On September 25, Italians elected deputies to the two branches of the legislature. The elections ended with the victory of the Right over the Left and the affirmation of the Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) party, led by Giorgia Meloni, who, in Italy’s parliamentary system, is poised to become the first female prime minister in the country’s history.

Though the FdI’s success represented a right-wing triumph, it coincided with the heavy defeat of the conservative Forza Italia and League parties, which have seen their share of the vote cut in half since the last political elections in 2018, from 15 percent and 17 percent to 8 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Meloni attracted many of these voters, leading her party from 4 percent in 2018 to 26 percent in 2022.

The result also corresponds to the defeat of three alternative sides: the center-left, the populist Five Star Movement, and the reformist Third Pole. The lineup that attempted to counter the rise of FdI consisted of the Democratic Party and an electoral group made up of the Italian Left, the Greens, and other minor parties. This coalition earned 26 percent, barely equaling the tally of FdI alone. The Democratic Party, which advocates social democracy, reached just 19 percent, marking the worst result in its history. Meantime, the Five Star Movement plummeted, dropping 32 percent to 15.5 percent, and the reformist-liberal alliance of Azione and Italia Viva, not present in previous election rounds, achieved a disappointing 7.7 percent.

Italy’s movement toward an Anglosphere-style party distribution—with liberal-conservative parties on the right and liberal-progressive parties on the left—is far from assured. One of the greatest obstacles to this distribution is the weakness of Italian liberal culture. Any appeal to these two political-cultural matrices risks devolving into pure mimicry, with the suffix “liberal” serving as a fig leaf for the most blind conservatism and the most opinionated progressivism.

Instead, conservatism seems to be tainted by populist and sovereign regurgitations, as well as by a neo-fascist nostalgia that finds space in FdI. How seriously should observers take FdI’s putative association with fascism? Some argue that the ideology belongs to a certain historical moment and can be expressed only through the violent maintenance of power. On this view, fascism would be impractical today. Others might argue that political phenomena are never definitely consigned to the dustbin of history. If fascism is defined instead as a political culture that deifies politics and assigns to political authority the task of high priest, it is an ever-active threat regardless of its historical manifestations. In any event, center-right liberalism has been overtaken by the protectionist and nationalist thrusts of the League and FdI.

As for the center-left, consider a simple maxim: if Athens cries, Sparta does not laugh. Liberal-progressivism has yielded to a radical culture that expresses itself in battles for “civil rights”: gay marriage, same-sex adoption, euthanasia, and gender identity. The old Left’s labor and Communist tradition has been archived in favor of a social model that the new Left regards as progressive and advanced. But such a model seems better described by the sociologist Luca Ricolfi’s notion of a “genteel mass society,” characterized by a selfish pretension that demands rights without accepting reciprocal duties.

This new Right and Left, along with populism and technocracy, have been the main options on offer to voters. Conspicuous is the total absence of the Catholic community. Catholics are present only within party organizations that make no explicit reference to the tradition of Italian political Catholicism. In 1992, the dissolution of the Christian Democracy party generated a diaspora, in which a series of small parties claimed inspiration from its history. That diaspora no longer exists; today, Catholics are present everywhere, yet everywhere irrelevant.

This political transformation comes as Italy’s challenges grow steeper—from the energy transition and the demographic crisis to growing middle-class poverty and extractive, neo-feudal elite behavior. The political system fosters the formation of oligarchies. In Italy, entrepreneurial profit is not a measure of development but of rents paid by the middle class to an elite increasingly determined to hoard wealth rather than produce it.

The true significance of this election may turn out to be international. Italy will survive, but the country has long been a political laboratory. Such a landslide victory for the Right could mean a reversal in Western public opinion, leading to a constructive pushback against overweening progressivism. But it could also encourage those across the political spectrum who would like to sacrifice democratic life on the altar of illiberalism or radicalism.

Photo by Valeria Ferraro/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images


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