In This Review

Italy Since 1989: Events and Interpretations
Italy Since 1989: Events and Interpretations
By Vittorio Bufacchi and Simon Burgess
St. Martin's Press, 1998, 275 pp.
The Italian Guillotine: Operation Clean Hands and the Overthrow of Italy's First Republic
The Italian Guillotine: Operation Clean Hands and the Overthrow of Italy's First Republic
By Stanton H. Burnett and Luca Mantovani
Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, 332 pp.

These two volumes examine the fall of Italy's First Republic and the first years of the so-called Second Republic, the voters having turned away from the old party system whose corruption had been exposed largely through the efforts of Italy's magistrates in 1992. Burnett, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and Mantovani, chief of the forza Italia press office for the Chamber of Deputies, concentrate on what they call a "coup" carried out by magistrates who were manipulated by "a few major industrialists" afraid of the effects of the Maastricht treaty and tired of the "increasingly exorbitant" financial demands of the political parties in power. The magistrates, mainly radicals of the left, abused their powers, violated basic freedoms, and brought down the existing political system in an extended operation aimed at benefiting the former Italian Communist Party, now called the Democratic Party of the Left. Like most conspiracy theories, this book is unencumbered by nuances, far more categorical in its assertions than the evidence allows, and unbothered by contradictions.

Bufacchi, a political scientist, and Burgess, a historian, have written a far more reliable and serious volume. It asks an important question: given the weakness of the liberal tradition in Italian political history, have the events that followed the general election of April 1992 introduced a greater dose of liberalism into a parliamentary system that had been confiscated by a "particracy"? They see some hopeful signs, but these remain fragile; the outcry against particracy risks doing away with the party system altogether and bringing about an era of media personalities and parliamentary instability. The most interesting part is the analysis of the mechanisms and causes of corruption. They offer an economic explanation, the fragility of which explains the system's unraveling: "the pay-offs of many individuals changed for the worse," and induced them "to exit the market of corruption altogether," by making "spontaneous confessions to the investigating magistrates."