President Joe Biden spoke at the United Nations on Wednesday. Surprisingly, he defended nationalism — in Ukraine: “This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people.” he said.
For some reason, when non-Ukrainian Europeans fight “to exist as a people,” they don’t get the same praise. (Of course, Western journalists didn’t celebrate the Ukrainian nationalist movement or its supporters before the invasion.)
We’ll see a test of President Biden’s apparent support for nationalism after the Italian elections on Sunday. A coalition led by the “Brothers of Italy” (Fdl) party is set to win. The conservative parties, including Matteo Salvini’s Lega and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, are united behind it, at least for now. The latest polls show the Fdl has a quarter of the vote, a dramatic increase from 2018, when it had just 4.4 percent, and the coalition could be the big winner.
Giorgia Meloni, who leads the party, calls for a naval blockade of North Africa to stop the illegal migrants streaming across the Mediterranean to Italy. There have been more than 42,000 of them so far this year. Modern leftists seem more interested in importing foreigners than helping native workers, which is why the Brothers are poised to win even a historically socialist area of Italy.
According to its platform, Brothers of Italy would put a moratorium on all immigration, and deport immigrants who commit serious crimes. It would bring back the death penalty, cut foreign aid, test welfare recipients for drugs, and outlaw government monitoring of phone calls and email. It would ban same-sex marriage and adoption by homosexuals.
Italy has a huge debt, which will require tough fiscal choices that Miss Meloni is willing to make. Small businesses are being crushed by bureaucracy and foreign competition, something that Brothers of Italy intends to fix. Miss Meloni does not want to take Italy out of the European Union and supports Ukraine, so she is not risking diplomatic isolation. The party supports Christian values. All this resonates with millions of voters — and, of course, elicits accusations of “fascism,” even from the image captions supplied by photo agencies:
“Brothers of Italy” — the party name — is taken from the first words of the Italian national anthem. Its founder, Giorgia Meloni, was born in 1977, 22 years after World War II ended, but here is typical coverage:
- “An offspring of fascism,” The Guardian, September 17, 2022
- “Italy is on its way to being run by ‘post-fascists,’ Washington Post, July 26, 2022
- “[I]f she wins, she will also be its first head of government whose political party has never fully renounced its fascist background,” Brookings, August 26, 2022
Last month, Miss Meloni issued a statement that her party “unambiguously condemn[s] Nazism and communism,” and said it “shares values and experiences with the British Tories, the U.S. Republicans and the Israeli Likud.” Her critics say it isn’t enough. It never is.
“There are clear signs that Brothers of Italy, a descendent of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a party set up by a minister in Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship, has not completely severed ties with its past,” complained The Guardian. The paper quoted Professor Luciano Cheles, presumably the same one who wrote Neo-Fascism in Europe in 1991, who said the past still lives on. Here’s some of the “evidence:”
In July, when Mario Draghi’s government collapsed, Meloni took to the stage in Piazza Vittorio, a square in a multicultural area of Rome, and told her supporters: “We’ve had three different governments, three different majorities [since the March 2018 general elections]. Have any worked? No. History has proved us right.”
Cheles said: “In an interview with a fascist journalist five days before his death, Mussolini said: ‘History will prove me right … a young person will rise, a leader who will inevitably agitate the ideas of fascism.’ I don’t think what Meloni said at Piazza Vittorio was purely accidental. The very phrase is so pompous, but in the far right when you mention ‘history’ you mean fascism.”
The real question here is why there needs to be a “multicultural area of Rome.”
The Italian equivalent to the American “October surprise” in this campaign was the recent discovery that an Fdl candidate, Calogero Pisano, reportedly called Adolf Hitler a “great statesman” on social media eight years ago. The party suspended him. This is the same kind of social media snooping that journalists and collaborationist conservatives used to split the Dutch right. For a supposedly fascist party, the Brothers of Italy were quick to dump the candidate.
Giorgia Meloni herself supposedly admired Mussolini when she was young. A video shows a young Miss Meloni calling Mussolini a “good politician” and saying that “everything he did, he did it for Italy.” During a recent interview, she was reportedly asked whether the Duce “had been evil and bad for Italy.” “Yeah,” she said.
Professor Cheles’s claim that “in the far-right when you mention ‘history’ you mean fascism” has it backwards. It’s the modern Left that is obsessed with fascism. The propaganda about “fascism” is intensifying, the farther we get from the war, and references to it are rising, according to Google’s Ngram viewer. “Antifascism” is the ideological glue holding the progressive coalition together, especially in the United States, and we impose this view on the entire West. Italy isn’t immune; there’s a running cultural battle about when it’s appropriate to sing “Bella Ciao,” an anti-fascist partisan anthem.
Unlike Germany, Italy wasn’t forced to build an entirely negative national identity, probably because it wasn’t coerced into unconditional surrender. Mussolini was ousted by the king and members of his own government. He ended up running a German protectorate in the north. The occupation was softer on Italy. Unlike Germans, Italians weren’t trained to loathe everything they did in the 20th century.
Leftists may be angry about that. Some want to impose that kind of regime on every Western nation. The Washington Post said that the German model of national self-flagellation would be good for the United States. Some Italian leftists may want that for their own country. Miss Meloni has complained that protesters making death threats have been let into her events while police stand by. The media may have incited them with by their repeated assertions that Miss Meloni is “fascist.”
Fascism is, as Miss Meloni has said, in the past. It was an extreme reaction to the threat of Communist uprisings. The Bienno Rosso, the “two red years” of 1919–1920 almost led to Communist revolution. This is what led to the rise of Benito Mussolini, a former socialist leader himself. Fascism was a revolutionary reaction to a leftist revolutionary movement. Without Communism, there would never have been fascists. Without fascism in Italy, Italy may have fallen to Communism. Fascism has little to do with today’s politics. Using “fascist” to smear someone is like calling someone a Jacobite. It’s irrelevant.
The single word on billboards with Miss Meloni’s face is “ready.” She’s running a forward-looking campaign. Her critics are still fighting World War II, and sometimes even go beyond fascism. The New York Times wrote about Miss Meloni’s love of Lord of the Rings, which is “full of virtuous good guys defending their idyllic, wooded kingdoms from hordes of dark and violent orcs,” something that “has for decades prompted scholarly . . . debate over the author’s [J.R.R. Tolkein’s] racial and ideological biases.”
If the elections go as expected, prepare for hysterical coverage about a fascist takeover of Italy and a second March on Rome. Let’s hope Italians ignore media smears and blackmail. The election is about Italy’s future, not a regime that died 22 years before Giorgia Meloni was born. President Biden is right to say Ukrainians have a right to defend their existence as a people. Italians do, too.