Alfonso Alfonsi biography:
I have more than 40 years of experience working at the international level in social research, training, evaluation, and scientific networking. My expertise includes urban development, poverty and social exclusion, religion and modernization, science ethics and science policies, and the socialization of scientific and technological research.
I work as an expert for organizations of the United Nations system (such as the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Habitat, the World Bank, and the UN Development Programme), the European Union, and Italian public and private bodies (such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Research Council, and the Adriano Olivetti Foundation). Within all this, I have directed or participated in several research projects in Europe, Africa, and Asia
Most recently, I have worked in Ethiopia and Tanzania as an expert for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and scientific coordinator or task team leader for several European projects. I serve as a Science Ethics expert for the European Commission in expert groups and evaluation panels.
I have participated as an expert in high-level UN meetings and other international partnerships, contributing to the drafting of position papers and the formulation of policy documents and manifestos. I have also coordinated international, multi-stakeholder networks for development, such as the Network on Services for the Urban Poor of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council or the UN-Habitat International Forum of Researchers on Human Settlements. As a member of Italian government delegations, I have also partaken in negotiations related to the Habitat II preparatory process and its follow-up.
I have also worked for CERFE, which I represented at the United Nations Social and Economic Council by virtue of the general consultative status that such an association possesses.
For about 10 years I was the head of Stesam (Istituto di scienze e tecnologie per lo sviluppo Aldo Moro), a training institute for post-graduate students based in Bari.
I volunteer as President of the Accademia di studi storici Aldo Moro, which promotes historical research on the late statesman.
I enjoy birdwatching, entomology, drawing cartoons, and composing haiku.
- A. Alfonsi, ed. George L. Mosse: Intervista su Aldo Moro. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino, 2015.
- A. Alfonsi, ed. Aldo Moro nella dimensione internazionale. Milan: Franco Angeli, 2013.
- A. Alfonsi, (2013), “Reaching the MDGs: Socialisation of scientific and technological research to meet the challenges of diversity and globality,” as a preparatory contribution to the works of the 2013 ECOSOC High Level segment, Ginevra. Published by the ECOSOC secretariat in all the UN working languages, 2013.
- A. Alfonsi, (2011), “Technological responsibility. Guidelines for a shared governance of the processes of socialisation of scientific research and innovation, within an interconnected world,” CNR, Rome (member of the editorial board), 2011.
- A. Alfonsi, K.C. Urama, O. Ogbu, W. Bijker, N. Gomez, N. Ozor, “The African Manifesto for Science, Technology and Innovation,” Kenya, ATPS, 2010.
- A. Alfonsi and A. Declich, “Città e transizione epidemiologica: una fenomenologia contraddittoria,” in Salute e Società, Anno I/3, Franco Angeli Editore, 2002.
- A. Alfonsi, “Citizenship and national identity: the emerging stirrings in Western Europe” in Citizenship and National Identity, ed. by T.K. Oommen). New Delhi: Sage, 1997.
**To access the OHMS oral history page for Alfonso Alfonsi, which allows listeners to search text or keywords and to listen to specific sections of this interview, click here.**
Tortorice: All right. Testing, one, two, three, all right, it’s working. My name is John Tortorice, the director emeritus of the George L. Mosse Program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and I’m here in Rome. The date is March 25, 2018, and I’m here with Alfonso Alfonsi, who conducted an interview on Aldo Moro (1916-1978) with George L. Mosse in 1979, the beginning of ’79, shortly after the assassination of the Christian Democratic leader. We are concerned here with his life and his many contributions to Italian politics. Mosse identifies Moro as one of the most able politicians of his generation, certainly in understanding the necessity and techniques of mass politics in representative governments of the postwar era. But first we’ll get into a little bit of background about Alfonso Alfonsi and his career and how he got to the point where he was interested in interviewing George Mosse. So, Alfonso, you were born, you said, into a middle-class Roman family? Is that correct?
Alfonsi: Yea, that’s correct, in 1953, and by my grandfather’s side, which was my namesake, by the way, Alfonso. Alfonsi as well. Does it work? And we were of several generation Romans. And on the other end, my grandmother came from Umbria, from a family of peasants, as a matter of fact, of sharecroppers. on the poor side of sharecropping. And so to say, I experienced in my early life the effect of agrarian reform in Italy. And I remember when I was a child, that there was no electric light in their country home. No services at all. And we considered their family as
the poor relatives. And bringing them clothes and things like that.
Then eventually, the generation of my father, because of agrarian reform, they turned from sharecroppers to individual farmers, and their lot improved quite extensively with electric light and so on. And then my generation, farming was no longer the main occupation. It remained as, basically as self-consumption with producing wine and poultry and things like that, but they start to get jobs as electricians, as factory hands in the nearby steel industries. Some more enterprising became developers and so, and in the generation of my daughter, and they start to have higher education and new, different kinds of job. And there was a real difference in the level of earnings and incomes of my father’s generation and then it became more or less comparable earnings in this way. So let’s say I had this experience where a lot of changes in names, for instance we’re starting from having quite important names like Cesare or Augusto and Sertorio or Amleto or things like that from more common name. As a matter of fact, we were considered an important part of the family, so almost all names in my grandfather family, there were five sons, were mirrored in names that were given by our relatives. So our father name was Aldo and there is an Aldina there and Franco and so on.
And then there was a change. Names started to be taken from actors, movie stars, and so on. Then eventually from heroes of popular culture in, we can say, photo stories, which were quite common with the increase of education there. So even strange-sounding name
like Katyusha or things like that. Vania as used as a feminine name. Not as a masculine. Because there was an actress that had this kind of name and so.
Tortorice: That’s similar to African American culture in America, but also American-Italian culture. There’s similarities. And also what you would call nicknames. You know, giving people names based on their character or projected character. That’s fascinating.
Alfonsi: So that’s a part of my life I was enjoying very much when I went to the countryside of course, because from the very beginning of my life, I’ve been a great interest in the natural world, animals, plants, and so on. I was quite enjoying the—
Tortorice: So what kind of political atmosphere, attachment, did you grow up in? What kind of political milieu? Was the family supportive of fascism, for example? Were they communists? Were they Christian Democrats? What kind of political affiliations or behavior did you come out of?
Alfonsi: Well, my father was not, well, my father was a cleric in the appeal court here in Rome. At the end of his career, he was the head of the office there. And my mother was working, [as] an employee in the ‘50s, which was not very common [for a woman], for a private union of traders. And as a matter of fact, she was one of the first that worked nine to five timetable while still both in school and office, especially public office it was nine to one, then a pause until four. My father was coming back at office from four to seven. As a matter of fact, this involved changes in our family organization. My mother had to prepare the lunch for us early in the morning, and then eventually that was how I learned how to cook, because in the end she delegated this to me.
And my father and mother were not very much active politically. My
father has ranged in his vote from Social Democratic in the earlier life to the Liberal Party. One even in the 70s, end of the 70s, when [Giorgio] Almirante (1914-1988) made the national right and tried to normalize the Movimento Sociale, he even voted once for it with my great disappointment. And but sometime, not very much, for Christian Democrats.
And even he, he was more concerned with social issues like divorce. It was one of the times when we voted together in the referendum to keep divorce. We were both for protecting the law in the courts. By the time I was into the Catholic movement, and I was part of the Democratic Catholics that wanted the law to stay and witness how Catholics could be in favor of secular law on divorce regulating the activities and so on.
The contribution my father gave to democracy, it was to the parliamentary system. He used to be president at the ballot box for almost all his life. That provided some earning, additional earning, which we need, but also he felt really as an important contribution to a fair election, and I remember him lecturing me about the importance of interpreting the will of the voter, and to have as fair as possible ballot process and vote.
Tortorice: So he was a strong advocate for representative government in the postwar period and a strong believer in that direction for Italy? And was this common in your circle of fri—in your family and your circle of friends? Because there was, of course, a great deal of political contention in those years.
The Communist Party, of course, was very strong. There was, of course, American involvement in stimulating democratic support. And the church, of course, had a role with the Christian Democratic Party. So was this a broadly supported perception, a political philosophy, in your circle, in your family?
Alfonsi: Well, I must say it was more taken for granted.
Tortorice: Mm, ok.
Alfonsi: I remember my father was talking me about other moment in which he was very much involved, but it was about the referendum on monarchy and republic, he being for the republic, and considered that would have been the only cause, perhaps, in which he would have been active if it was treason, but it wasn’t challenging the system as itself, of course. He was considering usual criticism to politicians, the self-interest of politicians, and so on within this framework. My family was quite a diverse in these. And of course he was anti-communist in this regard. Even when the only time he voted for the Almirante’s party, he didn’t consider it to be anti, or against the formal parliamentary government. Rightly or wrongly.
Tortorice: Did this come out of a religious belief? Out of an attachment to Catholicism? A distance from secularism?
Alfonsi: Well, he was not a very devout Catholic. This was more of the approach of my mother, even her, she was quite simple. Religion and faith and very responsible and generous person. And it’s,
the thing might be of interest that she was quite sensitive to church indication, and totally independent from family pressure. So she, I think, to my understanding, she consistently voted Christian Democrat as it was considered a responsible, the right thing to do. No matter what my father, that was much more vocal in this, convinced her or tried to convince her to vote his side. She was not vocal about it, but nonetheless—
Tortorice: She voted the church line.
Alfonsi: She followed it. But from a family point of view, she was quite independent in this.
Tortorice: So tell me a bit about your education.
Alfonsi: Well, I went to a public school from elementary school to high school. I was in a famous Roman high school, the [Liceo statale Terenzo] Mamiani. I must say, in the intermediate school, I had a very interesting contribution to my life and professional career in the English teacher who, Vera Bova, was her name, and really taught us English in a very simple way. But forcing us to learn a lot of vocabulary by heart, fragmenting the grammar rules in very small, little pieces, and that gave me the opportunity, which by my generation was not so common, to have a working capacity in English earlier in my life, which I must recognize her.
And I had an interesting experience, also, at the beginning of high school with a philosophy teacher who maybe used a method that was comparable with George was doing about cultural history. I remember he started his lesson on Greek philosophy not with the book of philosophy, but with the book of Greek poetry. So we started from Archiloco [Archilochus, 7th century BCE] and Alceo [Alcaeus of Mytilene, 7th century BCE]
and the other Greek poets and trying to connect with the underlying philosophy from the hearts. And that was very important, even though unfortunately I had him only for one year in that school. Then I had much more traditional teacher. But this made an impact and gave me a passion at that time for the Socratic dialogues.
Tortorice: So then where did you attend university? Here in Rome?
Alfonsi: Yes, alla Sapienza.
Tortorice: Oh, UVS, okay.
Alfonsi: I got a laurea of traditional, in humanities, and it was quite interesting humanities. By the time were still important professors [Natalino] Sapegno, [Carlo] Salinari, [Aurelio] Roncaglia, humanities was quite high level.
Tortorice: It was a golden age of the postwar.
Alfonsi: The postwar studies. And then I shifted my interest from literature and humanities per se to social sciences. In which I, at the time in Italy, in Rome, we didn’t have a sociology faculty. So I made my studies within the humanities faculty and outside of it with a group of people I was more involved in.
Tortorice: Did you study with [Renzo] De Felice (1929-1996)? Did you know of his work?
Alfonsi: I knew of his work. I didn’t study with him. I have a first book I read by him was The Interpretation of Fascism, that was, which considered much more advanced than other books in that kind. I was, I studied with Scoppola, Pietro Scoppola (1926-2007), the Catholic historian and the historian of the relationship with Church and the State, whom I came also to know personally at a certain…
Tortorice: So then
how did you get into journalism? That was your first career after college? You became a journalist?
Alfonsi: Well I never was a real journalist. I have been occasionally writing for journals. I worked also for, during my university times for Italian radio broadcasts [RAI]. That I’d been doing for the third channel, the cultural channel. I’d been doing works on history of religion, different religions. As a matter of fact, I think I made, I was part of the group who made the first long series on Islam. It was thirteen series on the Islamic religion, also from the point of view of the very few Islamic persons that resided there. That was in, yes, more or less at the time of the interview. So that’s most of my life I’d been working as a sociologist in Italy and abroad. And I must say, I was, as coming from the Catholic democratic experience, never within the Christian Democrats, but I found myself inside the movement of democratic Catholics.
Tortorice: So how did that happen? Did that happen when you were at university? Beforehand? Your mother’s influence?
Alfonsi: Well, it, not particularly my mother influence. Of course I was raised as a Catholic, but as for most of the people in my generation, that didn’t amount to much. And that stuck to me, even at the high school in which the political positions were very radicalized. I remember that the people from Avanguardia operaia, very left, were considered the establishment while the left was the anarchists. And
and then there was the small but very cohesive group of neo-fascists of persuasion who were having, so I didn’t feel quite well in that, even though my friends were mostly from Marxist, different kind of Marxist persuasion. And we, that was, I was fifteen in 68 or so. That was the years, the early 70s, when there was a very strong radicalization in the youth movement.
And so at a certain moment, by the end of high school, I met with a group of people coming from different experience of the Catholic movement, in which we got a political orientation more, not so much as a party affiliation. But in the social movements that were starting by that time dealing with the urban crisis in a city like Rome, like slums, poverty, dilapidated, dilapidated sections of the cities, the first proto-ecologist movement in safeguarding parks and green areas and so on. And that was, finally I was able to feel a rather radical political and social stance that on the other hand was compatible with my ideas of nonviolence, democratic framework, and so we shared the perception of criticism towards parties, but not in the revolutionary sense to get rid of them. But in terms of creating a dialogue from the side of organized civil society.
And these brought me to make my,
to get more and more interested in the social sciences as a way to understand the reality to be able to act in it. And in these who the person who was then director of Fondazione Aldo Moro, Giancarlo Quaranta (1937-2015), who came from Azione Cattolica at the national level, but had left it at a certain point. And from the movement of Boy Scouts in Italy had a very important role in my formation, and that’s also how I came in contact with George Mosse and his works.
Tortorice: Because Mosse’s work, it seems to me, resonated with this particular element in the political spectrum in Italy in those years. That there was a certain understanding of his work and its importance for civil society, for representative systems. So is that why, in a sense, he was a good choice to do this interview on Moro? How did you decide to do the interview with Mosse?
Alfonsi: Well I can come back, very little back on our meeting with George Mosse, and that was his first book I read was the Nazionalizzazione delle Masse [The Nationalization of the Masses, 1975]. And just after that interview on nazismo [Nazism]. Then I realized I had already read him in my university on the culture of the Renaissance, as Koenigsberger and Mosse [Europe in the Sixteenth Century (1968)]. And for the group in which I was and that Giancarlo Quaranta was leading, Mosse was extremely important, in his idea of importance of myths, symbols, and rituals in modern contemporary society and its impact in shaping the integration of the people into society,
in the way in which politics was run. As a matter—that came together with other authors more directly on the social sciences that we were studying by that time, as Peter Berger (1929-2017) and Thomas Luckmann (1927-2016), Robert Bellah (1927-2013), all those people studying in different way how religion, summarizes that, how religion was a very important part of the modern world as well, not as a residual of the past, but as new structure where to the center, to the core of the process of modernization, its effect on the mind of people and their longings and so on. And that they should be studied extensively. In Italy by that time, traditional wisdom was that modernization went hand in hand with secularization in a direct, almost deterministic line, no?
Tortorice: And that almost, this idea that religion would in some way almost wither and disappear?
Alfonsi: Yes. I remember, in fact, the first work, empirical work I did, it was on young Catholics in Italy. It was an extensive research, again, led by Giancarlo Quaranta that was funded by [the] Agnelli Foundation [Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli], and it went almost in parallel. It started a little earlier in 77 and it ended by 78, 79, and then a book came out, [The] Invisible Religion [1967, by Thomas Luckman, originally published in German in 1963, Das Problem der Religion in der modernen Gesellschaft], and it was on groups of young Catholics that were not affiliated with national organizations like Azione Cattolica and so on, and to see how they were permeated by modern culture, what Luckmann was calling the self, religion of the self, but they somehow integrated it in the reformed Catholicism. So how the Luckmannian religion, individualistic religion
of the self, to some extent got integrated into denominational religion by the Catholic groups. And we made a census of more than almost ten thousand groups all around in Italy, one hundred, five hundred, a thousand affiliates all in all. So in fact it came out with, as a book called Associazione Invisibile [by Giancarlo Quaranta], that was, Invisible Association, that was a pun with Invisible Religion of Luckmann. And it said all in all they are not perceived because they are widespread, but they all in all and … showed how they had shared similar attitudes and values. And this longing for a whole life was experimented in the group activity and so forth. And Mosse’s work was one of the theoretical bases for this kind of activities, and then we brought also in our work, our research on the modernization in Africa. Which we did extensively in the years afterwards.
Tortorice: So what was the attitude toward Aldo Moro in those years by the party, by these groups? Was he seen as an effective politician? Was his reputation greater than his colleagues? Was he seen as a—
Alfonsi: Well, the perception was very varied among different people, and so I was personally quite admirative on the way in which he brought into [Benigno] Zaccagnini (1912-1989), the secretary we had then, to reform and the moment in which he, in ’69 he was at the opposition in his party, making all those references to the changes in society. Something that then comes in the interview as well. And that the party had to adjust, not only his party, but parties and the political system had to adjust to this [change] made a certain impression, I must say.
Tortorice: And so
we come to the assassination and the interview. So tell me how this interview happened. Why was Mosse selected? How was this done? What was the negotiation?
Alfonsi: Okay. Now, I got involved in the Fondazione Aldo Moro that was formed just after the Aldo Moro assassination. And Giancarlo Quaranta was the director of this. So he had been supportive of the family some ways during the kidnapping in a situation that was very divided during the kidnapping and after the kidnapping, with the family being very isolated, because as you’re aware, Aldo Moro wrote letters supporting the fact that some kind of a treaty—
Alfonsi: Negotiation. Yes, exactly. I was looking for that word. Negotiation should be done. And also, which was completely negated by everybody. After that there has been a very huge publicistic on these and also now he’s got to stop these story sides as well. So I’m not enter in the situation, but it was a very heated, divided situation. And there was a sort, to some extent, a character assassination of Aldo Moro in which we perceived that fifty days, fifty-five days (the duration of Moro’s abduction), and obfuscated, to some extent, as Renato Moro (b. 1951) very eloquently said some different cases his previous career.
And also, that was very divisive and very, I must say painful, not only within the Christian Democrats but within the Catholic world, even friends of Aldo Moro by the time
were misguided to say his character said that it was not the person who was writing the letter was not the real Aldo Moro and so on. So there was this very complex situation. And we can come back to this. But best to give you—
Tortorice: Mm hmm. The background.
Alfonsi: Which created also a personal divide from the family and even the people that Aldo Moro had been working with or cooperated and so on, especially in the historical field. So the idea was to have with the book L’intelligenza e gli avvenimenti (1979) to give back a voice to Aldo Moro. So to make two things. One, to publish a first huge selection, well, not huge, but substantive selection of his writings, and including some unpublished one. By the way that the last writing of Aldo Moro is an article for the newspaper Giorno that he was correcting when he was abducted. And it remained in the car and was given to the family. And it [the article] was discussing the debate about the 68, because it was 78, it was the first decade from 68. And which is an interesting article, by the way.
And so, and then the idea was to publish these articles and writings and speeches with a critical set of notes, and some were linguistic, some were [unclear], some were theological from Dalmazio Mongillo, (1928-2005) a Dominican theologian. Some were historical and Gianni Baget Bozzo (1925-2009) was selected as one of a few Italian historians that had not disregarded Aldo Moro during his abduction. And what also was, it was to include Aldo Moro’s letters.
So that was a very strong statement by that time, is that—
Tortorice: Letters from when he was, after he was abducted, those important—
Alfonsi: When he was abducted, yes. Very few we had by that moment. Only those that we had a photocopy of Moro’s handwriting so that at least they were handwrite. But the statement was yes, they are part of his life. They cannot be thoroughly separated from which was, had some relevance by then.
The second idea was to have it with an introduction from someone that could put all Aldo Moro’s career in a broader historical perspective, and so the choice of asking George Mosse to do this was twofold. One was more contingent, attached to the area and the situation and the fact that this couldn’t be asked to an Italian scholar, because it would be implying too much involvement in the, it already was difficult to have a historian, an Italian historian make notes on this, but a general, broader interpretation was not possible. And so that would do for any distinguished, high-profile historian.
But as I think it could be, you could anticipate it from what I’ve been saying, there was an important, a substantial reason for asking George Mosse to do it. And it was related with the kind of impact his writings and his…had on ourselves and on Giancarlo Quaranta, etc. As a matter of fact, in his book [George L. Mosse, l’Italia e gli storici, 2010], Donatello Aramini reconstructs this quite extensively, especially using the perfect archive of George that contains all the correspondence in this regard.
As a matter of fact, what was
considered on the light of the kind of impact that George work had on us, especially on the way in which myths, symbols shape political participation and the integration of masses in the state. We wanted him to look at Aldo Moro experience in his perspective, the prospect and the dangers and the risks of parliamentary democracy in post-Second World War world. And how the integration of masses could be achieved in a democratic parliamentary context. So I must say, we were keen in seeing both his take on Aldo Moro and really intrigued about it. And also to question him on the, more deeply on the issue of relationship between the longing of people in, and their integration, not against the parliamentary democracy, but within it and how it could be achieved.
Tortorice: And you saw how this resonated with Moro’s interests and his ideas and the trajectory of his political experiences that you saw, that he was also dealing with these issues?
Alfonsi: Yes. Our impression was this one: that Aldo Moro had made an attempt into making the political system more responsive to changes in society, and into the aspiration of the people in a way that was according to us not common for the politician in general and Italian politicians as well. And in his understanding of the state, in its dynamic, I must say we were also intrigued
by the fact that a historian using anthropological categories as George Mosse to reflect on a politician who was also a thinker, who was also an intellectual, and who had a very remarkable attitude into, almost sociological attitude into looking at the reality, the social realities, in order to be responsive to it and to shape the policy and so on. In later works that we have promoted, we have been showing how Aldo Moro has a very complex and sophisticated vision of society, its changes, its dynamisms, and so on. So that was, I vaguely remember that there was some other possibilities. We discussed some French historians, but Giancarlo, myself and the others were really convinced that we should try to have George Mosse do it, so that was quite a substantive choice, not an occasional reason for them all. We knew he could read Italian. But this will go on in how it was made.
Tortorice: So, Moro had experience of how fascism worked, how it integrated the personal and the political and was so satisfying in that alignment, using all of these techniques. Myths, symbols. One of Mosse’s main concerns, probably, or the one or two main concerns, was always the fate of liberalism and its weakness. So you can see how those two things aligned in making him a good candidate for this
interview. And I think it was a good choice, from my point of view.
Alfonsi: Yes, we thought so. A difficult one together.
Tortorice: Yeah. Well that gives us an idea of how this came to be. Now we should probably look a little bit at the content. Do you want to take a break? Just a few minutes to rest your voice?
Alfonsi: Yes. That probably would be appreciated.
Tortorice: Testing. Okay. So we’re discussing the interview and how it came about, and so the interview took place over the course of a few days in New York? Is that correct?
Alfonsi: Yes. It was preceded by negotiation that started in the fall of 1978, and through the good offices of Renzo De Felice and [Giorgio] Spini (1916-2006), which introduced us to George Mosse, Giancarlo wrote him a letter, I contacted him by phone a couple of times, and eventually he agreed to have this interview and suggested January as a time and New York as a venue.
And so we sent him a very large selection of Aldo Moro’s writings and speeches. Some of them because by that time the foundation was still managing the archive that was in Aldo Moro’s office and then probably it went to national archive. So we had all his documents and so on, and so that he could read in advance all this material.
And I remember then seeing
these documents with George annotations and exclamative marks and underlining, marginal things. It was quite extensive. Sometimes he used to refer to it during our conversation. Other times we then selected which one we wanted to both into the—“we,” I mean George and myself—which were fitting in the content of the interview.
Tortorice: So you collaborated on the nature of the questions you would ask and the trajectory of the interview that this was something you both shaped? Or did you come up with the questions and then George modified them or added?
Alfonsi: Well, I came up with the—okay. Let’s go step by step, but I’ll be back on this. So I came to the United States. We had agreed that we would meet first in Madison to have a general, so it come to your—
Tortorice: Oh, you came to Madison.
Tortorice: Oh, I didn’t know that. Or I forgot that.
Alfonsi: This also perhaps deserves telling, because on January ’79, the winter conditions in the United States were awful, and conditions in Madison were even worse. And I remember that was our schedule that we agreed in advance. And I was quite young and obliging person, so I wanted to keep it, I remember George saying, are you sure you want to come to Madison? But also because there was a strike of taxicabs. And so I was in danger once arrived, assuming that I will arrive at Madison airport, that I could remain stuck there. But I managed eventually
coming, going there. So we met, I remember, in a coffee overlooking the lake that was completely frozen by that time. And we had an exchange on this. I had prearranged with Giancarlo and the other people working by the time a set of questions and discussed the broader outline of it. And then we reconvened at New York. As a matter of fact, we traveled by plane ourselves together.
Tortorice: Oh, together. To New York.
Alfonsi: We were in the same, yes.
Tortorice: So the Madison part was a time that you could structure the interview and talk about what kind of questions—
Alfonsi: Yes. In a broader, in a broader—
Tortorice: In a broader context. Okay.
Alfonsi: Well, the original structure was this. It was divided into, the first point we wanted to discuss, it was the integration of the masses in the democratic states. Then discussing Aldo Moro’s interpretation of the state and its characteristic. Then as a Catholic politician and statesman, the issue of the secularity of the state, the lay attitude toward the state. And then interest toward civil society and the attitude to interpret society. Then something on the international outlook on peace and détente. And then the last part on Moro activity as a statesman, a national leader, and a national figure, and his very peculiar charisma.
And as the interview took shape in the published form, as the introduction and then a standalone, there was
in the interaction with George, there were some changes. As a matter of fact, he started to put the integration, a theme of the integration of masses in very close connection with Aldo Moro’s interpretation of the state as a process, as an ongoing reality. So we fused the first and second part, interview parts in one, which is the integration of the masses in the state as it appears in the book.
And then the part of on peace and détente, George said he had not much to say about this, because as it was touched also in the conference, that was not his field. So he started to say something in very general terms. And then we agreed to keep it out on this because it was, that’s also to some extent answers to some of the criticism of the early days on his work, that he had no grasp, that he spoke on general terms, that he had no grasp on the intricacies of Italian politics. And he felt very confident in speaking on certain parts of the interview and the questions, where like the international relationship, it didn’t feel to have anything meaningful to say, then he wouldn’t say it.
And then I had kept last a few questions on the Aldo Moro kidnapping and some of the more heated questions at the end of interview, and see if he was feeling like answering them, and he provided some answers that I considered quite remarkable at the time, and even think, and this is also part of the trajectory of the interview, I think. Because he was, well, explicit in not wanting to be involved or implied into the
controversy about the kidnapping and the assassination. Also because he considered them to be Italian people problems and he didn’t want to intrude in them. I will learn, and so in this he was quite explicit with me, then I’m learning from Donatello’s work and at the archive that he also posed this concern to friends of De Felice and others and considered the interview being reviewed by them. Which, to my knowledge, didn’t happen. Or at least they didn’t ask myself to provide the—
Tortorice: I don’t think, no, I don’t think it did. I think the two of you worked just on it together.
Alfonsi: Yes, and so this confirmed the feeling I had that there was a progressive establishment of trust among us that eventually went on, along. So that was when we were in the beginning, how we prepared it.
Then we started the sessions. He was staying at a friend’s house in 93rd Street West and Madison, I think. And by the way, I was staying at a friend’s house in Broadway and 86th West. So we were quite close. A couple of time I went there, no, I came back from the interview by feet, by walking, which was quite remarkable considering how New York, how big is. Less remarkable, perhaps, if one consider that people in New York tend to be grouped by—
Tortorice: Ideological, yes.
Alfonsi: Social and association. It wasn’t so strange that we could have friends in West Side from the 80s to the 100s.
Tortorice: It’s true.
Alfonsi: As a matter, I don’t remember the name at the moment, but I met again the friend of George in, when we made the presentation of the
interview in New York at the Casa Italiana.
Tortorice: Oh. Anson Rabinbach (b. 1945).
Tortorice: Yes, he told me that he met you and was very delighted to meet you, and stimulated by his conversation, yes.
Alfonsi: And as a matter of fact, the son of the person that I was guest was there as well. And he was William Demby (1922-2013). He was an African American writer who came to Italy during the war and married an Italian writer, and then lived an alternatively in Italy and the US. So that’s just to give a little element of our life. And it went on for about two weeks.
Tortorice: Two weeks! Really?
Alfonsi: Yes, it was long. As a matter of fact, not only that, it was half-day sessions that we had. Little, but done every day. And I had the tapes being transcribed. And then I would go home with the question and also review the transcript. I remember once that the lady who was doing the transcribing had mistaken the Catholic philosopher [Jacques] Maritain (1882-1973) for a conjectural Irish philosopher, “Murray Thane.”
Alfonsi: But apart from that, it was quite accurate.
Tortorice: We probably will run into similar difficulties with this interview.
Alfonsi: I remember laughing with George about this. And then, when the first set was done, he was leaving New York for a couple of days, so he brought the full transcript with him and made the reviews while I made some observation on this. And then we reconvened again for a couple of days before I left New York. And then there was the translation. Of course, as you will see, you have an English transcript,
linguistic editing was light because George knew that it would be printed in Italian. So he didn’t work on it stylistically very much. And then we made the translation and I worked with one Italian translator, and then he looked at the Italian version, George, and we had a long distance [call]. He was here, as a matter of fact—then we can touch it—he was here in Italy in 1979 before the book was published. So we had the chance to talk a little bit about showing him how it was shaping. And then we had the final long-distance conversation on the last elements.
As a matter of fact, during the time [of the publication] the coalition government, including the communists, collapsed, and so George wanted to add a small piece on the shrewdness of the Red Brigades into selecting Moro as a victim in the sense that his abduction and killing made collapse this kind of construction.
Tortorice: Well, he said that there’s no doubt that Aldo Moro was the key figure in trying to solve the crisis. And so therefore his elimination was very shrewd politically on the part of the Red Brigade. Well, I don’t know if we want to go deeply into the questions that you posed in the interview. I think probably anyone that would be interested in this conversation would read the interview directly. But are there aspects of George’s responses that surprised you? And then perhaps talk a bit about how the first edition was received in Italy in that political milieu.
We can also then, we’ll talk about the new edition after that and what has happened between. But let’s start with those questions. What surprised you about his responses? And anything that you recall that is really striking about the interview process? And then the response to that first edition.
Alfonsi: Well, I’ve been thinking about it. I wouldn’t say that something surprised me in the sense that came out of the blue. I certainly did not by that time of attach so much attention to the general role of Christian democracies in Europe as a form of mediation from the totalitarian or fascist states.
Tortorice: Because one of the first questions you asked, Alfonso, was about whether the Italian example or situation had a broader application in Europe.
Tortorice: And that, I think, was an important part of the interview, certainly.
Alfonsi: Yes. Yes, exactly. But so I will not use the wording “surprise,” but I will use the word “impressed.” As a matter of fact, asking George to make this interview was also assuming that he would provide a non-trivial take on Aldo Moro. Which he did. And on retrospect, it was not necessarily to be expected. There would be a lot of ways to approach it. On reflecting in these years and especially these last years, on his response to the interview, I must say that I was impressed again at how seriously he worked on it. And how he was able
to find a level in which not being a specialist in contemporary history, not being an Italian, he could speak meaningful things of very much import from his perspective and from Aldo Moro’s perspective that would really give a contribution, so that was also an experience in intellectual integrity that I think was important, looking back to my formation and challenge, to some extent. To try and show the same integrity in this kind of work. And I was very much impressed by the way in which something that for us was a sort of intuition, the processual vision of Moro, of politics, the state democracy system itself was articulated by George Mosse, and make it a central into his interpretation of Aldo Moro and of the importance of Aldo Moro for the general reflection on the crisis and problems of democracy into, into modern mass society in the postwar period. So that was a general—and then how he articulates it in the different moments and reiterates it several, several times.
Another thing that I was impressed is that in the end, he accepted to answer some very heated questions that I posed to him. One, he was more on his line on the fact that Aldo Moro kidnapping and assassination was in itself treated as a sacred representation, as a myth.
But also outlining how it to some extent in his words made rigid the situation, how it was—
Alfonsi: Yes, concretized, but concretized not in the kind of open, fluid, responsive way that Aldo Moro was trying to impress, but crystallized it in a way that too rigid that then in fact collapsed afterwards. And the second was on the authenticity of Aldo Moro’s letters from the prison of Red Brigades, because he said quite clearly that he would in no way enter on the discussion that was properly Italian on the negotiation, on the rightfulness or wrongness of reputation. But I still remember he said, “But I read Aldo Moro’s speeches and writings. And I can say that the reasoning that he articulates in the letter is akin with the reasoning that he had in all his life.” And again, this, I think, it’s a very important example of intellectual honesty. He could have said, you understand that I will rather not answer to this question. He could have said I’m not in the possibility. But he made instead a statement that was, on the one hand, a perfect, totally legitimate, and on the other hand that was determined in an area in which he felt himself to be competent. That’s analyzing the discourse and political discourse. So with this assumption that touched me very much in that moment, and on reflection afterwards even more so, and something that I think he a little bit paid in the reception.
Tortorice: Of the book. Yeah.
Alfonsi: Of that time. And so that is something that, in broader terms.
Tortorice: I wonder, just as an aside, whether that aspect of George’s character and of his work and his approach, the moral integrity, intellectual honesty, but also not interested in promoting himself in the way that some historians behave.
Tortorice: That this was part of his attraction in Italy, as in contrast to some of the other people of his generation who often became rather dogmatic and did a great deal of harm, if you think of that generation and what intellectuals did. Because his generation was the one that often veered to the far right, far left, you know. And he really stayed true to a very serious moral integrity in his work, I think, and this could be one of the attractions here of his work.
Alfonsi: And also I think that his concentrating in Aldo Moro view of the process, of a democracy as a process of bringing in not only the longings of the people, but also the groups of people like the center-left opening, like the détente 68 to bring these new movements within the democratic process and not outside, and the complex relationship with the Communist Party at the end of his life. And in which George saw a same, a similar aptitude. And afterwards that brought me to think that perhaps in this problem of how appealing the democratic process can appear and so on, that Aldo Moro had a very strong emotional feeling on the process itself, no? He saw now, as we today, compromise as high human endeavor, and he saw
apparently the living together of different people as something very difficult to be produced, but also exalting in a way, no? So perhaps one overt reflection of the teaching of Aldo Moro could be to reflect not only in terms of, to think of parliamentary democracy as a, content-wise, but that it can be passionate also in its very essence, no? It’s not just cold-blooded tinkering, No? In this tinkering that you have to do it with compromising and so on. You can discover a more noble drive. It served a little I think through Aldo Moro’s life. I don’t know how much he communicated it, but it certainly was a…
Tortorice: So the reception of the book when it first came out, it sounds from what Donatello has told us that it fell within predictable political responses that were quite rigid in that period, but then also very much influenced by the assassination, by the very tense situation that was still in place in Italy in those years.
Alfonsi: Yes. That’s not completely under political line, but certainly they resented of the heated political debate on the abduction and assassination and the controversy on Aldo Moro’s favor, his behavior when as a prisoner and so forth. And mostly, well, the book in itself was a success, it was, the first edition went down in a couple of months, and then there was a second.
And but it received a substantive criticism. Some parts were not taken into consideration at all, like the linguistic notes of Mario Medici. I think is that were quite remarkable in that sense. And as might be expected, Baget Bozzo’s notes were criticized strongly because he had quite an opposition by that time. Even though his, and we were very identified with other works that he did which didn’t correspond, well, according to me, more equilibrium in his works. And, yes, George interview was either ignored or criticized, as the outlook of a foreigner who had not a real grasp of intricacies of Italian politics, as something, a few like [Giovanni] Spadolini (1925-1994), for instance, recognized some brilliant insights or some intuition, but in a general work, in a general framework that was misleading. Others considered it tautological. I think they didn’t take that level in which, according to me and then to others, George interpretation was meant for. But one historian like [Francesco] Traniello (b. 1936), important historian, which, by the way, criticized the book in general, considered George work tautological, which I think is an error. There were a few good reviews. But most
simply that it was from a historian, [Matteo] Sanfilippo (b. 1956) on Il Messaggero. He was a student of Federico Chabod (1901-1960) and who really grasped the novelty and the interest.
Tortorice: Did…De Felice didn’t react to the book or—
Alfonsi: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge. I, we sent, he was among the few to which George asked that a copy be sent to. And this is also, connects us to the relationship with George, because I sent him, I kept him informed about the reviews. By that time I was sending, of course, clippings of newspaper and kept keeping him informed of what was being said and so forth. As a matter of fact, as I was remembering, according to you, he came to Rome when the book was still in print.
Tortorice: Was there an event?
Alfonsi: Yes. That was the first time, and the only one that we organized as Fondazione Aldo Moro, and it was in April, I think. Yes, it was 11th of April. And it was on the themes, the general themes of the book, the Italian democracy within the crisis of western democracies.
Tortorice: The crisis continues.
Alfonsi: Oh, yes. [laughter]
Tortorice: In Italy, it’s never gone away. Now it’s everywhere.
Alfonsi: Perhaps we have a format. I don’t know.
Tortorice: So at this conference, George participated and answered questions and gave a talk?
Alfonsi: Yes. He gave a talk. He gave a talk. It was in conference hall in Via Veneto.
Tortorice: I think I’ve seen materials from that address.
Alfonsi: Yes. I’ve sent a couple of the photographs.
Tortorice: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, that’s great.
Alfonsi: And then he made two more conferences for us. I don’t know if you want me to still say on the book.
Tortorice: Sure. Yes, that’s fine. Yes. You can talk about that. Yeah.
Alfonsi: Okay. And one was in 1981. As a matter of fact, this I have also personal
memory, because I got married by that time and I sent the participation to George, and when we met, he came to our home, and he brought us a present.
Tortorice: Oh. Very nice.
Alfonsi: A piece of Armenian pottery.
Tortorice: Oh, from Jerusalem?
Alfonsi: Yes. It was very nice, still have in my library. By that time, yes, I came to appreciate those ways of consideration and its human openness. The more so because it was a relationship that took some time to build and to, and, yes, to build confidence. But in his relationship, he has always been exquisite. I remember, even when I came to Madison, he told me where I could go in the evening to meet young people and things like that, and several very kind ways to show it. Anyway, it was within, by that time it was Research Institute that I was working. We were always led by Giancarlo Quaranta, and we were in, we were making a seminar with the guest speakers from different kind. And it was on epistemology of humanities and social sciences. And one of our points was that social sciences can’t be distinguished by the object, but the concepts and the intellectual structure that they use because you analyze man anyway, and no matter what you cannot say through anthropology—and he presented us with his works that then eventually came to the publication on the experience of a war as a mass death. And he made a presentation on the cemeteries of war. And then he allowed us to publish it in our journal at the time. In 1981 it came out.
Tortorice: So that must have been one of the first publications in Italian on that subject that he wrote?
Alfonsi: Yes. Absolutely. And also he showed how comparison was important. Because he was quoting the works of some Italian historian that was saying that the resurgence of piety in the trenches was attached to the fact that most of Italian soldiers were peasants and so they brought their religion, but he showed that it was a European—
Alfonsi: —phenomenon attached with the traumatization and brutalization of the war and not so much on the—and then in 1984, he made another conference for us. And that again was attached to his study of that time on respectability and the middle class and the body and so on. And then in the same year he became, he accepted to be a member of our international board of advisors. And then I show you a photograph. It was, we met with the board in New York in June ’84. It was quite a board, because we had, he was a sociologist, [Fernando] Henrique Cardoso (b. 1931), which eventually became president of Brazil, and Thomas Luckmann and Maurice Godelier (b.1934). Well, several—
Tortorice: Very distinguished board.
Alfonsi: And he came and made his intervention, made suggestion on our work, and he was keen, also, by that time, on research on how to manage with the coming age of scarcity. And then I met him again in 1990 in Madison during one of my stays in United States. And I interviewed him on the myth of north. Because at the time, well, Lega Nord that now has became a league, national, of the nation, was starting to happen. So we made the—and I have,
I think I gave you a copy of this, and I gave another copy of the article to Skye.
Tortorice: Yes, he kept track of this right-wing phenomenon in Europe in many countries, and was not at all dismissive of the potential. Certainly.
Alfonsi: Yes. And in, I think it was in 1981, yes, it was, that I informed him about the kind of interest that his work stirred among the neo-fascists, the cultural. They were new kind of neo-fascists. They were into progressive rock. They were much more Nazi in culture than fascist, I must say, Julius Evola (1898 -1974) and some kind of Nordic mysticism and so on. And so in the conference he said, “I’m intrigued.” Not verbatim, but he said, “I’m intrigued to know that my words are being read by the Italian new right. And this amazes me a little bit because I always considered myself of the old left.” But nevertheless, this is—
Tortorice: I think you could write a good article on that question of his influence on some of these right-wing groups, unfortunately, but—
Alfonsi: But at the time, it was quite straightforward. He was the first one that said at least you are- it’s an ideology that’s articulated, that has some cultural back-ground, it just didn’t came out of the blue into European consciousness.
Tortorice: So it sounds as if you kept a relationship going with George throughout his life, over the years? And that you kept your affiliation with the Fondazione Aldo Moro throughout this period?
Alfonsi: Yes, the Fondazione ended quite soon.
Tortorice: Oh, it did? Okay.
Alfonsi: Yes, as a fondazione. Then in the ‘80s, ’84, I think we started the Accademia [di studi storici Aldo Moro].
Tortorice: Oh, okay. Accademia, yeah.
Alfonsi: But basically brought the same
outlook and impression on the kind of work we did. And on the other hand, with this research group that’s my professional work because my work in the Accademia is especially voluntary.
Tortorice: Well, I don’t want to exhaust you, Alfonso. I mean really, we’ve gone over two hours, that’s a lot! We haven’t covered as much as we like, but let’s at least talk a bit, and perhaps we’ll have to do this my next visit, too. Much has changed in Italy and Europe and the world since the interview was conducted, and certainly we have to take that into account in understanding how the second edition was received and how that is, can be contrasted with the first. I mean, you could really tell a lot about Italian politics just by looking at that, I suppose. Because it was sort of 37 years ago, and this has been a time of incredibly rapid change. But you know, I’ve always been struck by how prescient George was and how relevant his ideas and work is now to the current situation, and—
Alfonsi: Yes. I agree.
Tortorice: —you know, my own bias is I wish people would read his work instead of some of the other historians who were perhaps more well-known. So how was the second edition received at this point? Because I know it’s still fairly recent.
Alfonsi: Well perhaps it could be interesting also to know how it came to be?
Alfonsi: And that brings us ten years ago, at the 30-year celebration of Aldo Moro assassination. Not celebration, of course. Memory, memoir. And in which we made, by the way, that when I established closer contact with Renato, Renato Moro, and we took more seriously the perspective of promoting scientific, historical research on Aldo Moro.
Because that’s also, and Aldo Moro—and Renato Moro points out, there’s been a delay into, the studies on Aldo Moro, whose endwas so much entwined into political polemics and debate and so on that the process of historization of his figure, was slower than most. There’s nothing close to a biography that De Felice made of Mussolini, only the things are being done now. And starting from the thirtieth, from 1978-2008, something has started to change about this others can speak better than me. I mention it only, we call it an historiographical turn on Aldo Moro by that time. In this occasion, I came into touch with the scholars like Donatello [Aramini] and Gianni [Giovanni] Ceci and Laura [Ciglioni] and so on.
Tortorice: A new generation of younger scholars that had an interest in Mosse and in Moro and in this whole phenomenon?
Alfonsi: And I discovered, we can say, that there were new readings of the interview. Even though the book, original book in which it was had gone completely out of print. And that this new generation was making use of Mosse interpretation in their work. It was also Paolo Acanfora and many others that did, as well as Renato Moro and others were mentioning how more durable Mosse interpretations were than some others that at the moment were keeping the scene, but now appear to be void of content and so on.
And on the other end, of course, the take on George Mosse himself in Italy had changed.
The Mosse consensus, we could say, had appeared. So the idea of having it to reprint as a standalone volume of the interview was, came from a demand that we perceived it existed. At the time, Donatello Aramini was working at his book on George Mosse in Italy. And so he had some interviews with me to include the interview and the peculiar case that he’d represented in the framework by that time.
And so Rubbettino publisher wanted to have it as a fully commercial, we were not asked any kind of, as publishers usually does, subscription or thing like that. They felt it as one of their editorial work. And then we discussed a little bit and we thought, and that came out. I contacted you for the rights because by that time, the rights of the publisher had expired. Because of those. And so this interest to some extent was perceived even before the second edition. And of course we thought that the second edition needed also some background. That’s why we asked Renato Moro to make the preface and Donatello Aramini to make a note, a critical note which, among other things, included an account of how the interview had been conducted. And also of its reception. And that projected George Mosse’s interpretation of the crisis of parliamentary democracy almost forty years ago with the contemporary, contemporary situation. And this time the book
was very well received. I’m afraid it didn’t sell as much, but it’s been still ongoing as we…
Alfonsi: It is being read and sells. And we had some very good reviews, I think I sent to the foundation. Some from, both from very well-established historians like [Emilio] Gentile (b. 1946) or [Piero] Craveri (b.1938) and Maria Salvati (b. 1941) and from the younger generation like Paolo Acanfora and others.
Tortorice: And the special issue of the journal where they talk specifically about the impact of the interview and its resonance. These younger scholars in particular, I think this is wonderful.
Alfonsi: Yes, and including then non-Italian historians like Richard Drake (b. 1942) and Philippe Foro (b.1962). And it was mentioned in some radio programs.
Alfonsi: And it’s more and more read and appreciated as a background for a deeper understanding of Aldo Moro and, from what I’ve seen, also for the themes at the critical themes that touches on the crisis of democracy.
Tortorice: Well, I have many more questions. But I think what we might do is I will send you some questions in written form, which you can answer then if you would be gracious enough to do that as you can. So we will get the transcript of this. But I want to ask just one, and then we can continue. And I would love to come back again and see you and continue this. But I think, I know your voice is hoarse.
Alfonsi: Yes. It was not the best voice. I usually I—
Tortorice: It’s fine. But one last questions is, in Italy today it seems that
symbolic politics as a unifying force has collapsed. I mean, I don’t see that it could be used by the center in the way that, say, Moro may have hoped, or George. But there is, there’s, it seems to me a widespread, well, you could say crisis of representation in Italy, a crisis of identity. I mean, what does it mean to be Italian or to live in Italy? And you have this kind of regionalism now that has come back to the fore. And so to what extent can these techniques still be employed by a representative government? We know how they can easily be employed by the extremes, but so do they have a future in the current Italian situation?
Alfonsi: Well, it’s a very complex—
Tortorice: Yeah, big question.
Alfonsi: And I think that there is a need for study. Certainly if we want to really tackle these meaningfully, we need to start with employ the method of empirical research and apply empathy. I must say, in some cases, having this empathy can be as difficult as I can imagine George had when employing it to Nazis or so forth. And I think that there are, I remember in the interview I made him a question on the fact that by the time there were made analogies to the Weimar Republic and the situation of Italy at the end of the ‘70s. And quite correctly, George said that analogies in history should be kept very carefully, but he said one could look at some parallelisms and especially look at some critical points. Which that can be present themselves over and over again, and that each one has a specificity in a specific moment, but nonetheless has also its recurring structure.
And I must, I think if you really are applying today, one is certainly the feeling of alienation of the masses, which again, as even in the interview and over again, George says must not be looked at as passive or in differentiated wholes. In the mass society, masses are all but homogenous and passive. Not they have an activism and agency, a diversification. But certainly in Italy and elsewhere, we feel, there is this feeling of alienation from the democratic process.
And in fact, again, that’s very superficially said, because we will need to study, but you see how these symbols and rituals are organized. Especially with the five-star movement, Le cinque stelle, that has this idea of cutting the expenses of policy as a central strategy while it has minimal affect in the economic situation. But it has an enormous—
Alfonsi: —symbolic character. And it gives representation to this feeling of alienation from the politicians seen as a class.
Tortorice: Resentment, which is such a satisfying human—
Alfonsi: Resentment. And also the idea of essential elements of democratic parliamentary politics like compromise. That’s used in derogatory terms. Like for instance inciucio, even phonetically gives the sense of being in a group
of hidden and saying things. And even today, I was reading about Di Maio (b.1986), the leader of the Cinque Stelle that they came into an agreement with the Lega on the president of the Senate and the president of a Chamber of representatives.
Tortorice: Oh, that hasn’t been resolved even. They’re still fighting.
Alfonsi: No, no, no. They resolved.
Tortorice: Oh, they did resolve it?
Alfonsi: Yes. But they says, this is not a Compromesso.
Tortorice: Oh, it’s not a compromise. You can’t use that language.
Alfonsi: Now, well, you decided, one, the center left, the center right coalition took the president of a Senate, the speaker of theSenate. Then, your party took the speaker of the Chamber. And you voted for them. They voted for you. And you can call it “Gianni”, but it’s a compromise, nonetheless.
Tortorice: That’s extraordinary that that is just something they flushed down the toilet.
Alfonsi: And there is, so, and also the idea of internet and its use. The possibility to use it to participate again, apparently, and this, I say, this requires study and I hope that there will be done. And according, I think, also with George point of view. Because it’s another form of a paradox in which we have a representation of the participation that doesn’t apply to the real, actuality of a capability to change the decisions because then the leader of the Cinque Stelle was not chosen in any meaningful way: the participants with these internet platforms are a minimal number of people. While for instance, the Democratic Party has millions of people that actually vote in their primaries. But it’s completely considered alienated. On the other side, on the other side, you have these people that have minimal actual vote in the electronic form.
And it’s still represented as being the plurality and so on. But the alienation is true. The crisis, I’m not a political scientist, I’m not a political activist in this moment. But the crisis of the Democratic Party and the traditional parties is true. They are failing into responding to this longing and so forth.
And again, Aldo Moro, whenever a crisis like this materialized in his time, he tried to understand the deeper trends bringing it to be and to respond to it. He was using, he was using very eloquent words to call, he would call “the heated social matter,” la materia sociale incandescent” as for one thing. And he said you have to govern with your intelligence the events. I think could be very keen on George attitude on the other side. And so I will say what we need, but I don’t know who at this moment is able to, is to use the same capability of imagination in understanding the demands that are real demands. Because the feeling of alienation is true. I don’t think, that’s my personal bias, that the answer that they are providing, the Cinque Stelle are correct or are healthy, but—
Tortorice: Or sustainable, really.
Alfonsi: But this is a real thing. Another point that I think George was making it applies is the capability of the extremes to make the political agenda. And then the other parties have to respond, no? There wasn’t, as I say, a Jewish issue in Germany. But then there was.
Tortorice: There was.
Alfonsi: And everybody,
even socialists, had to respond to this. I think one can find it in the political discourse of Trump.
Tortorice: Oh, very much so.
Alfonsi: Of issues that are not there. And certainly it is also immigration, it’s an issue to some extent, but it’s not the issue, as it has been presented now by the right-wing coalition and by the most extreme part of the right-wing coalition.
By the way, what is happening in the change of force between the Lega, no? Xenophobic and so on, and Berlusconi’s party. So now that Lega has become stronger party than [Silvio] Berlusconi (b. 1936). This can have something to do with the delusion of a moderate right-wing to be able to tame the extreme, and then finding out that you cannot tame the extreme. I don’t think that there is a risk today of the same kind that there was in Weimar Germany, or even the risk that we avoided at the end of the 70s in Italy, really, to fall into a civil strife, totally disruptive. In the 70s, you had people being killed for political reasons almost every month. You had a former prime minister to be abducted and then assassinated. You had nothing but this.
Tortorice: And the system, by and large, survived.
Tortorice: I mean, it was shaken.
Alfonsi: But I think this kind of questions are the questions that I think are very consistent with George works and the work of Aldo Moro. And the answers are for the scholars and the researchers and politicians to give, but certainly it is not a cosmetic fix. Before any solution, you must really understand what’s happening, and in the deeper sense, and that’s not easy.
Tortorice: Well, thank you so much, Alfonso. This was so illuminating and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Alfonsi: Oh, thank you. It was a pleasure in a sense. With some fatigue, but a pleasure, nonetheless.
Tortorice: Yes. Thank you.
02:09:21 End of Interview Session