February 11, 2018 by John Bruce Leonard
Sketch of the Italian General Elections
THE ITALIAN ELECTIONS, scheduled for the fourth of this coming March, are now less than a month distant. They are unlikely to receive the kind of broad international interest which attended the late French elections; nonetheless, in certain ways they will be even more consequential for the near future of Europe, not least of all as regards the “migrant crisis,” since Italy in the present moment is the major gateway for the hordes of foreigners that now accost European shores, and is almost the exclusive port of entry for the waves of African infiltrators, who, unless we very rapidly change our ways, are destined in coming years to pullulate out of the Black Continent and toward our West in numbers astounding. This election therefore most assuredly deserves our assiduous attention.
Had I my druthers, I should most like to see CasaPound’s Simone di Stefano in office (CasaPound is even named after our very own American poet, with whom I nearly share a birthplace). But CasaPound cannot win this election, nor come near to winning it, and support for CasaPound in the present atmosphere is so much wasted effort. We are thus caught in the vicegrip, between principle and practice.
Fortunately, I have never “believed in democracy,” and so I am spared the usual tiresome ballot-box pangs of conscience. The only question of any importance in this election, as in any democratic election of our day, is what might legitimately issue from it, and what most serves us in the end. We must be as uncompromising in our values and our vision, as we are flexible in our praxis in this haunted and diseased present day. If we hold out any hope of a renewal from within, through the kind of developments we see glimmering up in Hungary and Poland and Austria, then the only thing to desire from this Italian election is the victory of the Lega, and Matteo Salvini.
Italian politics has a well earned reputation for opacity and complexity, and I can hardly hope to clarify all the issues involved in this election, nor the complications and particularities of the Italian system of government, in the course of a brief essay. It might be of use to some of my readers, however, if I were to provide at least a brief outline of the candidates most essentially involved.
The Old Fox: Silvio Berlusconi and Forza Italia
Silvio Berlusconi of the “center-right,” and leader of Forza Italia, has been a fixture in Italian politics for as long as anyone of my generation can remember. He has served as Prime Minister for a total of nine years of his more or less quarter century in politics, which is a remarkable achievement in the constantly shifting terrain of Italian politics. He has survived an impressive onslaught of accusations (such as collusion with the Mafia) and official court charges (including defamation, bribery, and soliciting sex from minors), as well as a single serious conviction (tax fraud), any one of which items would have indelibly tarnished the reputation of an American politician and sent him flying into an early retirement. Berlusconi has navigated these difficulties with remarkable agility, and despite all of his troubles (or, one is sometimes tempted to wonder, because of it?) continues to be a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, the present election in a certain respect hinges on him.
The political right, Salvini included, cannot win without a coalition. There is a long-standing and well respected tradition in Italy of Italian Prime Ministers being forced out of office almost so soon as they have arrived in it; when the Prime Minister and the parliament to which he is supposed to be ministering cannot come to any substantial agreement, “the government falls,” the Prime Minister resigns, and the President appoints a “technical government” to continue to the end of the term. This has happened to every government in the history of the Republic with a single exception (that honor again goes to Berlusconi). Salvini’s victory would thus be but the first step in a long climb; he would need a larger base of support wider than he can count on in the parliamentarians of the Lega alone; he will need Berlusconi.
In his person, Berlusconi is charismatic as the devil. He has a face reminiscent of Mussolini (or at least did before repeated plastic surgery rendered him into a kind of waxen caricature of himself) and a simpatia all his own. The Italians often compare him to Trump—a parallel that in certain respects holds water. He, like Trump, debouched altogether unexpectedly onto the political scene after becoming an extraordinarily wealthy building magnate and media tycoon; he, like Trump, has a tendency to dance over the top of scandal and to constantly arrest the public attention. He has publicly compared himself with both Jesus Christ and Napoleon Bonaparte, and revels in retelling the latest jokes about him during his speeches. His tongue, being Italian, is fluenter than Trump’s, and he, unlike Trump, knows what laughter is (after one of his enemies exploded a bomb at his private gate, he was recorded in a private telephone conversation laughing uproariously after commenting that the bomber just wanted to leave a message, but probably didn’t know how to write).
It must be eternally held to Berlusconi’s credit that we owe it to him alone if in the wake of the Mani Pulite (think Watergate, but with almost every major politician of almost every major party, with the suspicious exception of the communist, eliminated or paralyzed in consequence) the communists did not seize total control of Italian government.
As for his politics today—that is nothing we can count on. It is a mixture of old-style conservatism and unabashed self-serving, which will lead without doubt to a more or less steady continuation of the untenable status quo. As will be all too familiar to my American readers, he tends to use various kinds of tax cuts as the primary enticement for his voters. Moreover, it is essential to remember that Berlusconi himself cannot serve as Prime Minister, since he has been found guilty of crime in an Italian court of law. Were his party to win, no one knows what man he would put up to rule in his stead. A victory of Forza Italia would be nothing to count on; it is safe to predict that such a “victory” would instead represent a terrible loss, so far as the West is concerned.
The Young Weasel: Matteo Renzi and the Partito Democratico
I have a deep dislike for the leftist candidate, Matteo Renzi, and things should go hard for me here, were I seeking to write a strictly impartial report in good contemporary journalese. Happily, I am constrained by no such necessity, and can openly assert my considered opinion that a Renzi government would be, in the short term, the worst thing possible for Italy and for Europe.
Renzi is surely a creature of the globalists; that should be stated immediately. He (and the “technical government” that followed his collapse, which is universally recognized by the Italians as the same regime wearing a different face) has been primarily responsible for manufacturing the immigration crisis in Italy. When he was Prime Minister (role which he was essentially handed on a silver platter and in the absence of the usual elections, through circumstances we cannot discuss here) he liked to put a hard face toward the European Union, speaking of all the ways it was disadvantaging to the Italians; several times, he made a great show of marching up north to confront the bad old Europeans, only to then slavishly accept whatever the Brussels technocrats asked of him.
Most importantly, to say it again, it was Renzi who presided over the beginning of the “migrant crisis,” it was Renzi who was responsible for each step in its aggravation, and it would be Renzi who would continue without hesitation along those lines were he to return to the government.
I will give a mere indication of the quality of the Italian left today. I have already noted that the present Gentiloni government which replaced Renzi is essentially identical to Renzi’s in every way, except in the names of those involved. Early last year, when it came to public attention that the NGOs in their “philanthropic work” were not gathering up desperate and drowning refugees, so much as actively sailing to the coast of Libya to ferry African settlers back to Europe, in blatant disregard of their own declarations and of every relevant international law, the public outcry was so fierce that Prime Minister Gentiloni decided something had to be done. He announced he was going to prohibit any non-Italian NGO (meaning, practically all of them) from bearing migrants to Italian soil. But then Gentiloni mysteriously changed his mind, after a certain George Soros flew down to have a private chat with him.
The mass immigration of Africans and Middle Easterners is extremely unpopular in Italy. Matters have come to such a head that Renzi himself has been forced to change his rhetoric. He recently said in one of his speeches that “it would be better to help the Africans in Africa” rather than bringing them here to Europe, which has been one of the talking points of certain “far right” elements for some years. (Alas, almost no one, not even Salvini, has the courage to state that it would be better not to “help” the Africans at all, but rather to leave them to their own devices.)
It is unlikely this change in approach will save him, however. He is generally unpopular, in part because his policies have so clearly failed, and in part because of the shocking strategic error which cost him his Prime Ministry. During the Italian Referendum of 2016, Renzi made the mistake of stating (repeatedly) that he would withdraw from politics forever were his Referendum to fail. No doubt partially because of this promise, the Referendum was a flop, and Renzi duly stepped down. He has unfortunately declined to keep his promise to its letter, and most Italians, who are inured to the rampant dishonesty of their politicians, have already forgotten that his return to politics stands in blatant contradiction to his guarantee.
Renzi’s return to rule would be a disaster for the Italians, and a serious blow to the Europeans. Supposing there is any hope of turning the unwieldy bark of contemporary politics around without first capsizing it altogether, the weasel aforementioned is to be opposed thoroughly and unambiguously as the charlatan and spineless stooge he is.
The Two-Star Candidate: Luigi Di Maio and the Movimento 5 Stelle
Il Movimento 5 Stelle, the Five Star Movement, made waves in Italy at its original appearance, and for a while was taken, both in Italy and abroad, as a genuine possibility for rectifying the impossible abuses of the Italian system. Then it managed to get one of its candidates elected to the mayorship in Rome, and another in Turin, and after two startlingly bad performances in both those cities, found its reputation tarnished. Still, it remains today one of the prime players in this game. The candidate it has put up is one clean-cut young man (he has only just broken thirty years of age) by the name of Luigi Di Maio.
There have been attempts in the past to associate the Five Star Movement with the same populist right which forced Brexit and elected men like Trump and Kurz to office—but this is simply fatuous. The Five Star Movement is populist, without a doubt, but in the worst sense of the term; it panders to the mysterious god of the demos and follows that deity’s every obscurest whim. In consequence, it is impossible to pin down on any major issue. It is still unclear, for instance, what Di Maio would do about immigration or what his stance on the European Union might be, as he has changed his rhetoric on these subjects time and time again. He is certainly all for fiscal responsibility of one kind or another, and would desperately like to reduce the stipends of the Italian parliamentarians. That is nice, but at this historical juncture, it would be like administering a band-aid to a chainsaw wound. We can be sure that a Five Star government would push for bike lanes in every city and universal access to internet. If any one of my readers supposes that this is the stuff of statesmanship and high rule, then by all means, Di Maio is strongly to be recommended.
Some confusion has arisen regarding this movement abroad, and particularly in the United States, and it might be worth clarifying a few points. The Five Star Movement was founded by a “web strategist” named Gianroberto Casaleggio and a clown—excuse me, a comedian—by the name of Beppe Grillo. Beppe Grillo (whose name in English translation would be Joe the Cricket) has certainly been the movement’s primary spokesperson and, together with Luigi De Maio, its foremost public representative. Grillo, as his name suggests, is small, loud, and, whenever he is chirping too close at hand, utterly obnoxious. He, like Berlusconi, cannot run for office himself (in Grillo’s case, because he was found guilty of reckless homicide for a traffic accident in which two people lost their lives). But he together with Casaleggio was largely responsible for determining the Movement’s stance (or lack thereof) on the issues of the day.
It is also not superfluous to note that the Five Star Movement, despite its repeated and importunous references to democracy, is itself in a number of ways rather opaque in its inner workings. As an example, when its founder Gianroberto Casaleggio died, his son immediately took his place without any kind of internal election. There is another suspicious point in this, as the Casaleggio family owns, has been indicated, an important I.T. company, and the Five Star Movement is firm on nothing if not the necessity of universalizing the use of internet, which it even proposes to make a central part of its politics and voting procedures.
Unsurprisingly, there have been tensions between the Five Star Movement and Salvini’s Lega. They were originally flirting with the idea of attempting an alliance, but the differences between them have appeared too starkly in recent days, and they have become increasingly estranged and mutually hostile. Judging by the friable mettle of the Five Star Movement, this is hardly a change to be lamented.
A Scrapper of the Populist Right: Matteo Salvini and the Lega
This brings us at last to Matteo Salvini, the candidate for the Lega, or Northern League, and the man who, to my mind, is (sadly) the last hope for saving the present shambles known laughably as the Italian republic.
The Lega takes its original name, the Lega Nord, from its initial intent to form a party for the separatist north; the idea of its founder, the maundering Umberto Bossi, was (to put it very briefly) that the north of Italy and the south have absolutely nothing in common and should be broken into two independent countries. Matteo Salvini is almost single-handedly responsible for transforming this local and essentially regional party into a national phenomenon. Toward this end, he has quite naturally distanced himself from the separatist intentions of Bossi. I think it probable he has not given up altogether on separatist notions, however, and this is, for a number of reasons, one of the problematic aspects of Salvini and his party. I do not believe, however, that political fragmentation would be anywhere near foremost in his mind were he to succeed in winning the election; to speak of no other concerns, the mechanics of Italian politics would guarantee that any movement in that direction would result in essentially a political suicide on Salvini’s part. More likely than not Salvini would attempt other routes of rendering the north of Italy somewhat more internally independent from the south; nor in truth can one fault him in this.
This, to some extent, is a merely “internal question,” though it can be no doubt that a Balkanization of any European country in this moment would have extraordinary effects on the whole.
But let us leave that briar-like aside for the present. It is worth giving an idea of Salvini’s character, rough and ready as it is. I will recount but three episodes which I found to be particularly amusing, and which might aid in giving my readers a sense of the man’s character.
During a confrontation with a certain Pina Picierno, a rather outspoken leftist politician, Salvini was castigated by this same Picierno for having had the audacity to call her, with good Italian politesse, “Signorina Picierno” (Miss Picierno). She angrily responded that she had already told him not to call her “miss,” nor to refer to her by any political title at all; she was, she hotly informed him, simply “Pina Picierno.” Salvini, after muttering under his breath and rolling his eyes to the heavens, proceeded to call her “Pina Picierno” for the remainder of his debate with her, in many cases finishing every clause of every response to her with name in full. (“The countries of Northern Europe take one month to identify refugees, Pina Picierno, while Italy takes a year and a half, Pina Picierno; we have to appoint people capable of determining who is a refugee and who is not, and non-refugees, Pina Picierno, must be immediately deported…”)
Or again, when Salvini was invited onto a television show to expound on his views, and the anchorwoman decided to trot out the tired accusation always leveled against the Right, that Salvini’s views were somehow “inciting hatred and violence.” She quoted several comments posted by presumed Salvini supporters on some social network to bolster her claims. Salvini, by way of response, took his Smartphone in hand on the spot, and began reading word for word the obscene and violent statements that were being written against him on his own Facebook feed in that instant, by viewers of the interview presently underway. He then demanded to know if the anchorwoman was to be held accountable for these statements, and cordially asked her to return to serious matters, stating that such insinuating questions were “beneath her professionalism.”
Lastly, after the recent shooting of a number of blacks by an Italian in Macerata, Salvini was once again accused of being the cause of the violence. He retorted simply that the real blame for the violence lay with those who had forced these migrants upon Italian society in the first place.
Salvini knows how to speak, and is always ready with a response. And his views in many ways mirror our own. He supports stopping mass immigration immediately, and rigorously pursuing the repatriation (or, when this is impossible, the simple expulsion) of illegals. He would like to immediately abolish the “gypsy camps” which blister out across the face of Italy, and has on several occasions even personally visited the dwellings of these Rom, with the press in tow, to show the squalor and degradation of their living conditions, and to reaffirm in front of the television, the gypsies themselves, and all the world his intention to dismantle these filthy and un-European shanty towns. He opposes jus soli, the wild notion that a child born on Italian soil of non-Italian parents has an automatic right to citizenship. He upholds the right of a man to defend himself in his own home from burglars, rapists, and attackers without being prosecuted for doing so (as is sadly the case at present in Italy, as in other European countries). He believes that the punishment for certain crimes, as for instance repeat-offense rape, should include chemical castration. He opposes gay adoption. He also upholds a flat tax of fifteen percent, which, as I can assure anyone who has not had anything to do with Italian bureaucracy, would be a vast improvement over the present miserably laborious system. It is safe to say that Salvini would be a politician of the rank of Viktor Orbán or Sebastian Kurz—supposing, naturally, that his government were not to collapse immediately upon his election.
It is difficult to say to what extent Salvini agrees with the New Right so far as the deeper questions go. I suspect his views on the racial question harmonize with ours more than might sometimes seem. He is careful to state repeatedly and vocally that his stance on immigration has nothing to do with “skin color”; in his speeches, he takes up a kind of “Italy First” attitude which is reminiscent of Trump’s position (to which Salvini makes frequent and approving reference). He likes to refer his starker propositions back to questions of citizenship; for instance, when menacing the gypsies with eviction, he likes to say that if they live in Italy they deserve no special privileges, but have to be ready to “be good Italian citizens.” (The idea of a gypsy being a citizen, not to speak of a good one, is of course risible.) Yet I am not alone in suspecting he would be none too pleased, for instance, if his daughter came home with a gypsy for a boyfriend—or, for that matter, with a “black Italian.”
Salvini in our day of obfuscating political correctness and suffocating intellectual dishonesty never fails to delight, in his way. I cannot help but like the man, despite his failings, and it must be recognized that an enormity is riding on him at this moment. But the pathetic standards of our day should not lead us to lionize a man who is, by any higher view point, badly deficient. There is little enough of nobility in Salvini, and nothing of that austere dignity which characterizes the statesman. It is questionable enough to what extent he really has a vision for our future worthy of the name. So far as the question of what political form is finally right for the West to adopt as its own, and in what political and geopolitical ideas the West would best be exalted, I am of the view that Salvini has nothing whatever to offer. He is best understood as a more or less unapologetic representative of an original constitutional liberalism, and whatever innovations he proposes (as for instance the flat tax) are best understood as roads to that destination. He really just wants to get back to a quiet, secure, nicely democratic Italy, reminiscent of yesterday; he would like to join this bucolic vision with the economic and political efficiency of the North of Europe, and with the scientific innovation of America. He would really be content with this; but we cannot be.
For the immediate protection of Europe, Salvini is without question the best candidate we have at our disposal. For the realization of its higher future, he cannot represent anything other than a stepping stone.
SEE ALSO AUTHOR’S ESSAYS