In the last few years Italian political events have attracted the attention of many in Europe who have been particularly impressed by two startling occurrences: the successful manipulation of the masses by the media, especially television, and the entrance of a neo-fascist party into government. Very few, however, have tried to analyze the reasons for these events or to grasp the general, persistent tendencies which underlie them. As a consequence, these Italian incidents have been quickly passed over, taken as mere anomalies tied to a particular national context and to transitory circumstances, or as an interesting manifestation of some of the inconveniences of modern democracy—alarming perhaps but nonetheless a minority concern and entirely controllable.

I would like to propose a completely different analysis comprising three main points:

1)That the unexpected victory of the new Right in Italy is not a merely circumstantial fact, nor does it express a crisis of the political system alone, nor does it signal the reappearance or the revival of old reactionary tendencies. Rather, it is the very modern product of an organic crisis in the economy, culture and the unity of the nation itself. While the new Right proposes a radical solution to these crises, today it is still a confused and incoherent force—but it seems destined for future invigoration.

2)That this menace is not a concern only for Italy but that it expresses and anticipates general processes and tendencies. For better or worse, the situation in Italy is prophetic: as in 1922, when Mussolini staged his coup d’état, and as in 1968, it is symbolic of a new phase spreading throughout the West and especially in Europe.

3)That the new Right is far from victorious: its ideas are still clumsy and disordered, and its motives contradictory. It can succeed in the future, however, and produce disaster if the Left does not recognize the menace, and effectively resist it. Above all, this means presenting an adequate alternative to the economic, social, institutional and cultural crisis in which the Right has its origin and its strength.

It is not possible in this brief paper to make a full explanation of the reasoning and the evidence behind each of these statements. I will therefore limit myself to a few remarks which are intended to stimulate reflection and encourage discussion.

The new Italian political ‘case’ is the product of deep crisis, a condition which burst out from under the collapse of the former political system. The spark for this explosion was of course the legal inquiries that brought many important figures to trial for serious offences. These cases revealed generalized corruption, the influence of the mafia over the leaders of major political parties, and over the highest authorities of the economy and the state apparatus. Such a revelation was unprecedented. However, it is impossible to understand why all this happened—why the magistracy was able and willing to move in this direction after such a long period of inaction, why the public, who had long known of and tolerated corruption, supported this move and urged them on, why the charges have not merely decapitated but completely destroyed established parties and institutions—if one does not see what was behind this system of corruption and contributed to its downfall. Political corruption had assumed a particular dimension and role in Italy because of social and ideological struggle.