The womb of the 20th century conceived a monstrous form of government called “liberal democracy”—called so inaccurately, for it is neither liberal nor democratic. It is a soft totalitarianism that, because it advances beneath the tattered banner of progress, claims the moral authority to declare all alternative political arrangements illegitimate. In the liberal democratic world system, every nation has the right to self-determination only so long as it is determined to become a liberal democracy. In this maximalist war footing against its ideological competitors, it is not unlike Bolshevism.
“Communism and liberal democracy proved to be all-unifying entities compelling their followers how to think, what to do, how to evaluate events, what to dream, and what language to use,” the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko wrote in his 2016 book The Demon in Democracy. Like communism, liberal democracy assumed for itself the mantle of universalism and thus became decidedly illiberal in that it ceased to acknowledge the possibility of different political systems. All movements since then have been a rush toward the universal homogenous state.
It is for this reason that liberal democracies across the West unified this weekend in denouncing the democratic will of the Italian people, who have just propelled Giorgia Meloni and her right-wing Italian nationalist party to electoral victory. Man is a symbolic animal, and Meloni’s victory is seen as a symbolic rejection of Western liberalism. Whether she lives up to that potential is yet to be seen. But the electricity of the moment is palpable: the Italians have voted against the times.
It’s difficult to dislike this atypical politician. Meloni’s father abandoned his family when she was just 11 years old, leaving her mother to raise her alone. She has working-classes bona fides, working as a nanny, waitress, and bartender to support herself. She has been politically engaged since she was a teenager and has never been shy about her views. “Me, I believe Mussolini was a good politician,” Meloni said in an interview. “By which I mean that everything he did, he did for Italy.”
Though she may not have read Legutko, Meloni has also noticed the similarities between communism and liberal democracy. “We did not fight against and defeat communism in order to replace it with a new internationalist regime,” she said during the National Conservatism conference in Rome, “but to permit independent nation-states once again to defend the freedom, identity, and sovereignty of their peoples.”
Meloni has denounced the mass immigration of non-European people to European lands and called for naval blockades in the Mediterranean to thwart migrant smugglers. She also went against the grain on COVID-19 vaccines and lockdowns. Meloni was the only party leader to oppose the so-called Green Pass—a vaccine passport that would have been required to work, travel, and shop.
Under different circumstances, the West might be celebrating the ascent of this underdog. But her politics are, for the most part, outside the West’s liberal democratic consensus, which is why Italians love her.
Most of all, Meloni breaks the consensus on social and cultural issues at the center of liberalism’s moral universe. She emphatically opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, rejects gender ideology and the promotion of alternative sexual lifestyles. At a rally before an audience that stood to its feet and applauded ceaselessly at her words, Meloni thundered: “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death, no to the violence of Islam, yes to safer borders, no to mass immigration, yes to work for our people.”
In a different speech, Meloni railed against those who would deprive Italians of their roots and identity so they may become enslaved “at the mercy of financial speculators.” The audience rose to a standing ovation in the end, whistling and cheering as she peeled off the stage.
Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FdI) party has emerged at the helm of a three-party conservative bloc that captured 44 percent of the Italian national vote. It includes Forza Italia, the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and the League, an anti-immigration hardline party led by Matteo Salvini. The FdI, which took 26 percent of the vote, can trace its origins back to the days of Il Duce, which Meloni is proud to tout.
When Italians chose Meloni for their next prime minister, they did not know that the arc of democracy was only intended to bend in a liberal direction. Days before Meloni emerged victorious, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warned Italy of consequences “should it veer away from democratic principles,” as Reuters put it. She reminded Italians that the European Union had honed its tools of coercion against the Polish and Hungarians. But more to the point: von der Leyen effectively threatened Italians to avoid voting the “wrong way.” They did not listen.
Across the ocean, headlines screamed of doom and gloom. “The Return of Fascism in Italy,” cried The Atlantic, pointing the finger at everything from racism to patriarchy for the triumph of Meloni. Her party, the Brothers of Italy, uses the slogan “God, Fatherland, Family,” which may as well be a curse in the pages of that magazine.
It never occurs to the defenders of liberal democracy that they have sown the seeds from which politicians like Meloni spring. She is, in fact, a reaction to the sexual revolution, mass immigration, multiculturalism, and the subordination of nations to unaccountable transnational elites—all of which are features of the modern liberal order.
Liberal democrats cannot reckon with the social and economic problems their political theology has created because acknowledging them would be tantamount to heresy. Italians decided they could not live on the thin gruel of the liberal democratic ideological fantasy, and decided instead to throw their weight behind Meloni’s nationalists.
But Meloni has a major weak spot, a festering contradiction yet to be resolved. As Christopher Caldwell noted in Compact, she is simultaneously one of the most anti-left European politicians and a supporter of American foreign policy. That’s a problem, Caldwell wrote, because “the United States is the woke left.” And he’s right. “The liberal ideas Meloni opposes—from gender theory to ‘rainbow families’—come out of American academic culture, are imposed by American civil-rights law, and are promoted abroad by American military and economic might,” Caldwell added.
During her speech about the rootlessness of the modern world, Meloni concluded with a clarion quote from G. K. Chesterton about defending what is true and good in this life. “‘Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.’ This is that time; we are ready,” she said.
But if Meloni is truly ready to lead Italy out from under the yoke of oppression and insanity, then she must learn to see the United States is at the heart of the “new internationalist regime” that she has promised to fight. It is the enemy of everything she cherishes; it cares no more for the welfare of Italians than it does for Americans and is, in fact, hostile toward their flourishing. It would not be enough for Meloni to reject the consensus of Davos and Brussels if she did not reject Washington as well.
Image: Giorgia Meloni 2022 (from: Vox España, In the Public Domain CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons)