Are the Italians Earth’s Most Civilized People?

There are days when I feel the Italians are close to being the earth’s most civilized people.  I’m sure my feelings have something to do with my never having been to Italy — we only idealize those places and peoples we do not really know.

Nevertheless, something must be said for a country that (1) was responsible for the Renaissance, (2) has some of the finest cuisines in the world, (3) has produced great art and music, and (4) cannot field a military worth a damn.  If those things do not indicate an advanced civilization, I don’t know what things do.

Now, if they could only rid themselves of the Mafia.

19 thoughts on “Are the Italians Earth’s Most Civilized People?

  1. No military capabilities it seems LOL. Yes, if we only got rid of the Mafia (and of our PM.)

    What you’re are saying is *consoling* to Italians who are living a moment of deep political grief. We’ve had virtues I’d be hypocritical to say I’m not proud of – and let me add a (0) point, the ancient Romans, who together with the Greeks have created the groundwork of the West.

    But together with virtues we have flaws unthinkable in other Western states: a lack of transparency in the Italian political system, a tendency to servitude towards a Big Man, a basic amorality of the people, to name a few.

    This amorality I explain in my blog with “remnants of paganism” in Italians.

    Italians were highly civilized long before Christianity arrived (9-10 centuries earlier), while many Northern Europeans became civilised together with, and thanks to, Christianity. This couldn’t be without consequences in my opinion.
    (Religions are part of a culture and produce behaviours, no matter if one is religious or not)

    In other words, in our minds diverse moral codes coexist, which add to our flexibility (and confusion.)

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  2. Well yes, as I sometime say to people snubbing me for not being of pure french or british origins:”Our ancestors were all running around naked, but mine were discussing philosophy at the same time.”

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  3. You cannot but be terribly proud of your Greek ancestry, Paul. And the other half, French, also. I think all ancient civilizations (Western, Eastern etc.) are amazing. Their traces are visible in thousands of behaviours.
    There are noetheless negative sides. I’m trying to probe a bit the Mafia thing in my country, in an effort of understanding its roots, but as of now unsuccessfully.

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  4. @ Man of Roma: I was surprised by your mention of “servitude towards a Big Man”, but then I remembered the ancient Roman patronage system and it seemed to fall into place.

    @ Paul: I think your ancestors pretty much invented philosophy, didn’t they?

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  5. @ Man of Roma: Some time ago, I read an article on the Mafia that pointed out that mafia like organizations have arisen around the world in places where a corrupt government has held sway for a very long time. The Chinese Tongs, for instance, got their rise during a period of government corruption. I have never been able to check out whether the thesis that corrupt governments lead to organized crime works, but that was at least what one scholar thought.

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  6. @Paul Sunstone
    Yes, it seems plausible to me that when a state is corrupt, unjust, the common people, as a defence mechanism, tends to create an alternative organization with its own alternative rules. But I’d like to demonstrate some connection of the Mafia with the world of ancient Rome. Yes, ‘patronatus’, ‘clientes’ are Latin (Roman) concepts and real ancient Roman social institutions, but the connection is obvious and not too interesting. I’m waiting to find something else.

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  7. I don’t believe any one people can pretend having invented philosophy. In the western world the Greeks may have been the first to more or less organize it in a somewhat coherent way of thinking, but I’m sure it existed way back in India and in China where other systems of thought have evolved and persist to this day and age.

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  8. [quote]I read an article on the Mafia that pointed out that mafia like organizations have arisen around the world in places where a corrupt government has held sway for a very long time.[/quote]
    Nature abhors a vacuum. Many people demand an authoritarian government, and when one does not exist they form one on their own, [i]i.e.[/i], the Mafia, or the Democrats, or the Pope, or whatever. George Washington had to emphatically refuse to be made king, much to his credit. Democracy only works well in a very small group setting, like a village. A republican form of government, to work well, requires an involved and educated citizenry, both of which seem lacking in today’s environment. We love a king. Aren’t the Abrahamic religions all looking forward to the return of some sort of king or political ruler who will rule “perfectly?” Lots of luck on that!

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  9. I think that there is a lot of truth in what you say. Being soft spoken or polite is not necessarily a mark a of civilisation as these are superficial.

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  10. I must say that I consider it to be a blessing to be of Italian ancestry. The ancient Romans, along with the ancient Greeks, truly laid the foundations for Western civilization as we know it. Our philosophy, system of government, engineering techniques, and medical knowledge all have their beginnings here. Without these two groups, what is referred to as Western might be very different today. The Renaissance also ushered in a tremendous period of learning in the arts, architecture, science, literature, and the classics.

    Although all civilizations and ethnic groups have contributed to humanity, Italians truly represent all that is Western. Even Christianity spread to the rest of Europe via Constantine, the Roman emperor who converted to Christianity and established it as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

    Whenever someone feels the need to bring up the Mafia after I mention the fact that I have Sicilian ancestry, I simply rebut with Greco-Roman ancestry (ancient Greeks also heavily colonized Sicily and southern Italy before the heyday of the Roman Empire and two famous Greek-Sicilians were Pythagoras and Archimedes). Attached to the legacy of Greeks and Romans are all of the other major achievements of those civilizations (i.e. democracy/republican government, architecture, scientific/medical knowledge, linguistic influence, etc.).

    Although this is a touchy issue for many folks, some Sicilians are also partially descended from medieval Arabs who immigrated during the 9th-11th centuries AD. Sicilians should not be ashamed of this ancestry because the Arabs (or “Moors”) created a splendid civilization in Sicily while most of the rest of Europe was languishing in the Dark Ages. Art, architecture, literature, mathematical achievements (i.e algebra), religious tolerance (Islam was far more tolerant in its early days) and tasty culinary influences (notably in crop diversification and desserts) all characterized the Arab period.

    The Normans who conquered Sicily from the Arabs brought with them Italian and French Catholic immigrants who also added to the population mix and the result was a Norman kingdom that was characterized by ethnic and religious tolerance. Orthodox Greeks, Muslim Arabs, Catholic Normans/Italians/Frenchmen, and other groups all lived together in harmony during a time when racism and bigotry reigned supreme.

    I say this about Sicily because some will try to claim that Italian-Americans of Sicilian ancestry cannot validly claim the Renaissance as their own cultural achievement due to the fact that it occurred primarily in the city-states of northern Italy (i.e. Florence, Pisa, Venice, Milan, etc.). Sicilians can still claim a unique mix of Greek, Italian, Arab, Norman, French, Spanish, and other ancestries and thus represent a blend of some of the most well-known Mediterranean and European civilizations.

    Therefore Italians, no matter what region they hail from, have contributed a great deal to Western civilization and have a lot to be proud of. Perhaps one day the Mafia will be completely eradicated and the political system free of rampant corruption. This is why politics in Italy is in a sorry state for a country that is in fact one of the world’s most developed and modernized. Hopefully this will change.

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  11. “cannot field a military worth a damn”.

    Are you sure?

    Why don’t you study the history of WWI and WWII ?

    Italy has one of the best armies in the world,
    most of the best special forces(the american marines were created
    after the experience of the Italian “Arditi” of the WWI)
    that are requested by foreign armies for training.

    Many famous generals and politicians of the WWII period
    admired the Italian army;

    churchill said
    “We have to bow to the lions of the Italian army”.

    Rommel said:
    “If I had Italian soldiers i would have won the war”

    and

    “german soldiers astonished the world;
    Italian soldiers astonished german soldiers”.

    The weakness of the Italian army is one of the common
    lies of the winners of the war.

    So,the fourth point is totally wrong,I’m sorry.

    Bye.

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  12. You don’y buy it?
    It’s free !!!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/185_Airborne_Division_Folgore
    Here you can find the quotation of churchill(not only the one i wrote,but also other quotations).
    It’s about the battle of El Alamein were entire division of english tanks,
    french foreign legion,heavy artillery and infantry from england,australia,canada,brasil,india,poland ecc…
    couldn’t defeat 3000 Italian soldiers,with poor equipment
    due to the lenght of the war (Italy didn’ have plenty of new supplies from the u.s.
    like the “allies”.)

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Erwin_Rommel
    Here you can read the quotation of Rommel
    (it’s the fifth quotation on the list).

    You could also read about the second battle of the Amba Alagi;
    the same thing happened;
    english fought with 41000 mem
    agains 7000 Italian men under the Duke of Aosta.

    English could not conquer the Amba;
    they had to wait that the supplies and ammo of Italian army run out
    (for the same reason I told you before;
    Italy didn’t have “mum america” bringing food and bullets).

    It isn’t a coincidence if english generals were called
    “15 vs 1 generals”.

    But I could say more;
    read the ”
    Reputation of Italian fighting efficiency during World War II”
    on this page:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Italy_during_World_War_II

    What you said before “cannot field a military” ecc…
    is just the result of war propaganda.

    If Italy could have fought against english with equal forces
    (and with equal forces i mean “without american money”
    you wouldn’t write such rubbish(i’m sorry,but it IS rubbish).

    Wen after years of war,you supplies run out while your enemy has
    a whole nation(a nation whose factories are not destroyed under bombs)
    giving him everything he needs,it’s far too easy to play the “great warrior” role.

    Now i won’t write about the supremacy of Italian elite troops
    on the military field cause i’ve written enough;
    but i will tell you later….

    P.s.

    Sorry for my english;
    fortunately it is not my language.

    Bye

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  13. @Hns

    You don’t have to take things so badly. In my opinion Italians often proved too cynical to fight well (plus we know they were not well armed during the last 2 wars). As you yourself have shown, they can fight well when they find a motive, which doesn’t happen often, we must admit. This cynical attitude of the Italians is also shown by Montaigne, the French Renaissance writer, who compares the Italian, the French and the Spanish attitude in battles. Despite their cynicism, the Italians taught the other Renaissance folks the modern techniques of war.

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  14. It’s not that Italians were not well armed;
    the fact is that while Italy could rely only on
    its forces(and on germany’s one to a lesser extent),
    allied hat a whole ultra-industrialized nation
    with factories working night and day
    giving them all they needed.

    Then you said
    “As you yourself have shown, they can fight well when they find a motive, which doesn’t happen often, we must admit”.

    WWI
    WWII
    First gulf war
    Second gulf war
    Somalia
    Balkans
    Lebanon
    ecc…..

    Italy fought all the wars of this century
    (and not only of this century).
    In many of this wars Italian
    contribute was better than any other nation’s
    (for example in kosovo:
    american general wesley clark,
    considered the “winner” of that war,
    admitted that Italian contribute
    was the most important in that war;
    an american general said it,not an Italian nationalist).
    In ALL these wars Italy showed to fight
    at the highest levels,standing head up high
    in front of all his enemies and almost
    often defeating them.

    So,when you say
    “which doesn’t happen often”,
    i think that history has
    the opposite opinion.

    For what concerns montaigne’s opinion,
    well,it’s the opinion of a french men;
    and i dont think that it can be taken
    as an absolute truth(especially considering
    how french hate an envy Italians).
    The same thing that happened with anglo-american
    propaganda,that,despite being false,partisan,partial,
    biased and sectarian
    moves you to write false things
    (in good faith i suppose).
    Anyway even his theories should bow
    in front of history
    (from Roman history,to renaissance,
    to modern history).

    I don’t take things badly:
    but when i hear someone
    saying that a nations
    at the top of military
    in every history period,
    “cannot field a military worth a damn”,
    well,i think it’s right to say something
    against such a big lie.

    Regards.

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  15. Well. Italian civilization is magnificent but I wouldn’t say its people are the most civilized. Most civilized in the West? How do we determine is something is civilized? Italian civilization isn’t perfect just as no other civilization is. Italy is not the oldest either. There were civilizations much older than Italy like in Peru, India, China, Mexico, Iraq, etc.

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