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Journal of Political Ideologies (1996), 1(2), 123-145

The 'post-Fascism' of the Alleanza

Nazionale: a case study in
ideological morphology

Department of History, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford 0X3 OBP, UK

ABSTRACT This article sets out to resolve the contentious issue of the Alleanza
Nazionale's (AN's) relationship to Fascism by focusing on the party's first
official programme, the Theses published when it formally replaced the overtly
fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano in January 1995. Considered in the light of
a particular model both of generic fascism and ideological morphology, these
theses document the considerable extent to which the AN's vision of a new
political class and regenerated national community is rooted in historical
Fascism, even if care has been taken to express this vision in a 'modernized',
anti-Nazi and anti-totalitarian discourse. At the same time the party un-
equivocally commits itself to upholding the institutions and methods of liberalism
as the corner stone of Italy's 'Second Republic'. What results is a new
ideological hybrid, 'democratic fascism', one which could yet establish itself as
the ideology of the dominant faction in Italy's government coalition.

The taxonomic problem posed by the Alleanza Nazionale

In March 1994 a political formation barely two months old, the Alleanza
Nazionale (AN), obtained 13.5% of the vote in the first general election to be
held in Italy since the Tangentopoli scandals destroyed the hegemony which the
Christian Democrats had enjoyed continuously for nearly half a century. As part
of the victorious 'Pole of Liberties and Good Government' coalition with
Berlusconi's newly created Forza Italia and Bossi's regionalist Lega Nord, the
AN under its youthful leader Gianfranco Fini won over 5 million votes, and
returned 105 deputies (out of a total of 630) in the Chamber of Deputies and 43
Senators (out of a total of 315). Before long it was represented in the new
government by five ministers and 12 under-secretaries. It was a legitimacy
consolidated three months later in the European elections in which the AN
gained 11 seats in the Strasbourg Parliament by obtaining 12.5% of the vote, and
further strengthened by the reputation Fini earned in media performances as the
country's most personable and credible political leader. Within months Bossi

1356-9317/96/020123-13 © 1996 Journals Oxford Ltd


had withdrawn his support from Berlusconi, who by the end of the year had been
forced to resign as Prime Minister, but both these events only served to make
Fini seem an even more plausible candidate for future head of government.
The prospect of AN members exercising power in Italy and the EU caused a
considerable stir both at home and abroad. It had been set up by the Movimento
Sociale Italiano, which ever since its formation in December 1946 had made no
secret of the fact that its foundation myth lay in the ideals and achievements of
the Italian Social Republic (RSI), the territorially shrinking state set up in
Nazi-occupied Italy by 'intransigent' Fascists after the armistice was signed with
the Allies in September 1943. Though constituted officially as an electoral force
committed to the democratic 'rules of the game', the MSI had continued
throughout the First Republic to be closely associated with ideological circles
and terrorist groups pledged to the revolutionary overthrow of the liberal state.
Small wonder that the party was treated as a pariah by the other parties and
remained the 'excluded pole' 1 on the wings of Italian politics right up to the
1994 general elections, when, as the driving force behind the AN, it established
itself overnight not just as a legitimate actor in the reconstruction of the state,
but one playing a leading role.
The AN's electoral success would have provoked less concern had there been
clear evidence of a radical break with the MSFs once proudly declared Fascist
identity. However, even if on its formation it attracted some disaffected right-
wingers from the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) and the Liberal party, it neverthe-
less retained the organizational structure, membership, and programme of the
MSI intact. Moreover, 95% of AN candidates had previously stood as MSI
candidates, and as late as July 1991 its leader, Gianfranco Fini, still had no
qualms in declaring:
There is no need to embark on a relaunch of the Movimento Sociale Italiano based on
a new ideological definition. We have no need of this if it is true that all of us, whenever
we have to find a single bonding agent which unites us can say we are Fascists, the heirs
of Facism, post-Fascists, or the Fascists of the 21st century. We can all recognize
ourselves in that great reservoir of ideas, and it is clear what our matrix is, where we are
coming from.2

Predictably the reaction of many political commentators, especially those on the

Left, was to claim that for the first time since 1945 fascists had infiltrated the
government of a liberal democracy. For example, the British 'anti-fascist
monthly' Searchlight (whose Italian correspondent maintains that the Lega Nord,
Forza Italia, and the Alleanza Nazionale are actually three different permutations
of fascism), ran the headline 'Italy moves towards Fascism'.3 Even the liberal
media questioned whether democratic politicians should have any formal deal-
ings with AN representatives at all, and, though neither the Clinton administra-
tion nor the British government had demonstrable misgivings about holding
meetings with Fini and his colleagues, the Strasbourg Parliament passed a
resolution even before the European elections urging Italy 'to be faithful to the
fundamental values that influenced the foundation of the Community after the


horrors of Fascism and Nazism'. Meanwhile in Italy itself the President of the
Republic, Oscar Scalfaro, was sufficiently concerned to write an open letter to
the new Prime Minister, Berlusconi, reminding him of his duty to pursue policies
based on the principles of peace, respect for international treaties, and social
However, the categorization of the AN as a fascist party, and hence as a direct
threat to democracy, is far from unequivocal. Whenever challenged about his
Fascist credentials, Fini has been at pains to stress that he and his party are to
be seen as 'post-Fascist' in a sense at variance from the one implicit in the above
quotation. Fascism, he now claims in interviews, is a dead letter: it refers to a
historical period in Italy's history which, despite the anti-Fascist propaganda of
the First Republic, could claim major achievements in terms of national pride,
communal purpose, and social policy. It had been necessary to uphold its
principles only as long as Italian communism, which based its legitimacy
throughout the First Republic on the leading role it played in the Resistance,
continued to pose a threat to democracy. Since the ending of the Cold War
communism has showed itself to be a spent force, so that Fascism itself has been
To demonstrate the AN's commitment to democracy, Fini went out of his way
after his electoral success to condemn totalitarianism during a vote of confidence
debate, and made a symbolic visit to the Fosse Ardeantine to pay homage to the
335 victims of the Nazis' reprisals for a Partisan killing of 32 of their troops on
the eve of Rome's liberation. Equally symbolic of a renunciation of any sort of
'nostalgic' Fascism, at the Congress of the MSI held in Fiuggi in January 1995
the party was officially dissolved and replaced by the AN, presented specifically
as 'a new political movement'. To underline this 'strappo al fascismo' (break
with Fascism), the 'political theses' adopted at the congress systematically refer
to the AN, not as a Fascist party with revolutionary goals rooted in the
experience of the Italian Social Republic, but as a party of the democratic Right
bent on purging many of the ills of Italy's doomed First Republic as to lay the
foundations of a healthy Second Republic, and act as the custodian of the
country's first 'true' democracy. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of MSI
hardliners who vociferously endorse Fini's claim that he has renounced Fascism,
though in their eyes this makes him a traitor to the cause to which they have
devoted their lives. Giorgio Pisano, for example, once special agent of the Black
Brigades in Salo and luminary of the current of revolutionary (and terrorist)
Fascism since 1945, told an interviewer that the Fini of the AN is a 'a trickster',
a 'con-man', and a 'Judas'. He then qualified this verdict by adding 'but the
more time passes the more I am convinced that it is wrong to call him that,
because he is not like me, he is not a Fascist. Fini is a liberal democrat'4 (the
equivalent of calling a Marxist a capitalist).
Clearly the ambiguities over the AN's relationship to Fascism and generic
fascism raises a taxonomic issue which is more than a simple matter of academic
nicety, but one which has an important bearing on how politicians of other
parties and the public at large should respond to its presence as a factor in


domestic and international politics. Should ministers and deputies collaborate

with their AN counterparts? Should its Euro-MPs be boycotted in Strasbourg and
Brussels? How should heads of state and foreign ministers respond to the
prospect of formal dealings with Fini and his entourage? How should the media
cover AN activities? Are non-fascists who vote for it being duped into support-
ing an anti-democratic wolf in sheep's clothing? Were MSI hardliners right to
threaten a legal battle with Fini after the Fiuggi congress over the legal
ownership of MSI property and use of the MSI symbol on the grounds that he
had betrayed its fundamental principles?
This article proposes an analytical rather than journalistic approach to resolv-
ing the relationship of the AN to Fascism, one which will hopefully be of
interest even to non-academics keen to probe beyond the frequently simplistic
verdicts offered by politicians and commentators with their own (sometimes
Fascist) axe to grind. The premise on which this approach is based is that the key
to assessing the AN's relationship to both (Italian) Fascism and (generic) fascism
is its substantive ideology, rather than its operational and organizational conti-
nuity with the MSI, or the careers and affiliations, and occasional pronounce-
ments of some of its members on the issue when challenged in interviews.

Freeden's model of ideological morphology

The conceptual framework used here to investigate the evolution of neo-Fascist
ideology is provided by a model of ideological morphology evolved by Michael
Freeden.5 It has been designed specifically to .help researchers conceptualize
how, as linguistically constructed determinants of an action-oriented fusion of
thought and behaviour, ideologies admit formulations of their essential ('time-
less'/synchronic) precepts in theory, yet in practice behave diachronically as
entities in a permanent state of evolution and reformulation. Under constantly
changing political conditions and cultural pressures, major ideologies thus tend
naturally to engender numerous permutations and syncretize elements drawn
from other ideologies to produce new compounds which defy neat classification.
Freeden presents them as consisting of clusters of concepts which give specific
meanings to an essentially contestable universe of political meanings and values.
The pragmatic effect of an ideology is thus to 'decontest' the meaning of the
constituent concepts in a way which enables them to become for their human
agents or vectors the basis of thought directed, not to understanding prevailing
political realities in any reflective, theoretical sense, but acting on them so as to
maintain or change them. Ideologies do this by reducing the plural, open-ended
world of virtual value-preferences and potential readings admitted by a given
situation or issue to a closed, radically simplified one in which specific
diagnoses, policies, and decisions can be formulated and 'single-minded' politi-
cal action become possible.
Freeden argues that each generic ideology (socialism, communism etc.)
displays on closer examination one or more 'core concepts' which are closely
associated with a group of logically and culturally adjacent concepts, as well as


more ephemeral peripheral ones. The core concepts can be treated as 'inelim-
inable' in that if they are missing then another (perhaps as yet unclassified)
ideological construct is involved. It is the adjacent and peripheral concepts which
flesh out the skeletal/abstract core ones to make them applicable to the concrete
historical, social, and political context in which the ideology operates. The nature
of the core of an ideology is by no 'means unproblematic. In his article Freeden
is at pains to stress that in the case of political concepts and ideologies, such a
core is not to be treated as some sort of discrete or logical matrix of political
theories. Ideologies have cores which are ineliminable only in the sense that 'an
empirically-ascertainable cultural consensus ascribes to them some minimal
element or elements'.6 We are dealing not with Platonic essences but with the
conventional usage of language, of prevailing discourse. Moreover, the core may
well be formed by a cluster of political concepts not all of which are necessarily
present for permutation of political thought to be recognizable as belonging to
a generic ideology. He cites the example of liberalism in which liberty, human
rationality, and individualism can be inferred from conventional political dis-
course as forming the nexus of ineliminable core concepts. Should any two of
these be missing or peripheral then the ideology in question will not be
liberalism, even if it shares some adjacent concepts with it (e.g. a commitment
to private property, which can be upheld by conservatism).
Once Freeden's model is accepted, ideologies can no longer be approached as
fully rationalizable, static, neatly delineated, and logically coherent entities. On
one level they have something in common with myths in the way they blend
rational propositions, emotional inclinations, cultural values, and Utopian goals.
They also share certain properties with organic phenomena in that they are
essentially protean in their capacity constantly to adapt to different cultural
environments and changing political circumstances, readily producing mutations
which deviate from earlier species. At the same time their morphological
formation is akin to modular construction processes, in as far as different genera
of ideologies can share some of the same constituents, though arranged in a
different relation to the core. Moreover, circumstances can cause them to weld
components from traditionally distinct genera of political thought within their
core, thus forming hybrids (e.g. conservative liberalism or social liberalism)
which a crude 'either-or' taxonomic grid will fail to identify as such.

The ineliminable component of fascism

Freeden's model certainly offers a powerful heuristic device for charting the
genealogies of political concepts about whose usage a certain consensus exists
in conventional political discourse. However, what is striking about the term
'fascism' is the acute lack of such a consensus. While a high level of agreement
exists among Marxists that fascism is to be seen as a manifestation of capitalism,
liberals remain deeply divided over what constitutes the 'fascist minimum' (i.e.
'ineliminable component') to a point where many fundamental taxonomic
questions remain open. It is still debatable whether the Action Francaise, the


Irish Blueshirts, the Croix de Feu, Le Pen's Front National, or Zhirinovsky's

Liberal Democrats are to be seen as fascist, or whether Petain's France, Franco's
Spain, Peron's Argentina, Tojo's Japan, or even Hitler's Germany were. The
issue is complicated by the fact that many of the movements widely associated
with fascism (e.g. Nazism, the Rumanian Iron Guard, Hungarism) rarely if ever
used the term 'fascist' to describe themselves, while some others (e.g. the
Spanish Falange, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, the English Nationalist
Movement) have on occasion specifically repudiated it. In Weberian terms no
ideal type of fascism has gained hegemony within political science, so that every
academic who embarks on an aspect of fascist studies is compelled either to
adopt or refine a ready-made model or develop a new one.
As one such academic I have sought to convince fellow researchers7 that for
heuristic purposes the fascist minimum or ineliminable component is best seen
ideal-typically as a compound of two core concepts: populist ultra-nationalism
and the myth of rebirth (palingenesis). Generic fascism is a political ideology
whose core Utopian myth is the regeneration of a nation perceived as trapped in
a phase of reversible decay. The regime which bring about this regeneration will
be established by a cadre-led movement 'of the people' which will create a
revolutionary post-liberal and anti-communist 'new order'. The nation is to rise
Phoenix-like from the ashes of a decadent political, social, and cultural system
restored to itself through the rebirth of its 'eternal' qualities. The new regime
will incarnate an alternative modernity purged of the forces which have con-
spired to bring it to its knees.
Fascism's ineliminable component of 'paligenetic ultra-nationalism' has been
fleshed out into numerous permutations in the many different concrete historical
and national contexts where it has emerged in the twentieth century, and rival
variants of it have typically coexisted even within the same political culture or
same movement. Among its more common adjacent concepts have been anti-
liberalism; anti-conservatism (though circumstances may encourage tactical
alliances with illiberal conservatism against common enemies); anti-materialism
and anti-rationalism, and the concomitant stress on the will, spirit, idealism and
the need for Utopian goals and myths; a national socialism which aims to
transcend class differences within a national community newly restored to its
organic wholeness; racism in the sense of exalting the allegedly superior
qualities (sometimes conceived biologically) of the 'home' race over others and
its historical destiny, or, in its weak form, a specific rejection of the healthiness
of cultural pluralism and multi-ethnic societies; an extolling of the 'masculine'
principles of heroism, militarism, and discipline; the declared aim of creating a
new type of man imbued with the self-transcending virtues of someone who
devotes his life to the cause of the nation/race.
In the inter-war period other concepts which in retrospect now seem to have
been peripheral rather than adjacent, dominated the image of fascism so much
as to have been often taken to be its ineliminable core. Examples would be the
celebration of the leader principle combined with an overtly charismatic, ritual,
choreographed style of politics; a form of paramilitarism which stressed youth,


the power and moral virtues of the army; totalitarianism (used in a positive
sense); corporativist economics; and the pursuit of imperialist expansion. Since
the war there has been increasing recognition on the part of fascism's more
intellectually challenging ideologues and tacticians that it was necessary for it,
while retaining its 'local' ultra-nationalist dimension, to coordinate on a pan-
European or pan-Aryan scale to rescue 'the West' from terminal decline, and
single issues such as ecology, immigration, abortion, and genetic engineering
have been given a palingenetic or ultra-nationalist gloss. Nevertheless, in all its
permutations, facism is axiomatically committed to the ultimate goal of the
overthrow of liberal democracy, since its pluralism is held to foster the very
forces of dissolution which it seeks to combat and transcend.

The 'entry' of the MSI into the arena of state power

All the major accounts of the Movimento Sociale Italiano concur in portraying
it as a formation which was bent on the creation of an alternative to liberal
democracy, but which had recourse to playing the party political game in order
to keep the ideas of fascism alive in a post-war era which had created a
profoundly inhospitable climate for overtly revolutionary assaults on the demo-
cratic system.8 By assuming the outward guise of a 'normal' political party, the
MSI became the world's most successful crypto-fascist grouping, surviving for
nearly 50 years within the same organizational framework and establishing a
permanent electoral constituency averaging 5% of the vote nationally, with a
peak of 8.7% in 1972 and regional scores of up to t 15.9% in the South
conditioned by particular conjunctures of factors. However, the anti-fascist
consensus which had become the charter myth of Republican Italy ensured that
neo-fascism even in its democratized trappings was systematically ostracized and
denied a bridge-head in the 'centre-right' space from which it could build a
substantial constituency. As a result it never achieved ministerial representation
in any of the many DC-dominated coalition governments which came and went
at such regular intervals down the years.
The decision of MSI leadership to follow a constitutional path to the conquest
of power meant that at the turn of the 1970s, while terrorist Fascists were leaving
the party to embark on the policy of the 'Strategy of Tension' designed to
provoke a state crisis which would bring an extreme right-wing constellation of
forces of power, the MSI itself doggedly pursued the policy of breaking out of
the party's ghettoization by operating on all practical issues as a 'legalitarian'
right-wing party, come to salvage democracy not to destroy it (a tactic known
as 'entryism').9 Yet its spokesmen still openly celebrated the nation's Fascist
history and talked of the need to 'filter the past into the present' and for a 'new
vanguard', for an 'alternative' to the present system, for a 'Third Way' between
communist and liberal materialism. Its 'new' cultural initiatives still drew on
several thinkers central to European neo-fascism, such as Drieu la Rochelle,
Julius Evola, and Maurice Bardeche. Its policies included the 'socialization' of
society through worker participation, a powerful Europe free from dependency


on America, the importance of education for creating a new political elite, and
the need to renegotiate the borders with Austria and Yugoslavia, all unmistak-
ably topoi of Fascist discourse.10 The unresolved tension between a systemic,
constitutional solution to the country's ills and extra-systemic, revolutionary one
was summed up in a speech made by Almirante's declaration on the eve of the
1970 elections, held in the midst of mounting social unrest. He declared that
MSI did 'not want Italy to relapse into the climate of armed confrontation or
civil war', while at the same time, as the 'national Right'11 it refused to stand
by while Italy succumbed 'to a violent minority' (i.e. the communists). The MSI
alone was 'in a position to offer a right-wing opposition which stimulates change
and modifies the condition of society.'12
This ambivalence of the MSI towards the rule of law and liberal democracy
has been graphically illustrated by a study of the propaganda it deployed in its
electoral and referendum campaigns. As Luciano Cheles has convincingly
shown, it repeatedly produced posters which have a non-fascist, 'legalitarian',
and democratic text, but a Fascist subtext created by direct allusions (at least for
the trained or initiated eye) to the slogans, layout, or iconography of posters
which appeared when Mussolini was in power.13 In this way the significance of
the catch-phrases 'nostalgia for the future' and 'neither deny nor restore' is laid
bare. The MSI leadership was forced, as Almirante himself once commented, to
sail the frail vessel of neo-Fascism on the unknown sea of democracy towards
its ultimate destination, the inauguration of a Fascist new order, which involved,
not the restoration of Mussolini's form of it longed for by the 'nostalgics', but
a recreation of it in a new guise appropriate to the post-war period. To this end,
he claimed, anything was permissible except passing beyond the neo-Fascism's
'Pillars of Hercules' (the Straits of Gibraltar) to renounce its fundamental
rejection of liberal democracy. Giorgio Pisano, co-founder of the MSI, makes no
bones about the fact that the party was always only 'a cover for Fascism', going
on to claim that Almirante, once minister in the Salo Republic's Ministry of
Popular Culture, co-founder of the MSI, and now its leader, was a 'true
revolutionary. He knew we had inherited the Fascist legacy and had the duty to
preserve it so as to build on it in the future. This was anything but nostalgia!'.14
In the event, Almirante's bid to enter the centre-right of Italy's political arena
by offering an alternative 'national right' to the DC came to nothing. By the
early 1980s extra-parliamentary violence had ebbed away, and both social peace
and economic stability returned. Despite, or maybe because of, its complacency
and inertia, the DC had weathered the storm of an all-pervasive legitimacy crisis.
To make matters worse for the MSI, the death of Almirante in 1988 led to a
major scission between the 'entryist' and reformist faction headed by Gianfranco
Fini (party secretary from 1988 to 1990, and after 1991), and the followers of
the hardliner and former terrorist Pino Rauti (party secretary 1990-1991), who
still spoke vaguely of the MSI as a 'community party'. In the meantime the
threat of militant communism was evaporating with the end of the Cold War,
a point underlined by the dissolution of the arch-enemy on which early
and post-war Fascism symbiotically depended, the Italian Communist Party.


Moreover, a new anti-socialist protest party had emerged in the north, the Lega
Nord, stealing some of the MSI's fire by also attacking the corruption of the
party-ocracy and promising the regeneration of Italy, albeit on a regionalist and
Thatcherite basis anathema to right-thinking fascists. No wonder if in 1990 one
of Italy's foremost experts on the MSI, Roberto Chiarini, could write that the
MSI had 'returned to a political and electoral limbo' and that 'its prospects
of escaping from it seem slim'.15 However, a conjunctural crisis was about to
break which would not only release the MSI from limbo, but cause its core
ideology to undergo a significant mutation.
In February 1992 came the first of a series of public revelations of corruption
at the heart of the state apparatus and deals between the public and private sector
which demonstrated that not a single level of government and not a single major
party which had exercised power in Italy since 1945 could claim to have 'clean
hands'. The state itself came to be referred to as 'Tangentopoli' an nick-name
meaning literally 'Kick-back City' or 'Bribesville' in which the suffix 'opoli'
(which in Italian connotes the topography of Mickey Mouse comics), underlined
the gap between the idealized image of Milan in the 1980s and the corrupt
reality. As arraignments rained down on politicians small and great (including
several former prime ministers, among them the 'Socialist' Craxi and the
'Christian Democrat' Andreotti) a sense of public outrage soon gave way to a
generalized sense of that the whole political system urgently needed a drastic
overhaul. It was a situation which created an undreamt of opportunity for the
MSI to move its Trojan Horse, so long stranded in no-man's-land before the city
gates, into the Citadel of Power.
Down through the years a constant theme of the MSI's entryist tactic had been
an attack, not on democracy per se, but on the way the established parties so
flagrantly abused their power in an undemocratic spirit. Suddenly attacks on the
corruption of the Italian party system were the order of the day, as it became
clear that the self-interest of politicians and their hangers-on in the public and
private sectors had prevailed over the general good on a scale which surprised
and nauseated an Italian electorate already deeply cynical about every aspect of
the state which was meant to represent it. Not only did the anti-party rhetoric of
the MSI find a sounding-board in the mood of the general public, but the very
fact that it had never been allowed to put its fingers in ministerial pies now
worked to its advantage. It meant that for the whole of the post-war period it
could claim to have kept its hands clean (the campaign to reveal corruption was
called operation 'Clean Hands') by wilfully staying aloof from a governmental
and state system which systematically betrayed its mandate and responsibility
towards the 'Italian people' whose interests it alone had consistently champi-
oned. Furthermore the party which suffered most from the Tangentopoli revela-
tions was the DC, the very party which had held power throughout the post-war
era and which since 1969 had been the MSI's rival for the centre-right space.
Now it was the MSI, which true to its Fascist legacy, had always claimed to
attack materialism, incarnate healthy 'pro-life' values of the family and youth (it
had campaigned with the DC against divorce and abortion when referenda were


held in the 1970s), and to defend the function of the state as the guarantor of
morality, that could claim to be the true bastion against decadence, hedonism,
communism, and paganism. The discrediting of the DC had thus left a vacuum
the MSI was ideally placed to fill.
Two other aspects of MSI's modernized neo-Fascism also came good in its
bid to appear a responsible alternative to the parties of the old system, and not
an unequivocally 'fascist' one. Firstly the MSI had been in the forefront of
giving post-war fascism a pro-European dimension, one which directly dissoci-
ated itself from the official spirit of the Common Market and Maastricht in its
attack on the 'American' values of consumerism and its stress on the need for
each ethnic group to fight for its unique sense of 'cultural identity'. Thus it had
no problem presenting itself, unlike the British National Front in the 1970s or the
German Republikaner in the 1980s, as a party with an idealistic pro-European
stance. Secondly, in marked contrast both to these parties and to Europe's largest
and best-entrenched far right party, Le Pen's Front National, the MSI had in the
late 1980s deliberately veered away from an overtly racist 'anti-immigrant'
platform by adopting the 'differentialism' preached ever since the late 1960s by
the French Nouvelle Droite. Ironically, its espousal of an approach to race which
attacked the multi-racial and -cultural purportedly in the name of the preser-
vation of 'difference' and hence of all 'ethnies' was the outcome of a very public
debate in the late 1980s between the party's new leader Fini, who had started to
woo Le Pen, and Pino Rauti, hardliner, former head of the terrorist Ordine
Nuovo, and rival for leadership of the party after Almirante's death (indeed he
replaced Fini as its secretary between 1990 and 1991). This sophisticated
position, which brands anti-racists as the true racists since their policies allegedly
show no respect for cultural difference, underlies the MSI's stance on the ever
more pressing issue of immigration from the Maghreb countries in the 1990s.
MSI policy was henceforth to defend the rights of those immigrants already in
Italy, while advocating a proactive role in giving aid to the countries whose
populations were so keen to become economic refugees in Europe so as to
preserve both their and the Italians' 'cultural identity' (a buzz word in New
Right fascism).16
However, though the MSI were better placed than ever before to appear a
credible, responsible, and modern political party, their ability to break into
legitimacy was severely compromised by the prospect of a wave of electoral
reform which would sweep away the proportional representation on which its
toe-hold on the governmental system had always depended. It was also in direct
competition for protest votes with the Lega Nord where its radical anti-
regionalism excluded it as a direct alliance partner. The deus ex machina in this
constitutional drama was the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who on founding
Forza Italia in January 1994 hastened to forge an alliance with the Lega Nord
and with what was now the Alleanza Nazionale to create a counterweight to the
alliance of 'Progressives' made up of six highly variagated leftist parties. It was
as part of the 'Pole of Liberties and Good Government' thus formed that the AN
more than doubled its vote and finally fulfilled the 'entryist' dream in March


1994. The anomalies of the winning alliance (which won 58% of the seats in the
Chamber of Deputies and 49% in the Senate) were clear for all to see. The
country was in the hands of two new parties, both committed to Thatcherite
values and very much products of the anti-Fascist post-war world (even if they
harboured deep divisions over the issue of regionalism), yoked to a much older
one which in its previous incarnation had always advocated some sort of
corporativist, socializing solution to the country's ills based on an unmistakable,
even if cleverly euphemized, Fascist blueprint for a regenerated nation. But was
the MSFs new incarnation still based on the original Fascist blueprint? To
answer this question it is necessary to examine the 'political theses' approved at
the Fiuggi Conference entitled Pensiamo VItalia. II domani c'e gia (Let us think
Italy. Tomorrow is already here.)

The Fascist legacy in the ideology of the AN

The 56 page document containing the 'Fiuggi Theses' is a densely written
elaboration of AN policy divided into six sections: The Lessons of the 27 March
[the date of the general 1994 elections]; Values and Principles; Reform of
Institutions and the New Foundation of the State; the Role of Italy in Europe and
the World; Economy and Society; The Alleanza Nazionale: the 'Party' of
Italians. Its discourse can be read on two distinct levels: firstly for its continuity
with MSI policy, historical Fascism, and generic fascism, and secondly for
evidence of the AN's much touted 'break with Fascism'.
The first point to be noted is that the AN's systematic self-characterization as
'the Right' does not support the argument one way or the other. The formation
of the AN directly parallels the attempt by Almirante to create a broad-based
'national right' as an alternative to the DC which led to the creation of the
MSI-DN in 1972. In other words, there was nothing new or intrinsically
democratic about Fini's move, the AN being just as dominated by the MSI as
the MSI-DN had been, even if the choice not to call the new formation MSI-AN
created a stronger sense of caesura with the past. It was a development fully
consistent with the MSI's entryist policy which emerged in the late 1940s,
though it was made particularly timely by the disintegration of the DC and the
turmoil in other rightist parties such as the Liberals which created the real
possibility that some disaffected anti-communists would be attracted to the fold
of a revamped MSI. Another striking feature of the Fiuggi Theses which casts
doubt on the idea that we are dealing with a new movement is that all the major
planks of Almirante's entryist version of Fascist doctrine are retained intact: the
attack on the party-ocracy; the call for a presidentialist system of 'direct
democracy'; the formation of a productive, integrated, participatory nation; the
regeneration of the national community; the importance of youth; the ethical
In lashing out at the party-ocracy Almirante had hit on an ingenious way of
generating a profoundly ambivalent discourse. At a surface level it could be
defended as a legitimate critique of Italy's 'actually existing' liberal democracy,


all too plausibly presented as a corrupt system which was the travesty of any true
liberal democracy. Yet at a subtextual level self-evident to any fascist, the
party-ocracy was a code-name for liberal democracy per se: the taunts against
it reverberated with the anti-systemic rhetoric which had found such an echo in
the immediate aftermath of the First World War when Fascists portrayed not just
the Giolittian administration, but the whole of Western liberalism as a corrupt,
anti-democratic, played out ideology. It is significant in this respect that Fascism
started out as a revolutionary movement, only to be transformed into an
'anti-party' political party with the formation of the Partito Nazionale Fascista
in 1921. The PNF formed the basis for Mussolini's successful entryist policy—
albeit reinforced by the threatened coup d'etat of the March on Rome of October
1922-—which culminated in his appointment as head of a coalition government
till January 1925- with the blessing of the king and many rightist liberal
The 'anti-party-ocratic' line of thought is taken up in the Fiuggi Theses in a
number of passages, Tangentopoli being treated as the manifestation of how the
state had not only become corrupt, functioning as a 'totalitarian tyranny'
imposed on the people (the paradoxical use of such terms to characterize a
parliamentary system is clearly part of a revisionist attempt to relativize the
'evils' commonly attributed to Fascism by liberals):
The principle of the Fascist regime, 'nothing outside the State', was never fully
overcome with the return of democracy and the establishment of the multi-party system.
Very soon another principle manifested itself: 'nothing without the intervention of the
parties'. This led to the formation of a 'creeping totalitarianism' which gave rise to the
party-ocracy and produced the degeneration of politics into a business using votes to buy
favours (Tangentopoli)(8).17

The solution to this is another example of the 'modernization' of Fascist

discourse to suit the logic of entryism. Confined to the arena of the First
Republic, the MSI could not call openly for a charismatic leader to sweep away
a corrupt parliamentary system, one who, by embodying the will of the whole
nation as expressed through popular enthusiasm and plebiscites would install
'genuine democracy'. Instead Almirante advocated a presidentialist system on
French lines, the president being directly elected by the people (and not chosen
by the parties). It is no coincidence if this proposal bears a close structural
similarity to the strategy proposed in the 1930s by some prominent Fascist
political thinkers concerned with how the leadership principle could be perpetu-
ated in a sustainable constitutional form once the regime had lost its charismatic
leader.18 This move towards 'direct democracy' was to be reinforced by the
attempt to engage the whole nation as fully as possible in the political life of the
country, not just through the ballot box, but through the active involvement by
voluntary organizations in a broader social and para-political role. This clearly
could be read by the initiated as a muted version of the Fascist vision of a
society in which corporativism, mass organizations such as Dopolavoro, and the
constant enactment of the rituals of mass politics were supposed to demonstrate


'true' democracy at work. In practice a paternalistic state apparatus was

introduced under Fascism which attempted, largely unsuccessfully, to stimulate
a wellhead of populist energies to be channelled into the support and realization
of government policies, a policy summed up in the phrase 'andare verso il
popolo' (reach out to the people).
The AN's 1995 programme too proposes measures designed to move from
representative democracy towards 'direct democracy'. This involves the appoint-
ment of the President of the Republic both as Head of State and Head of
Government, not through intra-party negotiation, but by the electorate. The
President would then nominate a Prime Minister responsible to parliament,
making government responsible to the electorate in a way unthinkable under the
First Republic. This arrangement, combined with the increased use of the
referendum by the public both to confirm and to initiate new legislation, would
represent, the AN claims, a return to 'popular sovereignty' and to 'strong
government'(14). Underpinning this would be 'new forms of participation
through organisms linking civil society and institutions'(14). This would give a
new significance to Cnel (the National Council for Economy and Work) which
would be reorganized to incorporate 'an organic presence of the productive
classes, of economic sectors ('categories') and professions, and social and trade
union forces'(14). Historically speaking, this scheme is nothing less than a
'modernized' and muted form of the Fascist regime's leftist corporativism,
evolved by revolutionary syndicalists such as Pannunzio, though travestied in
practice into a deeply statist and dirigiste form of control of the economic system
under the influence of the Nationalists. The concept of 'productivism' alluded to
here is another theme underlying corporativist theory under Mussolini. Indeed,
the effort to create a 'new Italy' was often portrayed under the regime as the
conflict between the parasitic elements of the nation and its 'productive forces',
and was a theme essential to Fascism's own (initially non-eugenic) brand of
supra-class 'national socialism'. Such theories also formed the premises of the
early MSI's efforts to reconcile corporativism with the 'socialization' of the
economy, and lurk behind the assertion in the Theses that the 'consensus of
protected groups (ceti)' whose 'parasitic mechanisms' and 'business deals were
hoist on the petard of Tangentopoli' is giving way to 'a new social bloc formed
by the productive groups'(5).
AN notions of direct democracy are intimately related to its vision that a
'Third System' is emerging based on the development of voluntary associations.
This 'associationism' is seen as crucial to carrying out the 'Italian revol-
ution'(17). As 'statalism' declines ever more new spaces are opening up for
voluntary organizations informed by a spirit of 'active citizenship', thus offset-
ting the spread of 'individualism and hedonism'(17). The document proposes the
creation of 'Assemblies of Associative Freedoms' representing not only volun-
tary organizations, but also 'the principal associations expressing social identity
and solidarity'. Regional, provincial, and municipal Councils would consult
these new assemblies and collaborate with them in drawing up economic and
social projects, thus creating a more efficient system than that offered by the old


one of mediation by the 'party-ocracy'(17). Such a vision of an intermediary

level of economic and social policy-making between the individual and the
political system keys in with Fascist dreams of an Italian people committed to
the life of the nation to a point where not just egotism but much of private life
would spontaneously disappear.
It is a vision which also relates to the persistent attempt by both reformists and
revolutionaries within Italy's political class over the last 150 years to create the
healthy, fully participatory 'civil society' and 'political culture'. The gulf
between citizens and the institutions supposed to represent them has often been
seen as the enduring legacy of the Risorgimento's failure to 'make Italians'. It
is not just democrats who argued this: Mussolini too claimed to be completing
the Mazzinian Risorgimento betrayed by Cavourian liberalism. There is thus
considerable ambiguity in the declaration in the Fiuggi Theses that 'the Risorg-
imento has been an incomplete revolution, ... a missed opportunity to construct
a great Nation whose economic-productive fabric is homogeneous and geared to
common destinies'. The precondition for this is a 'strong rapprochement be-
tween citizens and institutions, which alone can 'exterminate the woodworm
which the party-ocracy has created and which has been eating away at the
State.'(14) A similar ambiguity exists with respect to AN pronouncements about
a closely related topic; that of the Italian nation.
The generic fascist concept of the nation stems from the organicist vision of
a homogeneous 'national community' rooted in a shared historical and cultural
experience in the past, and bound to a collective destiny in the future as a
world-historical entity. There are distinct echoes of this concept in several
passages in the Theses. For example, we are told that 'without participation there
can be power but no politics. Nor can there be participation without full
integration of persons in a vast communitarian unit' fully aware of 'its commu-
nal origins and communal destiny'(10). In similar vein we are assured that for
'the MSI people the interest of the nation comes before the logic of any party
whatsoever', since they are 'in love with Italy and not with themselves', and
dream of a 'better Italy, more just, cleaner, more respected' (3). Their aim is
'give back Italy to the Italians' (4). Even more revealing is the statement that:
To call oneself a people and even more to be a nation, it is necessary to recuperate
historical memory, the sense of belonging, cultural specificity. A nation is a reality
having a continuous life, said Alfredo Rocco, the great jurist. And it is this continuity
of spirit that the political forces of renewal must attempt to foster, not just to defend the
interests of Italians in the world but to resuscitate its culture, the foundation of the
historical experience of the whole Italian people. (10)

But Rocco was not just a jurist, but the leading theorist of the Italian Nationalist
Association (which merged with the PNF in 1923) and architect of the legal
framework for the regime's Syndical Laws of 1926 which laid the foundation of
the Fascist corporativist and 'totalitarian' state.
Two other themes of AN nationalism as set forth in the Fiuggi Theses point
to its Fascist roots. One is implicit in the commitment to 'the strengthening of


the new dimensions acquired by the links between mother-country and the
community of Italians who have assumed positions of prime importance to the
political, social, and economic life of the countries where they have established
themselves, especially in those of North America and Australia, and the more
ancient ones of Latin America'. This evokes Mussolini's creation of Fasci esteri
(Foreign Fasci) among emigre communities abroad specifically to coordinate
political and cultural activities and thereby integrate 'all Italians' into the dy-
namic national community which Fascism was so keen to create at home.19 The
other relates to the pledge to renegotiate the Osimo Treaty which established the
present frontiers with Slovenia and Croatia. The plan to reintegrate the ethnic
Italians of Istria, Fiume, and Dalmatia within redrawn borders not only perpetu-
ates a well-established MSI policy, but cannot help but awaken memories of
D'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume in 1919, widely regarded as a dress-rehearsal
for the Fascist conquest of power, not to mention Italy's occupation of Croatia
during the Second World War. The promise to professionalize Italy's armed
forces and turn them into a truly effective fighting force can also be seen as a
toned-down version of a well-established Fascist preoccupation intimately bound
up with the bid to achieve world-power status.
The Fiuggi Theses expatiate on two further issues with a distinctly Fascist
resonance for the historically literate: youth and the ethical state. MSI youth
groups, eventually merged into the Fronte della Gioventu (Youth Front), were
always considered by the leadership a vital forum for recruiting new members
and providing future cadres. It is no coincidence, then, if Fini himself was head
of the FdG for 10 years (with Almirante's blessing) before becoming party
secretary in 1987. Here we are told that 'Only the boys of the Fronte della
Gioventu have represented through their militancy, often operating in isolation
and paid for at a heavy price, and example of rootedness in values and of
dignified commitment to challenge the dominant conformism' (18). Deprived of
such a movement Italian youth is vulnerable: it was the existential poverty of
youth in the 1980s which drove them into football hooliganism and into the
'pseudo-political violence' of left- and right-wing terrorism. The Theses
specifically associate this diagnosis with a condemnation of the 'nazi-skin' or
skinhead Nazism, again a recurrent MSI theme which has always distanced itself
officially from neo-Nazism and biological racism.
As for the typically fascist concept of the state as an ethical entity underpin-
ning the meaning of individual existence, the neo-Hegelian version of this
principle pioneered by Giovanni Gentile under Mussolini has in the Theses been
given a Christian gloss, a move made all the easier by Italy's debt to Fascism
as the basis of the 1929 Concordat between the Church and the nation. Now that
the DC has collapsed, the AN is keen to purloin its mantle as the 'defender of
the faith' and the upholder of the 'values of life'. Thus the Fiuggi Theses assure
the reader that 'We feel heirs and are the cultivators of Roman civilization and
of the Christian civilization which has its roots in the message taken by Peter to
Rome and spread throughout the world' (there are distinct echoes here of the
Fascist cult of 'Romanita'). They go on to attack secularization, to embrace the


Encyclical Centesimus Annus with its diatribe against relativism and agnosticism
as the basis of democracy, and to approve of the Church's doctrine on society,
the principal points of which are solidarity (maximum collaboration of social
groups) and subsidiarity (the maximizing of autonomy at every level of the
social and political hierarchy).
However, by openly confessing a rejection of the secularism and relativism
(and, by implication, of individualism and pluralism) which are among the
defining features of all modern democracies, the AN shows that in a typically
Fascist spirit it still cultivates a nostalgia for an organic national community of
shared values centred in the family and underpinned by a stable social hierarchy.
The evidence that the commitment to values is hardly conceived in a liberal
spirit is clear when the Theses state that 'the AN wants to be considered part of
a great, libertarian, pacific 'conservative revolution' (10), a code-word in New
Right circles for non-Nazi fascists such as Moeller van den Bruck who wanted
to stem what he saw as the West's collapse into relativism and materialism.20
The subtext of all the themes we have surveyed so far is the AN's vision of
itself as the political force called upon to put an end to 'the degeneration of a
system which declined into corruption' (12). In the palingenetic mindset, the
reverse of an obsession with degeneration is the vision of imminent renewal.
Hence there is talk of 'a new Risorgimento' (55), and 'the renewal of the
political class' (56). For the AN it was 'not a coalition of parties which won but
the new Italy, it was not a political programme which prevailed but a new social
bloc, an unprecedented alliance between social groups, values, interests which
previously had been divided, and even in conflict' (6). Throughout the dark years
of the First Republic 'there was another Italy which, in spite of everything, was
taking form but which lacked an adequate representation'. This representation it
has now found in the AN, the protagonist of the 'radical renewal' (6) which will
'give life to a new phase of Italian politics on the threshold of the 21st century'
(8) and lay the basis of the 'new Republic'. 'For the Right, if the First Republic
is no more, the New Republic does not yet exist: hence, in this transitional time
between the old and the new that the discussion is taking shape about the quality
of the democratic system of tomorrow and that the end game is played out' (12).
Such language has unmistakable echoes of a recurrent theme of Fascist rhetoric
in the early 1920s, that it represented the forces of a 'new Italy' come to replace
the corrupt, debilitated 'old Italy' embodied in Giolitti's gerontocracy and
putting the interests of the whole nation above class interest.
The impression that the ineliminable core of generic fascism still lurks within
the AN mindset is reinforced by the section which disclose its ideological
mentors. We have already seen that the Theses contain allusions to the Con-
servative Revolution and the New Right, both of which have fed some currents
of neo-fascism. The section on 'Values and Principles' shows that such allusions
are far from fortuitous. In the same breath as claiming as one of its intellectual
precursors de Toqueville, emblem of liberal democratic theory, it associates the
AN with the individualism of Ernst Jiinger, doyen of non-Nazi German fascism
and of the Conservative Revolution, the decisionism of 'Schmidt' (i.e. Carl


Schmitt, the apologist of Hitler's 'legal' and racial legislation and major juridic
philosopher of the Conservative Revolution); the political sociology of Pareto,
Mosca, and Michels (all important for the Fascist theory of society and political
elites). It also invokes D'Annunzio, Giovanni Gentile, Ugo Spirito, Giuseppe
Prezzolini, and Giovanni Papini, key rationalizers of Fascism's ultra-nationalism,
its ethical state, or its corporativist order; Marinetti and Soffici, two important
contributors to Fascist aesthetic politics; Gramsci, the Marxist theorist whose
concept of the primacy of cultural hegemony over political hegemony has
become so vital to neo-fascism, especially the New Right;21 and last but not least
Julius Evola, bitter critic of liberalism in all its manifestations and by far the
most prolific and influential of all neo-Fascist ideologues, leaving an imprint on
the most intellectual currents of neo-fascism as well as the most terroristic
ones.22 Almost as disconcerting to a liberal mind is the assertion that 'You do
not need to have read de Maistre to conclude that freedom and authority are the
basis of western democracy' (9), since de Maistre was the arch-conservative
theorist and implacable enemy of the French Revolution and all it stood for: he
looked not to constitutions but to the executioner as the guarantor of social
stability and harmony.
The invocation of ultra-nationalist and arch-conservative thinkers, when taken
together with the general critique of materialism, secularization, and pluralism,
and the dream of a revitalized national community based on the forces of family,
work, youth, hierarchy, and leadership, make it clear that not just the inelim-
inable core of generic fascism, but also many of its adjacent concepts inform the
Fiuggi Theses. The very title of the document, 'Let us think Italy, Tomorrow is
already here' could be taken as a modernization of the well-known MSI slogan
'Nostalgia for the future'. It implies that a 'new Italy' is being born drawing on
the vital forces of the national community and history, and that the AN, a party
fully conscious of its Fascist legacy, is destined to act as its midwife.

The AN's break with Fascism

Such an analysis, however tempting for the Left, is, however, simplistic and
one-sided. For one thing the authors of the Fiuggi Theses go out of their way to
distance the party from historical Fascism by treating it, not as force in Italian
politics which ever since its inception in 1919 has constantly adapted itself to its
immediate socio-political environment, but as an ephemeral episode within the
evolution of a more durable political phenomenon, the Right:
It is not possible to identify the political Right with Fascism or even establish a direct
descendence from it. The political Right is not the daughter of Fascism. The values of
the Right preceded Fascism, passed through it, and have survived it. The cultural roots
of the Right are to be found in Italian history before, during and after the 1920s(8).
In order to substantiate this claim, when the authors of the Theses expand on the
concept of a culture of the Right, they are careful to mix in with the overtly
fascist thinkers referred to earlier other figures such as Dante, Machiavelli,


Gioberti (the Risorgimento theorist of liberal Catholicism), Mazzini, Croce, and

Don Sturzo (the founder of the Christian Democrat Popolari in 1919). Moreover,
the rejection of Nazism implicit in the criticism of skinhead fascism referred to
earlier, is reinforced by a specific rejection of anti-Semitism: 'The Alleanza
Nazionale declares an explicit, definitive, and absolute condemnation of any
form of anti-semitism or anti-Hebrewism, even when these are disguised by the
propagandist cover of anti-Zionism or anti-Israeli polemic (10).' Closely con-
nected to this theme is the rejection of any form of authoritarian regime (the AN
repudiates any form of dictatorship and totalitarianism') (4). The noteworthy
point is that totalitarianism is not just associated with Nazism and Stalinism, but
with Fascism itself. Anti-Fascism is affirmed 'unequivocally' as having been
essential 'for the return to the democratic values which Fascism had crushed'
These lines toccur shortly after the heading 'dissolve all Fasci' (by which is
meant all groupings of the extreme Right and Left), and are bound up with a
forthright commitment to the parliamentary system. The AN we learn, was
formed in the wake of the decision 'to close a period of our political history' at
which point it proclaimed that 'it believed in freedom and liberty as unimpeach-
able values'. In contrast with its MSI past, the AN pursues the 'politics of
alliances and not of an alternative to the system; the reconstruction of Italy, and
not the demolition of the regime' (4). Hence the AN now demands respect and
dignity on a par with other parties in forming the new Republic. In marked
contrast to Mussolini's 'totalitarian' experiment, it states that 'there must be no
enemies to wipe out but adversaries to beat. And not to beat once and for all,
but every time there is an election, conscious of the fact that the party can lose,
and that, moreover, it is possible to be in government today and in opposition
tomorrow without anything traumatic happening' (11). As a 'governmental', as
opposed to a revolutionary, Right, the AN sees itself as working towards the
Europeanization of Italy's political system, one which, given the legacy of
proportional representation, cannot be bi-party, but will at least be bi-polar, as
when the left-wing Progressives contended power with the right-wing Polo della
Liberta e del Buongoverno in 1994.
The Theses are at pains to stress that the crisis of the party-ocracy of the early
1990s could all too easily have been interpreted as a symptom of the intrinsic
inviability of democracy itself, and that it is a sign of its maturity that the AN
did not seize the opportunity 'to whip up in public opinion a negative verdict on
the democratic system' and 'bring about a reevaluation of the preceding political
system' (i.e. the Fascist regime). 'Faced with the confusions which characterized
the early 1990s there was no shortage of people who wondered whether a new
system was about to emerge or whether what was happening was to be seen as
the first heart attack of democracy itself (11). What follows is a lucid and
unequivocal renunciation of any radically palingenetic, and hence revolutionary,
vision of a new order destined to replace liberalism, and an equally unequivocal
commitment to party-political pluralism and to the liberal democratic rules of the


The Right, on the threshold of a political change which is to be supported because it is

leading to the birth of the Republic of citizens arising from the ashes of the Republic of
parties, affirms that the democratic system is not up for discussion. It is not at risk, let
alone in a state of cardiac arrest.
According to the Right the democratic system has given good account of itself and the
search for consensus as the only way to achieve the government of the City
and the Nation is not an option among others while waiting for 'better times'. It is not
the choice dictated by the state of necessity while waiting for some tiresome 'X hour'
which once reached can open the way to a new era, a new history, or a new regime
destined to last for ever.
The rules of democracy represent for the Italian Right the only process to follow
in breaking with the old to lead to the new. The choice of the democratic system is
thus not dictated by the lack of something [i.e. a Fascist alternative], but by the
realization that counting votes represents the only solution which has no negative side
effects to the problem of competition between political forces for the conquest of
Aggregating votes as a way of choosing who wins and who loses, when it comes to
it, does not leave victims in the streets. This alone is, of course, not enough. There is a
need for programmes, values, objectives. But this is another issue. But on democracy as
a method the discussion is closed (11-12).

Accordingly the AN has come not to bury liberal democracy but to praise it. Its
aim is 'to contribute right from the outset to determining the form and rules of
the Second Republic'. By promoting constitutional and institutional changes it is
pledged to establishing for the first time 'the sovereignty of the people and
giving back the sceptre of power to citizens'. This will be achieved through such
processes as creating effective coalitions, promoting the decentralization of
power and increasing local autonomy, achieving efficient public administration
based on the competence of officials, and ensuring the transparency of policy-
making processes.

For the Right, if the First Republic is no more, the New Republic does not yet exist:
hence it is in this transitional time between the old and the new that the discussion is
taking shape about the quality of the democratic system of tomorrow and that the end
game is played out. (12)

The AN aims to be a prime mover between the rewriting of the constitution

necessary to put in place the necessary structures within which these goals can
be achieved. Consistent with this commitment to democracy, major sections of
the Fiuggi Theses set out policies designed to guarantee the right of the Italian
citizen to study, to health, to information, to security, and to justice, thus fully
embracing the discourse of the 'Immortal Principles' of the French Revolution
for which classical Fascism showed so much contempt. If the AN still embraces
a fascist vision of the regenerated national community, it has also embraced two
ineliminable components of liberal democracy: the rules of the party political
game and the principle of individual human rights as conceived by the Enlight-
enment tradition.


Democratic fascism
The AN's disavowal of any sort of revolutionary or authoritarian project to
create a post-liberal new order, and its commitment to renewing the democratic
system rather than overthrowing it, pose a taxonomic dilemma to fascism-
watchers. It is, of course both arguable and tempting to dismiss of the Fiuggi
Theses as neo-Fascism's umpteenth exercise in camouflage, in masquerading as
a liberal democratic party, and the clear evidence certain passages within them
provide for the fact that AN's ideological tap-root is still thrust deep into
historical Fascism lend strength to such a verdict.23 However, it is also possible
to maintain that the AN does indeed, as the Theses claim, represent a radical
break with the MSI position. As we have seen, some hardliners such as Pisano
are convinced that Fini is at heart a liberal democrat. Meanwhile Almirante's
widow, Donna Assunta, suggests an alternative explanation, namely that Fini's
espousal of democracy is a sham. Pointing out that her husband would never
have called himself 'postfascista', she adds 'and anyway, what does it mean? Is
it just a way of coining a new word or does it have a meaning? Is it a way of
saying that once you were a Fascist, but no longer? It is ridiculous. At the right
moment, just before dying, someone can say, "I am converting to Christianity,
I am going close to God, and even if I was a criminal before I am now a
respectable person". But is this a conversion?'24
I would like to suggest that both Pisano and Donna Assunta are wrong. Fini
is not a 'true' liberal democrat, since he and his entourage have demonstrably
retained their commitment to many core Fascist values, but, paradoxically, his
conversion to the democratic system is genuine. The AN's political discourse is
thus indeed 'a language which is simultaneously old and new' as the Theses
claim (4). This approach endorses the observation of one commentator that 'after
the body, the spirit itself of neo-Fascism is trying to adapt itself to the
double-breasted suit'.25 Its ideology systematically fuses into a new compound
components taken from two ideologies with theoretically incompatible inelim-
inable cores: the palingenetic ultra-nationalism of generic fascism and the
commitment to the rules of the game of liberal democracy. The possibility of
such a fusion, no matter how logically incoherent, not to say absurd, is entirely
consistent with Freeden's dynamic model of ideological morphology discussed
earlier. The constitutionalism of the MSI originated as a pragmatic concession to
a post-war climate which precluded the emergence in Italy of a mass-movement
bent on realizing an ultra-right agenda of revolutionary nationalism, and hence
remained an adjacent concept. At the Fiuggi Congress it was formally absorbed
into the party's core ideology to become an integral part of the cluster of
ineliminable components with which the AN now characterizes its charter myth.
What results is a form of politics which is not crypto-fascist, pretending to
play party politics in order eventually to destroy the system, but a genuine
hybrid: a reformist or democratic fascism. The hybridization of originally anti-
democratic ideologies to produce democratic variants is, of course, nothing new.
Since the 16th century it has happened to monarchism (constitutional monarchy),


Catholicism (liberal Catholicism, Christian democracy), as well as to com-

munism and revolutionary socialism (social democracy, democratic socialism).
Political theorists have long since become habituated to the existence of such
hybrids and they have ceased to pose major taxonomic problems, even if areas
of tension still demonstrably exist at the core of such paradoxical forms of
political thought. However, genuinely democratic fascism is arguably new, even
if the ground has been thoroughly dug over and prepared for it by the MSI itself,
as well as by other crypto-fascist parties (such as the German Republikaner, the
British National Front) and ultra-nationalist ones (in particular the French Front
Yet does the renunciation of the fascist revolutionary dream mean that the
AN, after half a century of speaking with forked tongues about its commitment
to democracy, has indeed had finally its 'Bad Godesberg'? After all, as Piero
Ignazi, one of the most astute experts on neo-Fascism, has convincingly argued,
something of the sort is vital if the term 'post-Fascist' is to be anything other
than an obfuscating slogan.26 The answer must be no. A genuine U-turn in the
AN's relationship with democracy would have involved the admission that the
original Fascist experiment to create a new type of State based on the rejection
of liberal pluralism, individualism, rationalism, and party politics, had proved to
be both in theory and practice a calamitous mistake. But the AN has not crossed
the Rubicon from Fascism to democracy. Rather it has set up camp on an island
in the middle of the river.
Though democratic fascism may prove to be an effective basis for the
'action-oriented thought' of AN members in the short or medium term, in terms
of 'pure' political theory it is clearly an untenable position. Up to the Ban
Godesberg congress of 1959 the German Social Democrats had been consistently
revolutionary in their rhetoric but reformist in their practice. The motions passed
at that congress specifically renounced the rhetoric of revolutionary class
struggle and thus finally abolished the glaring gap between discourse and
behaviour to produce a genuine democratic socialist political party, albeit one
with historical roots in revolutionary socialism. Throughout its history the MSI
was in a similar situation, being revolutionary in principle but behaving consti-
tutionally. However, the Fiuggi Theses do not renounce the revolutionary agenda
of Fascism. Rather they have articulated and cast into the relative permanence
of a party programme ideas which compound the Utopian goal of a post-liberal
new order with the pragmatic acceptance of the liberal democratic system. There
is no essential contradiction between socialism and liberal democracy as long as
anti-capitalism, or anti-pluralism, and the rejection of the nation-state and of
private property operate as adjacent concepts to a core belief in social justice and
substantive equality of opportunity. By contrast, the fascist vision of a homoge-
neous, supra-individual national community fulfilling its historical destiny on the
world stage is irreconcilable with liberal democracy's commitment to pluralism,
individualism and materialism.
The hybrid ideology now promulgated by the AN thus lacks the cogency of
an internally consistent permutation of liberal democratic politics such as


democratic socialism because it contains insoluble tensions and irreducible

contradictions as the basis of coherent policy-making. Though the authors of the
Theses have bent over backwards to accommodate liberal democracy they
clearly are extremely uncomfortable in their new position. The inference must be
that the partial volte-face in MSI thinking is far more the result of gradual
resignation to the inevitable on the long and winding road to Montecitorio,27 than
a Saul-like conversion which truly turns enemies into loved-ones.28
This paradoxical new species of political thought, the ideological equivalent
in taxonomic terms of a duck-billed platypus, is as we have seen, the product of
a highly particular conjuncture of events. The Tangentopoli crisis signified a
profound dysfunction of the political system of Italy's post-war liberal democ-
racy, one which dramatically opened up the political and mythic space which
made the AN's success in March 1994 possible. A generalized climate of liberal
and nationalist (not ultra-nationalist) palingenetic expectancy had been generated
which catalysed the MSI, a crypto-fascist party with a deep experience of
feigned adaptation to party politics, to change not just its image and logo, but
its core ideology. It renounced long-term extra-systemic goals realizable only
after the collapse of liberalism, and sought instead to accommodate its Utopian
vision of renewal within a reformed liberal democractic system. The freak
alliance with the Lega Nord made possible by Forza Italia's sudden emergence
as the strongest party of the Right then enabled the AN to enter state power
constitutionally, which has since sealed its commitment to 'the rules of the
game' at least for the time being. In the last analysis, Italy's geo-political,
geo-economic, and historical location in a post-war epoch profoundly inimical to
generic fascism precludes any recourse to revolutionary left- or right-wing
solutions, a fact signalled by the MSI's transformation into a constitutional
fascist party. As a result, whatever the Left may like to believe, even the
eventual domination of a coalition government by the AN is not to be seen as
constituting a real threat to the survival of democracy in Italy (though it is, of
course, a symptom of its profound malaise).
Having taken over command of the ship of neo-Fascism with Almirante's
blessing, his 'dolphin' Gianfranco Fini has done something which to his mentor
would have been unthinkable: he has sailed blithely through the Straits of
Gibraltar into the open sea of democracy, nailing the colours of both fascism and
liberalism to the mast in colourful profusion. In doing so he has created a hybrid
of two political ideologies which half a century ago were locked in mortal
combat, and hence made his party take a quantum evolutionary leap into a new
political ideology. It is a hybrid bound to unleash profound tensions and
contradictions at the heart of the party's programmes, and to frustrate traditional
Fascists and genuine democrats alike. It is also weaving a dense tangle of
ideological threads for political scientists to unravel, threads which I suggest will
prove traceable back to two quite different skeins. The general elections of April
1996 brought to power a centre-left coalition. Wide-spread assumptions that the
Pole for Liberties (as it now calls itself) would again form the government were
thus confounded, and the new electoral reforms had, to most people's surprise,


delivered precisely the type of 'alternation' between right and left which had
been impossible under the DC-dominated First Republic. Nevertheless, the AN
obtained 15.7% of the vote, a scale of penetration and legitimation which the
MSI could only have dreamed of, while Fini continues to enjoy the reputation
of being Italy's most intelligent and believable statesman. He is also one of the
youngest. Though the new coalition government intends to remain in power for
the full term of five years (which would ensure its place in the Guiness Book of
Records as the most durable liberal administration in post-war Italian history), it
is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Italian public (and voyeuristic
political scientists) will sooner or later have the opportunity to observe how
'democratic fascism' translates into concrete policies, legislation, and practice.

Notes and references

1. Ignazi, Il polo escluso. Profilo del Movimento Sociale Italiano (Bologna: II Mulino, 1989).
2. Il Secolo d'Italia, 14 July 1991. Quoted in C. de Cesare, Il fascista del duemila (Milan: Kaos Edizioni,
1975), p. 70. Throughout this article I will use Fascism to denote Italian fascism, and fascism to refer to
the generic phenomenon.
3. Searchlight, May 1994, p. 12.
4. S. Di Michele and A. Gialiani, Mai di Destra (Milan: Sperling & Kupfer, 1995), p. 24.
5. M. Freeden,' 'Political concepts and ideological morphology', Journal of Political Philosophy, 2, 1994, pp.
6. Freeden, ibid., p. -147.
7. Principally in R. Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (London: Routledge, 1993) and Fascism (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1995).
8. Some key works which bear out this thesis are P. Rosenbaum, Il nuovo fascismo Da Said ad Almirante.
Storia del MSI (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1974); F. Ferraresi (Ed.), La destra radicale (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1984);
P. Ignazi, Il polo escluso; R. Chiarani, The Italian Far Right, in L. Cheles, R. Ferguson and M. Vaughan
(Eds), The Far Right in Western Europe (London: Longman, 1995); P. Ignazi, Postfascisti? (Bologna: II
Mulino, 1995).
9. In 1976 the 'entryist' faction left the MSI to create Democrazia Nazionale with many of the former
monarchists. They brought with them the majority of the MPs elected by the party. The DN set out to
support the Democrazia Cristiana's anti-communism from the Right, but was wiped out in the 1979
elections when it obtained 0.6% of the vote and no MPs.
10. Rosenbaum, op. cit., Ref. 8, pp. 127-133.
11. The term 'national Right' was introduced in 1972 to describe the merger of the MSI and the Partito
Nazionale Monarchico.
12. Rosenbaum, ibid., p. 131.
13. Luciano Cheles, "Nostalgia dell' avvenire". The propaganda of the Italian far right, in Cheles, op. cit., Ref.
8, pp. 41-90
14. Di Michele, op. cit., Ref. 4, p. 25.
15. Chirani, op cit., Ref. 8, p. 39.
16. See Griffin, 1995, op. cit., Ref. 8, p. 316.
17. Numbers in brackets refer to the relevant page of Pensiamo l'ltalia: Il domani c'è già. Valori, idee e
progetti per l'Alleanza Nazionale, Tesi Politiche approvate dal congresso di Fiuggi, Rome, 1995.
18. See E. Gentile, La via italiana al totalitarismo (Rome: NIS, 1995), pp. 204-212.
19. It had been a longstanding commitment of the MSI to grant voting rights to between 20 and 30 million
emigrants, a policy especially conceived to appeal to the sizeable Italian communities in Australia, the
USA, and Latin America.
20. See Griffin, 1995, op cit., Ref. 8, pp. 351-357.
21. Griffin, ibid. pp. 348-349.
22. See Franco Ferraresi, Minnace alia democrazia (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1995), pp. 85-95.
23. De Cesare, op. cit., Ref. 2, for example, argues that the AN is still a cover for an unadulterated Fascist
24. Di Michele, op. cit., Ref. 4, p. 7.


25. De Cesare, op. cit., Ref. 2, p. 5. In Italian it is common to distinguish between the Fascism of the
manganello (the cudgel, symbol of Blackshirt violence) and of the doppio petto (double-breasted suit,
symbol of bourgeois respectability).
26. Ignazi, op. cit., Ref. 8, pp. 118-119.
27. The Chamber of Deputies in the Italian Parliament.
28. Predictably, the AN bookshop in Rome, Libreria Europa, even now continues to sell hard-core material
celebrating inter-war and post-war Fascism and fascism (e.g. Nazism, the Romanian Iron Guard, Evola,
the New Right) alongside publications promoting the new incarnation of the MSI as the 'Right of
Government' for which Fascism is to be regarded as no more than a 'parenthesis' in Italian history (though
clearly not in the sense meant by Benedetto Croce, author of the 'Anti-Fascist Manifesto' of May 1925
who first used this expression in this context).