The Magazine

Das Boot

The mystery of the land of Machiavelli and macaroni.

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By MICHAEL LEDEEN
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In the end, the use of the word “Italy” is very much like Wittgenstein’s analysis of the word “games” in his famous trick question, “What do all games have in common?” He concluded that if we asked the empirical question (“Is there anything all games have in common?”), we’d have saved ourselves a lot of mental pain. We’d have seen that there is a rough sort of similarity, but nothing so concrete as to warrant the analysis of the category as anything more than a general “family resemblance.” So it is with Italy, and a fine thing it is, too. Gilmour at his best puts it splendidly:

In its three periods of cultural and economic affluence—the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the half-century after Mussolini—Italy was either divided or effectively de-nationalized. It was the peninsula’s misfortune that in the nineteenth century a victorious national movement tried to make its inhabitants less Italian and more like other peoples, to turn them into conquerors and colonialists, men to be feared and respected by their adversaries.

True. But if Italy is a failure, then what is that word “Italy” doing there, and what does “less Italian” mean? Take the historical and geographic tour with Gilmour, and you’ll at least get the question right.

Michael Ledeen, freedom scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is the author, most recently, of Virgil’s Golden Egg and Other Neapolitan Miracles: An Investigation into the Sources of Creativity.