Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Monday, May 28, 2018

Those Weird Italians: do They Really Think Italy is a Sovereign State? A Comment on the Recent Failure of Forming a New Government

The political history of Europe during the past 5 centuries or so. Note how nation-states crystallized in the current form mostly during the 19th century. These entities turned out to be extremely resilient and they survived two major world wars and all sorts of disasters. Nation-states are much less important today in the age of the Globalized empire, but they are still alive and kicking. The recent events in Italy the attempt of creating a more independent national government clashed against the international political imperatives. It is all part of a general trend that may lead to the disgregation of the Eurozone and, perhaps, to a Seneca Collapse for the weaker European economies, including the Italian one.

A few things became clear in Italy during the past few days. One is that Italy is not a real "sovereign state," as it became evident when President Mattarella refused to accept a government which included people who had taken critical positions against the European Union and against the Euro. It was a necessary outcome of the situation: from 1943 Italy has been occupied by the troops of the victorious American Empire. Only a certain degree of fiction has been maintained to imply that Italy is able, in principle, to take independent decisions in matters dealing with the economy and foreign policy.

In practice, whenever Italian officers tried to take such independent decisions, they discovered that it was an unwise choice - even for their own physical survival. There have been several instructive cases in the past, starting with Enrico Mattei, president of the Italian National Oil Company (ENI). He pursued a politics of independence for the Italian energy system and he died in a mysterious (but not so much) airplane crash in 1962.

History, as usual, rhymes with itself and, recently, the winners of the latest Italian elections, the leaders of the M5s and the Northern League (now simply the League) parties, tried to form a government with a program of sweeping reforms which included an attempt to gain a larger degree of independence from the European Union in financial matters. The program didn't include anything equivalent to the British "Brexit" but it was, clearly, a step in that direction.

It didn't work, and it should have been obvious from the beginning that it couldn't. The rules of the imperial game are not based on democracy: defeated and occupied countries can't vote for their independence (it happened to Catalonia, too). Try a little exercise, imagine that, after the defeat of Queen Boudicca, the Celts of Britain had voted for a National government pursuing a policy of independence from Rome. You get the point, I think.

What's perhaps most surprising is how a lot of Italians reacted to the events. They took Mr. Mattarella's decision as an insult to the sovereignty of Italy. That is, they seem to believe that such a thing as an Italian sovereign state exists, despite the American troops occupying Italy with more than 10,000 men in at least a hundred military bases (all your bases are belong to US). And the military occupation is just a marginal element of a much more in-depth political and financial occupation.

Yet, in a certain sense, the Italians are right. In politics, often beliefs are stronger than reality - politics creates its own reality. And so, if Italians truly believe that Italy is an independent country, then at least it could become one. It is what happened in 1861, when Italy was created as an independent state for the first time in history.

Now, there are events that highlight long-term trends. The power scuffle about the new government in Italy is one of these events. It shows that the Global Empire is still strong, but also in evident decline because it could be challenged - although unsuccessfully - by the winning parties of the recent Italian elections. Empires are fragile things in the sense that they need a lot of energy to keep moving - and they tend to have a short lifetime in comparison to the more resilient entities we call "nations." Empires, in other words, are subjected to the kind of rapid collapse that I call the "Seneca Collapse"

The Global/American Empire is no exception. It is the product of the power of fossil fuels and it will persist only as long as fossil fuels are cheap and abundant. That can't and won't last forever, although at present it is impossible to say for how long. Rome was said to be eternal at the time of the Roman Empire, but it wasn't. The same is true for Washington D.C. (and for Brussels, which will probably fall earlier).

So, at some moment Italy may become again an independent state, as it was from 1861 to 1943. Most Italians, right now, seem to think that it would be a good idea. But will it be? Think about this: after the Roman Legions left Britain, were the Britons richer? Or happier to be ruled by tribal chieftains? Debatable, to say the least.

The people who are proposing that Italy should leave the Eurozone seem to think that all the problems for the Italian economy are financial and political. They don't understand the structural problems of an economy which is almost 100% dependent on the import of mineral commodities, and of fossil fuels in particular. Leaving the Eurozone or making cosmetic changes in the taxation system won't do anything to address this dependency. And, if it is true that nation-states are more resilient than empires, they too can suffer the Seneca Collapse if they lack the energy needed for their economy to function. So, the future is obscure, as always, but one thing remains clear: "Fortune is of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid" (Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4 BC-65 AD)


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)