Wednesday, December 7

Giorgia Meloni is not Mussolini, but she could be Trump

Italy “sums up the social contradictions of the whole world”, wrote the Situationist philosopher Guy Debord in 1968, and is therefore a “laboratory of the international counter-revolution”.

The political analysts of the world are now dedicated to interpreting Giorgia Meloni’s statements to find out if she is a fascist, neo-fascist or post-fascist; and to wonder how it is possible that Italians seem willing to propose a return to the darkest stage of their country.

But is Italy really facing the resurrection of its fascist past? And, above all, is Italy a laboratory whose experiment could be copied in the rest of the world? The answers, respectively, are: no and (therefore) yes.

Those who brand the Brothers of Italy as fascist are wrong. Meloni’s party is not so much the heir to the fascist movement started by Benito Mussolini as the first imitator in Europe of the American Republican Party.

Meloni is an astute political leader and capable of long-term action. In 2012, she left the relative safety of Silvio Berlusconi’s fold to found her own small party, Brothers of Italy. While she waited for her moment, Meloni built up her fan base step by step over the years. In 2021, she rejected a fast track to power when she refused to join Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

Now she has achieved that power, the first woman to achieve it in a terrifyingly patriarchal society, and it seems unlikely that she will squander such success on a seedy version of corrupt fascism 100 years later. Its goal is to grow the core of a new Italian and European policy.

A new far-right regime

This desire became manifest during the election campaign. Meloni did everything possible to guarantee the US government continuity with an Atlanticist, anti-Russian and anti-Chinese position. At the same time, he tried to assure the financial markets – and, yes, the European Union – that his government would keep public debt under control. In both cases he has frustrated Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, now minor allies who flirted with ideas of empathy for Russia and uncontrolled spending.

Her reasoning, correct, was that Brussels and Washington would more or less leave her alone to build her power base and execute her program at home if she could reassure them on economic and foreign policy. During a security, energy and price crisis, no one would risk ostracizing the Italian government just for protecting women’s reproductive rights or standing up for immigrants.

As opportunistic as it is, this approach is allowing it to build space for a new kind of far-right regime in Europe. Hawk in foreign policy, orthodox in economic policy, nostalgic, nationalist and contrary to civil liberties, this right-wing policy is illiberal in its essence. But he aspires to earn the respect of what used to be called the establishment avoiding, among other things, attacking the rule of law as the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, has done.

The degradation of the right

That Meloni is not a fascist outcast is precisely the reason that makes her actions a possible model for Europe, if not for the world. We may have left behind the days when victory by far-right and populist parties seemed unthinkable or untenable. Perhaps we are facing the new degenerate and right-wing normality in which that necessary and respectable space of democracy – that of Jacques Chirac, Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merke – becomes systematically perverted and occupied by Trumps and Melonis. Perhaps Meloni will get the extreme right to go from the condition of outsider in European politics to that of insider stubborn.

In the US, the Republican Party has led this degradation of the right, reshaped by its collusion with Donald Trump. It was recently aptly described by the columnist for the Financial Times Edward Luce as a “nihilistic, dangerous and despicable” political force. Half of the traditional political spectrum in the US has splintered off, taking with it the health of American democracy. We may be witnessing the imposition of the same phenomenon in Europe, rather than the spectacular rise of an ephemeral Italian fascist government.

The theory will be put to the test in Spain a year from now, with a possible alliance between the far-right Vox party and a rapidly degrading Popular Party.

Strengthening of the anti-European axis

It is unfortunate that Italian progressives are the ones facilitating this transformation. The liberal and left-wing parties won more votes in total than the right-wing coalition. But the right was, precisely, an alliance, while the progressive front was fractured and was heavily punished by the single-member electoral system – in which whoever arrives first wins. Led by Enrico Letta, the Democratic Party (centre-left) vetoed any possible alliance with the Five Star Movement and the Action party (centrist liberal) vetoed the Democratic Party. This uncooperative narcissism paved the way for the victory of the far right.

The EU may be a victim of this transformation. Meloni shares with other right-wing populists the instinct to oppose European integration, something regrettable and dangerous. The EU is about to debate the abolition of the unanimous vote, an essential measure to project a strong voice on foreign affairs, defense and energy policy. Meloni’s traditional allies, including Orbán, are opposed. It is to be hoped that the new Government of Italy will reinforce the anti-European axis formed by Budapest and Warsaw.

But Italy’s national interest lies in a strong EU, capable of defending its citizens at a time of geopolitical and economic crisis. If Meloni really wanted to make history, she would have to become the first pro-European far-right leader, aligning European and Italian nationalism. “A Europe that protects”, she might say, a powerful Europe that stops wasting time on rights and values ​​and focuses on arms, energy and foreign policy, the hard power issues that go beyond the EU nation states. A mixture of Marine Le Pen at home and Emmanuel Macron abroad. This is unlikely to happen.


It is still possible that Meloni will stick to the classic populist extremist script and plunge the country into endless immigration debates, isolate itself from other European capitals and wreak financial havoc with reckless economic policy. If he does, his government will be just one more point on the graph of contemporary Italian politics, characterized by an endless cycle of alternation between extremism and technocrats.

Instead, if he stays true to his long-term aspirations, he may be able to drag the European mainstream right into his mess. trumpian.

Debord reflected on the international consequences of Italy as a political laboratory. Other governments, he said, “look with admiration at the Italian state for the quiet dignity with which it wallows in the mud.” Perhaps he was too optimistic. This is not mud, but quicksand. And drag anyone who admires him for too long.

Lorenzo Marsili is a philosopher, activist and founder of European Alternatives and Fondazione Studio Rizoma. He is the author of the book ‘Planetary Politics: a Manifesto’.

Translation of Francisco de Zarate