Umberto Eco on Berlusconi: he could be talking about Ireland

22 July, 2009

In last Friday’s Irish Times, Paddy Agnew drew attention to a piece in the Italian news weekly, L’Espresso, by Umberto Eco, the academic, philosopher and novelist who is best known for his medieval “whodunnit”, The Name of the Rose.  Eco, according to Agnew, “sounds a strident alarm about what he perceives as the threat posed to media freedom in Italy by proposed new legislation from the Berlusconi government”

Eco wrote: “The Italian problem is not Silvio Berlusconi. History is full of enterprising figures who had a very low sense of the state but a very high sense of their own interests, who wanted to instigate a personal power, bypassing parliament, the judiciary and the constitution, distributing favours to their courtiers and courtesans . . . When a society allows such people [to conquer power], why blame such figures rather than the society itself which allowed them do what they wanted?”

One can’t totally disagree with that sentiment. In a recent post, I expressed exasperation that two shady (albeit minor) characters were resoundingly re-elected in our own local elections.

But of whom do Eco’s words remind you most?  [……very low sense of the state ….. very high sense of their own interests….. personal power, bypassing parliament…..distributing favours to their courtiers and courtesans…].  While it could describe many senior Fianna Fáil politicians (and indeed some Taoisigh), the descriptions seems to me to fit one man in particular: our very own capo di tutti capi, Charles J. Haughey.  Indeed it might be suggested that similarities between Berlusconi and Haughey are deeper (and more exotic) than their well-known abuse of political power.  As Francis Urquhart would say, “you may very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment”.

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