Italy starts giving 18-year-olds free money: Counter-terrorism and the culture wars

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 14, 2016

italy culture2I kid you not. From tomorrow, September 15, the Italian government will give 575,000 young people who turn 18 this year €500 each. Just like that. They won’t see it as bank notes, of course, but it still comes to just under $600 or £428.28 per head. Quartz has calculated that the free money will cost the Italian government €290 million.

Apparently, it’s the cost of fighting the culture wars.

The teenagers are expected to spend their €500 at theatres, on concerts, and in museums. Through the “18app”, they can print off vouchers offered by the culture ministry. They are encouraged as Tommaso Nannicini, the parliamentary under-secretary overseeing the initiative, has said, to engage in “cultural consumption” and of its importance in “enriching yourself as a person and strengthening the fabric of our society.”

What does mean?

That the young people will come away thinking higher thoughts?

That they will forget the brutal charms of radical thinking after they see Michelangelo’s David?

That all thoughts of violent jihad will be banished after a Pirandello revivalist performance?

That they will be awed by opera in its birthplace?

That they will no longer have the nihilistic urge to smash all the Da Vinci sculptures on which they can get their hands? That the pre-radicalised teenager will be overcome instead by admiration for the creative genius of people who lived on the peninsula for centuries, much before it became the nation-state of Italy in 1861?

It sounds like rather a crackpot scheme, but it seems to be an entirely serious effort by the authorities to create a cultural generational bridge from the past through the present to the future.

Apparently the idea came to Italian officialdom after the November attacks in Paris. At the time, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said: “What happened in Paris signaled a step-up in the cultural battle that we are living. They imagine terror, we answer with culture. They destroy statues, we love art. They destroy books, we are the country of libraries.”

So there you have it.

The culture wars more fiercely fought than ever before.