Can fascism return to government in Italy?

Is fascism back in Italy? One hundred years after the March on Rome, neo-fascists are close to leading their nation as the main force in an electoral coalition with a manifesto that seeks to promote and defend the historical roots and identities of a Judeo-Christian Europe.

In recent days, the controversies, not always constructive, related to the fascist matrix of the “Brothers of Italy” (FDI) party led by Giorgia Meloni, who is leading the polls for the upcoming Italian elections at the end of September, have flared up.

Outside of Italy the mainstream media generally do not seem to have much doubt on the subject and continue to monitor Italy for a “fascist” or “post-fascist” government. FDI exponents responded by insisting on the disproportionate influence that the Italian left supposedly has on the most critical foreign columnists (including the New York Times).

Although there is real concern about possible international alliances of a nationalist government with forces historically close to Vladimir Putin, it seems as if Meloni’s supporters want to believe that there are (dark) entities ready to stop Trump clones cooked in Italic sauce.

Observing the Meloni phenomenon calmly and relying on academic research on these parties, we can have interpretive keys less linked to the electoral chaos that Italy is experiencing.

It is clear that the FDI is a far right movement and as such is studied by the international community of academics and scholars. The problem is that in Italy such a classification can be considered politically motivated.

Why use the term “far right” if they call themselves conservative? One problem is that since the arrival of Berlusconi and his now famous “coalition of moderates”, public opinion has internalized a message that does not necessarily correspond to historical reality. A similar change occurred with a historical revisionism that in recent years has allowed the rehabilitation of the Mussolini regime.

Today the FDI shares many of its policies with movements such as Vox in Spain and Orbanism in Hungary, including Euroscepticism, positions contrary to Islam, the closure of borders, a strong defense of traditional and Christian values.

The same thing happens in Latin America with right-wing extremists like Javier Milei in Argentina or Jose Antonio Kast in Chile. We observe, in short, a rejection of what is different and of differences. The enemies materialize in concepts such as “stateless” cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, multiethnicity, and globalization. These are precisely features common to the European and Latin American extreme right.

Trumpism and Bolsonarism are comparable trends in a history that includes fascism, populism, and neo-fascism (although the latter are not identical entities). These “-isms” share the same genealogy (not all fascists remained “fascists” after 1945).

Populism being a debated term, Meloni’s party certainly shows clear populist traits, especially at the level of communication and in reference to the cult of the leader, a presidentialism that limits the power of parliament and a strong antagonism against the elites considered enemies of the people.

However, Meloni’s party is not only “populist”, much less conservative. Using these notions, without discussing the historical dimension, is a way, probably indirect and inadvertent, of avoiding other historical and conceptual categories such as fascism and neo-fascism.

These simplifications do not help to understand the Meloni phenomenon, not even a serious reflection on its xenophobic and illiberal dimension. Today, however, the most debated aspect, due to the many controversies over the IDF symbol making direct reference to the MSI, is whether or not the party is neo-fascist.

It is known that their response was to re-propose a flame of which they feel “proud”. It is a movement included in a genuinely neo-fascist tradition. Abandoning the flame would mean breaking ties with a community and an imaginary reference anchored in Mussolini’s legacy.

A symbolism that is not only made of flames and, as the clumsily published photos on the web tell us, of Roman greetings and various fascist symbols. We are talking about a philosophical apparatus built on books, “patriots” of the past, literary sagas, lost worlds and ideas that never slept.

Today, the West is gripped by centrifugal and polarizing impulses seeking a new path that is not necessarily democratic, with populists returning to fascism and nationalists increasingly radicalizing to the right.

Leaders like Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro represent this new political formula. Hungary and Poland trace a comparable path to defend a white and Christian (but not necessarily democratic) Europe. With a strong majority after September 25, right-wing Italian nationalists are likely to try to follow a similar path.

Federico Finchelstein and Andrea Mammone are historians.

Can fascism return to government in Italy?