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The Band Wagon

In response to:

Eliot and the Jews from the June 6, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

David Levine’s drawing—Berlusconi giving a Nazi salute [NYR, June 6, p. 44]—is misleading because Mussolini had the consent of the people for the “threatening face” [la faccia feroce], the “eight million bayonets,” the wars of conquest, and the imprisonment of opponents, while Berlusconi uses television with a smile, family entertainment, “la vie en rose,” the advertising of consumer goods for the housewife.

The problem lies elsewhere. Fascism was finished in 1945. Communism crumbled in the Eighties. Nor do their respective preferred shareholders—the Third Reich, the Soviet Union—any longer exist. So, then, can the former fascists who occupy the right and the former communists who constitute the left be considered “ex-” or “post-” fascists and “ex-” or “post-” communists? Ideologically and politically, are they traitors to their ideals who have renounced their faith in and oaths to the old banners? Are they expert opportunists in the historical tradition of “transformism” in Italian parliamentary governments, which long predates fascism and communism? Are they (in postwar terminology) “fifth columnists” and “double-gamers,” with the standard strategic aim of winning hegemony and establishing a regime, with the usual help of “fellow travelers” and “useful stooges”? (A pity here not to have the opinions of Gramsci and Sartre.) Or are they instead, with all their low (but opportune) compromises aimed at bringing together a volatile and often violent people, wise and laudable benefactors of the State?

In the course of the centuries, only “jumping onto the winner’s bandwagon” remains a constant. But the adulation on the part of many Italian “intellectuals” for any Power is not restricted to the left or to the right. It is a characteristic amply documented in all epochs of our national history.

Alberto Arbasino
Milan, Italy
translated by Marc Romano

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