May 7, 2009

"Il Divo"

Here's an excerpt from my review in The American Conservative:
Most movie critics are more concerned with film than with life, but my goal has been to help make movies, those pungent yet unreliable distillations of life, more compelling for the reader who is more interested in the world than in the cinema.

Consider “Il Divo,” a baroquely stylized biopic about Giulio Andreotti, seven times Prime Minister of Italy in the 1972-1992 era, and then a perpetual defendant in murder and Mafia trials in 1993-2003. Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” is clearly a film of aesthetic ambitions (the owlish politician inhabits a De Chirico Italy of sinisterly empty arcaded streets) and some historical significance.

Still, the labyrinthine “Il Divo” would be impenetrable to any American who hasn’t read up on Italy’s lurid recent past, in which Andreotti’s rival, ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro, was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades, various Vatican-connected bankers died in fashions that would have amused the Borgias, a Masonic lodge served as a seeming government-in-waiting for a post-coup Italy, and brave magistrates investigating the Mafia blew up.

Italian politics, with its constantly collapsing governments, strikes Americans as a joke. Yet, the fundamental questions of Italy’s Cold War years were deadly serious: Would the unruly joys of Italian daily life succumb to the grayness of a Communist state, the Cuban tragedy writ large? Yet, just how many Machiavellian machinations in the name of saving Italy from the Reds could be borne?

As “Il Divo” demonstrates, Italy apparently needed to be led during those difficult decades by the least operatic politician imaginable, and can only now afford to revert to more stereotypically Italian showboats such as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Like a more cultivated, less bumptious version of the Daleys who have ruled Chicago for 41 of the last 54 years, Il Divo is not a diva. Andreotti doesn’t bluster from balconies, nor even bother to cut a stylish figure. He listens carefully, forgets nothing, and confines his own utterances to mordant witticisms: as if Dr. Evil were underplayed by Jack Benny.

Margaret Thatcher reminisced about Andreotti, “He seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun.” “Il Divo’s” nightmarish depiction of Italian politics raises an unsettling point. In Andreotti’s defense, he at least was born into his system, while America is now led by a man who, with every opportunity in the world beckoning, carefully chose to make his career in our closest equivalent: Chicago politics.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Gucciardini said...

Wow. This is the first time I've seen Obama compared to Guilio Andreotti.

Anonymous said...

Mencius Moldbug recently posted about Italian politics.

Anonymous said...

The irony here is that at one point in the past Italy was considered to be the best-governned country on Earth, perhaps with the exception of China. The Greeks never looked up to Roman art or literature, but they marveled at the honesty of Rome's republican politicians. They were jealous of how efficient and free of bribery Roman politics was. I'm not kidding - I've read actual quotes to that effect.

So what went wrong, and when? The most plausible explanation I've seen is contained in this article published in 1916 by classicist Tenney Frank. He cited a statistical analysis of late Roman tomb stone inscriptions. At some point 90% of the names became of foreign, non-Latin origin. He also cited Roman writers who suggest that most of late Imperial Rome's population, including its elite, were descended from Middle Eastern slaves, brought to Italy from the conquered provinces. Yes, cheap labor.

Some quotes from the article:

"Do these names imply that the Roman stock was
completely changed after Cicero’s day, and was the satirist recording a fact
when he wailed that the Tiber had captured the waters of the Syrian Orontes?"

"When Tacitus informs us that in Nero’s day a great many
of Rome’s senators and knights were descendants of slaves and the native stock
had dwindled to surprisingly small proportions, we are not sure whether we
are not to take it as an exaggerated thrust by an indignant Roman of the old

"Classifying in this way the names of the aforesaid 13,900 inscriptions of
volume VI., parts 2 and 3, we find that of the 4,485 persons apparently bornat Rome, 3,723 (eighty-three percent) fall into the list which by our criteria
represents foreign extraction."

"This evidence is never decisive in its purport, and it is always, by the
very nature of the material, partial in its scope, but at any rate it may help us to interpret our literary sources to some extent. It has at least convinced me
that Juvenal and Tacitus were not exaggerating. It is probable that when these
men wrote a very small percentage of the free plebeians on the streets of Rome
could prove unmixed Italian descent. By far the larger part—perhaps ninety
percent—had Oriental blood in their veins."

And then there is this:

"Doubtless, as Fustel de Coulanges (La Cité Antique) has remarked, it
could have been of little importance in the society of the republic so long as
the old orthodox faith in ancestral spirits survived, for the happiness of the
manes depended upon the survival of the family, and this religious incentive
probably played the same role in the propagation of the race as the Mosaic
injunctions among the Hebrews, which so impressed Tacitus in a more degenerate
day of Rome. But religious considerations and customs—which in this matter emanate from the fundamental instincts that continue the race—were
questioned as all else was questioned before Augustus’s day. Then the process
of diminution began. The signifi cance of this whole question lies in the fact that
“race suicide” then, as now, curtailed the stock of the more sophisticated, that
is, of the aristocracy and the rich, who were, to a large extent, the native stock.
Juvenal, satirist though he is, may be giving a fact of some social importance
when he writes that the poor bore all the burdens of family life, while the rich
remained childless:
jacet aurato vix ulla puerpera lecto;
Tantum artes hujus, tantum medicamina possunt,
Quae steriles facit.15
There may lie here—rare phenomenon—an historic parallel of some
meaning. The race of the human animal survives by means of instincts
that shaped themselves for that purpose long before rational control came
into play. Before our day it has only been at Greece and Rome that these
impulses have had to face the obstacle of sophistication. There at least the
instinct was beaten, and the race went under. The legislation of Augustus
and his successors, while aimed at preserving the native stock, was of the
myopic kind so usual in social law-making, and, failing to reckon with
the real nature of the problem involved, it utterly missed the mark. By
combining epigraphical and literary references, a fairly full history of
the noble families can be procured, and this reveals a startling inability
of such families to perpetuate themselves. We know, for instance, in
Caesar’s day of forty-fi ve patricians, only one of whom is represented
by posterity when Hadrian came to power.16 The Aemilii, Fabii, Claudii,
Manlii, Valerii, and all the rest, with the exception of the Cornelii, have disappeared. Augustus and Claudius raised twenty-fi ve families to the
patriciate, and all but six of them disappear before Nerva’s reign. Of
the families of nearly four hundred senators recorded in 65 A.D. under
Nero, all trace of a half is lost by Nerva’s day, a generation later. And
the records are so full that these statistics may be assumed to represent
with a fair degree of accuracy the disappearance of the male stock of
the families in question."

And this was written in 1916! Sorry for such a long quote, but I know that at least Lucius will appreciate it.

The change from a republic to one-man rule under the Empire and the sudden popularity of Middle Eastern religions in late imperial Rome become understandable in this light. Of course, after the final imperial collapse northern Italy was overrun by Germanic tribes, who mingled with the locals, so the ethnic balance was changed once again during the Middle Ages.

Anonymous said...


james said...

There was a time when almost all European intellectual and political leaders, from left to right, attributed genius to Mussolini. Any list of such figures, however short, must include Churchill, FDR, Lloyd George, Gandhi, Belloc, and Bernard Shaw.

Anonymous said...

"Italy was considered to be the best-governned country on Earth"

Rome != Italy

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: least Lucius will appreciate it...

Indeed - this is a real find.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

More unusual aspects of Italian politics.
Italian MEP Roberto Fiore:

Casa Pound:

Anonymous said...

The Obama thing is a stretch. Really, he's Richard Daley? Can you find a more up to date reference? Might as well compare him to Boss Tweed.

testing99 said...

Good point about Rome's failure to reproduce, something that Spengler also noted consistently. Victor Davis Hanson made the same points about Rome and Greece before it, the people mostly not having children.

However the problem with Italy was not "use the Mafia to forestall Communism" which seems to be the theme of the movie, but the failure of the Italian people to come up with a communal way of governing themselves. Regionalism remained strong, sense of national unity (Italy came late to it) weak, and the Communists were just as corrupt as the Mafia and Camorra (who are larger and more powerful than the Sicilian crew).

The real problem of course was the lack of a robust middle class that usually got it's way. The Roman Republic was honest not because it's men were Angels, but because it was made up of mostly smallholders who were powerful enough collectively to usually get their way, which meant a generally honest and not very corrupt government. It's why after 30,000, 50,000, and 70,000 were collectively slaughtered by Hannibal, the Roman Republic STILL raised more legions and legions to fight him. While the corrupt aristocratic Carthiginian Senate quibbled at Hannibal's expenses and popularity.

America has been honest when most of her people were middle class, with middling property, who depended on honest government to survive. The rise of a elite "New Class" aristocracy that used a corrupt, Chicago style government to prosper signifies a huge danger to America. It's not just the foreigners, but the collapse of the Middle Class, mostly at the hands of a hostile native elite, that characterized late Rome, late Greece, Edwardian England, and the Age of Obama. Italy of course never had one to begin with, being cobbled together Papal states, various republics and prince-doms, and possessions of the French and Austrians.

Steve Sailer said...

"Really, he's Richard Daley? Can you find a more up to date reference? Might as well compare him to Boss Tweed."

You are aware that the current mayor of Chicago is named Richard Daley, aren't you?

Anonymous said...

Yes I know. I didn't know the current Daley was anything other than a fairly elected mayor. What's the problem with him then?

You seem to be implying Obama is a corrupt, vote stealing, ward heeling, machine tool.

On what basis? I don't see more Daley in him than any other politician. I know he lived in Chicago. Any other reasons?

I thought he was elected cause of Iraq and Lehman Bros, not some nefarious Chicago style back room dealing.

Anonymous said...

First: the reason you do not know these things is not because Sailer is crazy but because your perception of reality is mediated. That is why they call it the "media".

The only reason you have a positive impression of Obama is because most media impressions have contained keywords with positive valence in the text or commentary surrounding his name.

Indeed, every single thing the vast majority of people know about Obama comes secondhand or thirdhand, usually by way of the New York Times.

As such it is unsurprising that you don't know about Obama's Chicago style dealings. We only know the tip of the iceberg as the media has refrained from digging into his record. More investigative reporters were trained on Palin in a few days than Obama in a few years.

Indeed, the media is Obama's base, having actively abetted him by burying his enemies. Does anyone REALLY think it is a coincidence that Blago was put out to pasture the moment he decided to put someone other than Valerie Jarret in that Senate position? Everyone in Chicago is corrupt, including Blago, which is why selective enforcement is so powerful. When everyone is in violation, those who control the scrutiny of the press can eliminate who they want when they want.

But. All that aside, some facts of Obama's corruption are well known.

1. Does the name "Tony Rezko" ring a bell? How did Obama buy his house?

2. Read the first chapter of David Freddoso's book on how Obama won his first office -- by getting his opponents kicked off the ballot to win an uncontested election. The facts there are a matter of public record, not contested by any party.

As a community organizer, he had helped register thousands of voters. But when it came time to run for office, he employed Chicago rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers.

Obama's past battles
See how Barack Obama has used election rules to his advantage during his political career on AC 360.

The move denied each of them, including incumbent Alice Palmer, a longtime Chicago activist, a place on the ballot. It cleared the way for Obama to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Democrat district."That was Chicago politics," said John Kass, a veteran Chicago Tribune columnist. "Knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy, right? It is how Barack Obama destroyed his enemies back in 1996 that conflicts with his message today. He may have gotten his start registering thousands of voters. But in that first race, he made sure voters had just one choice." Video Watch how Obama shut out challengers in his first race »

Obama's challenge was perfectly legal, said Jay Stewart of the Chicago's Better Government Association. Although records of the challenges are no longer on file for review with the election board, Stewart said Obama is not the only politician to resort to petition challenges to eliminate the competition.

"He came from Chicago politics," Stewart said. "Politics ain't beanbag, as they say in Chicago. You play with your elbows up, and you're pretty tough and ruthless when you have to be. Sen. Obama felt that's what was necessary at the time, that's what he did. Does it fit in with the rhetoric now? Perhaps not." ...

But Will Burns does. Now running himself for a seat in the Illinois legislature, Burns was a young Obama volunteer during the presidential candidate's first race.

Burns was one of the contingents of volunteers and lawyers who had the tedious task of going over each and every petition submitted by the other candidates, including those of Alice Palmer.

"The rules are there for a reason," Burns said.

He said that challenging petitions is a smart way to avoid having to run a full-blown expensive race.

"One of the first things you do whenever you're in the middle of a primary race, especially in primaries in Chicago, because if you don't have signatures to get on the ballot, you save yourself a lot of time and effort from having to raise money and have a full-blown campaign effort against an incumbent," Burns said.

Burns said he believed that Obama did not enjoy using the tactic to knock off Palmer.

"It was not something he particularly relished," Burns said. "It was not something that I thought he was happy about doing."

But Obama did it anyway, clearing the field of any real competition.

Obama's staff would not comment on what the senator thinks about that petition challenge now.
Instead, they referred CNN to this 2007 comment made by Obama to the Chicago Tribune.

"To my mind, we were just abiding by the rules that had been set up," the senator is quoted as saying in the Tribune. "My conclusion was that if you couldn't run a successful petition drive, then that raised questions in terms of how effective a representative you were going to be."
Tip of the iceberg, my friend. Tip of the iceberg.

Oh, and by the way -- the only reason that was reported even once on CNN is because David Freddoso wrote about it in his book. How many times has it been repeated relative to uncritical repeats of hope'n'change? Clearly not enough, because you do not remember it.

Steve Sailer said...

Obama didn't want to reform Chicago politics, he wanted to win at Chicago politics.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie a few weeks back and it's really visually stunning. Unfortunately I fell into the "found it impenetrable" camp knowing little more about Italian politics than that guy I saw half-dancing, half-sleeping in the middle of the street with no headphones on while I drove out of the city from work to my safe neighborhood.
Ultimately not knowing the larger stories and figures, and having to read subtitles on top of it made it a loss for me, no matter how great it looked.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Speaking of Chicago politics, has anyone noticed that the CIA is releasing these waterboarding memos to ruin Nancy Pelosi?

I wonder who the Chicago Gang envisions as her replacement? Steny Hoyer?

Or maybe The Tribe is just engaging in PsyOps to get her rattled? To show her who's really boss now?

AMac said...

For the 2008 election, the Obama campaign disabled the AVS anti-fraud system for online contributions. This was reported in the National Journal, but otherwise ignored by the media.

The acceptance of fraudulent donations extended above the $50 mark. This is a significant issue because of FEC regulations. They implicitly allow anonymous contributions of under $50, as campaigns aren't required to maintain records on who gives these small amounts.

Over $50, the FEC requires that donor records be maintained (though not necessarily disclosed if the aggregate amount donated is under $200).

On October 27th, I made an online contribution of $60 with a valid credit card number accompanied by a phony name and address. The transaction cleared.

Disabling AVS encourages "distributed campaign finance fraud" and thus violates FEC regulations on record-keeping.

A person wishing to make an illegal donation of, say, $20,000 would have needed only:
* a credit/debit/cash card,
* a list of names and addresses (e.g. the phone book), and
* the patience to make 100 donations of $199.

Details in Comment #82 of this ‘Winds of Change’ post.

As far as the Chicago angle, how much interest has the mainstream media shown in figuring out what percentage of the flood of online contributions cannot be traced to legitimate U.S. citizen donors? At a minimum, this trick robs databases like of much of their usefulness.

Anonymous said...

"Yes I know. I didn't know the current Daley was anything other than a fairly elected mayor. What's the problem with him then?

You seem to be implying Obama is a corrupt, vote stealing, ward heeling, machine tool.

On what basis? I don't see more Daley in him than any other politician. I know he lived in Chicago. Any other reasons?

I thought he was elected cause of Iraq and Lehman Bros, not some nefarious Chicago style back room dealing."

Hysterical. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

He produces a lovely Catholic magazine called 30 Days.
Available in many languages, it has great coverage of the Universal church, of art, of papal history, etc.
The only aspect of the magazine that is sometimes difficult to appreciate for this non-italian reader are the endless articles on obscure(to me) politicians from Bologna who fought the Reds. The Cold War ain't over baby.

Anonymous said...

The Rezco bit and the primary rules gaming are good examples.

This though - "Everyone in Chicago is corrupt, including Blago, which is why selective enforcement is so powerful. When everyone is in violation, those who control the scrutiny of the press can eliminate who they want when they want." That doesn't tell me anything about Obama.

Thanks for the couple actual answers. Hope you enjoyed the sermonizing bit. I ignored it.

Anonymous said...

"So what went wrong [with Roman politics], and when?"

This is entirely implausible, since the rot set in during the late Republic, long before the native Roman elite could have been replaced by provincial stock. Frank's demographic analysis (from 1916! kind of a long time ago), if accurate, is from the late Roman period, so it's more likely the result of decline than its cause.

Anonymous said...

"You seem to be implying Obama is a corrupt, vote stealing, ward heeling, machine tool.

On what basis? I don't see more Daley in him than any other politician. I know he lived in Chicago. Any other reasons?"

Somebody here gets his information from the MSM and left-wing blogs.

I see some people have already addressed your question in part. But unmentioned so far is Michelle Obamas "job" and salary. Why don't you find out what she got paid for? She got paid so Senator Obama would send megabux in earmark money to the place she worked.

Anonymous said...

"Hysterical. Thanks." Sweet comeback, when you can't answer the question. Some people have made decent points.

The classic troll response of - If you don't agree with me you are hopelessly naive, tells me more about you than Obama. Buddy, it aint about you.

dc watcher said...

"You seem to be implying Obama is a corrupt, vote stealing, ward heeling, machine tool.

On what basis? I don't see more Daley in him than any other politician. I know he lived in Chicago. Any other reasons? "

Yeah, I know. It's hard to believe because EVERYBODY says how great&good he is! Just EVERYBODY! The NTY, the Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox. ALL the celebs! And he came from nowhere with no bonafides! And look how wonderful he is, how he renounced heartily 20 years of anti-white bilge from his Rev., how he can speak extemporaneously and wittily just like JFK, how expressive and twinkly his eyes, how courageously he is putting an end to the war madness, insisting troops be withdrawn and brought home, compassionately visiting them and getting their heartfelt gratitude and understanding that he couldn't come to the American Legion Inaugural Ball. Look how he brought the races together by emphasizing his white grandparents! Look how his white family cheered him on and sang his praises! Look how honestly and openly he's answered questions about his birth place, his origins, his education, his political career, his thoughts on domestic terrorism and Dworkin, how he stoicly ignored the legal action taken in 1993 to forbid his wife from practicing law in Illinois.
Yes, you're right. How could anyone not believe in Barry (his given name until he returned from Pakistan at age 20) Obama. Especially white people! We know how much Barry wants to do for all of us! We know. We know.
No run along and pull up your rompers and read your WaPo.

Anonymous said...

This is all true and well but how precisely this differs from the ugly machinations of practically every successful politian is not clear - and likely non-existent. Is Obama dirtier than Kennedy? Cheney? Nixon? FDR?

To the partisan mind, yes.


Anonymous said...

Indeed, the media is Obama's base, having actively abetted him by burying his enemies.

The media is the base of the larger Democratic party. Actually, its the other way around, the Democratic party is a creation of the press. The media pushes its alternative narrative of America, and enough people believe it, and think that they thought of it on their own to join the Democrats, and campaign for them.

I'm beginning to think that the English language exists for the sole purpose of transmitting lies from one person to another.

sj071 said...

Italy of today is much more homogenous society compared to the contemporary USA, period.

It's late and I'll simplify . For 'some' reasons, USG tolerates a huge number of armed gang members operating in the California.

So does the Italian state on a similar scale Difference is, they are born and bred in Italy and remain Italians, first and foremost.

Anonymous said...

Lucius, that article is depressing.

dc watcher said...

"This is all true and well but how precisely this differs from the ugly machinations of practically every successful politian is not clear - and likely non-existent. Is Obama dirtier than Kennedy? Cheney? Nixon? FDR?"

To the partisan mind, yes.


Partisan schmartisan.
I'm an Independent. But yes, I do think we've hit a new low with the whole Obama rigamarole. If Bush was zero, this joker is sub-zero.
All of the above named pols, excluding Mr. O, were preceded in their highest elected offices by many years of very well reported political activities. Mr. O's past is a big blank, except in his AUTOBIOGRAPHY! excuse me while i wipe away tears of laughter.

I don't know if he's dirtier than Cheney. That's a stretch. However, at least Cheney was a known quantity about whom no one had any illusions. Nixon? ditto. He and not a controlled media (Soros anyone?) was responsible for himself. They got him out eventually, which they'll never be able to do with the current occupant. Not without extreme civil unrest, which I suspect is why he's there.
Kennedy? The election was dirty, but once he was in, he seemed imbued with some sort of genuine desire to make America a worthy leader of the "free world." Just didn't have the practical ability. He challenged big business, the CIA, the military. He vetoed the false flag Northwoods plan. He f@#d up in Cuba. Wanted to "Scatter the CIA to the winds." They saw about that. Can you imagine Obama making any truly courageous statements? Well actually it would be his teleprompter that would be expressing the courage.
Might be just as well, as it is essential this guy do his term and get the hell back to Chicago, safe and sound. All I ask out of this administration is that there be no "racial unrest."

Kennedy got himself killed. Listen to his speeches, especially the one at American U, summer 63, warning about secret societies, yearning for peace, for a future for all our children.
Kennedy rang strangely prescient. He was also a politician who wanted to win. Some of these leaders who get murdered subconsciously accept it. They know they're fingered. He was in deep do-do, a lot of it his own fault, yet he was in shock over a lot of what he'd found out that he had no control over. He was shocked to find that the Agency for International Development had taken aid to Vietnam, so crucial for negotiating purposes, out of his hands without his awareness, thanks to a former political enemy to whom he gave the Vietnam Ambassadorship. But that's another thread.
Two assassination attempts were made in 3 weeks before they succeeded in Dallas.
I'm not really a great fan of JFK's politics, but he was the last POTUS that came in with a genuine desire to serve the country, while achieving his own place in the history books. I never thought I'd say it, but Reagan, despite incipient senility, also had some sort of genuine feeling about this country.
Obama, IMHO, is a manchurian candidate. He exudes no feeling for America, or more importantly, for Americans. Anybody who thinks this guy has any sincere desire to lead and unify Americans of all races is seriously deluded. The insane cheerleading by the entire mass media makes it obvious someone BIG is running him. If they desert him, that will be the signal that he just may have done some genuinely courageous and right thing. Which this person has no history of least to the extent we know any history about him.

silly girl said...

Juvenal is my favorite from that period. Thanks for the interesting comment.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Ronduck: I'm beginning to think that the English language exists for the sole purpose of transmitting lies from one person to another.

Welcome to the party.

Rock on, Dude!

John Seiler said...

The Italians would be better off revoking the Risorgimento and going back to a couple dozen republics, city states, and principalities. Although still great artistically compared to other peoples, their drop since 1870 is one of the sharpest on record. Italians obviously thrive best in small polities governed by families that love high culture. Just think of the artistic riches of Palermo and Florence -- and how absurd it is to make those two great cities and peoples part of the same artificial "country."

Anonymous said...

"This is all true and well but how precisely this differs from the ugly machinations of practically every successful politian is not clear"

Well, perhaps it is only unclear to the partisan mind. I get tired of the way the left trots out "they all do it" when one of their own is caught doing something wrong.

I seem to recall that Nixon was forced to resign from office for his "ugly machinations".

Anonymous said...

Obama isn't like Andreotti or Daley. He's like The American Gangster(the movie).