This past weekend, Italy held snap parliamentary elections to replace its unpopular government. Although results are still being finalized, it looks as though the big winner of the day was the right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party. Brothers of Italy received the greatest share of the vote, twenty-six percent, and together with Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, they seem poised to build a government with popular backing.
If you’ve heard anything about the results of this democratic process from the mainstream media, however, it has likely been descriptions of Brothers of Italy and particularly Meloni herself as “hard right,” “far-right,” or even “fascist.” She has been labeled “a danger to Italy and the rest of Europe” by The Guardian, and the New York Times called her “the first far-right nationalist to govern Italy since Mussolini.” Reading those pieces, you might expect Meloni’s views to echo Il Duce’s famous fascist dictum: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” In reality, this media framing relies purely on conjecture, guilt by association, bad history, and bias.
Giorgia Meloni is a typical European social conservative: skeptical of the European Union, pro-family, anti-immigration, and against progressive gender and racial ideology. None of these ideas are outside of the global political mainstream, despite how “dangerous” certain liberal figures see them. One example given of Meloni’s supposedly-horrible rhetoric was from a 2019 speech in which she stated: “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian.” Does that anodyne phrasing scream “fascism” to you? It certainly did not to the voters who marked their ballots for her. She has also been criticized for her traditionalist views, viewing Italy as a Catholic nation (83% of its population identifies as such) and opposing LGBT causes. One may dislike these positions – I sure do – but they are not out of the ordinary in Italy itself. I am not a social conservative, and do not wish to see Meloni’s policies in the US, but she is not far-right in the European context and is certainly not a fascist.
Much of the argument leveled against Meloni is based on the reputation of her allies in Italy’s right-wing coalition. She has been equated with the League’s Matteo Salvini, although Meloni is a much more moderate politician. Another domestic partner whose previous reputation has been used to smear Meloni is the former PM Silvio Berlusconi. His image as a boorish lothario has been seized upon to downplay the fact that Meloni would become Italy’s first female Prime Minister. Much has been made of the fact that both Salvini and Berlusconi are against NATO’s support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia, but Meloni has been supportive of NATO policy. Given that her party doubled the votes of the other two, she is in the driver’s seat.
Her supposed links to Italy’s fascist past are also highly overblown. Many right-leaning parties in Italy can be associated with the fascist era, just as many parties in Germany can be linked to the Nazi period. Those tenuous links are useless in judging modern policies, as most of them were products of the post-war settlement and have since withered away. Meloni and her party have used rhetoric about “globalists” and “financial interests” working to hurt Italian citizens, which is often conflated with antisemitism and fascism by liberals. In reality, this sort of phrasing was, until the last decade at least, the prime rhetoric of the political left; recall the Occupy Wall Street protests and the early-2000s anti-WTO demonstrations that argued against globalism and financialization.
The apparent smoking gun against Meloni is her use of variations on the slogan “God, homeland, family.” Critics see this as directly echoing Mussolini’s rhetoric – and to be sure, Italian fascists did use somewhat similar wording – but the far-more-innocent roots lie deeper in Italy’s past. One of the fathers of Italian independence, Giuseppe Mazzini, is actually the originator of the phrase in the mid-19th century. Mazzini was one of the liberal crusaders of the 1848 revolution in Italy and fought for a social-democratic republicanism instead of a monarchical state. Calling back to Mazzini’s tradition of fierce independence, Italian sovereignty, and populist appeal is right in line with Meloni’s politics. The choice to link the slogan with Mussolini instead of Mazzini is a sleight of hand that betrays a political bias. It is telling that Meloni’s detractors see this basic patriotism as purely fascistic.
What liberal commentators are missing in their coverage of Meloni’s victory in Italy is the most important part: why people actually voted for her coalition. Many Italians are struggling with rising inflation and poor job prospects, unhappy with EU bureaucracy, and dissatisfied with the impact of mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. These trends have been evident across Europe, from Hungary, to Poland, to Sweden, and now Italy. Perhaps if the media focused more on the issues that matter to these voters instead of crying “fascism” at every opportunity, they would be less shocked by the results.