Twentieth century Italian politics has for decades almost been an anti-model for the United States. While in the US, we have “separation of church and state” as developed in the caselaw of the Vinson, Warren, and Burger courts, in Italy the dominance of the Christian Democratic party is the most notable phenomenon. Can one even imagine a Christian Democratic party in the United States? Hard to do so in light of American traditions of church-state thought. Still, the particular combination of social conservatism and economic progressivism that has made Christian Democracy in Italy so durable does show some signs of life in US politics today, though one should not expect the creation of a third party in American politics any time soon.
Here is a useful introduction to Italian politics–itself in great ferment today, with the rise of the League and Five Star coalition–focusing especially on the nature of Christian Democracy as a political force. The book is The Oxford Handbook of Italian Politics (OUP), edited by Erik Jones and Gianfranco Pasquino. Italy’s “past” does not come in for very favorable treatment in the blurb, while its rather belated (1947) constitution is lionized. Yet one might think that at least some features of Italy’s past might be socio-political strengths rather than weaknesses
The Oxford Handbook of Italian Politics provides a comprehensive look at the political life of one of Europe’s most exciting and turbulent democracies.
Under the hegemonic influence of Christian Democracy in the early post-World War II decades, Italy went through a period of rapid growth and political transformation. In part this resulted in tumult and a crisis of governability; however, it also gave rise to innovation in the form of Eurocommunism and new forms of political accommodation. The great strength of Italy lay in its constitution; its great weakness lay in certain legacies of the past. Organized crime–popularly but not exclusively associated with the mafia–is one example. A self-contained and well entrenched ‘caste’ of political and economic elites is another. These weaknesses became apparent in the breakdown of political order in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This ushered in a combination of populist political mobilization and experimentation with electoral systems design, and the result has been more evolutionary than transformative. Italian politics today is different from what it was during the immediate post-World War II period, but it still shows many of the influences of the past.