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The Liberty of Servants

The Liberty of Servants: Berlusconi's Italy

Translated by ANTONY SHUGAAR
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Liberty of Servants
    Book Description:

    Italy is a country of free political institutions, yet it has become a nation of servile courtesans, with Silvio Berlusconi as their prince. This is the controversial argument that Italian political philosopher and noted Machiavelli biographer Maurizio Viroli puts forward inThe Liberty of Servants. Drawing upon the classical republican conception of liberty, Viroli shows that a people can be unfree even though they are not oppressed. This condition of unfreedom arises as a consequence of being subject to the arbitrary or enormous power of men like Berlusconi, who presides over Italy with his control of government and the media, immense wealth, and infamous lack of self-restraint.

    Challenging our most cherished notions about liberty, Viroli argues that even if a power like Berlusconi's has been established in the most legitimate manner and people are not denied their basic rights, the mere existence of such power makes those subject to it unfree. Most Italians, following the lead of their elites, lack the minimal moral qualities of free people, such as respect for the Constitution, the willingness to obey laws, and the readiness to discharge civic duties. As Viroli demonstrates, they exhibit instead the characteristics of servility, including flattery, blind devotion to powerful men, an inclination to lie, obsession with appearances, imitation, buffoonery, acquiescence, and docility. Accompanying these traits is a marked arrogance that is apparent among not only politicians but also ordinary citizens.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4027-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    I wrote this book at the suggestion and with the encouragement of Ian Malcolm, an editor at Princeton University Press, who asked me to explain to an English-speaking audience what is happening in Italian politics. The publisher Giuseppe Laterza bears responsibility for the book coming out first in Italian. He persuaded me by suggesting a title,La libertà dei servi—The Liberty of Servants—that synthesizes in a way that cannot be improved upon the ideas that I am setting forth here.

    I do believe that Italy is a free country, in the sense that there is liberty, but it...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxiv)
    (pp. 1-13)

    Italy is a free country, if by free we mean that neither other individuals nor the state can prevent us from doing as we choose. Everyone can do the things they want, provided that they have the resources and the ability: they can live where they like, express their own opinions, associate freely, vote for one candidate or another, criticize those who govern them, educate their children as they think best, profess this or that religion or profess no religion at all.

    You might persuasively argue that actually many Italians cannot attain goals that they would like to pursue: they...

    (pp. 14-42)

    If being free citizens means not being subjected to an enormous power and performing one’s civil duties, it is evident that the Italians cannot claim to be free; that is to say, they may be free, but only free in the sense of the liberty of servants. In Italy, in fact, a power has established itself that is neither arbitrary, nor authoritarian, nor despotic, nor illegitimate, but it is enormous and by its very existence it destroys the liberty of the citizens. The power of Silvio Berlusconi is not arbitrary, because it is not sufficiently great to impose its own...

    (pp. 43-76)

    Servants can be recognized by a number of unmistakable signs. The first, as political writers tell us, is fear. Someone who lives under the arbitrary power of another man never feels safe, even if he is not oppressed, because he knows that the man who is dominating him can take his life, or humiliate him, or deprive him of his property. He is downcast, he doesn’t look other men in the eye, he is inclined to lie and dissimulate, and most important of all, he is incapable of courage. In contrast, the distinctive mark of political liberty is the sentiment...

    (pp. 77-112)

    Over the centuries, the Italians have shown a distinctive capacity for inventing new and unprecedented political and social systems. As the Middle Ages were coming to an end, they gave rise to the first republics since those of classical antiquity. Nearly a millennium later, they created first an ideology of Fascism and then a Fascist regime, neither of which had ever been seen before. Likewise, the transformation of a republic into a great court is an experiment that has never been attempted or accomplished before this. Why in Italy of all places?

    A first answer comes in the form of...

    (pp. 113-148)

    The Italians, at least the better individuals among that people, succeeded in being reborn from servitude to liberty when they developed a healthy scorn for the life of a courtier. It is during the Risorgimento that we find the most impassioned invectives against the court. Even as moderate a political thinker as Vincenzo Gioberti wrote that in the court,

    you see “spite in the hearts, falsehood in the faces, sweetness in the words, venom in the desires: contempt for simplicity and a celebration of cunning, an undermining of innocence and shrinking before evil, favor elevated to the stars and merit...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 149-162)
  11. Index
    (pp. 163-178)