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.
The rhetoric of imminent threats to the political system has been used and abused throughout history to stifle dissent, polarize politics, ostracize opposition, and much, much worse.
Political persuasion has been an art for millennia, going back to the very earliest non-absolutist systems such as ancient Greece and republican Rome. In those days, the targets of persuasion were primarily a socially-homogenous elite oligarchy which controlled politics without real input from the majority of the people. As time went on and these systems evolved (with fits and starts) into their more modern and recognizable forms, bringing more people into the political process, the targets of persuasion broadened. This expansion of the electorate, especially after the democratic revolutions and reforms of the 18th and 19th centuries, helped lead to the simplified messaging, inflammatory rhetoric, and hyperbolized language we are so familiar with today. Perhaps the easiest message by which to persuade voters to your side is the invocation of peril, especially to the political system or “way of life.” Much of the power of this message emanates from the association of the State with the People more broadly; instead of Louis XIV’s formulation “L’état, c’est moi,” we have a more pluralistic – although no more accurate – vision, “Létat, c’est nous.” This binding of People with State makes it possible to expand a narrow political danger to encompass all of society, feeding an attitude of existential menace. This stoking of a feeling of danger to the very foundations of the nation (and thus the People) is a powerful motivator by which to get your way politically; as such, it has been used by governments repeatedly over the past two centuries to achieve their goals – often for the worse.
Before getting into the meat of this section, I have a simple question for you to consider: since the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945, has the United States or any American state ever been governed by a party or individual that has openly espoused fascist or Nazi ideology?Read More »