the 1968 social upheaval and the subsequent period of home-made terrorism, the Italian radical Left was accustomed to the word. In those times one had in mind the socio-political meaning of borghesia, the morally corrupt class that Marxism equates with the capitalist or ruling class. While the former borghesia went into hiding, the capitalist ruling class took over, let’s say some thirty years ago, today highly visible, arrogant and pretentious, forever on display, in talk shows from morning to night, in Parliament, in chic restaurants, in their big boats. That new class has maintained the upper hand, crushing the other classes along the way. But no matter what tag we attach to the ruling class everywhere, the modern age is the epoch of the bourgeoisie, that is, of capitalism. Though in Italy the capitalist class is small, as in the USA, and the workers-wage wage earners in overwhelming majority, the wage earners not only do not rebel but are also accomplices in that they emulate and continue to vote for the crook Berlusconi. Meritocracy is a popular word among the ruling class in Italy. We see here a repetition of the former American dream. Rewards for obedience. Meritocracy and freedom, the freedom for the ruling capitalist class to exploit and accumulate. According to this new ruling class the unheard-of, inconceivable demand for social equality in 1968 changed the rules of the game. Now it wants its revenge. The manifest slogan is “Down with equality and brotherhood and up with more freedom for the ruling class.”

Patrice: I’m glad Gui brought up the point that the French, as usual, are different, actually quite sui generis, and that their sense of irony and cosmopolitanism (even when gloriously invoked by an iconoclastic Spaniard like Buñuel, one of the truly great film directors) is a thing of delight, almost a saving grace. When I previously referred to the relative absence of organized altruism and compassion in the “Latin” world, I was not thinking of a latinity that included France, but merely Italy, the Iberian peninsula, and Latin America. As a whole, of course, Latin culture has long been a rather unitarian culture, with nations showing a strong centralized executive, one major capital, and a population accustomed to a constant and intimate interaction with “the state” on whose whims so much depends. While France meets these requisites, along with the rest of her latin sisters, she also exhibits a much stronger private charity sector. But how does this relate to the presence or absence of “altruism” and “compassion” as we are accustomed to seeing in the Anglo-American world? For one thing, while individualism is strong throughout Latinity, perhaps demonstrably stronger than in America, these same fierce individuals simply leave it to the state to deal with the more obvious flaws and shortcomings of the social order, thereby adopting a morally lazy and passive position. In America, on the other hand, capitalist-borne privatism and its lore have required the great fortunes to “redeem” themselves (something the tax code also makes supremely attractive), through “charity”, thereby creating thousands of foundations to paper over not only the true face of capitalism, but the multiple cracks and wounds constantly popping up as a result of its toxic dynamic. Further, the London conurbation notwithstanding, Anglo-American culture is essentially decentralized, especially the US, a nation with no less than seven “capitals” packing self-contained, self-conscious regional elites (Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, San Francisco. And Seattle is now rising as the natural metropolis of the technological Northwest). This historical tradition of “decentralization” reinforces centrifugal tendencies in this culture, placing more emphasis on local power centers, and feeding the fires of mythological individualism.

Second, the sheer monstrous magnitude of American fortunes, easily eclipsing most instances of old European money, especially that based on land, made the defense of such mind-boggling level of power and privilege in a nominal democracy an indispensable act of self-preservation. And America’s modernity helped by its eager, early adoption of masterful forms of mind control via public relations, advertising and so on. Nowhere have the “mind managers”, as our late colleague Herbert Schiller baptized them (the same crowd that Vance Packard had aptly warned us about in his Hidden Persuaders) gone so far, or wielded so much influence as in America, a polity in which far too many citizens’ minds exist in a perennial blank slate, ready to be imprinted with the latest version of adulterated reality handed down from the high halls of plutocratic power. So all of this may account for the perceived difference in “altruism” and absence of “voluntarism” in the Latin countries, although France, again, breaks the ranks by showing a comparatively higher number of private, industrial-fortune-based foundations. Lastly, most Latin cultures, from Europe to the Americas, exhibit a significant religious sector (Catholic) dedicated exclusively to charity and social work, from schools and hospitals to other relief projects, the patching up of the unraveling social tissue. This, too, preempts in large measure the need for an American-style private network of charities. (Of course, inevitably, corporate-funded Catholic charities also exist in America, a self-contained universe without historical equivalents.)

Gui’s central paragraph is deserving of a separate reply, but for the sake of brevity, let me attempt a comment here. Gui asserts:

The European bourgeois is in contrast to his American brethren an insecure person, because he had the task to keep the rabble in control and away from the ruling classes, while here the upper classes are just the much richer bourgeois. The pure impudence of the European ruling classes has traditionally identified them because they were quite secure until lately. The rappel a l’ordre which came in with Napoleon in France, made a re-entry of the aristo/plutocrats possible. In Italy theRisorgimento did not make such an adjustment necessary because the latifundia were mostly kept going till the end of Mussolinismo, after which the large new industrialists rescued the [old] elites by inter-marriage. The bourgeois elite in America is no less decadent, not because of Puritanism (that is left to the middle manager classes here), just less imaginative.

If I read this correctly, Gui is implying, on one hand, that the European bourgeois/ruling class is/has been more insecure because Europeans, by and large, inherited and possess a higher level of political sophistication and stronger working class self-defense organizations, not to mention a far more robust revolutionary undercurrent (denied, lately, by the ascendancy of plutocrats like Sarkozy and Berlusconi), a threat American ruling circles do not have to contend with. At the same time, Gui also argues that until recently the same class, feeling quite secure, was well known for its impudence. Which way is it, then? Is the European bourgeois/upper class person really more insecure than his American counterpart and if so, how does such insecurity manifest itself?

Gui adduces that the Europeans were more insecure because they had to self-consciously defend their privileges. I may be missing something here, but this can hardly be a differentiating criterion since ALL ruling classes, at least in modern times, have had to maintain a high level of vigilance and self-flattering propaganda punctuated with short or extended periods of mass repression (Fascism) to preserve their rule. Hence the difference, if it exists, and I think it does, must be a question of degree, of style, not of substance. Certainly, it could be argued that despite the French revolution Europe by and large maintained a successful openly aristocratic ancien regime well into the early 20th century, something that an aristocratic republic like America, given its democratic pretensions, could not afford to emulate. In Europe’s openly aristocratic milieu blatant class divisions could be flaunted with relative impunity, as most people still labored under the powerful weight of a conservative, medieval fatalist mentality, where change was not the main dynamic of society, but the exception. In that framework, impudent behavior was not uncommon, tolerated as one tolerates the inevitable, like bad weather.

A final point. Gui rules out Puritanism as a factor in the less ostensible decadence of American elites. While I agree that when it comes to hedonism Americans are still upstarts and their imagination leaves a lot to be desired, I believe puritanism, as a form of religiosity, vaguely suggestive of Spartan values, does play a role in America’s broader cultural narrative, defining at times the boundaries of a permissible social and political esthetic, and curiously matching America’s self-image as a muscular, can-do, macho culture. Politicians, for example, still invoke God and sweat lead bullets when caught in sex peccadilloes that Europeans would dismiss for what they are, laughable trivialities. (In France the real scandal, the suspect oddity, is when a major political figure does NOT have a mistress, or several, for good measure). Perhaps the misunderstanding resides in the bifurcated way puritanism operates in America. Puritan values, however diluted now, and their bastard child, prudery, are widespread in America, especially throughout the middlebrow rungs, the stolid middle class that sees itself as the moral “backbone” of the nation. In this stratum, puritanism has been internalized to a significant and unrecognized extent. It is therefore automatically regurgitated in random acts of condemnation (or approval when the Gods of conformity and propriety are duly propitiated). It is no accident that Barack Obama, the ultimate insufferable prig, still finds its largest pool of supporters in this segment of the population.

Puritanism among ruling class members functions differently, as an externality limiting their public actions. At best a thin veneer, it most frequently manifests itself as a sort of opportunism designed to placate the very furies they have long abetted. The latter implies an impressive level of hypocrisy, but who is to be shocked by such revelation, particularly as we discuss an American elite accustomed to strutting around as the zenith of democratic processes? The imposture, of course, is worth the effort. By observing “the proprieties” the ruling orders succeed in not agitating the masses unduly, always a plus when it comes to holding onto the levers of power.

But if insecurity is a form of anxiety about a perceived threat, it is the American ruling class that emerges on top. True, the Europeans responded to challenges of the left with fascism of the most brutal sort, and that has yet to be seen on this side of the Atlantic. However, Europe’s recent history issues from a radically different background. Europeans saw their nations invaded and destroyed, their security and dignity evaporate, twice in a matter of a few decades. The casualties from the wars, physical and psychological are simply unquantifiable. The First World War seemed unsurpassable in its horror, until the second world conflagration came around. The USSR alone lost more than 26 million people, equal to the combined populations of Texas and California. (This single fact has never been properly understood or emotionally digested by the American people.) More to the point, facing an ascendant left, the ruling orders throughout the continent (except for the Soviets) emerged from the devastation of WW II weakened and badly tainted by association with the fascist regimes. Even Britain had a strong pro-Nazi current in its upper strata, with the confrontation between Britain and Germany more a clash about global dominance than a matter of class politics. In sum, although fascism is without a doubt an extreme reaction to a left challenge, the European bourgeois had a solid reality on which to base their actions. Fascism, wholesale repression, propaganda, etc., were rational albeit criminal responses to a serious threat to their hegemony.

Nothing comparable in dislocation and left ferment has existed in America for the last 100 years, if ever, but this has not stopped the American ruling class from reacting down the years in almost paranoid style to the slightest hint of radical progress. From the Palmer Raids to McCarthy and beyond, “democracy” as we know it in America has been largely left in place precisely because it has not truly challenged the bourgeois status quo. Further, in no other capitalist nation has corporate propaganda built such a colossal apparatus to disseminate its ideology nor penetrated as deeply and stealthily as in America, where the very notion of “Americanness” has been long defined as allegiance to capitalism. Such a notion would strike even right wing Europeans as bizarre, but here it’s SOP.

Well, I’ll toss it back to you at this point.

Gaither: I’ll try to tackle some of your points later. Frankly, I found myself a bit confused by your taxonomy about the bourgeoisie.

Gui:

To respond to the reaction to my remark about the insecurity of European elites (and I do in fact differentiate between the bourgeois managerial classes, such as bankers, lawyers, politicians etc. and the elite, which are the true owners), the cleverest part of propaganda in the New World has been that with a little bit of luck everyone could become a Rockefeller or a Gates. This admiration of riches, not envy as in Europe, builds a cordon sanitairearound conspicuous consumption and its practitioners because it is dangled by the media as a desirable goal.Thus the American establishment is secure in its enclaves from an onslaught by the general public, a danger which remains in the subconscious of European elites dating as far back as the French revolt in 1789 and Russian one in 1917 as well as from the two world wars like Patrice correctly points out. Here the rich indulge in the theatre of the outrageous, a public spectacle of spendthrift nonchalance, but in Italy as far as I understand it from Gaither, they exhibit a personal game of glamour and exclusivity. American society has always been inclusive by repute, in other words one was perfectly free to proudly refuse Rockefeller’s dime but not to kick him in the shins.

The attitudes towards the establishment here are thoroughly different from those in Europe because the wealthy are buffeted by a system that enhances acquisition of private wealth whereas by now in many European societies a fairly socialist system is in place so that governments are held more responsible for their acts. And the American persona knows little irony in contrast to the ever wary European, thus what you see is what you get and consequently there is little contemplation, while the objectification of all human experience becomes a Taylor band of received ideas. It certainly makes for a domesticated environment because nothing will ever sway the persistent belief that with a little tinkering one can remedy all societal ills. Class conflicts safely become here cultural differences, because all strive is reduced to individual efforts for overcoming and sharing in the spoils. The isolation of the individual so apparent in capitalism where everyone is on his/her own and God for us all, is the means whereby the system is kept in place, because solidarity is a very precious and feared commodity and not salable…Maybe I am missing the point that Patrice makes about the insecurity that all elites and now visibly the American ones suffer under. But aside from the Civil War and that is debatable, American society has never been disturbed so deeply as the European societies have since about 1870. That was the date of the Paris commune which was very bloodily suppressed as it shook the foundations of the French republic. The Prussian state made sure that a reversal to order was imposed on North-Central Europe to avoid the nefarious influences of French socialist thinking. This has been a model followed by many a modern state (vide the article by Uri Avnery we reproduce elsewhere on this site) and we have to guard against it with every fiber possible. The prospects are not favorable however as long as the present shameless manipulation of the public remains in force.

 

Patrice:

Gui is quite right that despite some healthy traditions of solidarity that somehow persist in America, for the most part the population has been brainwashed into accepting the logical conclusion of all unfettered individualism in the political realm, which is atomization and therefore weakness…Alex Carey was right, of course, and we’re grateful to those like Parenti, Chomsky, Herman and others who have amply theorized and documented the deliberateness of this consciousness manipulation regime, for the sole purpose of defending the plutocratic status quo, and its inevitable outgrowth, the imperialist drive, supported by a constant class war from above…The question facing us all is whether it’s justifiable (or irresponsible) to lead others to believe the system can be changed by twisting its own rules…

 

Gui:

I am quite happy that others joined in to make this a “sexalogue” (not to be confused other than with ‘six’ in Latin…) and so on, because good feedback is important for Internet discussions. I am not all out of hope for a change of political direction within our life time in this country, exactly because the ground rules of the Constitution, though mostly trampled upon, are still in force and that is a basis which we need to build on. Even the phenomenon of Obama in continuation of an imperial presidency does not disturb me too much. After all he is part of the problem just like the majority of the Senate and the House. And it is slowly penetrating the public consciousness that there is something radically wrong about most legislation and the dictatorial executive. I do not entirely agree with Gore Vidal’s analysis of a future military dictatorship here. All humans are basically conservative and industrial capitalism has turned this country into a bourgeois society, where materialism has now reigned supreme for some one hundred and fifty years. Nevertheless individualism (though one can agree that it is entirely different here and less socially conscious than elsewhere) helps exactly through the fact of its isolation to create resistance to the usual social bondage. Although the falling apart of military discipline in Vietnam came about with conscription as many ‘undesirables’ were inducted, and the draft is therefore now strenuously avoided by the government, it is evident from the many terrible suicides again of soldiers that the soul cannot be suppressed. That already would give hope to those who want to end constant warfare, a condition which Empire needs to stay viable, otherwise its territories of ‘interest’ (read exploitation) will shrink. One may deplore China’s stance on pollution, but the simple fact that other countries resist the clout of the West is encouraging. Empire is slowly crumbling at the edges and who knows what sudden knock may make it keel over? There again the sum total of human suffering will remain constant as it has over the ages (let us say some five thousand years as the creationists would have it, but maybe John Zerzan is indeed correct that civilization is a curse to humankind). From history we know that the more outrageous the elites become, the more ‘clicks’ of sudden insight happen in people’s minds. So let them (the elites) eat cake till surfeit takes them out, helped maybe by a good nudge from the common rabble…

 

Patrice:

Gui, your notion that the extreme individualism we observe in America (albeit politically and intellectually barren) may be in the end an obstacle to a military dictatorship is worthy of deeper exploration. Is that on account of its inherent anarchistic strain? I have observed elsewhere that besides this unformulated anarchistic tendency in the American lore, there’s also the question of an American identity firmly rooted in exceptionalism, and the honoring of “democracy”, “freedom”, regular elections, and what not, the garments if not the substance of democracy. While the ruling class does not take these ideas, for the most part, in earnest, a pragmatic cynicism being their true default position when it comes to holding onto power…the masses do, consistent with their indoctrination. The political naivete of most Americans may trump attempts to impose an overt and heavy-handed dictatorship in this nation, after all. Ironically, the mind managers may have done their job much too well!

 

Gui:

Indeed, that seems to become the case, that the establishment will be choking on its own propaganda, after the public has become a one-mind mass, all believing the same factoids, like Trent and Patrice mention. After all the disillusionment with Obama’s propaganda from before January 2009, is palpable. And he did a good job to open up this split between his words and reality at Berlin, Cairo, Oslo and now in Copenhagen. These speeches were as usual meant for consumption at home, but like with geese, the force-feeding must be stopped at a certain moment, because you will kill the victim. I have been reading David Harvey’s superb article on Znet, but what he ignores (and I hope to comment on) is the poisoned mind in the West, which is fettered by the false consciousness imposed on it. And which is very tough to heal, because it is cleverly linked to the image of survival and nation hood and which only exhibits itself as fragile with incidents like the man attacking Berlusconi or for that matter the attacks on Kennedy and Reagan. Regicide does not clear up the system, because as history has shown, it is soon replaced by another dictator. How to liberate minds has become imperative and that is far from easy, despite the obvious scandals like the Wall Street give-away and crude efforts to scuttle any true health care reform. That is where the official propaganda starts to unravel, because the schism between lies and truth are widening. One can clearly hear it in the desperate outbursts from Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity and such as Bachman et alia, who serve as the loyal opposition to a fictional socialist president. There is truly no hiatus between an Obama and the hero Mcain, because both serve the same masters, albeit with different masks on.

 

Patrice:

Indeed, as you note, “regicide does not clear up the system, because as history has shown, it is soon replaced by another dictator.” And this is because the problem of a leader indifferent to the needs of the masses, or openly tyrannical, occurs not as an anomaly, an aberration that can be corrected by the mere replacement of the “usurper” with someone who might honor the rules of the system…which we assume to be kind and legitimate… but as a direct product of that system. That system in America’s case is of course capitalism in its last stages of social and historical decomposition, i.e., at its maximum toxicity to everything living. As Joel Kovel has said, capitalism is the enemy of nature.

 

Gaither:

berlusco.Hit
Berlusconi hit–deservedly (assuming the whole incident is true).

At the origin of this discussion was the query about the Italian ruling class and how, or if, it differs from the American ruling class. One of the first false ideas dispelled was that Italians and Europeans in general are more politically sophisticated than their American brothers. Agreement that they are not significantly different is progress. They are no less naive and mis- and uninformed. However it is important to recall, as do Patrice and Gui, the survival in Europe of the concept of an organized working class. I would add that the working class still cherishes its fundamental if not divine right to a decent life, and in case of default, on the part of some, as a last resort, revolt and finally revolution. That implies that the humanistic idea of solidarity (as differentiated from charity), absent in the USA, still hangs on in Italy/Europe, even if debilitated and undermined by the American idea of individualism, the self-made man, and the visibleness of the resulting vast spaces offered to the ruling capitalist class by real American “democracy.” Despite the weakening of class conflict in Europe, the “right” to opposition and mass manifestations is deeply entrenched. The “piazza” continues to be a political force to contend with. Even the Berlusconi government, with its whopping parliamentary majority, exercizes the right to mass demonstrations. The difference between ruling class use of the piazza in Italy and elsewhere is its populist nature inherent in Berlusconism, which means piazza per se.

Meanwhile the American self-made individual has not yet emerged as the paradigm in Europe, although the imitative drive knows no limits and thrives in all climates. The confusion of American “freedom” and individualism with anarchy in its broadest sense, though perhaps still on a back burner in Italy/Europe, grows to the extent that the Berlusconis and Sarkozys multiply and the emphasis on the superiority — with its permissiveness and concomitant limitations on authentic social freedoms– of “democracy” as a system widens, which includes the flag, the cross, school prayers and unrestrained circumvention of all social controls and rules by the European ruling class.

I might add that I am not convinced that regicide does not change things. The French and Russian revolutions are proof. Many people believe that the absence of Berlusconi would make a difference in Italy, as the hundeds if not thousands of Facebook entries demonstrate. Resistance to power is as a rule weak, the ruling class all-powerful and resourceful. The ruling class knows how to defend itself. Anything goes. As seen in myriad false flag operations and the entire strategy of terror used by all. On December 19, less than a week after the “attack” on Silvio Berlusconi on a tight piazza in Milano, I first heard the rumor, a rumor hidden within a telenewscast, then an 8-minute video on line, YouTube and Face Book, viewed by hundeds of thousands. Voices claim that like the Twin Towers of the WTC, the entire affair was arranged by the secret service, that the attacker was a hired plant, that Berlusconi only showed coagulated blood, not flowing bood as from a real fresh wound, and only after he had been pushed into his nearby car and sprayed with a substance resembling blood. The scene was to inflate his image as a martyr to the patria and savior of the homeland pointed toward regional elections in March, and furthermore an excuse to reduce freedom of speech on online social networks. Pravda Online noted morever the discrepancy between two photos after Berlusconi was hit: in one photo the blood was on the left side of his face, in another photo on the right. Maybe that was the mirror effect. Or perhaps someone smeared the blood from one side to the other. But for some people the reasonable doubt remains. Though his popularily rating rose to 55.9%, one-fourth of people considers Berlusconi a danger to the nation.

 

Patrice:

I thank Gaither for a terrific post. He–as usual–makes many compelling points, and I only wish the braindead American media explored, even for a moment, the possibility that the Berlusconi attack was indeed a fabrication, a provocation carefully planned and staged by the intelligence services (include the Americans in this) which, worldwide, are both pretorian guard, sicarii, and regular mafia soldiers all rolled into one in the service of the world plutocracy. Alex Cockburn once called the CIA the “capitalist intelligence agency,” and the moniker is apt, for that’s the first and only allegiance this sordid organization and its sisters recognize.

I have only one small point to amplify with Gaither, and that concerns his assertion that “regicide” always changes things. If by “regicide” we understand the replacement of a tyrant or formal king or emperor with a far more democratic regime_as it happened in the Russian and French revolutions, in the former taking the nation from feudal monarchy to socialism, and in the latter from feudalism to a bourgeois regime, I think the meaning holds. But if “regicide” implies only the changing of one face (or clique) for another within the same system (i.e., substituting Obama for Bush), then “regicide” accomplishes little or nothing. In sum, regicide cum social revolution —as expressed variously above–changes things, while without, it’s merely another twist in the old screw.

Gui:

Regicides are revolutionary propaganda, they do not change the roots of the problem and are almost always followed by other tyrants, vide the beheading of James II in England (a symbolic cutting off of the head of the nation) followed by Cromwell, the guillotining of Louis XVI and then Robespierre and later Napoleon and the execution of Nicolas II followed by Stalin. As for the Berlusconi attack, I doubt that it was a conspiracy as the man is so vain that not fare una bella figura would not figure in his self image. I was very impressed by Gaither’s analysis of the traces of individualism and solidarity in the good sense of the word, still remaining in Italy/Europe as I encounter that in young people when I am in Paris and their cynicism strikes me as mentally very healthy (if only that could be followed by politically under-nourished American students…). And I subscribe to the fact that the Bushes, Obamas, Sarkozys and Berlusconis are just the front men, the lackeys for the truly powerful who always hide behind a tough screen of obfuscation and let these characters do their bidding. This may be a naive stance of mine as Berlusconi by virtue of his control of the Italian media does belong to the vested interests. (And GWB and Sarkozy are bona fides high bourgeois). But press lords themselves have to abide by what they are allowed to print or have said on their networks. I am also a bit careful about conspiracies, because I do not see the one about 9/11 as a deliberate move by the US government but that theory as exceptionalism. Why doubt that a cadre of highly educated (lawyers, engineers) from Saudi Arabia could topple the World Trade Center by a clever ruse and simple tools… with clever strategic planning, and bring this very drastic attack about?

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