On Thursday, Ramapo welcomed Franco Pavoncello, the President of John Cabot University in Rome and a professor of political science, to lead a presentation in the York Room on “Lessons Learned from Contemporary Italian Politics.”
The discussion focused on the United States' standing as a world super power and the political hegemony it enjoys, which has far-reaching implications when looking at world affairs. According to the presentation, American society has grown so accustomed to its own civil liberties and political distinctions that citizens are often insulated from the strife and dissension within other countries. Often times, what many people view as a uniquely American problem is reflected in sovereign nations the world over. Just as American exceptionalism is grounded in its people not knowing any better, the economic and social dissonance that is predicated on politics profoundly affects citizens in more ways than can be viewed through the privileged lens of America.
To illustrate this disconnect, and compare the issues inherent in any established state, Pavoncello presented his view on the state of Italian politics and how its history has shaped modern political development. From the global conflicts that ravaged Europe during the 20th century, to the rise of modern fascism, Italy has endured tremendous conflict, both internally and externally.
Pavoncello described Italian politics as very unstable and explained, the “state of Italy collapsed after World War II.”
It was after this collapse that Italy was forced to reform its government, and beginning in 1948, the Italian party system was dominated by the Christian Democratic Party, with the rightist coalition winning every election for nearly 45 years. This coalition arose out of the ashes of the war, received tremendous popular support amidst the other neo-fascist and communist parties, and helped in reestablishing Italy’s political legitimacy.
According to Pavoncello, this mainstream, popular support worked in “vaccinating Italy from fascism and the destruction of a dictatorship.”
Where fascism thrived by appropriating symbols and ideology, a country’s resiliency and support behind a populist party ensured a significant and steady rise after the Mussolini regime, said Pavoncello. The ousting of dictators, as well as the establishment of the European Union, led to a significant decrease in overall deaths and an increase in gross domestic product per capita.
Corruption seeped into the political fabric of Italy and began to affect the public’s trust in the system, with many of the ruling party’s leaders jailed for corruption. As a result, the country’s ruling parties disintegrated and left behind communist and fascist coalitions.
In 1994, a media tycoon and professional soccer club owner, Silvio Berlusconi, was elected prime minister of Italy as leader of the Forza Italia Party. A businessman and sports team owner running for head of state amidst political upheaval and distrust is similar to contemporary American politics.
Pavoncello stated that, “a political system can withstand poor performance of elites and leaders, as long as people feel their rights are protected.”
This, in essence, describes current American politics and shows that, regardless of economic performance, foreign policy or the state of public services, people will only express displeasure when they are personally affected. Pavoncello’s presentation showed this and gave insight into the political displeasure that ravages people around the world.