Important Clarification on the Term Mediterranean

(from "Men Among the Ruins")





The way in which I employ the term Mediterranean requires a further clarification. I have often spoken of Mediterranean civilization, the Mediterranean spirit, and even a Mediterranean race, taking little care to indicate what these vague and elastic designations meant. (1)


(1) In one of my early works (Imperialismo pagano, Rome: Atanor, 1928) I mentioned a "Mediterranean tradition." What I meant by it was clarified in later works of mine, such as Revolt Against the Modern World. The German edition of this book no longer contained this expression.


"Mediterranean" merely designates a space, or a geographical area in which very different cultures and spiritual and racial powers often clashed or met, without ever producing a typical civilization. In anthropology, the "Mediterranean" myth was promoted by Giuseppe Sergi in the past century. Sergi believed in the existence of a Mediterranean race of African origin to which many Italic populations belonged, including the Pelasgians, the Phoenicians, the Levantines, and other half-Semitic populations: these are hardly flattering kinships, which should rather be referred to as "bastard brothers," an expression Mussolini once used to refer to the myth of the Latin spirit. The theory of Sergi is now passé. I believe it is fitting to use the term Mediterranean to designate some suspicious spiritual and ethnic components. These components, which are found in other Mediterranean and "Latin" more or less mixed populations, are also present in various strata of the Italian people, in opposition to its more noble and original nucleus (which should not be called "Mediterranean") reflecting the "Roman" element.


Some psychologists have tried to define the Mediterranean type, not so much anthropologically, but in terms of character and style. In these descriptions we can easily recognize the other pole of the Italian soul, namely negative aspects likewise found in the Italian people that need to be rectified.


The first "Mediterranean" trait is love for outward appearances and grand gestures. The Mediterranean type needs a stage, if not for the sake of vanity and exhibitionism, at least in the sense that he often draws the impulse and motivation even for noble, remarkable, and sincere things from his main concern to be noticed by others and to make an impact on them. Hence the inclination for a "gesture"—that is, to do something to draw attention and curiosity, even when the person knows he is the only one to witness it. In the Mediterranean man there is a splitting between an "I" that plays the role and an "I" that regards his part from the point of view of a possible observer or spectator, more or less as actors do.


Let me repeat: what is problematic here is the style, as the action or the work per se could have a positive value. But this has very little to do with Roman style, and it marks a disintegration and an alteration; it is the antithesis of the ancient saying esse non haberi [to be and not appear to be], or of the style due to which, among other reasons, ancient Roman civilization was characterized by anonymous heroes. In a wider context, the opposition could be formulated in these terms: the Roman style is monumental, monolithic, while the Mediterranean style is choreographic-theatrical and spectacular (see also the French notions of grandeur and gloire). Thus, if this "Mediterranean" component of the Italian man were to be rectified, the best model to follow would be that of the ancient race of Rome—the sober, austere, active style, free from exhibitionism, measured, endowed with a calm awareness of one's dignity. To have the sense of what one is and of one's value independently of any external reference, loving distance as well as actions and expressions reduced to the essential, devoid of any exhibition and cheap showmanship—all these are fundamental elements for the eventual formation of a superior type. And even if the Italian man had in common with the Mediterranean type the above-mentioned "splitting" (as simultaneous actor and spectator), this splitting should be utilized for a careful supervision of one's conduct and expressions. This supervision should prevent every primitive spontaneity; one should carefully study one's own demeanor, not with the purpose of making an "impression" on others, or with great concern for their opinion, but for sake of the style that one intends to display to oneself.


The propensity toward outward appearances is easily associated with a personalism that degenerates into individualism. This is another typical negative trait of the Mediterranean soul: the tendency toward a restless, chaotic, and undisciplined individualism. Politically speaking, this is the tendency that, after asserting itself by fomenting struggles and constant quarrels, led the Greek city-states to ruin, although it had previously contributed in a positive manner to their articulated formation. We find this trait in the turbulent times of the early empire; it finally erupted in medieval Italy, degenerating into particularisms, schisms, struggles, factions, and all kinds of rivalries. And although the Italian Renaissance has splendid features, they are nevertheless problematic features that derive from this Mediterranean individualism, which does not tolerate any general and strict law of order; and valuable possibilities dissipated in purely personal positions and in the fireworks of a creativity disjoined from any higher meaning and tradition. Here the author, rather than the work itself, is at center stage.


Thus, descending even lower, the same "Mediterranean" component is found in the contemporary pseudo-genial type, who is ever critical and always ready to uphold the opposite thesis in order to make a show of himself, being very clever in finding ways to get around an obstacle and in eluding a law. Even lower we find the maliciousness and the shrewdness (i.e., knowing how to "fool" others) that the Mediterranean type regards as synonyms for intelligence and superiority, whereas the "Roman" type would feel in this a degradation, a betrayal of one's dignity. I have discussed this attitude earlier on, when speaking of Manacorda.


The Roman chastity or sobriety of speech, expression, and gesture is contrasted by the gesticulating, noisy, and disordered exuberance of the Mediterranean type, by his mania for communication and effusiveness, and by his feeble sense of boundaries, hierarchy, and silent subordination. The counterpart of these traits is often a lack of character, the tendency to get excited and become drunk with words: verbosity, a flaunted and conventional sense of honor, susceptibility, concern for appearances but with little or no substance. The expression "Pobre in palabras pero in obras largo" [Poor of words but rich in deeds], which characterized the ancient Spanish aristocratic type, should be compared with Moltke's characterization: "Talk little, do much, and be more than you appear to be"; all this points to the "Roman" style.


The Mediterranean man often shares with the so-called "desert race" (a psychological-anthropological classification by Clauss, probably the effect of the presence within him of some elements of this race) an intense, explosive, and changeable temperament, tied to circumstances and also flaring up; an immediacy and the power of desire or affection in the emotional life; and random intuitions in the intellectual life. A style of psychological equilibrium and a sense of measure are not his strength. Although he is always cheerful, enthusiastic, and optimistic in appearance, especially when he is in the company of other people, in reality the Mediterranean type experiences sudden psychological lows, and discovers dark and hopeless inner visions that make him anxiously shun solitude and return to exteriority, noisy social interactions, effusions, and passionateness.


While acknowledging this, in an eventual rectification we should not proceed by mere antitheses. Nietzsche's saying: "! evaluate a man by his power to delay his reactions" may certainly act as a general basic principle against disorderly impulsivity and "explosiveness." Nietzsche himself warned against every morality that tends to dry up every impetuous current of the human soul instead of channeling it. The capability of control, equilibrium, continuity in feeling and in willing must not lead to a withering and mechanization of one's being, as seems to be the case with some negative traits of the central-European and Anglo-Saxon man. What matters is not to suppress passion and to give to the soul a beautiful, regulated, and homogeneous, though flat form; but rather to organize one's being in an integral way around the capability of recognizing, discriminating, and adequately utilizing the impulses and the lights that emerge from one's deep recesses. It cannot be denied that passion is predominant in many Mediterranean Italian types, but this disposition does not amount to a defect, but rather to an enrichment, provided it finds its correlative in a firmly organized life.


A more negative element of the Mediterranean type is sentimentality. Here we should distinguish between sentimentality and true feeling, the former being a degeneration and rhetorical form of the latter. The former plays a predominant role in various expressions typical of the Mediterranean soul. As an example we could adduce a number of sugary songs; the success and the echo they have in the popular soul, despite their patent insincerity, are significative.


The Mediterranean man is always inclined to defend himself, just as the Nordic man tends to judge himself. The former is alleged to be more indulgent with himself than with others, and to be reluctant to examine the hidden motives of his inner life under a clear and objective light. This opposition is rather unilateral. Generally speaking, we should not ignore the dangers inherent in morbid introspection: I am thinking here of the line that leads to psychoanalysis and to the psychology of some of Dostoyevsky's characters on the one hand, and to certain complexes of guilt or existential anguish on the other. A style of simplicity and sincerity, first of all toward one's soul, is essential for a superior human type, as is the natural precept of being strict with oneself but understanding and cordial with others. Specific connections with the racial factor subsist only in part in this regard.


We should instead consider the importance that sex has for the Mediterranean type. The sexualization of morality on the one hand, and the turning of women and sex almost into an obsession on the other, are not just typically "Mediterranean" traits, since in the latter we can recognize one of the general phenomena of every degenerating civilization. We cannot deny, however, the emphasis that this inclination receives in the average Mediterranean-Southern type, in contrast with what was proper to the best Roman ethics, which assigned to women and to love their rightful place, neither too high nor too low. Roman ethics pointed to the really fundamental values for a clear and virile formation of character and life, without adopting puritanical moralisms. Generally speaking, in Italy the relationships between the two sexes present a far from satisfactory aspect. Southern "temperament" with its primitive features, or with its up-to-date type of the Latin lover; an existing complex of bourgeois prejudices, with hypocrisies, inhibitions, conventionalisms; and a cheap and widespread corruption—all this is far from a line of clarity, sincerity, freedom, and courage. This theme would require a special analysis, but this is not the proper context for it, as it affects more general problems than those of the Mediterranean typology.


Having briefly outlined these opposite elements of style, we should recall that they represent two limits. The qualities of the "Roman" type represent the positive limit of dispositions hidden in the best parts of our people, just as the qualities characterized as "Mediterranean" correspond to the negative limit and the less noble part of it; these limits are also found as components in other peoples, especially in the "Latin" group. However, we must realize that too many times behaviors resembling the "Mediterranean" type have been identified, especially abroad, as typically Italian, and that the "Mediterranean" component appears to have prevailed overall in Italian life following World War II.


And yet, a trend in the opposite direction would not be inconceivable under certain conditions. Only this trend could create the basis for a new State and a new society, for there is no doubt that formulas, programs, and institutions are of little help when there is no human substance, at least in the dominating elite. In every man there are various possibilities, at least in principle, that can be traced to primordial legacies. While in the best moments of our history we recognize the Aryan-Roman component, in periods of crisis and concealment we can detect the emergence and prevalence of what we have conventionally called the "Mediterranean" component; I said "conventionally" because it consists rather of Mediterranean debris and residues, influences of non-European races that have almost no history, or products of ethnic decay and erosion.


In the rectifying and formative action the key role will always be played by the political myth, in Sorel's sense of a galvanizing idea-force. The myth reacts on the environment, implementing the law of elective affinities: it awakens, frees, and imposes those possibilities of single individuals and the environment to which they correspond, while the others are silenced or neutralized. The selection can obviously take place in reverse, according to the nature of the myth. Thus, the communist and democratic myths appeal to what is most promiscuous and degraded in modern man; the corresponding movements owe their success to the mobilization of such elements through the inhibition of every different, higher possibility and sensibility.


If a rectification occurred, obviously we would not be able to see results overnight. Besides the above-mentioned condition, consisting of the presence of a political myth capable of creating a given climate, and a specific human ideal, what is needed is a persistent action for a sufficiently long period, stronger than the relapses and eventual reemergences of the opposite possibilities. As is well known, during the Fascist era Italy attempted to start similar developments, whose most serious concern, though it was felt only by a minority, was to increasingly transform a "Mediterranean" Italy into a "Roman" Italy. An adequate integrating counterpart could have been the initial separation of Italy from her "Latin sisters" and a reapproach to the German people, beyond the plane of mere political concerns.


It goes without saying that considering the contemporary climate in Italy, with its democratic nadir and its Marxist intoxication, it would be purely utopian to suggest similar ideas again. This obviously does not affect their intrinsic and normative value, as well as the value of other "outdated" ideas. Their "outdatedness" could disappear only at the point of a rupture and a reaction from within, which quite often take place in almost organic terms at the end of dissolutive processes.



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