THERE ARE TWO kinds of writing about corruption in Italy. In the first, the author takes an Olympian perspective, judging the actions of Italian public figures against the highest standards of probity, transparency and accountability. Throughout the country's history as a unified state, writers who have adopted this point of view have repeatedly been scandalised by the peninsula's shabby polity: the same tone of sombre disapproval runs through coverage of the Mafia in the 1870s, the banking scandals of the 1890s, Fascist nepotism and embezzlement, the corrupt post- war building boom, the antics of 'God's bankers' in the 1970s and 1980s, and 'Kickback City' in the early 1990s. Silvio Berlusconi is only the latest focus for this kind of indignation.
The other kind of writing takes a ground-level perspective, and tends to be calmer and more empathetic. Its premise is that it is misleading to judge Italy by the standards of Northern European democracies. The task it sets itself is not to condemn Italy's problems but to explain them. Corruption,