This short essay is the summary of a 2 hours presentation done at Lignan University of Hong Kong on 13th March 2006 and it has been published on the December 2006 Newsletter of the Societa’ Dante Alighieri – Comitato di Hong Kong
How the “homo Italicus” evolves and survives
In recent years, however, Italy has been carefully studied by Italian and foreign experts who have been trying to understand how and to which extent macro-sociological processes such as European Integration, sustained immigration and a long lasting economic standstill are affecting and changing the life of the Italians, previously often addressed as “La Dolce Vita” (sweet life).
My aim here is to make few simple observations of some of the major trends we can nowadays find in the Italian Society and to propose some “keys” to better understand them, also with respect to other similar patterns previously experienced in Italian history.
the geographical region nowadays known as ‘Italy” played a central role in
western history since even before the establishment of the Roman Empire, the
idea of Italy was born when the idea of a common language rooted itself
throughout the Italian peninsula. Since this moment, historically related to
the creation of Dante Alighieri’s “Holy Comedy”,
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was, among others, maybe the best examples of this New Man and he immensely contributed with his artistic works and scientific studies to the diffusion of this energy which, released more than 500 years ago, can be felt even till nowadays.
Other remarkable artists, whose names are nowadays remembered and known all over the world are the painters Andrea Mantegna (1431-1516) and Tiziano (1487-1576). On the left the former’s “Saint James led to execution” (1455) which can be admired in the Cappella Ovetari in the Eremitani Church in Padua, while on the right a particular of Tiziano’s “Pala Pesaro” which is in the Church of Saint Mary of the Friars in Venice.
by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1444)
The new centrality of the Man had a huge impact in architecture and artists such as Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1396-1472) or the most renowned Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) changed forever the shape of Italian towns and building. New “ideal town” such as Pienza in Tuscany or the Renaissance jewel town of Urbino stand still as remarkable achievements of that fantastic era which changed the culture and history of Europe and of the whole Western World.
By Leon Battista Alberti
the centuries following the Renaissance Age witnessed the shift of the center
of the Western Culture from the Mediterranean Sea (where Italy has a central
geographical position as a bridge between Europe and the Islamic World), and
although history in Europe started to flow with different paces among the newly
born National States, Italy didn’t have to struggle much to retain is cultural
leadership in the “Old World”. Most of the greatest artist of the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries considered compulsory having part or their entire
century was the age of Romanticism, a trans-European movement which, in
The Italian Romantic movement expressed itself at its highest level in music (Opera) and literature, with a strong influence all over Europe, especially Germany and England.
such as Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), on the left, author of “The Betrothed”
and Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), on the right, were
able to reach the heart of the people all over
“The poem “L’infinito” by Giacomo
Leopardi in a Chinese translation
the beginning of the last century,
the following years of the last century
the post-war period the so-called “Italian Economic Miracle” consolidates and
the 60s become know in
Fiat 500, montage chain, Turin
Lambretta Cento by Innocenti (1964)
well-being of the Italians blossomed in several achievements which started to
create the internationally recognized idea of “Italian style”; movies, sports
cars, fashion, architecture and food began to rank in top positions and
For the Italians, a date in particular bears an especially important meaning: 12 and 13 May 1974. On that day, a Referendum made the Divorce legal in a country which was till then still strongly conditioned by the Holy See. From that date, Italians had been able to modernize their moral believes at a pace which very seldom has been experienced by other countries.
Italian men proud themselves to be very found of women and football and in the 80s they had a special occasion to celebrate. On July 11th 1982 the Italian national team won its third FIFA World Cup and the euphoric feelings of those days stretched all over the eighties in many sectors of Italians’ life.
insofar mentioned “Italian well being” was actually the result of a strong
polarization of the Italian Economy, which in the 80s, even more than before,
saw its dualistic nature (public-private, north-south, rich-poor) getting
deeper and deeper. However, in the 90s, the international requirements to catch
up with the EU more advanced economies in order to be able to join the EURO and
the domestic scandal called “Mani Pulite” (clean
hands) which dismantled a widespread corruption system created a huge
‘earthquake” which rattled the Italian Society, Politics and Economy as no
other European country have so far experienced.
The results showed
Italy is a country where, on the surface, life still seems sweet enough;
stunning countryside, historical beautiful cities, cultural treasures, food and
wine more wonderful than ever. By most standards Italians are wealthy. Long
living and their families stick impressively together. Most foreigners know
that, especially off-season or of the tracks usually beaten by tourists, they
can have a more enjoyable time in
prices are getting out of reach for many first time buyers in
the infrastructures (roads, railway and
airports) are falling below the standards of the rest of
- the education system is also lagging behind, since no Italian university now makes into the world top’s 90;
- public spending on research and development is very low compared to international standards
but not least,
from extra-E.U. countries (legal but especially the illegal one) is more and
more perceived as an annoying problem, maybe even the cause of the employment
crisis in Italy (8.4% of unemployment rate in 2005 with a net decrease of
102,000 full time jobs in the same year). At the end of 2004 there were more
than 2.4 Mio. foreigners living it
Opinions about immigrations in Italy are, however, not unanimous, since Italy is itself a land of people who migrated abroad towards several countries in the past and since nowadays immigrants are actually to only feasible solution for thee sustaining of the overloaded Italian social welfare system.
matter of fact, Italy has been accepting immigrants in recent years in greater
quantity than other European countries and with much less troubles if compared
with the incidents in the French suburbs of last year and violent frictions
experienced in former Eastern Germany in the past. The Agnelli Foundation in
A key for understanding the current situation and the possible future developments
Professor Umberto Eco, in his recent book
“A passo di Gambero. Guerre mediatiche
e Populismo mediatico”
(2006) has proposed an interesting theory for analyzing the problems of today’s
the interpretation model proposed by Prof Eco is acceptable, then this period
of “reaction” shall be again followed by an “action” cycle with a renewed push
toward cultural, economical and sociological progress for
The seeds of this future progress are already available in Italian society nowadays, and they are namely the European Union and the immigration process itself.
The further implementation of the European integration process, which should go beyond the economic union and become a truly United States of Europe, should be able to catalyze in the long run the peculiar characteristics of the European ethnic groups and give new strength and new social models to those societies, such as the Italian one, which seem not t be unable to find a new model of progress and wealth.
the same time, being successful in fully integrating the immigrants, the New
Italians, also by learning from the mistakes of other countries, should give to