Il Duce’s Smile

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Europe’s first fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, once said that “Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice, it is a fallacy.” Democracy might be bringing fascism back to Italy again, however, almost 80 years after Il Duce was executed.

That’s because when Italian voters go to the polls on Sept. 25 to replace Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who resigned recently after his coalition government fell apart, they are on track to elect a right-wing coalition, reported Bloomberg. Critics warned that the new government could reflect the “illiberal” persuasion of European politics – anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-political dissidence and diversity, along with pro-business and pro-traditional values.

Forecasts say that far-right leader Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy political party is now the leading candidate to become Italy’s new prime minister, noted Reuters. Meloni has been described as ‘post-fascist,’ meaning that while her party originated in a group founded by Mussolini’s followers in 1946, she is happy to operate within the law rather than lead a revolution to transform the country’s political system.

Her rhetoric, meanwhile, appeals to conservative populists. “Yes to secure borders! No to mass immigration!” she said at a right-wing event earlier this year, according to the Washington Post. “Yes to our civilization! And no to those who want to destroy it!”

These views could be proliferating because the country faces seemingly intractable problems that fascists, who promise to overcome bureaucratic inertia to accomplish things in office, claim they can remedy. As author David Broder discussed in the New York Times, high debt and low growth have led to youth unemployment, inequality and other problems that proud Italians want resolved.

City Journal editor Lee Siegel argued that Broder’s doom-and-gloom narrative was unpersuasive. But there’s no doubt that drama suffuses Italian politics and Italian governments have been notoriously unstable, as National Public Radio explained, making reforms slow, to say the least. Draghi, a former president of the European Bank, had been making headway on fiscal and economic changes, but nobody knows whether the next government will continue with them.

The left, meanwhile, is in tatters. As Villanova University, theologian Massimo Faggioli opined in Commonweal, the Italian political spectrum runs from right-wing populists to pro-establishment. Few voices, in other words, are calling for more diversity, kindness toward migrants and other liberal measures.

“(Progressives) have failed to provide a realistic alternative to either unelected technocracy or the hard-right backlash against it,” wrote Italian philosopher Lorenzo Marsili in a Guardian opinion piece.

The reality might shock some but it is true nonetheless: Italians appear to feel that a post-fascist future is better than the status quo.

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