Columbus, Fabian, Rizzo and Me

Philadelphia and Italians — Perfect together. A new book explains why

Well — if the Irish could be turned into Quakers, we Italians could, too. In fact, not much effort was required: It’s an almost magical coincidence how much alike the Quaker and Southern Italian mind-sets seem to be. When Baltzell wrote of a group that "placed the desire for material comfort and security above the duties of political leadership, he was referring to Philadelphia’s old-name aristocracy, but could just as easily have meant its Southern Italians. Both have been justifiably suspicious of leaders and institutions, and so produced neither in any abundance; both are so self-effacing, so insistent on putting the individual’s needs after those of the community (Quakers) or family (Italians). In America, Italians adopted the mainstream Calvinist hunger for authority and achievement, except in the one place those good Protestant values were disdained — Eastern Pennsylvania, where the anarchic Quakers settled, where America was invented by forefathers not one of whom was reared in Philadelphia. (The only glaring flaw in this theory is that internationally respected Philadelphia architect Robert Venturi is actually an Italian-American Quaker.) The Quakers discouraged rising above one’s brethren; a Southern Italian "Never make your children better than you are,” takes the same point to a greater extreme. And while Italo-Philadelphians created a titan like Frank Rizzo, we only created one. But four Fabians.