Giuseppe Conte, the arch Italian

Giuseppe Conte, the arch Italian

The Notepad of Michael the Great

Interviewed on “Dimartedì”, on La7, Giuseppe Conte said that “my policy is to take care of words, the depth of thought and not rely on isms”. He also announced the forthcoming publication of his public speeches, to show that in the two governments he led he has always remained the same, never changed register. The words of the former people's advocate, already a very strong point of reference for the progressive forces, show that he is an impeccable representative of our "national character".

Coined by the French moralists of the seventeenth century, the term enters our literature with Giacomo Leopardi's "Discourse over the present state of Italian customs" (1824). But before the great poet took up his pen to tell us in prose, brutally, how we are made, the description of the character of the Italian had occupied the ingenuity of many European artists and kept awake the spirit of observation of a dense group of travelers who , particularly in the Enlightenment century, they came to our peninsula with the intention of completing their classical training thanks to the formidable experience of the Grand Tour. However, having started with ambitious cultural programs, they often returned home with notebooks full of anthropological maxims not exactly benevolent with the Bel Paese, like that of Pierre-Jean Grosley: “L'Italie est le pays où le mot 'smart' est éloge” (1764).

Giulio Bollati, in the essay " The national character as history and as invention ", wrote that in the intentions of the exponents of the historical left, starting from its inventor Agostino Depretis, "Transformism was born as a chemical equation: the passage from one state to other, from archaic to modern, from old to new. But it had quickly transformed into the opposite: immobility, the association of several only apparent ones, in reality held together by the closure towards society. Hence indifference to the alignments, particular interests of individual capibastone exchanged with the general interest, fragile governments and in the hands of squads of deputies ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder, profiteering.

In this way, transformism definitively takes on the pejorative meaning it has: distance between declared intentions and actual behaviors, ability to embrace the opponent's themes and words to empty them of meaning, willingness to let oneself be captured, conflicts in public and agreements in the corridor. Transformation is appearance, spectacle, indifference to the merits of the issues. Its purpose is power as such ”. It was yesterday, but it's still today.


If we ask ourselves what is the invention that characterized the passage from the second to the third millennium, the answer can only be the computer, the universal computing machine, what was once called the "electronic brain". In the first half of the twentieth century, a master of cinema like Charlie Chaplin had used the assembly line as a symbol of "modern times", even if to denounce the alienation it produced. Today the symbol of modernity could only be a chip. In the space of a few decades, the microprocessor has changed the way we consume, work, have fun, take care of ourselves. In short, it changed our life.

If, on the other hand, we could ask our nineteenth-century ancestors what is the innovation that changed their lives the most, they would probably give an answer that would seem extravagant to many. Yet, when we explain the way to a monument to a tourist, we spontaneously tend to give indications in round numbers ("After a hundred meters, aimed at …"). More generally, we express ourselves in round numbers because they are quick to communicate, even if our interlocutor knows that they are approximate. Moreover, every measurement system is designed around specific numerical thresholds that end up determining what we think, and not just how much we eat or spend. We have seen the power of this phenomenon with the passage from the lira to the euro, where prices have also risen to adapt to the decimal thresholds of the new currency.

Well, something even more disruptive happened two centuries ago with the appearance of the metric system. The Italians underwent a meticulous and very long collective training, before internalizing an innovation that changed their perception of reality. Today it seems natural to us to quantify it according to divisions and multiples of the meter. But this was not the case in the early nineteenth century. The introduction of the metro in Italy was a bumpy journey, interrupted by heated contrasts and fierce resistance. His detractors did not fail to predict negative reactions from the popular classes and risky upheavals in the markets, customs and balance of power of local communities.

Nonetheless, the theme remained in the shadows in the historiography of the Risorgimento. Perhaps because it has always been considered a technical aspect of the broader story of nineteenth-century commercial liberalism. On the contrary, it has played a not insignificant role in the formation of national identity, as Emanuele Lugli demonstrates in a golden volume ( Unit of measurement. A brief history of the meter in Italy , il Mulino, 2014).

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL on Sat, 19 Jun 2021 05:21:28 +0000.