A Portrait of an Eligible Ruler

From the comments of the previous post, everybody knows what they dislike about their rulers, but let’s try and be constructive: what makes a politician fit for being in charge of a country? Would you like him to be a sort of shrewd leader as the one suggested by Machiavelli, a heart inflaming dreamer or simply an honest anybody, as it seems to be so “en vogue” here these days? Well, my answer is: a sharp-witted accountant, and by accountant I mean somebody who knows exactly figures, understands present situations and pursues his goals according to the real possibilities the State budget offers him and nothing more. A leader with such skills would make the fortune of his country, and I know this is to be true as in the past there was a ruler I do admire, a king, that somehow had many of these characteristics: Henry VII Tudor.

When Henry became King, he had inherited a nation shattered by a long civil dynastic war between the noble families of Lancaster and York. For what concerns foreign policy, the importance of England in Europe had become quite marginal especially after the loss of the Hundred Year’s war and furthermore, he was aware that his claim to the throne was shaky, plots and conspiracies were, in fact, always behind the corner. Differently from the other European countries, we have to remember that English kings did not rule by Divine Right, hence, they could not act as freely as they would, because their actions were submitted to the Common Law and the Magna Charta. Apparently weak, in charge of a country torn to pieces, what could he do? Not much, it would seem, but Henry accepted the challenge. First of all, he didn’t search for the limelight with great, noble actions that would have made his people dream, he was not a man of dreams, but facts, hence, he put on the clothes of the inflexible “accountant” and set to work.

He targeted two main objects: unifying the country and centralizing the power in the hand of the monarchy. Being an attentive “accountant”, he accurately pondered about what was advisable to do and not to do. First of all, he aimed at avoiding troubles with foreign and more powerful countries, as any other war would have made him at the mercy of Parliament. He chose to make commercial treaties with France and The Netherlands, thus opening up trade with both countries and arranged the marriage of his children to the crowned heads of Europe forming stronger alliances.

Stability was the main goal of his domestic policy.  First of all he married Elizabeth of York thus uniting the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Then he deprived the noble families of their private armies, enforced royal taxes, modernized administration, promoted trade and the making of a fleet, thus demonstrating that he well understood what was necessary to face the new era marked by the discovery of America. When he died, he left a safe throne, a solvent government and a prosperous and reasonably united country. Of course his son Henry VIII and his grand-daughter Elizabeth I are more interesting and well-known sort of rulers, but it was Henry VII, who actually laid the foundation of modern England.

I can’t imagine of any ruler with such determianation and clarity of purpose nowadays and certainly not here in Italy. Sunday’s vote has nothing to do with innovative or clever politics of enlightened candidates, but rather, it will end up with choosing between the frying pan and the fire and we are well aware that you might get burnt with both of them, unfortunately.





The English Way (1)


from “The Best Enemies”, with David Niven and Alberto Sordi.

Elections are not very far and I may say that analyzing the Italian political situation, the name of the party that is very likely to win will be: “precariousness and confusion”.  But what are reasons that have brought our nation to the pathological political instability that has characterized us for decades? What’s wrong with us? We are a charming country with a glorious past, the cradle of civilization along with Greece and much more could be added, for sure. However, even if we started so well, we must have missed a few steps in the path towards a mature democracy.

One justification might be that we are a young nation: only 157 years old. We shouldn’t forget that before the unification, we had suffered dominations of any kind, whose heritage can be clearly seen in any of our regions in term of culture, food, music, language. By the way, in those centuries of oppression we had also gradually developed a higher degree of scepticism and distrust against any form of administration. Cunning, unreliability, deceitfulness, “virtues” that still distinguish the Italian stereotype abroad, were the weapons we had developed in time to defend ourselves from the foreign rules.

The problem is that once free and politically united, we haven’t been able to work together for the making of a common identity, because our chronic distrust runs in our veins and has always made us choose for the “individual” way, rather than the “social” one.  That’s why the process towards a responsible, efficient democracy here is slower than in other countries. It’s this lack of a common political and social exercise that still makes us always look for that charismatic one, who might solve all our problems. He has never showed up and never will. But as I told you before, we are young.

In other countries, on the contrary, the path towards democracy has seemed somehow more natural. The last invasion in England, for example, dates back to 1066,  when the Normans conquered and unified the country – fortunate event that might have happened in Italy as well, thus sparing us a lot of troubles, but for the Pope’s fierce opposition against the Normans’ advance from the South of Italy,  therefore; England, if compared to Italy, had an advantage of 800 years. It means they had plenty of time to make a lot of nice political experiments. From that moment on, and before any other country, England will undergo a gradual but constant weakening of the great powers of the Middle Age, Church and monarchy and the growing of a modern one: Parliament.

With the English Common Law, for instance, the king was not considered any longer above the law; therefore if the English ruler could be tried just like anybody else,  it meant that he had started to lose those divine traits that his fellow kings all over Europe would have kept for a longer time. Furthermore; with The Magna Carta the king could no longer impose taxes without that “general consent” of those who one day will become part of a fully elected Parliament. The nobles took advantage from this situation increasing their power, but they greed will bring England to the disaster of the War of the Roses.

The Tudors were necessarily firmer monarchs whose recipe for a stronger country was the balancing of powers. They weakened the nobles depriving them of their private armies, avoided summoning Parliament, increased trade, developed alliances with the other countries, but above all, smashed the power of the Roman Catholic Church taking advantage of the Protestant wave from the north of Europe. At the dawning of the seventeenth century England was an Anglican country with a well-defined Parliament and a growing middle class.

The Stuarts failed to understand the now rooted distinctive features of their country, and tried to make it more “European” if possible, but in this way they only succeeded in reinforcing its prior structure. After the Glorious Revolution, England was a modern nation with a monarchy controlled by an independent Parliament and a flourishing bourgeoisie. It was, therefore, ready to face the great changes the industrial revolution would have brought about before any other European country and destined to be a long-lasting power worldwide. But this is another story. As I told you before, we are young.