Italy’s Post-Election Dilemma


The results of the Italian election are in—and, in good Italian tradition, no one has any idea what they are.

The brief of the matter, to avoid entering into the complexities of the Italian electoral system, is that not one of the major contestants for the Prime Ministry has gained a percentage of the vote sufficient to guarantee a stable government. The Center-Right coalition has taken the plurality of the vote with some 37%, followed by the Five Star Movement with about 32%. (In its usual modesty, the Five Star Movement has wasted no time in proclaiming the rise of the Third Republic of Italy.) The left, led by Matteo Renzi, has received less than 20%, which by all standards marks a crushing blow. (For anyone who would like a general overview of the parties or individuals mentioned in this article, I may refer such a reader to my recent guide to the Italian elections.)

The resolution of the question now falls to the Italian President Mattarella, who has a number of possibilities before him, and several weeks in which to decide the matter. He can give the day to the Center-Right; he can attempt to convince two of the major parties to form a new coalition; or he can send the question back to the vote. He is almost certain to attempt one of the first possibilities, which begs the question—what parties might a new coalition comprise, and who will be nominated Prime Minister?

What follows are some reflections on the few certainties and the many possibilities which issue from this election.

First Some Good News

We have stated that the Center-Right coalition has taken the plurality of the votes. But much more importantly, Matteo Salvini has emerged as the clear leader of that coalition, having nicely defeated Berlusconi, against the predictions of every poll I have seen. Berlusconi’s power is on the wane, and Salvini’s on the wax, which we cannot help but take as a most positive development.

More good news: the political left in Italy is shattered. Matteo Renzi, easily the foremost leftist candidate, has not managed to leverage even a fifth of the national vote—a defeat so shameful that he would not even show his face after the results came in, but opted rather to delegate several of his representatives to admit his humiliation before the press. Also, as a personal satisfaction, I note that the globalist, feminist, pro-immigration, eminently progressive party of Pietro Grasso and Laura Boldrini, Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal—which name is a contradiction in terms) has not even broken the 4% necessary to guarantee itself a single seat in the Senate or Parliament. (This has not stopped the Partito Democratico, of course, from arbitrarily assigning Boldrini one of its various parliamentary seats in order to salvage her.)

In general, the foremost fact that emerges from this election is the decline of the traditional parties. Trends in this direction can be detected in many Western countries, including the United States. Something parallel was clearly seen in France in the latest election with the upset victory of Emmanuel Macron. The situation in Italy, however, which is a traditionally right-leaning country, is somewhat more promising than in France, on account of the nature of the “populists” who are rising to supplant the establishment parties. At least at this present juncture, not one of these figures can be accused of any really compromising connections to the historical Establishment—something which could not be said for Macron.

Whatever else may be said for this election, one thing remains certain: the extant political class is its foremost loser.

Then the Bad News

The bad news is that this election demonstrates, once again, what already Mussolini had averred: the utter ungovernability of the Italian people. My personal suspicion—and I pray I am proved wrong—is that absolutely nothing will change in the wake of this vote. I suspect that no one has solid enough a foundation to govern, and that no coalition can be formed between the various parties on account of their essential or incidental points of conflict. The result could well be a period of paralysis and frenetic scrambling, followed by the fall of the Prime Minister and the artificial construction of the umpteenth “technical government” (read: puppet government). I am afraid, in short, that the words of Tomasi di Lampedusa might once again prove sadly prophetic for la bella Italia: “Everything has to change, so that everything can stay the same.”

Incidental Reflections

The results of the election, by geography.

A few minor facts from this election will not be without interest to the readers of In the first place, the general election coincided with several regional elections, including that of Lombardy, in which Attilio Fontana has won by a margin of thirty percent as President of the Region. This is the same Fontana who lately commented (and this is a direct quote), “We must revolt; the immigrants want to cancel out our White race, our ethnicity.” We may take his victory for what it is worth—as a fairly localized, but nonetheless promising, sign.

Secondly, portions of a number of regions which have historically voted communist, including Tuscany, Emilia, and Lazio, have made a surprising showing for Salvini and the League. Whatever else may be said for the far left, its zeal cannot be called into question. The implication that this same zeal might in certain determinate cases be funneled into right-tending populist political movements must be contemplated with great attention in future days.

Finally, and most interestingly, the vote between the two primary contenders (the Center-Right and the Five Star Movement) breaks more or less neatly along geographical lines, as can be seen in the map above. The north of Italy was won roundly by the Center-Right; the south, by the Five Star Movement. There are several factors at play here. The League, originally the secessionist Northern League, is quite naturally viewed with suspicion by southerners. Yet one also cannot help but notice that these same southerners, who enjoy a long-standing reputation for laziness, have voted for the very party which has proposed a guaranteed minimum income for all citizens. It is also suggestive that those regions under the sway of the Mafia have someway perceived their profit in the Five Star Movement—the very same Five Star Movement which likes to paint itself as the sole anti-corruption party in all of Italy. Evidently the Mafia, which has a sure nose for such things, senses that the Great Incorruptibles might in some way or other—possibly through their rank incompetence?—not be so bad for business, after all.

Some Possibilities to Issue from the Election

The two real antagonists now are Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio.

The press, particularly abroad, and even Marine Le Pen, have made this election out to be some kind of blow to the European Union. But the Euroskeptics (amongst whose number, with a few definite caveats, I count myself) should be wary before celebrating, barring some decisive change in the near future. True, this election might lead to Euro-negative results, possibly even a national referendum on the EU similar to Brexit, but this is anything but guaranteed. The Five Star Movement has, in good populist tone, flown from one side of the European question to the other and back again in recent months, and has finally opted for somewhat bland support of a nationwide referendum; but they would need sufficient numbers to guarantee such a thing, and their 32% simply does not suffice. Salvini, though himself decidedly Euroskeptic, refuses to break his coalition with Berlusconi, who is openly pro-Euro. Berlusconi’s influence could easily make itself felt here.

In my latest article on the Italian political scene, I expressed no minor doubts about the Five Star Movement. As the Five Star Movement very well could become the new governing power in Italy (any new coalition would necessarily include it as the leader), it is worth expanding those reflections.

One of my primary gripes with the Movement (and I have a number) is its populistic hollowness on the vital issues. It is essentially undecided on the questions of major importance in our day, and in consequence is swayed by whatever winds may blow. It is laughable, to my mind, to call the Five Star Movement an “anti-Establishment” party. In point of fact it desires nothing more fervently than the renovation of the Establishment, which makes it fundamentally and manifestly pro-Establishment.

For this reason, by far the most appalling outcome of these elections would be an alliance between the Five Star Movement and the leftist Partito Democratico, currently headed by Matteo Renzi. At present such a monstrosity is impeded by the fact that Renzi refuses to step down until a government has been formed, while Di Maio refuses to come to any accord with Renzi. We can only hope that this situation does not change. (Fortunately, Renzi has decided to go skiing in the coming days, which, we can hope, will keep his idle hands away from the Devil’s meddling.) Nonetheless, with pressure mounting from Europe, and the evident desire on the part of the Establishment to maintain its quickly slipping hold on the country, there is a real and present danger that the President might throw the Center-Right to the dogs, despite its victory, and do what he can to force an agreement between the establishment left (the Partito Democratico) and the populist left (the Five Star Movement).

The other major possibility for a coalition is between the League and the Five Star Movement, with Di Maio at the helm. Di Maio will not allow this to happen without a breakup of the Salvini-Berlusconi axis, and Salvini has explicitly refused such a proposal, stating that he has given a promise to Berlusconi, and that he is not accustomed to breaking his word on the whim of a moment. It would moreover be politically foolish of Salvini to throw over a real chance at the Prime Ministry in order to play second fiddle to a politician with whom he has never seen eye to eye. The Five Star-League alliance thus appears presently impossible.

We may pray that Mattarella will give the day to Salvini, who will then be charged with the difficult task of running a minority government, scraping up consensus wherever it can be found for whatever policies he seeks to enact. The best hope at present is that after the formation of such a government, the Five Star Movement will begin to perceive that the populist current in Italy runs decidedly in the direction of anti-immigration and nationalist positions, and that it will align itself accordingly, giving its support to Salvini’s better proposals. This is the one scenario I foresee in which something concrete and worthwhile might be accomplished following this election. I am not holding my breath.

A Warning and a Chance

Yet another somber word is in order at our closing. Even should Salvini find his way to the Prime Ministry, his victory carries with it certain immediate hazards, quite beyond the merely logistical. In the first place, it brings what seems to me one of the foremost dangers to the political rise of the true Right throughout the West—namely, that the liberal-democratic order presently in power might, by moderating its mordant excesses and mollifying the people, succeed in limping on in the same direction toward which it is presently sprinting: toward the irrevocable demographic and spiritual demise of the West. No victory can be proclaimed, so far as our vision goes, without a radical change in the status quo. The rise of populism in our day grants certain discrete opportunities for movement toward this change, but also and as easily could guarantee the impossibility of the same. As with certain well known “nationalist” developments in countries like Poland, Hungary, and Austria, the results of this election could serve merely to convince the people of the “efficacy” of the democratic order to achieve various populist desires or to temper various populist ills; thus the people might be placated into accepting what is essentially the continuation of the Establishment in a gentler guise.

This concern is legitimated in the present connection by the fact that those smaller parties which are most congenial to our worldview—I am thinking, for instance, of CasaPound and Forza Nuova, but also of the larger and electorally significant Fratelli d’Italia—are almost not represented at all in the results of this election. CasaPound and Forza Nuova have taken less than 1% of the vote each; Fratelli d’Italia, which was hoping to break 5%, has only just managed to garner the 4% necessary to retain its seats in parliament. This clearly demonstrates a phenomenon which can be witnessed in other Western countries as well: namely, the redirection of truly radical or revolutionary urges into essentially conventional populist movements. The demos, at the end of the day, does not want the overthrow of the status quo; the demos wants only its pleasant modification and its indefinite perpetuation.

Having noted this, let us close on a note of cautious optimism. The very danger we have just observed opens another, and by no means less important, possibility: the rise of populism, even of a tepid and indecisive kind, buys us time, by slowing the disastrous rush toward demographic catastrophe in the West, and by obstructing the globalist agenda in the short term. This is time which can be used to curry favor for our views, to shift the discourse and public perception in our direction, and to slowly ready the reigning worldview for our emergence—perhaps all of this merely in preparation for a future crisis, in which our chance might truly arise. Such time is therefore precious to us, not certainly in our political struggle, but rather in our metapolitical struggle, the greater war to which we have dedicated ourselves.

John Bruce Leonard
John Bruce Leonard, Editor-in-Chief of Arktos, studied philosophy, letters, and languages in a university curriculum based exclusively on the great books of the Western Tradition. After taking his degree in Liberal Arts he moved permanently to Italy, where he nourishes his ever-living preoccupation with the heritage and the future of Europe.