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MINI-DOC: Italy Has a Fascism Problem. Why?

Some are wondering, is Italian Fascism back? Truth is, it never really died.



On October 22nd, 2022, as polls came to a close, the flame of Italian fascism burned its brightest since 1945, with a new prime minister bearing the symbol of Mussolini’s supporters.

The cause for concern is obvious — with Giorgia Meloni’s election, is Italy fascist now, or what?

The simple answer is no. Meloni has defied most expectations and governed with a reasonably light touch. Italy remains a consolidated—if certainly flawed—liberal democracy.

The more complicated, and more accurate, answer is that Italian fascism never really died.

For nearly 80 years, it’s clung on to politics, transforming its name and leadership, but always retaining some power and the same core symbol: the tricolor flame of fascism.

With kidnappings, assassinations, bombings, the world’s most statistically unstable democracy, crypto-fascists, neo-fascists, and so much more, this is the story of how the Italian extreme right has survived for nearly a century.

So, before we grade Italy’s democracy and see how it ranks on our leaderboard,

Why won’t Italian fascism go away?

And what danger do Meloni and her party pose today?


By the end of the second world war, Italy was in…pretty bad shape. But, thanks to the Marshall Plan and the new European Common Market, reconstruction accelerated rapidly.

Just a few figures to put it in perspective. Between 1951 and 1973, annual economic growth averaged over 5%. Over about the same period, average real income tripled, and refrigeration went from a rarity to a given.[1]

Despite devastation, Italy was improving.

At the same time, politics were…pretty stable. Broad and rapid social improvement rarely leads to a ruling party’s rebuke at the polls, and so the leading Christian Democrats consistently ran Italy, though relying on an unstable, ever-changing cast of smaller parties for a majority.

Among those benchwarmers—despite their responsibility for Italy’s destruction—were frequently fascists, who still polled with persistent popularity.

In contrast to Germany, where aggressive denazification kept the far right out of parliament from 1953 to 2017,[2] Italy never truly expunged fascism from its politics.

In fact, after the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, a new party was born: the Italian Social Movement, or MSI, which influential scholar Cas Mudde would later call the “best and only example of a neo-fascist party in Europe.”[3] To symbolize their purpose—to keep the flame of fascism alive—they adopted a tricolor flame as their logo. Remember this symbol — it’s important.

And MSI didn’t just fare a bit better than the German far right. In fact, there’s never been an Italian parliament without either the MSI or one of its three main successor parties.[4]

This is the key point— Whatever the other successes of reconstruction, Italian fascism never died. And even those successes—the prosperity lending Italy some stability—those wouldn't last.

In 1975, amidst a global energy crisis, Italy’s economy hit a recession. Strikes erupted as workers sought security in unity. Radicals saw their chance to exploit the situation and took up violence to promote their ideas.

These were the years of lead.

One of the highest profile events of the two-decade period of unrest was perpetrated by the extremist-left Red Brigades, who held former Prime Minister Aldo Moro hostage for 55 days before eventually murdering him.

But the deadliest event would be of the fascists’ doing. On August 2, 1980, at 10:25am, a massive explosion ripped through Bologna station. Dozens were killed instantly. In the end, the total dead would climb to 85 people, while hundreds were injured.[5]

Regardless of the faction or the particular event, the years of lead were an unmistakable signal: Italian stability was a thing of the past. Extremism was here to stay.


And by this point, the ruling Christian Democrats were entirely unprepared to deal with a demanding public. They no longer had any real political program—instead the party secured support almost exclusively through kickbacks.[6]

Though the 80s posed challenges for the party, the 90s would prove disastrous. A series of scandals unfolded early in the decade, revealing the depth of corruption plaguing Italian politics. The ensuing investigation, known as “mani pulite,” or “clean hands,” saw thousands of public officials indicted or imprisoned.[7] Facing a furious electorate, Italian politics collapsed. By 1994, it was said the “Second Italian Republic” had begun—none of the parties active before 1992 were anywhere to be seen.[8]

But a reshuffle of the reigning political elite did little to untangle the widespread web of corruption that had grown over the decades. Italy had new parties, but none could draw on any reserves of public trust and all inherited the same corrupt structure. Little improved, and much declined. Coalition governments were terminally short-lived, political impasses were frequent, and voter participation declined precipitously.[9] Nothing was reliable. In fact, the number of legislators switching parties between elections jumped from 10% between 1945 and 1992 to 35% in the most recent legislature.[10]

Moreover, Italy’s economic woes have worsened due to instability and short-term electioneering. Despite admirable attempts at economic stabilization, public debt has continued to spiral.[11] Populist parties rapidly grew in the 2010s, largely in response to the eurozone crisis, the fall of media-mogul-turned-political-titan Silvio Berlusconi, and the 2015 migrant crisis.[12]

But as with the “mani pulite” shakeup, this populist turn did little to fix Italy’s problems. Instability still thrives and reform attempts have been rejected. By 2022, even an internationally and domestically esteemed figure like Mario Draghi couldn’t hold the parliament together.[13]

But what about the neo-fascists, you might be wondering. Have they been dormant all this time? Well, no. The conservative Berlusconi depended on resolute support from parties descended from MSI,[14] and, in the 2013 elections, a new, small party bearing the fascist tricolor flame secured a few seats: Fratelli d’Italia or the Brothers of Italy, founded by Giorgia Meloni.[15] And soon, FdI would have their moment.


Disdaining the aloof, europhilic technocrats and distrusting the corrupt, incompetent politicians, Italians wanted something different in the 2022 election; they wanted a maverick. A brand new party led by someone with virtually zero experience in government — FdI and Meloni’s outsider creds were impeccable. They thrashed the competition.[16]

But this gives a slightly distorted picture.

First, Meloni’s inexperience isn’t so simple. In fact, she began her work in party politics at 15, in the MSI’s youth wing, until she moved with most of her colleagues to another neo-fascist party in 1995, the National Alliance. For the next 17 years she served as a diligent member, until forming FdI in 2012, taking that fascist flame for its logo.[17] Meloni may be inexperienced in government, but she’s thoroughly experienced in neo-fascist party politics and communication.

That said, FdI’s victory is not some sure signal of a growing fascist sentiment in Italy. Most of FdI’s supporters aren’t fascists. Turnout was the worst in Italy’s history. Meloni and her party were outsiders. FdI may not enjoy sustained support from the electorate, especially if their success had little to do with ideology.

But that doesn’t mean FdI and Meloni pose no threat to Italian democracy.

One sure reason for their success is frustration with Italy’s extensive political dysfunction, and for that the party does have a solution: increased presidentialism, also known as “make our political system more like America’s.”[18]

Many viewers will already have an idea of some—to put it lightly—drawbacks to this, but stick with us! Because it bears some exploration and yields some intriguing lessons.


To understand the dangers of the FdI and its presidentialist reforms, we have to explain the basics of the Italian political system.

Let’s start with the bicameral legislature, unique for its “perfect” symmetry, meaning both legislative chambers have the same powers and responsibilities and are elected at the same time for the same terms, but in different ways, typically giving each a different party composition. Nowhere else in the world is this found, partly because this redundant set-up means that legislation in Italy can take an inordinately long time, and governmental stability is especially precarious.[19]

Italy also has a ceremonial president, elected by an electoral college rather than the public. While that’s not outside the norm for European republics, Italy’s frequent crises have required the president to call snap elections, mediate feuds, and pursue emergency legislation.[20]

Combine an increasingly active presidency which isn’t directly accountable with a crisis-prone parliament, and you can start to see why some reform like FdI’s might be appealing. Maybe it does make sense to directly elect the president, who could, as FdI claims, inject Italy with a much-needed dose of stability.[21]

But hang on. Especially in multi-party systems like Italy’s, presidentialism is often a bad fit. Only one political group can win the presidency, while multiparty systems produce coalition governments. Imposing a zero-sum game on Italy’s existing system would be inefficient at best, and disastrous at worst.[22]

Moreover, when there are disagreements between the president and legislature, it’s not easy to say who’s right, potentially deepening political polarization and instigating conflict.[23]

And whereas a Prime Minister under investigation for, say, corruption, can lose parliament’s confidence, it’s not so simple with a President, who usually enjoys higher hurdles to removal.

If the president and legislature hit an impasse, in the words of the famous scholar of presidentialism Juan Linz, “What in a parliamentary system would be a government crisis can become a full-blown regime crisis in a presidential system.”[24] And if you want evidence for that assertion, just look at Peru today, where a faceoff between the president and multiparty Congress has thrown the country into chaos.[25]

Moreover, we shouldn’t be too quick to take FdI’s proposal as one made in good faith. A powerful president, directly elected, would give Italian politics a populist character, with a figure standing above squabbling partisan interests as the voice of the capital-P people. For a party with roots in neo-fascism, this should be a red flag. Italy needs reform, but no one change will fix its problems, and this one suggests that FdI has at least a few fascist sympathies remaining.


And now to score Italy’s democracy along 4 key metrics…and an x-factor.

First up, Elections — while they are clean and competitive, persistent party switching[26] equals unpredictability and depressed participation. Italy scores an 8 out of 10.

Next, Politics — Struggling both to form stable coalitions and excise corruption, but with adequate government functioning, Italy scores a 7 out of 10.

Next, Society — While civil freedoms are well respected, corruption inhibits equality before the law, earning Italy a score of 8 out of 10.

Next, Economy, Italy’s weak point — while GDP per capita is very strong, relatively high unemployment and a shrinking economy drag Italy’s economy down to a 6 out of 10.

That brings Italy’s average score to 7.25, but that’s still subject to the x-factor: for Italy, neo-fascism. Political extremism, particularly on the right, will continue to threaten democracy as long as Italy fails to address its political and economic failures, and Neo-fascism drops Italy’s score by 0.5,

Leaving Italy with a final score of 6.75, which lands it here on the Spectacles Democratic Snapshot leaderboard. Stay tuned to learn about those hidden countries, and check out our previous videos for those already on the board.

  1. Wikipedia, “Economic history of Italy,” Post-World War II economic miracle. ↩︎

  2. Wikipedia, “Far-right politics in Germany (1945–present),” Introduction. ↩︎

  3. Massimiliano Capra Casadio, “The New Right and Metapolitics in France and Italy,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 8, no. 1 (2014): 45–86, ↩︎

  4. Wikipedia, “2022 Italian general election.” Wikipedia allows you to click through next and previous elections. If you want to fact-check this, you’ll have to click through and manually survey the results of every election…like I did. Have fun. ↩︎

  5. Wikipedia, “Years of Lead (Italy).” ↩︎

  6. Andrea Lorenzo Capussela, The Political Economy of Italy’s Decline (Oxford University Press, 2018), 173-175. ↩︎

  7. Ibid., 481-485. ↩︎

  8. Ibid., 484-486. ↩︎

  9. Capussela, 191, 195, 201-202. ↩︎

  10. Ibid., 204-205. ↩︎

  11. Ibid., 216 ↩︎

  12. Ibid., 215; Jason Horowits, “In Italy Election, Anti-E.U. Views Pay Off for Far Right and Populists,” in the New York Times, 4 March 2018. ↩︎

  13. Jason Horowitz, “Italy’s President Accepts Draghi Resignation, Calling for New Elections,” in the New York Times, July 21, 2022. ↩︎

  14. Stefano Fella and Carlo Ruzza, Re-inventing the Italian Right: Territorial politics, populism and 'post-fascism' (Routledge, 2009). ↩︎

  15. Diego Garzia, “The 2013 Italian Parliamentary Election: Changing Things So Everything Stays the Same,” in West European Politics 36 no. 5 (2013), 1102. ↩︎

  16. Wikipedia, “2022 Italian general election,” Results > Chamber of Deputies. ↩︎

  17. Al Jazeera, “Who is Italy’s leadership hopeful Giorgia Meloni?↩︎

  18. Fratelli d’Italia, “Il Programma,” 35. This is the party’s official manifesto. We could only find it in Italian so used Google Translate; scusami! Notably, the party’s final (and rhetorically most significant) domestic policy proposal is presidentialism, which suggests it’s of supreme importance to the party. ↩︎

  19. Roberta Damiani, “The Italian legislative process in bicameral perspective,” Dissertation (2020), 21-22. ↩︎

  20. Mauro Calise, “Presidentialization: Italian Style,” in The Presidentialization of Politics : A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies, eds. Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb (Oxford University Press: 2005), 91-92. ↩︎

  21. Fratelli d’Italia, “Il Programma,” 35. ↩︎

  22. Scott Mainwaring and Matthew J. Shugart, “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal,” in Comparative Politics 29 no. 4 (1997) 465-467. ↩︎

  23. Juan Linz, “The Perils of Presidentialism,” in Journal of Democracy 1 no. 1 (1990), 62-63. ↩︎

  24. Ibid., 62-66. ↩︎

  25. Dan Collyns, “Peru’s deadly protests: what is happening and why are people so angry?,” The Guardian, 8 February 2023. ↩︎

  26. Economist, “Why does Italy go through so many governments?↩︎


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