Key factors that nurtured Berlusconi’s rise can be detected in other countries throughout the European Union–the centrifugal forces that are pulling regions away from central national governments, the growing antipathy towards third-world immigrants, and, perhaps most worrying, the resurgence of “amoral familism”. This infamous phrase was coined in The Moral Basis of a Backward Society by Harvard professor Edward Banfield. Banfield used it to encapsulate the dubious theory that poverty in southern Italy was down to the fact that clan loyalty overrode civic responsibility and cooperation.
The post-war economic boom in Italy has largely debunked Banfield’s explanation for underdevelopment but it now seems like a germane description for an increasingly atomised society in which one automatically places one’s own immediate circle above any notion of the greater good. Anyone who witnesses, say, the caravan of Mercedes and BMWs that constitutes the modern school run after reading a morning paper full of dilapidated public transport, health-care crises, and gangland murders on sink estates might conclude that “amoral familisms” is our default ethical setting.
We are all now Italians, without, alas, all of us having the consolations of Italy.