A new Nathan for the left in Rome

A new Nathan for the left in Rome
A new Nathan for the left in Rome

The themes are analogous to a century ago. As mayor he gave the shock, denied the prejudice that for the city there is nothing to do

A low blow. Almost a stab in the heart. Just as the center-left chooses his champion among seven candidates for the Capitol – seven like the fatal hills, seven like the dwarfs of Snow White – a splendid volume is released for Marsilio that tells us about Ernesto Nathan and the invention of Rome. The mayor who changed the Eternal City. Anyone who immerses himself in the 284 pages written by Fabio Martini, Roman, Romanist and political signature of the Press, is first taken by despair, then he gets angry. Because it is impossible to avoid the merciless confrontation between that revolutionary class of over a hundred years ago and the lost souls of the current left; between the tumult of ideas, passions and programs that characterized the reforming “Bloc” of the early twentieth century and the emptiness of the present. To put it in Roman dialect, “there is no tripe for cats” (an expression apparently coined by Nathan himself).

Reading it turns out that the catchphrases of the 2021 electoral campaign are more or less the same as then. So dirt and transport. Water quality. Pavements. Lighting. The proverbial holes in the historic center. The abandonment of the suburbs. With some modest variations on the theme. Instead of horse-drawn omnibuses we have buses that catch fire. At the time prohibitive rents, today an invasion of B & Bs and premises opened by the Camorra. The malaria that came to lick the slums along the Tiber has disappeared (fortunately); on the other hand, mice, crows, parrots and seagulls proliferate. The sheep that grazed in the city, even in Piazza del Popolo, have been replaced by wild boars. Today, as then, the moral question hovers in the offices of the Capitoline bureaucracy. But while now there is an almost complacent addiction to decay, Nathan gave the shock. She focused heavily on education, she encouraged a visionary teacher like Maria Montessori. He brought light and gas to the Romans. It gave birth to municipal companies able to reduce the costs of essential services by competing with private individuals. He set the guidelines for urban development by putting a stop to the prevailing speculation. In 1913 he left a city almost unrecognizable compared to 1907: a modern European capital, projected into the future, which had not solved the problems (let alone) but at least saw the solution.

Martini wonders: why did Nathan not go to school? Why after him did we go back to “volèmose bene”, to making a living, to eternal compromise with predatory interests, to legality as an excuse for doing nothing, to immobility in various disguises? Right questions, especially a few months before the elections. Discrediting, however, is not the author’s aim. Indeed, from the very first lines the opposite objective is grasped, to give some useful advice to those who want to follow in Nathan’s footsteps. There is a subdued pedagogical intent in the book, which springs from a curiosity: how that man did in just 6 years, that is, a little less than those wasted by Virginia Raggi, to carry out the greatest urban transformation of the modern era, guaranteeing education for all, state-of-the-art public services, respect for rules, secularism, moral intransigence, war on public administration fancazzisti, primacy of politics over bureaucracies, citizen participation in choices. All very leftist things even though Nathan was a republican, an austere and philanthropist Mazzinian who could not conceive of rights without duties, who grew up in the myth of the “Third Rome” (the first was of arms, the second of letters, the third should have shine for a good example). Anti-populist, we would classify it today.

He was not even a Roman from Rome, indeed a foreigner tout court because he came from a cosmopolitan Jewish family that had taken root in London; nothing in common with the “generone”, with the papal nobility, with the Piedmontese invaders, with the turnover and fixers in tow. In addition, a great Freemason, elected by an array of socialist, liberal, radical and republican priest-eaters. No companions of the parishioner. A foreign body to the establishment as much as (to be understood) recently was Ignazio Marino, perhaps even more so than the surgeon who was reinvented as mayor and soon liquidated. But although he was an alien, perhaps for this very reason, our Ernesto went straight with total ferocity, with intransigence, like a true punisher. He denied the prejudice that for Rome there is nothing to be done, because the city is resistant to any progress. False theorem.

You can even change in the shadow of the Dome. But to beat the inertia you need a fire inside, you need ambitious ideas, unshakable convictions above all about Rome, about what it represents for Italy and in the world. Ambitious programs are needed supported by courage and determination. Independence from strong powers. Moral righteousness. Desire to progress. Almost religious sense of a mission. Having it, another Nathan.

(Ugo Magri, Huffpost)

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