Thursday, November 23, 2017

Terra Nostra, for how long?

Giorgia Meloni, president of Terra Nostra. (Wikicommons: Niccolò Caranti)

A nationalist bloc of nations now extends across much of eastern and central Europe, but Italy seems like another world. In the Italian parliament the leading nationalist party, the Lega Nord (LN), has lost seats at each general election since 1994, except for the one in 2008. The party is also under pressure from members to distance itself from Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, particularly after both failed to make major electoral gains this year. Finally, by its very nature, the LN is limited in its potential for growth—it’s a regional party whose support is confined to northern Italy.

Ironically, Italy had once been Europe’s epicenter of political change, as novelist and literary critic Umberto Eco pointed out:

Italian fascism was the first right-wing dictatorship that took over a European country, and all similar movements later found a sort of archetype in Mussolini's regime. Italian fascism was the first to establish a military liturgy, a folklore, even a way of dressing—far more influential, with its black shirts, than Armani, Benetton, or Versace would ever be. It was only in the Thirties that fascist movements appeared, with Mosley, in Great Britain, and in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, Spain, Portugal, Norway, and even in South America. It was Italian fascism that convinced many European liberal leaders that the new regime was carrying out interesting social reform, and that it was providing a mildly revolutionary alternative to the Communist threat. (Eco 1995)

What would have happened if Italy had stayed out of the Second World War? Would fascism have remained an “interesting” alternative not only to Communism but also to liberal democracy? Probably not. It would have fallen prey to dry rot and eventually collapsed, like in Spain and Portugal. There were fundamental problems with fascism besides the obvious one of stupid jingoism. There was also the problem of maintaining traditional values in an increasingly urban and anonymous mass culture, and this mission was assigned to a state/clerical bureaucracy that might, one day, have other ideas …

As a credible postwar movement, fascism persisted longer in Italy than elsewhere. Indeed, a neo-fascist party was represented in the Italian parliament throughout the postwar era. This was the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MRI), which held seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate from 1948 until its dissolution in 1995, when the MRI rebranded itself as the Alleanza Nazionale (AN) in a bid to gain mainstream support. 

Although it was for a long time preoccupied with the debate of fascism and anti-fascism, the party distanced itself from this in the early 1990s to rather focus on contemporary Italian issues. [...] When the party transformed itself into the AN, it outspokenly rejected fascism, as well as "any kind of totalitarianism and racism." In contrast to other far-right parties in Europe which increased their power in the late 1980s, the MSI chose to not campaign against immigration, because [there] was less than [in] other European countries. (Wikipedia 2017a)

This transformation paid off, electorally. In 1996 the AN peaked at 16% of the popular vote, and in 2001 it joined a coalition government with its leader as Deputy Prime Minister and Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister. Finally, in 2009 it was absorbed into a new party created by Berlusconi, Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL).

There is a lesson in this. If you imitate the mainstream in order to gain power, you may destroy your reason for seeking power, which is to promote your ideas and make them public policy. The end becomes cannibalized by the means.

And yet ...

One may conclude that nothing points to a nationalist breakthrough in Italy, at least not in the near future. Yet things aren't necessarily what they seem. Although the Lega Nord has lost support at the national level, it has gained support at the regional level, particularly in the 2015 regional elections. A party member, Luca Zaia, was elected president of the Veneto region with 50% of the vote, the combined score for the LN and Zaia lists being 41%. The party came second in Liguria (22%) and Tuscany (16%) and third in Marche (13%) and Umbria (14%). These were record successes.

One doesn't have to look far for the reason. Over the past three years half a million migrants, mostly from Africa, have poured into Italy. And the end isn't in sight. The migrant wave is being driven by population pressure in Africa, and not by specific events like the civil war in Syria:

While irregular crossings in the Mediterranean to reach Europe have been growing for a number of years, 2015 marked the sharpest rise in sea arrivals to the EU with a four-fold increase from 2014.

[...] There has been a rapid decline in the presence of Syrian nationals who went from 24% of arrivals in 2014 to just 5% in 2015. While Eritreans were the largest single nationality group in 2015, it is the presence of young single men from a wide range of African countries that truly characterises the Central Mediterranean route in 2015. (Crawley et al. 2016)

Meanwhile, an alternative to the Lega Nord has been taking shape. In 2012 the Fratelli d'Italia (FdI) was founded with Giorgia Meloni as president and a membership drawn largely from the old AN. Its ideology is described as follows:

[The basic principles are] nationalism, national conservatism, and the Social Right [a French movement of social conservatism].

In economic matters, these [principles] mean abandoning the euro, implementing protectionism for products made in Italy, and repealing the European Fiscal Compact.

On the issue of taxation, the electoral program calls for a "family quotient" [taxation that takes the size of the nuclear family into account], a lower sales tax of 4% on goods for young children, and tax deductions substantiated with receipts for such goods.

The party also calls for a social mortgage, i.e., establishment of a publicly funded institution to build housing and living quarters for sale to families who do not already own a home. Mortgage payments will not exceed one fifth of family income, and an eligible family must have at least one gainfully employed member.

At the international level the party declares that it is close to the Front National of Marine Le Pen and the Law and Justice party in Poland. (Wikipedia 2017b)

The party is opposed to birthright citizenship and decriminalization of illegal immigration, and it supports a naval blockade in the Mediterranean. Finally, in the field of civil rights, it opposes gay marriage and parenting, stating that it wants to safeguard the traditional family.

Although the FdI won only 2% of the popular vote in the 2013 general election, it has done better in subsequent municipal and regional elections. In the 2016 election in Rome it received 12% of the popular vote. In the 2017 regional election in Sicily, a politician close to the party was elected president. In preparation for the 2018 general election, the FdI is working to form a broader nationalist front called Terra Nostra (TN) (Wikipedia 2017c).


At first glance, Italy’s nationalist scene looks moribund. Over the past twenty years the Lega Nord has steadily lost support in general elections. In the 1990s the Movimento Sociale Italiano lost its raison d'être and eventually disappeared into the political mainstream. A closer look, however, shows that the LN has been increasing its support at the regional and municipal levels. The last few years have also seen a new nationalist party come into being: the Fratelli d'Italia, now renamed Terra Nostra. Time will tell, but it has already shown promising growth in municipal and regional elections. The TN is partly a response to electoral successes by similar parties in other countries, notably the Front National in France and the Law and Justice party in Poland, but its main impetus seems to be events in Italy itself, particularly the sharp rise in immigration from Africa over the past three years.

Both parties will have to overcome several barriers to electoral success:

- The Lega Nord cannot fully mobilize the nationalist vote. Its support is confined to northern Italy and is fueled by a perception that the north is subsidizing the south and an overgrown central government. It has in fact tried to build support in southern and central Italy, but with little success.

- Terra Nostra is new, and new parties are prone to problems that plague any new team of people: disagreement over vision and ideology, uncertainty over direction and strategy, etc. Since many of its founding members had formerly belonged to the AN, and previously to the MRI, they will tend to follow old visions and old ideology. In particular, belief in a strong central state will block cooperation with the LN.

- There is a lack of time. Immigration to Italy has reached high levels. With a fertility rate of 1.2 children per native-born woman, the most likely scenario will be rapid demographic replacement. Indeed, this fate awaits the entire southern tier of Europe.

Although both parties may do very well in the upcoming 2018 general election, they will probably not do well enough to form a coalition government on their own. The outcome will likely be a three-way coalition: Lega Nord, Terra Nostra, and Forza Italia, i.e., Berlusconi's party. This raises the prospect of absorption into the political mainstream, as was the case a decade ago. This time, however, the tail might wag the dog; there are signs that Forza Italia voters are realizing that Italy, like Europe as a whole, is facing an existential crisis. On the other hand, their party is still a mix of liberal and traditionalist tendencies:

In October 2014 Berlusconi personally endorsed Renzi's proposals on civil unions for gays and a quicker path to citizenship to Italian-born children of immigrants. However, recent developments proved the party more socially conservative. FI clarified that it considers marriage solely as the union between a man and a woman. The majority of its members voted against civil unions, whereas the NCD voted in favour. Moreover, the party is critical of teaching gender studies in schools. Party members are generally pro-life and therefore seek to limit abortion and euthanasia. The party has criticized illegal immigration and the way it has been managed by centre-left coalition governments. It has also declared itself against the introduction of jus soli in Italy. In addition, the party is opposed to drug liberalization, which it considers potentially negative for health and not useful for solving criminal matters. When FI's predecessors were in power, they restricted the legislation on the matter, with the Fini-Giovanardi law. Finally, FI considers Italy as a country with a Christian civilization and, thus, favours displaying Christian symbols in public places. (Wikipedia 2017d)

This is typical conservatism, and on several points it is vulnerable to the sort of manipulation by outside interests that we have seen with conservative parties elsewhere. If, for example, only illegal immigration is problematic, why not solve the problem by legalizing it? Perhaps Berlusconi has learned his lesson, but the example of conservatives elsewhere isn't reassuring. Again, time will tell.


Crawley, H., F. Duvell, N. Sigona, S. McMahon, and K. Jones (2016).  Unpacking a rapidly changing scenario: migration flows, routes and trajectories across the Mediterranean. Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration Crisis (MEDMIG) Research Brief No.1 March 2016  

Eco, U. (1995). Ur-Fascism, The New York Review of Books, June 22  

Wikipedia (2017a). Italian Social Movement.  

Wikipedia (2017b). Fratelli d'Italia - Alleanza Nazionale.

Wikipedia (2017c). Brothers of Italy  

Wikipedia (2017d). Forza Italia.  

1 comment:

Sean said...

Maurras is often regarded as the originator of Fascism, and I wonder about communism because it only succeeded in counties defeated in WW1 (Italy was nominally a winner admittedly). Like Mazzini's popular democratic nationalism, perhaps the original nationalism, I think it is becoming clear that nationalism succeeds when it is seen as defending the country against an external enemy country, Without an external enemy country threatening the country and requiring the entire national community to pull together nationalism is virtually the opposite of a powerful imperative. it's helpless to alter the fate of a nation.

People just don't seem to process replacement immigration the same way as objectively similar dangers. Tooby says human reasoning is governed by context-sensitive mechanisms that have evolved, through natural selection, to solve specific problems of social interaction, rather than context-free, general-purpose mechanisms, and indeed in the "Watson selection task, researchers have found that the puzzle is readily solved when the imagined context is policing a social rule."

If you wanna be in my gang, or country, that inconveniences the original members of the group, but bodes well for it when there is a war. I think that may partially be what lies behind the desire for others to join for the good of the group and the way the group anathematizes as as freeriders those who want to keep it a tight little band (ie anti immigrationists).

A lot of economists ect actually seem to believe the more people the better. An example from a top Italian demographer here: "Between 2015 and 2050—with zero migration—population would decline in most countries and so would the active population even in the case of increase of activity rates and extension of the retirement age. Moreover the considerable aging of the working population will depress productivity and the rate of innovation. The paper's conclusion is that Europe will have to attract considerable inflows of immigrants in order to sustain a reasonable pattern of growth."

Are these gentle academic preachers of rationality actually in the thrall of a primordially atavistic instinct to have their gang the biggest gang of all? While there are a lot of other factors, I think the pro-immigration lobby are motivated by the same ancient algorithm that made Futurist Marinetti propose the concreting over of Venice and the banning of pasta: anything to make Italy bigger and stronger than the others.

The ironic thing is the (already militarily redundant) masses are going to be economically obsolete in a few decades. A vast proportion of people in the West will become actual free-riders because machines will be able to do almost any job at a fraction of the price of even an offshore worker. The productive capacity will come back to the West, but the work will be done almost entirely by robots. I don't see how democracy will work when most people just sit around gaming and taking drugs. People want a prestigious position in their society, and those will be very scarce.

I don't think the system of democracy will be here in any European country in a few decades. after the financial crisis,Italy appointed technocrats to run it. I think we are heading for non-democracy. In Switzerland the peoples power to affect government policy is weakened by rules that mean both the cantons and the popular vote must be won. Trump shook the elite's faith in democracy, they will keep the appearance of it but under a facade of human rights and free market, Western governments will increasingly take on the characteristics of dictatorship. But not of the proles.