1 January, 2010
Charlemagne, the Economist’s European Union blog, was interesting last Wednesday. Extract below. It introduced me to the Italian concepts of “furbo” and “fesso”.
I think cynicism is often a corrosive force in Europe, especially in France and the countries of southern Europe that I know reasonably well. And I think there is a link between European cynicism and that sense of enfranchisement I found in America. Put rather harshly, bits of Europe are held back by something like the cynicism of the disenfranchised: the natural suspicion, caution and bleakness of those with no real stake in or power over their societies. Such cynicism sees the world as a zero sum game. In the past, this was pejoratively labelled “peasant cunning”. Giuseppe di Lampedusa wrote about the 19th century Sicilian peasants who, in plain view of their home village on the very next hilltop, would deny any knowledge of its whereabouts if asked for directions by a stranger—just to be on the safe side.
Today, Europe suffers from the cynicism of the tax evader who assumes that his political masters are also stealing money, so why fund them? The insider who would rather be “furbo”, or sly enough to jump the queue, bribe the planning officer, pay off the environmental inspector or obtain a fictional job at the town hall, than “fesso”, or foolish enough to wait in line and obey the rules when nobody else is. ……
….. I asked the Swedish political writer, Johan Norberg, why it would be considered a social gaffe to boast about tax evasion at a Swedish dinner party. His answer was that Sweden had never been feudal, with a system of landless peasants ground down by aristocratic landlords. For a very long time, Sweden had been a country of small farmers and yeomen, whose local governments were run by other people from more or less the same social background. So cheating the local authorities meant cheating your brother, or cousin, or neighbour.
I suggest Fianna Fáil be renamed Fianna Furbo. (I’m not sure if Fine Gael Fesso fits as nicely – maybe the Progressive Democrats were the true fall guys in this analogy.)
The reference to Giuseppe di Lampedusa recalls the memorable saying from his celebrated novel The Leopard: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” And that is the only reason Fianna Fáil ever (appear to) espouse change: so that, in reality, things can stay the same and they can still control the levers of power and the sources of enrichment. Pragmatism above principle, all in the name of power. In the words of Groucho Marx “These are my principles. And if you don’t like them……….. I have others.”