As Dickie notes, “Italy is an artificial, internally differentiated space which is, and has always been, traversed by a variety of historical forces” (19). In fact, when considering the very geographical makeup of the country, the sense of disunion is physically visible. When one throws in the complexity of the language barriers and also factors the contentious issues of religion and politics, there is not only an overwhelming lack of unity in cultural cohesiveness, but the sense that there are groups in direct and confrontational opposition to one another.
As noted, issues related to the incredibly diverse geographical features of Italy attest to its social and cultural disunion and create significant practical barriers to the development of a homogenous national culture. Furthermore, its position between continents and the effects of that on economic conditions, the presence of the vast Alps and other mountainous areas, unpredictable and difficult to navigate rivers and waterways, and even the variances in the suitability for the land in different areas for industries such as agriculture versus manufacturing—all of these complicate any attempts to form a cohesive sense of culture. Dickie also notes that following WWII, many of the problems with cultural unification are also related to the noxious blend of Catholicism and Communism, both of which have geographic connections that are still fiercely adhered to, thus there is also a divide not only in physical geography, but in terms of how ideologies are clustered with these areas, particularly in terms of rural and urban areas.
The language separations in Italy, especially as they pertain to the use of regional dialects, is another significant barrier to achieving a unified, homogenous culture in Italy. While Italian is the official language of the country, this is a relatively new declaration, especially considering that it was rarely spoken prior to unification. Although many thinkers in the region understood the value of a unified language system to be used “as a medium of culture” (Richardson 67) prior to the development of the national language, even with such an official language that is now commonly accepted, there is the question of the loss of heritage inherent to this elimination of dialects. While this might serve to add some degree of homogeneity, the issues that truly impact the divides throughout Italy are more complex and nuanced and cannot be addressed by developing a common language alone.
In addition to the language issue, there is also a significant philosophical divide in the country that is apparent in the nation’s religious and political structures. With firm roots in the Catholic tradition where great power rested in Church authority and the subsequent rise in secularism and political ideologies that were counter to a religious state, divides between religious and secular groups were deep and the revolutionary political movements that emerged on the basis of these differences were even more divisive. There is no party that can claim absolutely majority in Italy and there are several parties, ranging from the Christian Democrats to the fiercely secular Communist-inspired offshoots. In short, there is not only great political difference, the differences that exist are numerous and to radical extremes, which makes the notion of political, philosophical, and generally ideological unification seem like a hopeless goal.
While there is no sense of unified culture in any real sense within Italy and “the open-endedness and internal diversity, [which] continue to this day”(Dickie 18) there is something valuable about such a lack of homogeneity and even though there is no distinct universal concept of Italian culture that fits all regions or views, perhaps this very diversity is the key to defining Italy’s culture.
What are the major subcultures of Italy? Identify them and elaborate on the differences and similarities.
The Catholic culture in Italy is one of the most longstanding and most worthy of commentary, especially as it is at the forefront in terms of reasons for some revolutionary political movements that gave way to even more of the same through the last two centuries. These religious and political subcultures are perpetuated by the complex relationship Italy has with itself as being such a diverse and unsettlingly disjointed culture on a national scale.
Although it has undergone several changes in recent years in terms of its image throughout the rest of the world so that it is “no longer conceived as fundamentally hostile” and can enter into dialogue (Allum 97) the Catholic Church created one of the strongest subcultures in Italy with a base that is still very strong, even if not dominant. Due its slipping grasp on society in the face of secular Liberalism, the Church’s strategy under Leo XIII was to “combine maximum doctrinal rigor with extreme realism. This meant defending Church principles while taking advantage of the political opportunities offered by secular regimes” (Allum 99). New elements of Catholic culture were established, such as Thomism, with its stress upon the supreme domination of man over nature, as well as the associated pillars of family and work—in short, principles rooted in the rational and reason-based, albeit with faith-based underpinnings.
Within this framework, the incredibly large institution of Catholicism, with millions of members of Catholic Action and related groups and their control over many presses and a political party, the Christian Democrats with a considerable amount of power, consolidated its view against atheist movements (such as Communism, for instance) and, with its focus on discipline, obedience, and its “grassroots” structure, Catholicism dominated “the political and cultural orientation of the majority of Italians in the Fascist and Cold War periods (Allum 106). Catholic culture in Italy was, for a long period that was aided by mass action and political positioning, a fierce movement with an almost political emphasis on acceptance and adherence, although due to a change in general culture, it has been more or less forced to abandon the “take no prisoners” approach and instead remain in open dialogue with all persons, emphasizing compassion and righteousness rather than struggling to win hearts and minds.
Despite some similarities that can be suggested on the surface connections between the two, Allum notes that “the Church’s social doctrine explicitly rejected both Liberal capitalism and Marxist Socialism and put strong emphasis on employment rights and another subset of this shift in ideology is reflected in a new glorification of the “noble peasant” as he had a direct relationship to the land. Out of these and newer ideas brought about by the arrival of industry and the development of a strong working class came ideas about socialism and ways to create greater equality and rights. Marxists, as one important element of political culture in Italy, were responding in part to Church doctrine and as an alternative, and this was even more the case with the Communist culture, who were the true villains to Catholic culture.
What these political struggles represented were clashes between the secular and the clerical, and more importantly, the reason and rationality base versus the defense offered by the culture of faith that still clung to the rapidly-changing Catholic Church and the extended culture it created. In the wake of the many “isms” cited by Dombroski such as Reformism and Syndicalism, it was becoming clear that in order to best respond to the new culture of workers, who were an increasing part of the Italian economy and culture more generally, political shifts on a grand scale were required, thus ushering in the phase of the Fascist culture before giving way to globalization, which combines these subcultures that are distinctly Italian with Western culture.