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Tags: italy | first they took rome | david broder

Why Italy Is Moving Right

Why Italy Is Moving Right

By    |   Monday, 05 October 2020 09:08 AM

First They Took Rome: How the Populist Right Conquered Italy by David Broder. Verso: London, New York, 2020.

Let the reader be warned: First They Took Rome is full of details and easy to read, but difficult to comprehend unless the reader truly knows Italian politics.

But it is also highly useful in understanding how politics have changed since the Second World War, and where Italy is going in the very unpredictable Europe of today.

In short, Italian politics migrated first from the left to the center and then to the right.

At the same time, political activities morphed from mass movements defined by ideology into fragmented parties led by personalities and technocrats. This may well be the new trend in the era of globalization.

What would have helped Broder’s provocative book was an introduction on Italy’s inter-bellum evolution and more comparisons with other countries to place Rome’s experience in the international context.

Ideally, democracy should express the aspirations of the majority of the people, while simultaneously respecting the rights of various minorities. Politically, however, democracy is a perpetual struggle to achieve and maintain equality.

Economically, it is a continuous struggle between those who control most of the assets of a country and those who aspire to a higher share of those assets.

Change and uncertainty are the names of the game. Italy is no exception!

It is obvious that during the Fascist era, people suffered both politically and economically. That collective experience under Benito Mussolini made many Italians in the post-World War II years place their hopes on the Left. The result was that during the early post-war period, the Communist Party was the largest in the country.

But traditionally, the Italian culture is overwhelmingly Catholic, and that explains why for several decades after the war, Italy was led predominantly by Christian Democrats.

Yet, post-war politics was fraught with old patronage relations and corruption. This made people detest politics and politicians. Nevertheless, during the first post-war decade Italy developed economically and significantly improved the standard of living of its people. Society was satisfied.

With the passage of time, however, people began to revolt against the system and to ask for “clean politics.” By 1990, Italy and Europe were totally different places. The USSR had imploded and the Italian Communist Party lost its appeal.

The collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of Communist illusion and delusion, and of mass politics. 1991 also represented the end of the ‘First (Italian) Republic,’ the end of radicalism and the beginning of pragmatism.

As a consequence, the old party politics had to go into a “reorganization mode.” It was a new era dominated by new personalities that veered to the right side of the political spectrum. The ensuing fragmentation even led to the perspective of splitting the country between the North and the South. That trend was advocated by ‘Lega Nord’ or the Northern League, which obtained surprisingly good results at the polls.

Gradually, the new leaders that rose to national prominence managed to avoid the secessionist trend. At the same time, a younger and better educated generation moved away from mass politics and began to demand full participation and personal, rather than class, recognition.

The 90’s marked the beginning of what the author calls the ‘Second Republic.’ Slowly, the country was taken over by the new conservative party ‘Forza Italia’ led by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.

The new era led to new hopes for a clean politics, but also to more fragmentations and realignments. Unfortunately, Berlusconi did not end the corruption and, in the end, he was himself found guilty and sentenced in one of 32 cases in which he was tried.

To confound the situation, the 21st century found the European Union in full expansion and intruding ever more deeply into the domestic affairs of member countries. Moreover, with a huge national debt above 130 percent of its GDP, Italy was living on borrowed money and borrowed time.

Broder also mentions that Italy’s per capita GDP and industrial capacity has fallen by 25 percent since 1999. Remedying the situation required fiscal discipline and new sacrifices, but no party in power would take the necessary measures.

Disillusioned by the left, people changed their options and gradually Italy’s political landscape was taken over by conservative parties. The recent wave of migrants arriving in Italy has also triggered negative sentiments that increased pro-nationalist sympathies for La Lega and for its leader Matteo Salvini. That propelled Salvini to the forefront of Italian politics, which could be interpreted as the end of the Second Italian Republic.

So another era has started, but where Italy is going from here is as uncertain as the future of the entire European Union. What remains to be seen, Broder concludes, is whether Salvini “can consolidate his base and turn the radical right as the main force in the land.” (p. 188)

Italy is now polarized between the old center-left and the new populist right and between the unrealized promises of the old and the yet-to-be-fulfilled new promises.

For now, the left was defeated, but the right ought to fulfill the hopes and expectations of the people. This is not an easy task in the contemporary global world, in which internationalist circles manipulate from behind closed doors and national governments struggle to remain sovereign and serve their people.

In Italy, the left, aligned with invisible internationalists, is already calling Salvini a liar and a fascist.

And in the very last sentence of the book the author warns us that Italy may be “a mirror of our own future.”

Since the Second World War, the political pendulum in Europe has switched several times. It is now favorable to the right and to conservative movements, but no one should take it for granted. Conservatives must secure a delicate balance between national aspirations and global trends.

The pendulum will surely swing again, but honest and competent conservative leaders can make a big difference.

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir "Journey to Freedom," a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures.

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First They Took Rome is full of details and easy to read, but difficult to comprehend unless the reader truly knows Italian politics. But it is also highly useful in understanding how politics have changed since the Second World War, and where Italy is going...
italy, first they took rome, david broder
Monday, 05 October 2020 09:08 AM
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