Italy turns to philosophy to justify Silvio Berlusconi's grip on power

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The Independent Online

Italy appears to have exhausted prosaic explanations for Silvio Berlusconi’s continued occupancy of the Prime Minister’s office, and is turning instead to philosophy.

The premier’s populist appeal, his suspicion of taxes and a feeble opposition are by themselves not enough to explain his immunity to endless sleaze allegations, a leading Italian thinker told an audience of thousands at the weekend.

Instead, while it was being reported that the 74-year-old premier had turned up to an official Church event with two prostitutes posing as secretaries, Maurizio Ferraris of Turin University blamed the country’s agony on post-modernism.

In Modena's sun-baked Piazza Grande delegates at the annual Festival of Philosophy heard Derrida collaborator Prof Ferraris speak of about the moral pitfalls of the cultural trend -- and how Italy's prime minister was one of post-modernism’s most monstrous creations.

Truth in today’s less morally rigid environment, said Prof Ferraris, had become a flexible commodity; humour and self-interest now took precedence over ethics, making anything possible in Berlusconi's Italy.

Embarrassing revelations about the Prime Minister’s personal and public life continued to dribble out, however. In addition to Mr Berlusconi taking call girls to Church, wiretaps published yesterday suggested that in September 2008 Mr Berlusconi’s head of security had also procured young women to help satisfy the Prime Minister’s huge sexual appetite.

More press reports suggested Mr Berlusconi may have pulled strings so Giampaolo Tarantini, the man accused of supplying prostitutes to his parties and blackmailing him afterwards, could obtain the travel documents needed for a business trip to China.

Meanwhile, magistrates’s remarkable ability to access the Prime Minister’s personal phone calls has been illustrated almost comically by one taped call he received from businessman Valter Lavitola. The latter is recorded saying: “I’m calling from Sofia in Bulgaria with a telephone from here; surely they can't intercept this call...”

Sources close to Mr Berlusconi made the unsurprising disclosure that he felt “worn out”, but that he had no intention of quitting. He said he had committed no crime, and added that half the Italian public would like to "have relations with young beautiful women".

Investigators suspect that Mr Berluconi was made to pay large sums of money to Mr Tarantini, in order to keep a lid on the call-girl services. Berlusconi denies all of the charges.

Yesterday evening at 8pm the deadline set by magistrates for Mr Berlusconi to turn up for questioning over the suspected blackmail elapsed.

Prosecutors could try getting Parliamentary approval to drag the premier before them in order to quiz him on their suspicions. But Mr Berlusconi’s slim but persistent majority makes that unlikely. It also makes any immediate government collapse unlikely, too, despite plummeting poll ratings.

Post-modern or not, for the foreseeable future Italy’s political debacle looks set to continue.