If in 1988 a political scientist had to bet on the disintegration of the Soviet Union or on the return to power in Italy of the heirs of Mussolini’s fascism, he would surely have opted for the former. While hardly predictable at the time, the collapse of communism was still considered possible — so much so that there was already considerable literature on the subject. But it was unthinkable that the Italian Social Movement (MSI) could become a legitimate governing force.Yet the Italian elections of March 27-28, 1994 paved the way for precisely such a development: supporters of the MSI, under the new name of”National Alliance” [Alleanza Nazionale (AN)], entered the Italian government in positions of considerable responsibility as the “governing Right.” Such an event, as well as the dismantling through the judiciary of the traditional party system, can be understood only within the framework of the profound upheavals following the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War.
Some of the more conspicuous changes within Italian political culture must also be located within the same context: the abrupt de-ideologization of political struggle, the growing disaffection with democratic political contests, the gap between society and politicians and, most of all, the decline of anti-fascism as part of the collective ethos. The latter had been the Italian Republic’s ideological cement from the very beginning. As Italy’s “civil religion,” anti-fascism has played an absolutely central role. It was the only outlook which could function as a cultural paradigm unifying a country profoundly tom apart and confused, as the legitimating ideology of the new constitutional pact. Today it can no longer support Italian collective identity and sustain efforts to reconstruct the institutional order.
Anti-fascism, i.e., the appeal to the historical break represented by the civil war and the need to perpetuate the divisions of that era, has worked for the entire postwar period (especially between 1960 and 1990) as the most powerful ideological weapon for the delegitimation not only of the MSI, but also of the entire Right and, more generally, of whatever political groups could be identified as “anti-communist.” At the same time, the Italian anomaly of a consociational regime at the moment of its implosion, has revealed the fragility and precaraiousness of the foundations of Italian democracy. One need only recall some salient moments of Italian postwar history, such as the Tromboni incident in 1960, when the Christian Democratic leader sought to include the MSI in a government coalition, which attempt unleashed so violent a reaction in the streets that it precipitated an abrupt reversal and the beginning of a new political season, conventionally defined as that of the “center-Left.” The same goes for the 1970s and the phase of militant anti-fascism, which in the meantime had become the monopoly of the Left. This brought about the utmost ostracism of the MSI and the completion of the consociational framework of the Italian political party system. Against this background, in 1994, when the Silvio Berlusconi government included four ministers belonging to the ex-MSI, nothing happened: there were no demonstrations or other public protests. All that took place was widespread incredulity and shock. Only a few, among them those who had raged primarily against Berlusconi while hailing the MSI leader Gianfranco Fini as a loyal and unquestionably democratic adversary during the electoral campaign, ultimately sought to unleash the polemical weapon of anti-fascism. The so-called “Italian Revolution” could not have been carried out more smoothly. In a country of impeccable political professionals, what prevailed was a parvenu to politics such as Berlusconi, a Northern League guided by an eccentric leader such as Umberto Bossi, and the real or imagined heirs of fascism.
Actually, there had already been some indications of such a political outcome. Consider the administrative elections of November 1993. At that time, in the race for major districts in two key cities (Rome and Naples), Fini and Mussolini’s niece were the opposition to progressive candidates. Both were defeated, but by surprisingly small margins. In both cities the MSI had become the leading party, with more than 30% of the votes. In addition, there were 19 mayors elected in other cities, which joined the other 14 elected in the June elections of the same year in cities with a population over 15,000. National Alliance’s electoral victory was much more surprising than the rise of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and of the Northern League. The phenomenon of a TV magnate compromising with the power structure of the First Republic to become the leader of a party that grew into Italy’s leading political force in the short span of two months was certainly peculiar. On the whole, however, it seemed to fit a political context whose main features seem to be the personalization of electoral contests, populism and demagogy. An altogether more anomalous and inexplicable phenomenon is the fate of an allegedly “neo-fascist” party banished for almost 50 years to the margins of the Italian political system suddenly becoming part of government, i.e., democratically legitimated by a substantial popular vote.
Three years after the electoral success of MSIAN, the so-called epigones of neo-fascism have regained the status of full citizenship. During this time various scholars have sought to understand the nature of a political movement which, under the label National Alliance (a name formally sanctioned with the Fiuggi Congress of January 1995), today presents itself as a finally legitimate Right, uninvolved with the fascist legacy and fully part of the democratic process. It is a political force which, in terms the results of the April 1995 administrative elections and more recent polls, enjoys the support of 12-13% of the electorate. While potentially ephemeral and contingent, this support cannot be undervalued by those seeking to understand the direction of Italian politics.
What kind of Right does National Alliance actually represent? In terms of official positions (Fini’s speeches and interviews, the party press, congress proceedings, party statements), what are its ideological reference points and programmatic outlook? To what extent do they correspond to its concrete political actions? Is it credible that a party such as the MSI, associated with fascism and proudly “nostalgic” of Mussolini’s regime, could change in a few months into a national-conservative political formation — a party of the “democratic Right” free of all authoritarian or, even worse, subversive and anti-democratic impulses? What is the relation of AN to other extreme Right European political formations, from Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front to the German Republikaner? Is Fini to be believed when he claims his political model to be Jacques Chirac and Gaullism, an unquestionably democratic Right? What accounts for the general “re-emergence” of the Right in Europe, within which the trajectory of AN must be located? Finally, what is the meaning of AN’s alleged transition from “neo-fascism” to “post-fascism”?
Many misunderstandings concerning this new political subject derive from the superficiality with which the development of the MSI, and of the Italian Right in general, has been interpreted in post-war Italy: as neo-fascist, monarchic-clerical, traditional, conservative, liberal-national, radical, subversive, etc. For decades this political formation, which in electoral terms has always oscillated between 5 and 6% (with a high point of 8.7% in 1972) has received practically no attention by political scientists and historians. Moreover, there has been no serious attempt to distinguish (in relation both to historical fascism and similar experiences in other European countries) among the multiplicity of its internal components. What has prevailed is the logic of amalgamation and of the reduction of an entire political dimension to a few demonizing labels.
The first serious study of the MSI was published only in 1989 — over 40 years after its founding. Up to then, with a few laudable exceptions, there were only neo-fascist memoirs or militant anti-fascist accounts concerned primarily with denouncing the unquestionable anomaly of a party which, while fully part of the parliamentary framework, did not hide the that it identified with the fascist regime and, in particular, with that radical variant of Mussolini’s fascism represented by the Republic of Salo. The main shortcoming of these accounts was their uncritical identification of Right and fascism. This is an ideological short-circuit which still tends to prejudice scholars. It is rooted in the ambiguous nature of the object under study, which has been permeated by a major contradiction. It has to do with the fact that a force considered “subversive” and anti-system, proudly extraneous to the power structure of reborn Italian democracy, a direct expression of the socializing tendencies of the fascism of Salo, tendentially revolutionary, permeated by anti-bourgeois populism or even anti-capitalism — ideologically oriented toward fascism — in fact has always behaved according to the guidelines of a classic conservative and nationalist Right, perennially subaltern to the Christian Democratic Party and the moderate bloc that has ruled in postwar Italy.
Fascist in its ideological appeals and political symbolism, the MSI has always received most of its electoral support from the petty bourgeois South. This is a socially conservative Catholic and anti-communist group, most inclined toward clientism and nostalgic for Mussolini’s regime (especially for its modernizing role and authoritarian and paternalistic face), but certainly not nostalgic for the civil war. To this electoral base must be added a substantial number of protest votes over the years. Thus a definitely a-fascist “social bloc” (except for a “hard core” minority — the “incorrigible” and the youth, more ideologized and radical, ready to appropriate the label of “historical losers”) has always corresponded to a fascist ideological facade –proudly displayed to flaunt its diversity and to deemphasize the predicament of rejects to which “fascists within democracy” had been reduced. In other words, the political project apparently inspired by fascism’s revolutionary and modernizing ambitions (in the double corporatist and socializing variant) has always corresponded more with a Right of law and order engaged in the defense of Christian values against the danger of communism than it has with the overthrowing of the geopolitical equilibrium resulting from WWII. All of this has taken place in the wake of a shift from a fascism lived as social and political revolution to a neo-fascism understood as a militant anticommunist force: a kind of anti-revolutionary dike.
Despite all its programmatic oscillations, its political leadership’s various ambitions, the conflicts between the “old” and the “young,” and the contradictory political cultures that have coexisted within it, the MSI has always operated within that social space typical of all other European countries. It is the space of an ideologically moderate and anti-communist Right, socially based on mildly unhappy urban white-collar workers, disenchanted with official politics — a social space upon which has been superimposed the facade of an ideology directly inspired by fascism. During the early years, this has undoubtedly represented the MSI’s raison d’etre and its authentic matrix (the only one able to define a political space for the survivors of the fascist tragedy). Subsequently, it increasingly became an ideology exhibited primarily to establish identity: purely personal and political survival. It became a kind of protective armor — a symbolic resource thanks to which this party survived for decades within a ghetto logic imposed from outside but accepted internally. This does not mean that, precisely because of this condition of “exiles within their own country,” the MSI has not had a key role in defining the parliamentary framework which for over 40 years has characterized Italian democracy: a paradoxically cohesive role benefiting the variegated anti-fascist front. Thus, through its very presence, the MSI has prevented the rise of a party which could have been a more politically credible and less ideologically ambiguous interpreter of that social group.
In post-war Italy, the identification of “Right” (any Right) and fascism has played a double role: “With respect to the party system [it has meant] the constriction of all conservatism within the context of a rigid radical Right. For what regards specifically the internal life of any Right group [it has entailed] an irresistible reinforcing of a collective identity according to the ideological paradigms of historical fascism.” Here it is important to distinguish between the officially professed ideology of the MSI (fascist, subversive and anti-system) and the concrete political choices it has made throughout — always in favor of conservative law and order policies: adherence to NATO (1951), opposition to the center-Left (1963), opposition to the student movement (1970-1973), support for the “silent majority” (1971), support for divorce (1974), support for the death penalty (1980). This is necessary in order to break out of the erroneous identification of Right and fascism (which still conditions Italian political culture) and to acknowledge the need of dealing with neo-fascism as a particular reality with its own ideological, political and historical profile. It is also necessary to better comprehend the ease with which, with the disappearance of tensions connected with the Cold War, the MSI has been able to transform itself, in a way altogether consistent with its history and without any apparent trauma, into a party of the parliamentary Right. According to official documents, it now has an anti-progressive orientation, it is moderately nationalist, pragmatic and anti-ideological, and explicitly committed to a social Christian orientation (moderate economic liberalism, defense of the weak, criticism of finance capital, commitment to the principle of subsidiarity, support of social Catholic morality, etc.).
Those who see the “transformation” of the MSI into AN as a simple maquillage, since it has not entailed any struggles or fractures, fail to draw the proper conclusions from the actual history of the MSI, i.e., the attempt (unsuccessful but continually reiterated) to insert itself into the Italian political system as part of the government within a broad anti-communist framework through alliances from time to time involving the Christian Democrats, the monarchists and the Liberal Party. 
Except for the very beginning (characterized by revolutionary and even terroristic impulses, the inevitable outcome of the convulsions following the end of the civil war) and for an ambiguous relation with the so-called radical “Right” (which has negatively conditioned its history, primarily between the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s), on the whole the MSI has followed a legal strategy of cooperation at the level of sub-power, of constant tactical convergence with the forces of moderation in power: some sectors of the Christian Democratic Party and of the Vatican closer to clericalism and anti-communism, state apparatuses, the high ministerial bureaucracy, industrial environments and the intelligence gathering services of some foreign countries. Such a strategy was deployed already in 1954 by Arturo Michelini and subsequently pursued by Giorgio Almirante,  especially during the 1970s, first with the launching of the “broad anticommunist front” (1970), then through the so-called project of a “national Right” (1971), and eventually with the aggregation (1975) of an ephemeral but ambitious “Right Constituent.”
The peculiar configuration of the Italian political system, characterized by a strong CD political center, however, prevented the attainment of this objective by seeing the presence of a neo-fascist extreme Right as simultaneously legitimating and delegitimating. It was legitimating in relation to its own role as the most trustworthy representative (because it was not subject to the ideological blackmail of anti-fascism) of the instances, interests and values of broad areas of Italian conservatism. It was delegitimating with respect to the governing ambitions of the political force located at the opposite side of the political line-up, i.e., the Italian Communist Party. In other words, for almost 50 years the Center has guaranteed its own “centrality” through two conventiones ad excludendum: anti-communism and anti-fascism. It is not an accident that in Italy the Right has recently been able to assert and legitimate itself only after the disintegration of the political center and, in particular, of the Christian Democratic Party. 
According to some, one of the results of the birth of NA, while precipitated more by events than consciously planned by the old MSI’s leadership, is the elimination of the anomaly of the presence on the Italian Right of a delegitimated party officially excluded from alliances and government coalitions yet an integral part of them. From this viewpoint, notwithstanding all its ambiguities and contradictions, AN represents the end of a fifty-year equivocation. It is an element of normalization of Italian political culture and of the party system, where the MSI has long been the repository of certain existential pulsations and doctrinaire positions (e.g., those which, during the second half of the 1970s, were part of the so-called New Right) which can now find a more appropriate location and mode of expression, even as a party.
To realize how difficult it is to determine the nature of AN, one need only examine some recent evaluations. For most, it is still “an empty container” — a nom de plume for the old MSI, the fruit of Fini’s strategic ability and opportunism, concerning whose democratic evolution there are doubts and reservations. For others, especially in light of the Fiuggi Congress, AN can be considered a party of a post-fascist democratic Right. The leading advocate of the first thesis is Ignazi, who sees no substantial change in any of the three main elements defining a party: leadership, organizational structure and ideology.
Actually, the leadership of the new party, both at the center and at the periphery, is still made up mostly of militants and functionaries of the MSI. As for the actual representatives to parliament, with some exceptions they also turn out to be the political personnel of the old party; the few new additions have not been all that spectacular, coming mostly from the Christian-Democratic Right. As for AN’s new organizational formula, structured no longer on the basis of “universal” territorial sections but of mostly “professional” circles and clubs, it also seems copied from the MSI. Although the present phase is transitional, there is little doubt about the preeminence in hundreds of circles throughout Italy of long-standing activists and militants. In other words, the proposed coming closer to society has yet to happen: at best, it has only begun. Finally, as for the ideological aspect (the crucial element in judging the real nature of AN), Ignazi writes that the new political subject still lacks “the justification, the rationalization, the conscious acceptance of democracy.” Its cultural references are still those typical of this century’s anti-democratic Right. The transition from neo-fascism to post-fascism has taken place only on the tactical level, without undergoing any serious ideological travail and without submitting its political culture to an authentic metamorphosis or some form of modernization to favor the shift of the new party from the political family of “the far Right” (within which Ignazi locates the “traditional” or “neo-fascist” and the “post-industrial” far Right) to the political family of the “democratic Right” (of a conservative or liberal type).
An equally negative evaluation of AN has also been provided by Marco Tarchi. In a recent book he writes that AN, while definitely breaking with “nostalgia,” which was the MSI’s most characteristic trait, cannot thereby be said to have developed an alternative political project. Accordingly, “Fini has never posed the problem of modernizing and reconfiguring the MSI patrimony. He has never attempted to critically re-evaluate that heritage in order to derive a political formula applicable to the present . . . The AN leader has limited himself to undertaking a march to power, putting aside the less digestible aspects of the MSI’s original ideology in favor of a patchwork of heterogeneous elements held together by the glue of electoral success. It is a profoundly opportunistic operation . . . behind which there is no strategy: there are only the skills of the poker player who knows when to risk and when to bluff.”
Another critical evaluation worth mentioning because of its author’s biography is Ernesto De Marzio’s. A member of the MSI from the very beginning, in 1976 De Marzio was among the protagonists of the split resulting in the creation of National Democracy (ND), an ephemeral political formation which dissolved within three years and which today many consider a prefiguration of AN: the first serious effort to construct a democratic-constitutional Right no longer associated with nostalgia, the cult of memories and extremism. De Marzio does not take at face value Fini’s turn, which he sees not as the result of a serious political renewal but of a variety of propitious political contingencies: Tangentopoli (in which the MSI was not involved), the polarization of the political clash precipitated by the new electoral system, Berlusconi’s political engagement (which contributed to exploding all the previous equilibria between traditional political forces); and video-politics (which has allowed Fini to present himself, during the elections, as a leader with moderate and reassuring traits).
Naturally, there are also those who have seen the birth of AN in more positive terns. Most relevant in this respect is the leader of Italian historical anti-fascism, Vittorio Foa, who believes in Fini’s repudiation of fascism and therefore in the possibility of the development of a moderate, responsible and normal Italian Right, in line with other European experiences. The same can be said of the historian Giordano Bruno Guerri, who has welcomed the laicization of the Italian Right, now freed of those traits of secular religion and of spiritualism — expressed in the idea of a “mission,” the cult of the fatherland and tradition — which according to him constituted faascism’s most characteristic trait, its most negative heritage, and therefore the main obstacle in the development of a no longer nostalgic and authoritarian Right.
It is not easy to disentangle so many different evaluations, especially if one considers that the discussion concerning the real nature of AN, and more generally of the Center-Right coalition in which AN is a part, is subject to continuous superimposition of extraneous readings, e.g., accounts worried about the danger of a “new fascism” allegedly running through industrialized countries (of which the Italian experience would constitute a warning bell) or judging the appearance of AN and some of the forces associated with it as the nth variant of the so-called (and increasingly more incomprehensible) Italian case. In other words, it is a matter of choosing a comparative approach or a purely internal reading focusing only of the metamorphosis of Italian ideology.
In the first case, it is a matter of a plebeiscitarian “neo-authoritarian” “post-industrial fascism.” Thus recent Italian developments are reduced to instances of the profound transformations undergone by mass industrial democracies following the crisis of the social-democratic-Keynesian model, the upsetting of the geopolitical framework brought about by the fall of communism and the ensuing diffusion of a growing fear, anxiety and uncertainty. In the second case, the focus is on the anomalies — structural, political and characterological — of a constitutionally eccentric country entering a new phase of a culture which, according to some, has always contraposed two Italics: one civil, laic-progressive, European and liberal; the other anti-modern, Catholic, familial and populist. Probably the best way to explain some aspects of the “new Italian politics” is to consider it two levels. The country’s presently confused political-institutional framework can be seen simultaneously as the result of the processes of change which in the last ten years have unfolded within Western democracies and of the peculiarity and specificity of what can be defined as “the Italian path to political modernization.”
Within the comparative framework, it is possible to identify broad reasons which have favored the rise of what can be generally defined as right-wing political formations. These are expressions of a variety of heterogeneous views stretching from the federal populism of the Northern League to the liberalism of Forza Italia, ending up with the national-conservatism and the anti-ideological pragmatism presently expressed by the heirs of fascism. What, then, is AN? Here it may be useful to limit the analysis, utilizing official sources and materials — in particular the various positions ttaken by its leader Giancarlo Fini and the theses elaborated on the occasion of the Fiuggi Congress, starting with the one dealing with the relation of continuity and discontinuity of AN with respect to fascism: “The Right is not the child of fascism. The values of the Right predate fascism, have coexisted with it and have survived it. The Right’s cultural roots are deeply grounded in Italian history: before, during and after the two decades of fascism.”
The image projected by AN is that of a party which wants to be seen as dynamic and modem, up-to-date and open to alliances (something altogether different, therefore, from a ghettoized defender of its identity and ideological purity, such as was the old MSI). It wants to be a party which, on the level of the representation of interests, attributes its own electoral success, and more generally that of the Center-Right coalition, to the constitution of a new social bloc, of an altogether unprecedented alliance between groups, values and interests hitherto divided and maybe even in conflict: an alliance of productive and unsubsidized groups (small and medium entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, artisan and businessmen, professionals, the young and the unemployed no longer protected by the consociative model of the First Republic) which has defeated the alliance of protected groups: the parasitic bourgeoisie thriving, in “clientelism, bribes and corruption.” Furthermore, this new social alliance would have the merit of upsetting the political model based on the separation of areas of representation from those of governability, in terms of which only the political center could legitimately aspire to govern the country, on the basis of a double conventio ad excludendum with respect to both Right and Left i.e., the MSI and the PCI (Italian Communist Party). This was a truncated model of democracy which left to the political forces of the Center total freedom of maneuver and which, at any rate, has not prevented the PCI from becoming de facto associated with the government through various consociative political formulae: from the “constitutional are,” to the “historical compromise,” to “national solidarity.”
As for the party’s new profile, it seems to be that of a conservative Catholic party with nationalist tendencies, concerned with the defense of social tradition, opposed to the degeneration of collective morality brought about by secularization, and in favor of a “virtuous” dialectic between authority and freedom understood as essential pillars of the social order of democracy. Opposed to national chauvinism, AN poses the problem of how to “co-ordinate and catalyze the vital energies of a free, open, pluralistic and at the same time unified society,” within the context of a common national belonging. Appealing explicitly to “the values of the Risorgimento and to Catholic thought,” AN prefigures the reconstitution of the texture of the Italian nation, the indispensable premise for the instauration of an authentically participatory democracy in which “there must not be enemies to eliminate but adversaries to defeat.” This entails full and unqualified adherence to the democratic method and the definitive rejection of all pretenses to provide an “alternative to the system.” “The choice of the democratic system is . . . dictated . . . by the awareness that votes represent the only unchallenged answer to the problem of competition among political forces for gaining consensus.”
AN’s institutional model is presidentialism, already Almirante’s choice and a theme concerning which present party leaders see one of the few elements of continuity with respect to the old MSI. What is preferred is a model of direct democracy able to result in new forms of popular sovereignty (from presidentialism to propositional referenda), new forms of participation through the empowering of mediating organisms between society and institutions (hence the proposal to constitute, on a territorial level, consultative assemblies composed of the representatives of social categories and of associationism). The rejection of extreme nationalism and patriotism goes along with the rejection of political centralism — even with the relative acceptance of the federalist perspective. The state is no longer the totalizing state, which Giovanni Gentile regarded as the nation’s “ethical” heart, but rather a state “brought back to its essential core . . . as guarantor of justice and solidarity for everyone in the freedom of all.” It is a state enlivened by associationism, voluntarism, non-profit organizations and other autonomous organizations considered primarily as a useful “alternative channel, often antithetic to the anthrophy of the First Republic’s mass parties.”
In order to summarize AN’s ideological coordinates and social references, it may be accurate to describe the party as a formation attentive to the interests of the small and medium urban bourgeoisie (entrepreneurial or white collar), oriented, on the socio-economic level, to Christian social doctrine and a model that could be defined as “the social economy- of the market.” it is a party committed to a foreign policy of national prestige. But far from aggressive, it is one attentive to the communitarian and identitarian dimension of social life. Its main ambition is to present itself, with respect to a country mired in a deep crisis, as “a force of national recomposition.” It would be a formation able to unify a society in which, after the shock of Tangentopoli, there has been a growing need “to reassert national identity and the awareness of being part of a community rooted in history.” According to Fini, it is a party of the “social Right” in favor a diffuse, pragmatic and anti-ideological capitalism still able to sustain a spiritual and anti-materialist vision of life; Europeanist, but within the framework of NATO — an organization which has not yet exhausted its political-military function. As the editor of Secolo d’Italia, the official organ of AN, has put it, it is a party which sees the sense of its political wager in the possibility of allowing the coexistence of market laws, state intervention and solidarity, and whose relation with fascism, having forfeited all authoritarian temptations, is now limited to these few elements: “a certain idea of the nation and of the people, the vindication of national identity, productivism as a factor of growth (even individual), and a sense of competence.”
Here the question arises: to what extent does this static image of AN correspond to its authentic nature? Is the break with neo-fascism and, in general, with anti-democratic culture, real, as party leaders claim and many voters seem to believe, or is AN, at least for now, still the expression, no matter how more modem and dynamic than in the past, “of the traditional far Right, i.e., the neo-fascist Right”? Is the alarm and apprehension of those observers, even those who follow closely Italian politics and in particular the behavior of AN, totally unwarranted? Edward Luttwak, for example, has warned of the danger of a new fascism resulting from economic insecurity in Western industrial societies and from fears generated by the new dynamics of the international market. Such pessimism, however, is unwarranted. The new party’s electoral successes have little in common with those of Jean-Marie Le Pen, of Jorg Haider’s Austrian liberals, or with the emergence of personalities such as Zhirinovsky in Russia. AN’s political success has not been accompanied by any kind of political extremism or violence. If the far Right prospers primarily when political struggle becomes radicalized and ideologized, when there are dramatic social and economic emergencies, then AN has benefited from the exact opposite, i.e., a situation of growing political de-ideologization. If anything, AN has succeeded within a frightening ideological vacuum, something shared by all other parties. At any rate, there is no threat of any “return to Weimar.”
Another condition which usually explains the rise of the fascist or radical Right is the political system’s legitimation crisis, i.e., the questioning of the democratic system as a whole. In Italy there is no trace of such a predicament. What Tangentopoli has precipitated into a crisis has been, not so much the legitimacy of the system, but the legitimacy of a political class and the functionality of hopelessly old institutions. AN does not identify “the causes of Tangentopoli with the rules of democracy,” i.e., it has no doubts about the democratic system as such, only about some of its institutional degenerations. AN has not interpreted the Italian crisis according to a standard slogan of the far Right — as a crisis of democracy — but as the crisis of one of its particular instances, the Italian consociative-partitocratic type.
Finally, there is no trace in the AN of the xenophobia and racism which have contributed to the success of Le Pen in France and Haider in Austria. Of the three themes which during the past decade have appeared in the political agenda of European countries — the environment, security and immigration- the first accounts for the success of ecological parties; but the other two have become the battle cries of the far Right. Radical parties such as the French National Front or the Austrian Liberal Party, which have no ties with fascism, have built their political platforms and electoral successes on “vigilance” against immigrants, the frustrations typical of metropolitan areas; they have often taken explicitly xenophobic positions or, worse, adopted racist themes which have had no relevance in AN’s agenda. This does not mean that, as Tarchi points out, if immigration were to become a serious social problem, AN could not in the future fall prey to illiberal suggestions and take on the role presently played in France by the Le Pen movement.
This raises a point rarely dealt with by scholars and commentators: what will be AN’s political future? According to some, it is a party destined to inherit the praxis and style of the old Christian Democrats (DC), thus increasingly inclined towards clientism, corporative mediation, deteriorating statism, with a predominantly Center-South rooting. According to others, it is a matter of recycling the long gone Socialist Party (PSI) of Craxi, animated by a strong modernizing objective and an excess of pragmatism. In fact, it is precisely an ostentatious pragmatism that seems to characterize the political behavior of AN and the political culture of many of its leaders. The need to break once and for all with its ideological past has led AN to present itself the first party to break with the 20th century, as a century of ideologies and of related “totalitarian temptations,” — precisely because it was born out of a highly ideologized formation such as the MSI. By recycling a topos of liberal political science, AN often presents itself as the party of the end of ideology. As Chiarini has indicated, this modernizing thrust is interesting because it seems to transcend, at least in part, the classical equation “Right = conservatism” — the identification of the Right with the old, with the defense of the status quo, with a historical vision cast entirely in terms of anti-progressivism, to the benefit of an unprecedented (at least in Italy) conjunction between Right and modernity, of a future-oriented Right. Not by chance, this Right has already shown itself extremely able “in the market of post-materialist politics, all too at ease in the symbolic universe of modem mass communication” — in other words, it is a Right perfectly able to adapt its own behavioral code to modernity.
As already indicated, the risk of falling back into the vortex of illiberalism and of xenophobic pulsations is a possibility related to the importance that immigration will assume in the immediate future, and what it can entail in terms of a social clash and a radicalization of the political struggle. In this case, it is naturally necessary to consider the very high price, in terms of isolation and ghettoization, that, as already shown by the French experience of the National Front, any political force choosing anti-immigrant protest as its exclusive platform of struggle would be forced to pay. For a party such as AN, with a history of half a century of (self-)ghettoization, it would be an unpalatable perspective, maybe even unlikely to compensate for eventual electoral successes.
Ultimately, however, a different evolution cannot be ruled out — even in terms of the crisis which has led to the birth of AN — following some suggestions of Ernst Nolte and Renzo De Felice’s reflections concerning the “past that does not pass,” both in Italy and in Germany. Accordingly, this evolution would be in the direction of a neo-nationalist right-wing democratic party critically aware of its own history and posing at its center the problem of national identity. Along with other scholars, Nolte seems to assume as decisive, in the immediate future, the cleavage of immigration and the encounter/clash of civilizations, more as a cultural than a social reality: i.e., as the signal of a growing gap between social and ideological forces inclined toward universalism and those inclined toward particular-ism (where universalism and particularism must be assumed, writes Nolte, not in a militant sense such as to introduce destructive mechanisms or radical political conflicts, but in their “rational kernel,” i.e., responding to irrepressible requirements of human nature). In the present historical context, the “rational kernel” of particularism is clearly connected with the idea of a national identity to contrapose to the overwhelming force of globalization, i.e., the tutelage of the historical continuity of a national community. For his part, De Felice has emphasized the need to reconstruct the ethical-political profile of the italian nation through a conciliation with its own past, unmediated by convenient ideological reconstructions.
It is precisely within such a framework that the development of AN can obtain a rational historical justification and some sort of programmatic completeness. The need, felt both in Germany and in Italy, of a “nation finally aware of itself” can find in AN an effective political interpreter. In order to do so, it will have to move beyond the rhetoric of “national reconciliation” and “pacification,” which remain inextricably tied to the realities of the civil war and, therefore, entirely stuck in the past. In other words, among all the parties presently on the political scene, AN seems the only one able to articulate, in a politically effective sense, a certain diffuse need for “national sentiments” within broad sectors of Italian society. This is particularly relevant now, half a century after the end of WWII, when the problem of national identity has resurfaced. (This is precisely the terrain upon which, after the war, the two dominant political cultures — the Catholic and the communist — have failed). As De Felice put it, AN could aspire to become the party of “the nation’s patriotism,” whose values are “expressed by history, culture and the events of a particular country and not a juridical abstraction”– in opposition to those other political forces which today seem to recognize themselves in the “patriotism of the constitution.” The present AN leadership may not be culturally and politically able to carry out this task. Yet AN’s success in representing a real novelty in the Italian political panorama depends for the most part on whether it will be able to do so.
This is a revised version of a lecture originally delivered at a Conference on “New Politics in Italy,” organized by the Adenauer Foundation in Cadenabbia, April 1995.
[Telos; Fall 95 Issue 105, p112, 21p]