Italians dream of a coming time of good government to end their "eternal crisis". How will Italy's — and the world's — hope for good government be fulfilled?
PERHAPS no city on earth — with the exception of Jerusalem — has enjoyed a longer, more continuous importance than Rome, the city of Caesars and Popes. This "city of the seven hills" is one huge living museum. Mementos of Rome's ancient grandeur are everywhere. Rome's more recent past is also in ample evidence. A visit to the square known as the Piazza Venezia gives one a strong sense — of Rome's modern history. Dominating the square is the white marble monument to Victor Emmanuel II. This enormous edifice was built around the turn of the century to commemorate the unification of Italy and to honor the nation's first king. Overlooking the vast piazza is the celebrated balcony of the l5thcentury Palazzo Venezia. It was from this balcony that Fascist leader Benito Mussolini addressed huge crowds massed in the square below. And it was from this balcony that II Duce, in 1936, proclaimed the resurrection of the Roman Empire following Italy's victory over Ethiopia.
Today's Nostalgic Mood
Many Italians today seem to be in a nostalgic mood. The memory of Rome's — and Italy's — glorious past remains strong. Nostalgia for another, more powerful Rome is much in evidence. As one native Roman expressed it to this writer near the spectacular ruins of the ancient Roman Forum: "Look what we had; now look what we have!" Indeed, Italy today is but a faint shadow of the great empire that Rome once was. Fears about Italy's political and economic future seem to dominate news stories coming out of this boot-shaped Mediterranean country of 58 million people. Italians are the first to express dissatisfaction with their country. Italy, it seems, is perpetually teetering on the brink. Crisis follows crisis. Italians themselves speak of "the eternal crisis." But if Italians are indeed heading toward collective catastrophe, you wouldn't know it just by looking. The more Italy's political and economic life deteriorates, the more its people seem to enjoy la dolce vita — "the sweet life." Italy is a country of paradoxes and contradictions. Most Italians see no immediate way out of "the eternal crisis." But then, their crises have persisted for more than 2,000 years, and the "Eternal City" still stands. "We will survive," Italians confidently assert, as they go about their business.
The Search for Good Government
But most Italians would like to do more than merely survive. Under the superficial gaiety is a yearning to deal effectively with the country's growing list of ills, to find a way to free themselves from the chaos that has long gripped Italy. Italians would naturally like to have a sounder economy, a stronger government and a larger role in international affairs. They have never liked living in a disorderly country. The late Luigi Barzini, Italy's celebrated journalist and author of the best-selling books The Italians and The Europeans, has observed: "Italian history could in fact be interpreted as a vain and sickening search for II Buongoverno [good government] down the centuries." It is clear the Italians have not yet found it. The average life span of an Italian government is less than a year. Since 1945, Italy has had more than 40 governments! The reason? Italy has eight nationwide political parties, most divided internally. No one party is strong enough to command a clear, majority. Government must therefore be carried out by coalition — fragile, short-lived alliances of parties. The situation is inherently unstable. Italy's major party is the Christian Democratic Party, which has ruled Italy, alone or in coalition, since 1945. It garnered 32 percent of the vote in the June 1983 general elections. At this writing it is in partnership with the Socialist Party (11 percent of the vote). Troubled by intraparty divisions, the Christian Democrats have allowed Socialist leader Bettino Craxi to have Italy's premiership while they sort out their internal affairs. Lack of a strong and efficient central government is high on the list of Italians' complaints. Politician-baiting is a national sport in Italy. Plans to strengthen the government's executive powers have failed. A weak federal government is widely viewed as Italy's greatest liability. But there are others, such as flagrant corruption and an inept and swollen bureaucracy, which Italians mock as lacci e laccioli, "shackles and snares."
As they view the disorder of a rudderless government led by weak, sometimes incompetent politicians, many Italians hanker after a firm hand to guide them. The growing muddle is engendering calls for a more authoritarian government. This is not a call for a return to fascism or an experiment with communist rule, but for any government that will function effectively. The once-formidable Italian Communist Party has been pushed to the sidelines in recent years. Italy's small neofascist Italian Social Movement won only 6.8 percent of the vote in 1983. In the meantime, life goes on in spite of the government. Italy's strengths and weaknesses reside in the character of her people. The Italians are flexible, resourceful. They have tended to adapt to crises rather than solve them. They are the first to admit that they are a nation with a history of running from problems. Italians realize it is pointless to expect anything from a government that does not function. If they cannot count on their government, Italians know they can count on individualismo — their own individual strength — and familismo, family togetherness. Italians have a highly developed sense of personal responsibility. Their allegiances are first to their families, then possibly to their cities. These allegiances are what keep life going and what hold the country together. This Italian individualism was exemplified by Renaissance Italy's collection of city-states, each its own nation. Italy as we know it today has existed as a nation for only a little more than a century. It has been a republic only since 1946. Regional differences remain strong. National civic responsibility is far less well developed. Centuries of division and political wrangling cannot be quickly overcome. There is even today a great deal of truth in an observation made more than a century and a half ago by the Austrian statesman Count Metternich: "Italy is not a country but a geographical expression." Italy is not one land but many. It is at least two countries — the more prosperous "European" north, and the poorer "Mediterranean" south. The widening economic gap between the two regions remains a major national concern.
Individualism is also evident in the economic sphere. The transformation of most Italians living standards since World War II has been dramatic. Yet despite the postwar surge, Italy is still a relatively poor country. Italy's economic woes are many: persistent double-digit inflation, chronic unemployment and underemployment, a huge national debt, large balance of trade and balance of payments deficits (Italy imports 80 percent of its energy), and a sizable national budget deficit. For years, analysts have been looking at the statistics and declaring Italy to be on the verge of imminent economic collapse. Yet the country has remained afloat. Why? Much of the answer lies with Italy's "underground economy" — the thousands of small unreported firms that operate cheaply and efficiently in attics, basements and back-alley shops, keeping no records and paying no taxes. These small businesses — often individual or family enterprises — produce mainly low-technology consumer goods such as purses, gloves and dresses. They provide full-time, part-time and moonlighting jobs for millions of Italians, easing the pressures on the employment market and adding to national productivity and personal living standards. Yet none of it shows up on the official statistics. Naples, for example, exports millions of pairs of gloves each year, yet does not have a single glove factory — at least not on the books! The underground economy is believed to represent an amazing 30 percent of the Italian gross national product! So here again, by pulling back into individual strengths and family togetherness, the Italians have kept their country functioning and made the best of bad times. They have survived — despite what many see as government mismanagement of the economy. Now look at religion.
More than 90 percent of Italy's people are baptized Catholics. Large numbers, however, are non-practicing. Italy has become a secular state. Long a pivotal power in Italy, the Roman Catholic Church has lost some of its influence in recent years. Divorce is legal in Italy. Italy has one of Western Europe's most liberal abortion laws. Italy's birthrate is now among the lowest in the industrialized world — evidence that the Church has not won its battle against contraception. Many of Rome's newsstands sell pornography. The situation is little better elsewhere in the country. These developments have taken place despite strong opposition by the Vatican, an indication of the diminishing hold of the Catholic Church in civil life. The truth of an old Roman saying has been borne out: "Faith is made here and believed elsewhere." Capping the trend toward secularism was a recent far-reaching change in Italy's formal relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. In a nationally televised ceremony in February of this year, Italy and the Vatican signed a concordat under which Roman Catholicism ceased to be the official state religion of Italy. The new concordat replaced the 1929 concordat concluded between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini, which granted the Vatican many special privileges. The new concordat, however, continues to recognize Vatican City as an independent and sovereign state, ruled by the Pope.
Few Italians have any illusions that Italy alone will ever regain the lost power and influence of her great past. But their nostalgia for another, more powerful Rome — as well as their desire for strong, effective government — could well find realization in another way. Amazingly, many Italians today do have hope for realizing their centuries-old dream of II Buongoverno. That hope lies within the context of a United Europe! Paradoxically, the otherwise individualistic Italians are enthusiastic supporters of the concept of a United Europe — a united European fatherland without frontiers. There is greater enthusiasm for European union among the populace in Italy than in any other Western European nation! This was evidenced in a poll done for the European Parliament in May 1984. Of the European Community's member nations, only Italians said they believed the unification of Europe would benefit the next generation. The other nine nations expressed skepticism regarding the Community's future. Upon reflection, it should come as no great surprise that Italy — the source and focus of a great historical tradition, the ancient Roman ideal of one Europe — should be a leading force in the modern drive for European union. The very document that established the European Community or Common Market was signed in Rome. Writes Luigi Barzini: "...the Italians of all parties were and are among the most fervent champions not merely of the integration of Europe but of its unification, its setting up business as a third superpower." Possibly it is because the Italians are a people who find strength in the family unit that they see so clearly the great potentialities of Europe as one family of nations!
The Future of Italy
This magazine has long foretold Italy's important role in a developing "United States of Europe." In the July 1935 Plain Truth, editor Herbert W. Armstrong declared: "Out of the present Italy is to emerge a reincarnation of the once great and powerful Roman Empire, by an alliance of ten nations within its ancient territory." Bible prophecy reveals a coming political union of 10 nations, or groups of nations, in Europe — a resurrection of the ancient Roman Empire. Italy will be an integral part of that great political — economic — military system. And despite the increasingly secular trend in Italy today, prophecy declares that the Roman Catholic Church will also reassume its past influence in Italy, as throughout Europe! The political muscle of the Vatican is rapidly becoming reinvigorated. The Church is repairing its battered image and moving ahead with its commitment to encourage the union of Europe, religiously and politically. As a series of historical articles in this magazine has shown, the past is pointing the way to the future. in Europe. The Roman dream of a politically united Europe yet lives! And it will be achieved for a brief period! The coming United Europe will be a great third force in world affairs — a superpower in its own right. And Italy will share in its wealth and power. But its glory will be fleeting. In the end, Italians will discover that the United Europe will also fail to bring them the Buongoverno they have sought for so long. But a Buongoverno DOES lie ahead! Beyond the turmoil that will engulf the world in the years just ahead, a good government — a perfect government — will be established for Italy and the world! That world-ruling government is the kingdom of God. A new age is coming! If you want to know more about this coming divine world-ruling government that will bring peace to this earth — and your potential part in it — read our free booklet The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What It Will Be Like. And why not at the same time read What Is the True Gospel?, which explains Jesus' message about world government? It's free, too. God's government is the ONLY government that will produce the lasting peace and prosperity that Italians — and peoples everywhere — have sought through the ages!