ROME, July 19, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Can the family die, as a legal and social institution in Italy? Such a question could not even have been asked 40 years ago in this country, but in that time, the social and demographic landscape has changed dramatically, and the unthinkable is going on around us.

For some time I’ve been thinking about and reading various opinions on how the destruction of marriage as a legal and social institution in the formerly Christian West, has forwarded the aims of that nebulously defined, but apparently all-powerful, class of people I’ve come to call, simply, “the Statists” or “the Secularists.”

It’s not that I have had any doubts that the deadly combination of loosened divorce laws, new sexual mores, contraception and legalized abortion – and now “gay marriage” – has been deliberately concocted by these people or for what end. It is perfectly clear that the entire grand project of social reordering has been calculated and deliberate. What I’ve wanted to know is exactly how, by what mechanisms, the abolition of marriage has transferred real power – the ability to make efficacious decisions – from the lowest, smallest and most personal levels of society to the highest, remotest, and most impersonal.

Of course, the way to figure that out is to look at how the family itself has tended to diffuse power through a given society’s institutions, and consequently, away from a centralized state.

Of all the world’s cultures, Italy is possibly the best example of how the family creates a bulwark against the overweening power of the state.


Until very recently, the Italian social order, perhaps more than any other nation on earth, was almost totally oriented towards the family, and as a consequence it barely functioned as a centrally governed nation state. In fact, even now the powerlessness of the state against the decentralized power of families to protect their own interests is axiomatic – and a bit of a running joke in European politics.

Everyone in Italy knows that nothing will ever really change in the way they do things here. Every invading army and would-be dictator has learned that lesson. But is it still true?

Here is an interesting quote from a book I’ve been reading about the Italian national character, The Italians by Luigi Barzini:

Everybody’s status, security and welfare depend on power. The first source of power is the family. The strength of the family is determined by many factors – wealth, connections, alliances, prestige, rank, luck – but above all by its inner cohesion and ramifications.

The book is thought a classic, (I have the Penguin edition, so you know it is officially “a classic”) and was first published in 1964, an interesting time in Italian history, when the transition from mainly agrarian life to a modern, postwar, urbanized, industrial state was getting under way.

Barzini writes, “Scholars have always recognized the Italian family as the only fundamental institution in the country…In fact, the law, the State and society function only if they do not directly interfere with the family’s supreme interests.”

So important, so singular, was the Italian family in the distribution of raw power in this country that Barzini devoted an entire chapter to it, saying that without understanding this, one could not understand Italy at all.

“Italy has often been defined, with only slight exaggeration, as nothing more than a mosaic of millions of families, sticking together by blind instinct….an organic formation rather than a rational construction of written statutes and moral imperatives.”

He described the frustrations that anyone will encounter – only too familiar to all ex-pats – when trying to do anything in Italy, anything at all, without the support of a family. He notes that there have been times in Italian history when, while the State was weak, daily life continued much the same as it always had, because families continued to do so. Indeed, he points out that it is likely the strength of the family has created a chronically weakened Italian State: “It has actively fomented chaos in many ways, especially by rendering useless the development of strong political institutions.”

He asks a crucial question: “Do political institutions flourish only where the family is weak, or is it the other way around?”

Of course, the book is current only up to the time just before the Sexual Revolution hit this country, hard, right where it hurts the most: in the birth rate. This makes it an invaluable record of the contrast between our time of collapse and growing chaos and that period when Italy was still guarding and promoting the family.

Click “like” if you are PRO-LIFE!

Barzini, an Italian journalist and anti-Communist politician, died in 1984 and must have been shocked at what was going on in his country towards the end of his life; the demographic slide was well established by then. Perhaps, as an unusually astute and realistic political and social observer, he realized that his question above was being put to the test by those who were pressing the Italian people to turn away from the family, to stop having children, and turn, instead, to the corporate imperative: “Buy more stuff.”

Demographic analysts have said that Italy is in deep trouble. In the last 12 years, the total fertility rate, the number of children born per Italian woman, has risen from a totally catastrophic 1.2 to a merely utterly disastrous 1.4. Demographers say that it is only a matter of time before a society with this low a birth rate begins to spiral. The death spiral, literally, as the population ages and there are not enough children to hold up the economy. But Barzini’s book brings forward more fundamental issues than mere economics.

It was with a terrible sense of dread that I read the following: “The family was also invincible because it was the sacred ark in which the Italians deposited and preserved against alien influences all their ancient ideals. It clearly preserved the national character from contamination. The Italy of the families is definitely the real Italy, the quintessential Italy, distilled from the experiences of centuries, while the Italy of the laws and institutions is partly make-believe.”

Barzini says that an Italian’s first loyalty is always to the family: “Every member is duty-bound to do all he can for its welfare, give his property if needed, and sometimes, when it is absolutely inevitable, sacrifice his life.”

Above all, of course, all this presupposes that there is a family there to defend. Almost as an afterthought, hardly worth mentioning, Barzini identifies the key issue – one that is preoccupying the minds of terrifyingly few Italian politicians now: “There must be children, of course, lots of children, especially sons who can carry on the name. Nothing should be spared to produce them. Everything is done for them in Italy. They are the protagonists of Italian life… A crowd will always gather around a pretty baby.”

Among my little group of ex-pats here, a great many of our friends are married people with children – American, Canadian, and British graduate students, mostly. They come here for a few years and move mainly in Anglo social circles but speak enough Italian to make a few local connections. They all relate similar stories about the reaction of Italians to their children.

I’ve been told that if they want to just pop quickly down to the shop to pick up a bottle of milk and a newspaper, it is best to leave their small children at home, particularly if they are still infants. With the baby along, this 10 minute trip can take as much as an hour as, as if from nowhere, the mammas and nonnas appear and gather around the pram, all cooing and admiring and making predictions of future beauty, wealth, and academic honors.

Babies in this country, as they have always been, are prized and universally loved.

Until there are more than two.

To my astonishment, I was told by an Italian friend that the scene becomes very different if the couple is herding three or four children along. Then the looks are as frequently mixed with disapproving stares and clicks of the tongue. One father of four told me that he was once accosted by a “painfully thin and overdressed” Roman woman, toting her expensive handbag, and told that he ought to be ashamed at bringing so many children into the world. They were going to “ruin the environment.”

Rather hauntingly, Barzini asks at the bottom of that paragraph I quoted above:

Will all this continue? Will all regimes the Italians give themselves in the future be inevitably corroded and destroyed by the family?” When I first read it, I mentally added, “Or some day will there come a regime that will succeed in dominating, and ultimately destroying the family?

I cannot help but think that Italy has been a grand experiment for the secularist statists, whose almost clownish extremists have a noisy but largely powerless public presence in party politics here. The movers and shakers, however, remain mostly aloof from the public controversies that make newspaper headlines. Most of them are people not only most Anglos, but nearly all Italians will never have heard of. But it seems their experiment has succeeded.


Commenting Guidelines

LifeSiteNews welcomes thoughtful, respectful comments that add useful information or insights. Demeaning, hostile or propagandistic comments, and streams not related to the storyline, will be removed.

LSN commenting is not for frequent personal blogging, on-going debates or theological or other disputes between commenters.

Multiple comments from one person under a story are discouraged (suggested maximum of three). Capitalized sentences or comments will be removed (Internet shouting).

LifeSiteNews gives priority to pro-life, pro-family commenters and reserves the right to edit or remove comments.

Comments under LifeSiteNews stories do not necessarily represent the views of LifeSiteNews.