Politics was once seen as a job for hardened professionals or the elite. The practitioners, in other words, were self-made men who cracked deals in smoke-filled back rooms, or aristocrats who governed with a sense of noblesse oblige.
In that simpler time, grubby municipal politics held scant attraction for artists and writers. Shakespeare did not use his critical success at court with The Merry Wives of Windsor to put in a bid to become Lord Mayor of London. The joys of managing Moscow City Council did not tempt Tolstoy, let alone Dostoevsky.
How things have changed, as Dario Fo's energetic attempt to become the next Mayor of Milan reveals. Running the buses and balancing the books in this Italian city clearly holds an appeal for the man best known for writing Accidental Death of An Anarchist. But in making a march on municipal politics, Fo is only the latest in a long line of artists who have tried breaking down the barrier that once separated politics and the arts. Actors have led the way, from Shirley Temple, who traded in the role of child star for that of diplomat, to the former B-movie actor turned US president, Ronald Reagan.
Writers have been shyer about taking to the hustings, which is why Fo's move should be applauded. Hot on the heels of Michael Ignatieff's reincarnation as a Liberal MP in Canada, he is breaking new ground as an author and - as a 79-year-old political novice - is striking a blow against the tedious cult of youth. Hooray for Dario. And for the country that gave birth to the Renaissance, once again Italy shows she is still the land of chaos and ideals.Reuse content