Giorgia Meloni, as you’ve doubtlessly heard, is the “far-right” next prime minister of Italy. So says virtually every news outlet in the United States. And anyone familiar with the left’s perfunctory use of “ultra-conservative,” “far-right,” “hard-right,” or “semi-fascist” to describe those who take positions to the right of the Democratic Party’s latest platform, should be skeptical.
Then again, trying to decipher European elections through the prism of American politics is a frustrating endeavor. But here is a cataloging, as best as I can pull together, of the claims used to portray Meloni as fascist:
Meloni “bemoans” the chronically low birthrate in Italy and wants to implement pronatalist policies. Now, I think the prospect of technocratic policy curing low birthrates is dubious, but if incentivizing social behavior is now a fascistic endeavor, what does that say about the left’s agenda?
Meloni defends Europe’s “Christian identity.” The American left acts like the mere mention of “Christian” is xenophobic and fascistic. People get furious when this atheist points out that nearly every Christian-majority nation in the world can boast of democratic institutions and high levels of freedom—with a few exceptions of a few places like Russia—while most non-Christian-majority nations can’t. There are thorny ideological and historical reasons for this reality, but reality it is. When Europe embraces a competing faith—be it secular universalism, multiculturalism, communism, fascism—things tend to go poorly.
Meloni opposes gay marriage, which isn’t legally recognized in Italy. (Nor is gay adoption.) Instead, there are same-sex civil unions, which offer gay couples nearly the same legal protections as marriage—laws that Meloni does not propose overturning. Recall that most Democrats, including Barack Obama, held the same position on the matter until 2012. Wrong or right, I don’t recall reporters referring to it as fascistic, or ideologically “far-right wing.” Did the definition of “fascist” change in the past decade?
Meloni opposes abortion and euthanasia. Every story mentions the protection of life as an evident sign of democratic backsliding. It took some digging to ferret out the official right-wing coalition’s position. Outside nebulous language about life, Meloni promises to fund “alternatives to abortion.” Using state power to shut down pregnancy centers (and looking the other way when political terrorists firebomb them) is quite fascisty. Offering pregnant women the means to keep their babies, not so much.
Meloni opposes illegal immigration.
Meloni is a moderate Eurosceptic. (She is also pro-NATO, and supports the West’s military backing of Ukraine and closer relations with Taiwan.)
Meloni is a critic of “wokeness” and the idea of malleable gender identity, the position of basically the entire world until a few minutes ago.
Unlike the Tories of Britain or Likud in Israel, contends The Washington Post, Meloni is a “norm-wrecker.” Anyone who spends five minutes studying postwar Italian governance will probably tell you the country could use some norm-breaking.
Meloni’s party uses a tricolor flame logo that “harks back to an earlier, more extreme political movement formed shortly after Mussolini’s death,” the Post notes. Numerous outlets inform us that the populist right-center coalition, including a party led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has its “roots” in Italy’s postwar fascist movements. In and of itself, this is meaningless. It’s like saying Democrats have their “roots” in preserving slavery and segregation. Meloni has denounced fascism, contending Italy had “handed fascism over to history for decades now.” The National Alliance shed its fascistic views long ago. In the 2000s, its leader Gianfranco Fini visited Yad Vashem in Israel and called Mussolini’s regime “absolute evil.” Maybe it was all just a decades-long ruse to gain power, but it’s a context worth noting. Many did not.
Meloni refused to vaccinate her daughter, arguing that the probability of someone aged 0–19 dying from Covid-19 is the same as being struck and killed by lightning. (To be fair, it’s probably lower.)
Meloni is, believe it or not, also a fan of Tolkien, and even attended a “Hobbit Camp” in 1993, when she was 16. In Italy, The New York Times explains in a 1,500-word deep dive, “The Lord of the Rings” has “for a half-century been a central pillar upon which descendants of post-Fascism reconstructed a hard-right identity” for people “looking to a traditionalist mythic age for symbols, heroes and creation myths free of Fascist taboos.” Really, a central pillar? I’m not a scholar in Italian politics, but this seems unlikely.
Meloni has defended Viktor Orban, “the orchestrator of Hungary’s autocratic turn.”
Who knows? Perhaps tomorrow Meloni will have the trains running on time and embrace a corporatist economic system like so many “liberal” Eurozone nations. I’m a minarchist at heart, so everyone looks like a fascist to me. More likely, though, the Italian right will be illiberal within the normal illiberal standards of modern Europe. It will be no more illiberal than “democratic” socialist parties, and no less authoritarian than the present German government, which regularly sends police to break down the doors and arrest citizens for saying stupid things on the internet. The difference is that like Orban, the Italian right promises to use state power to blunt the European left’s agendas on social policy and immigration, rather than use state power to enforce them. And that will be enough reason to call them “fascists.”