Editor's Introduction

by Elisabeth Mann Borgese

FOR the American, Italy has always held a special fascination. As much for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who have flocked to her over the years as for those of us who have had the good fortune to spend part of our lives in this friendly land, she offers a wealth and variety of experiences which few other countries can match. No other country, perhaps, combines the attractions of natural beauty and the monuments of a glorious past with the amenities and the challenges of a modern state to the extent Italy does. Somehow, all the strata of this past seem still to be active. Italy’s is a living, creative past, enriching the present and shaping, in many ways, the future.

The constructive spirit of ancient Rome, the splendor of the Renaissance, are more than wellpreserved ruins and treasure-filled museums. They still exist for us in the human landscape, in the vitality and creativity of this extraordinary people, which not even twenty years of a stifling dictatorship followed by a devastating war could suppress.

Yet Rome and the Renaissance are only two aspects of what is, when we learn to know it well, a multifaceted continuum. Italy, as so many of the writers in this collection are quick to tell us, is more than a single country. She is a continent in miniature, each of her regions a world unto itself.

It seems almost miraculous that an area of hardly 120,000 square miles (as against the three million of the United States), with about 49 million inhabitants, should have such a variely of climates and landscapes and ways of life — from the Alps with their winter sports and summer pastures and lakes as lovely as those of Switzerland to the orange groves of the South; from the hustling northern industrial cities to the silence of the Greek temples in Sicily and the white, African light of Sardinia.

If Italy is a continent in a nutshell, her history is a condensation of the story of many peoples, entwining the Etruscans, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, Normans, Spanish, Arabs, French, and Austrians. At one time or another all have been deeply involved in Italy, and all of them have left their traces—grafts on the native Italic trunk which enabled it to bring forth its wondrous fruits. Of these — the great cultural achievements of the medieval city states; the explosion of the Renaissance; the moral and intellectual victories of the Risorgimento — of these, and much more, this Perspective of Italy can give only an intimation. The limitation of space has compelled us to concentrate on the present, on the modern Italy of today.

The Italian character is fiercely individualistic. This individualism is the cause of Italy’s genius; yet it can also, at times, take the form of indiscipline or a lack of social responsibility. But if we should attribute to such traits of temperament the rise of Fascism — and long ago the ancients knew that anarchy breeds tyranny—they may also explain why Fascism could not strike deep roots in Italy, but remained, in spite of all indoctrination, extrinsic to the Italian mind. Was it not this ineradicable individualism which enabled Italian culture to survive, unbent, as in the case of Croce, or underground or in exile, ready to pick up where it had left off, without too disastrous a break?

For Italy the War was perhaps less of a traumatic experience than for Germany. Its ravages were more diffused in the countryside, which was destroyed mile by mile by the withdrawing and pursuing armies, but whose population, inured to disaster since time immemorial, is not easily given to panic. The destruction in Italy’s great cities did not approach the wreckage of Hamburg or Dresden. The decisive factor, however, from the psychological point of view, was that the War in Italy became, at the end, a civil war, with the best elements of the Italian people fighting on the democratic side. The Allied victory was their victory also, a victory over Fascism — not a defeat with its attendant shock and shame.

Today, the scars of war have almost disappeared. Italy’s economic recovery has been phenomenal, with industrial production ahead of the best prewar years. The bridges over the Arno in Florence, which had been blown up by the Germans, have been rebuilt. The Ponte Trinit a has been reconstructed stone for stone, just as it was in Florence’s golden Cinquecento. The old statues were fished up and pieced together with loving care. Only the head of the Goddess of Spring is missing, and the decapitated torso points — a reproach hewn in marble — to the riverbank where war and the march of time have razed the old palaces, and tall new buildings with smiling glass façades and neon lights are rising in their place.

Such changes as these have been the subject of much heated discussion. For here lies the core of Italy’s problem: will she be able to preserve the glories of her past, and her unique character, in a world of technology and standardization? Can she reconcile the old and the new? Will the Italians be able to find a synthesis between their traditional individualism and the duties of social solidarity imposed on each of them by democracy, and on all of them by the growing world community?

We hope that the reader will find in the following pages some answers to these questions; for they do not concern Italy alone; they are ours, too. They are the basic questions of the twentieth century.