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The EU Constitution: The Cart before the Horse 2/3
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-10-03 09:41:26
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Alessandro Manzoni, the devout Catholic and the greatest literary figure of the 19th century, had fervently hoped, with Beethoven, that Napoleon would restore those larger trans-national, cosmopolitan, universal values but they were both to be greatly disappointed. What was still at work, despite the proclaimed ideals of the French Revolution, was good old nationalism coupled with good old imperialism; a greater France masked as Pan Europeanism.

Manzoni, however, despite his great reservations about Napoleon, saw no contradiction between being a good Catholic and being a good liberal and accepted a seat in the newly minted Italian Senate of the new nation. But he was the exception which few followed; for, to make matters worse, the Pope had retreated to the Vatican palaces as a sort of prisoner excommunicating all those who supported what he considered a usurping national secular State.

So, in his eyes, the pious Manzoni was also a bad Catholic. Paradoxically, it was Mussolini who some sixty years later, while conquering Ethiopia a la Caesar, ignoring the protests of a feckless League of Nations, came to an accommodation with the Church by making the Vatican an independent State. The anti-clericalism of many liberal Italians was not diminished however and persists even today. It is an ancient grudge apparent in Rome more than other Italian cities and partly explaining the strength of the Communist party in Italy.

By 1930, with the establishment of Vatican City, one could have said “all is well that ends well” as far as relations between Church and State were concerned. The Italian State was legitimized in the eyes of the Church and Italians could once again be patriotic and religious at the same time. But the demarcation between the secular and the sacred were still blurry. The Italian Constitution continued to declare Italy a Catholic country till recently when that proclamation was abrogated. Religion was taught once a week in public schools. Moreover, the proclamation of freedom of religion would have to wait for the Vatican II Council thirty some years later.

Indeed, there was a snake in this heavenly garden called the New Liberal Italy. It was hinted at by the Prince of Salina in the above mentioned novel when he tells his nephew Tancredi, who has been fighting with General Garibaldi for Italy’s political unification: “We need to change everything so that it all remains the same.” What did the prince mean by that enigmatic statement? Simply that what would happen in Sicily and most of Southern Italy, as far as the people were concerned, is that one King (Ferdinand II of the Bourbon) would be substituted with another (Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy), and things would go back to normal.

As it happened, things worsened. Rather than bringing unity and harmony and some kind of social justice to Southern Italy, Italian unification exacerbated the socio-political plight of Southern Italy; the industrial North was privileged at the expense of the agricultural South, giving rise to banditry for a while, so that by the turn of the 19th century millions of Southern Italians were forced to emigrate to the Americas or to Australia.

It is not an accident that 90% of Italian-Americans have grandparents who emigrated from Southern Italy. It was the very political architect of Italian unification who put it best with his famous dictum: “Now that we have made Italy, we need to make the Italians,” which is to say, the cart had misguidedly been put before the horse. Italy had been designed and now the people were asked to simply accept the design of a few elitist politicians who knew better than them. Most of the one thousand patriots, the so called Red Shirts, who liberated Sicily in 1859 were university students, intellectuals and professionals, the elites of their society; this was hardly what one might call a populist movement. The people were merely asked to vote on the annexation or on the Constitution imposed on them.

So the Prince of Salinas was correct in his cynical statement: we must change everything so that nothing will change. As it happened, what was constructed after the unification was a “little bourgeoisie Italy” composed of merchants bent on accumulating wealth, blissfully neglectful of the universal ideals of both the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church, of Humanism and the Renaissance, not to speak of cultural patrimony and values and cultural identity. They felt little allegiance toward the new Northern King (who did not visit Southern Italy till 1900 prompting the famous Neapolitan song “Come back to Sorrento”).

And so the unity of Commerce and a Central Italian Bank, without the consent of the governed, did not hold water for very long, and the experiment with democracy ended abruptly sixty short years after unification with the advent of Fascism right after World War I precipitating World War II. After the Second World War Italy became one of the original founders of the European Union.

Well, now, which are the insights to be derived from this brief and schematic overview of the history of Italian unification; insights which may prove useful to the present day architect of European unification? The first insight could be this: a cultural identity of disparate people with disparate mores and even disparate languages (which reflect their culture and therefore to be jealously preserved) cannot be imposed from the top down by elitist leaders, philosopher-kings with esoteric ideas. It has to come from the bottom up, democratically.

Before drafting a Constitution one needs to listen carefully to the people and determine which are the universal common values that can function as a sort of cultural cement of their political union. Then one needs to obtain their consent. Not to do so and proceed with the formation of a united Europe without determining what does it mean to be a European is to put the cart before the horse.

Shuman and his generation were very aware of the necessity of a common cultural patrimony; that the cement for a unified Europe needs to be cultural, not racial, not nationalistic even if it be that of a hyper-nation. It needs to recognize cultural heritages such democracy, science, Greco-Roman civilization, Germanic concepts of freedom, Christianity (which when authentic is always universal and trans-cultural), the synthesis of Greco-Roman civilization and Christianity which is Christian Humanism and the Renaissance. A Central Bank and the promise of prosperity, or Machiavellian concepts of Realpolitik, simply will not do. Even a common language could not prevent a civil war in the US. That civil war proves that it is dangerous to put ideals in a Constitution which are not meant to be honored. The people will not stand for it forever, for as Lincoln put it: one can fool all the people some of the times and some of the people all the times, but one cannot fool all the people all the times.


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