Berlusconi and the new (Roman) falange

Mr Clarke blogging at It’s Probably The Pox, My Son links to a typical bit of mendacity, or gross ignorance if you are feeling charitable, from John Hooper at the Guardian:

Silvio Berlusconi, who won a general election earlier this month, welcomed the latest evidence of Italy’s leap to the right by declaring: “We are the new Falange”. Although he took care to wrap his remark in a classical context, his choice of words appeared to be a nod and a wink to his most extreme supporters.

That’s a misleading interpretation of Berlusconi’s actual words: “Siamo la nuova falange romana”. John Hooper tells us this is a reference to the Spanish fascist party which had a strong influence over the new government in the early 1940s:

The original Falange — the word means “phalanx” — was the Spanish fascist party, founded in the 1930s, which supplied Francisco Franco’s dictatorship with its ideological underpinning.

But the original falange was not Spanish, and its meaning in Italy has nothing to do with José Antonio Primo de Rivera, whatever John Hooper may have read in the holy book of Guardian journalists, the English-language Wikipedia:

  • As any Italian football hooligan knows (and any British schoolboy probably used to know), the Roman phalanx was the closely-ranked body of highly-disciplined soldiers that according to myth won the empire.

    (I happen to know this because I used to belong to a gym frequented by a Catalanised Italian chef with SPQR tattooed on one shoulder, AS Roma on the other, and, since we’re on the subject, a vigorous line in anti-Spanish rhetoric.)

  • As any Italian intellectual knows, the use of the word falange by Mussolini, who was raised on Marxism & Co, also derived from the utopian communities painted by the French proto-socialist, Charles Fourier.

    (This explains the strong sympathies expressed by Rome’s new mayor, Gianni Alemanno, and the post-fascist right for Israel and its kibbutzes. Contrary to what Hooper says, Alemanno received considerable although cautious support from the city’s Jewish residents, alarmed by crime, urban degradation and the contrast between the left’s pro-Arab policies and the solid alignment of the right with Zionism.)

So what does this mean for Rome and Italy?

The theory, in order words, is militant, communal republicanism of the kind associated with the Catalan nationalist-socialist “left” in charge of Barcelona. (The latter are also tireless evicters of gypsies. Maybe John Hooper will tell us which new falange they are.)

The practice, however, will be as complete an exhibition of the deadly sins as it always is under Italian governments of right and left–Gregory the Great was Roman and knew his subject.

Let’s sing that

Observing Italy one can certainly sympathise with the radical intervencionism espoused by the Gallic sylvans in Act II of Bellini’s Norma, one of innumerable segadors-type myths produced by nineteenth century nationalism:

1st Chorus. War! war! the sacred woods of Galia shall furnish warriors as numberless as her oaks — as the hungry wolf upon the flock, shall they fall upon the Roman herd.

2d Chorus. Blood! blood! the Galic sickles shall, to the haft, be drenched with blood ! It shall stain the Liga’s waves with its own hue — and wailings shall be heard in Rome!

3d Chorus. Already begins — rapine, extermination and revenge! The Roman phalanx shall fall as doth the wheat before the sickle — with her wings dipt and talons bruised, the Roman eagle shall writhe upon the dust. Our God shall descend upon the sun’s bright beams, to behold the victory of his children!

Oroveso. Proceed, Oh Norma! and point to us the victim!

However I suggest it would be more pragmatic to follow the line espoused in Act I and let them work out how to fix it themselves, with or without divine intervention:

Norma. I have read the sacred book of destiny! In the pages of death the name of Rome is written, and one day she shall die — but not by your hands. By her own vices shall she expire. Wait the hour when this decree shall be fulfilled. Meanwhile let there be peace. I go to reap the sacred moss.

The moon rises, all kneel.

Norma and Attendants. Pure Goddess! that silvers o’er these old and sacred plants, turn to us thy beauteous face without one cloud to shade it ! Soften the rashness of their ardent hearts, and spread around the peace that in the firmament reigns thro’ thee!

This lunchtime I hope to finish a parody of Norma: Wilma, featuring Mrs Flintstone.

“Berlusconia” in this post’s URL was a typo, not a prediction re the future name of the Italian state.

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  1. I have no pox. Didn’t you see me *refuse* to kiss John Chappell’s arse? I’m clean, I tells you.

  2. SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus, The Senate and the People of Rome)is the coat of arms of present-day Rome and also the inscription on its manhole covers.

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