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Post-World War II Italian politics has often been marked by significant political instability and frequent changes of government. The twenty-first century period in Italian politics has been characterised by the emergence of new political forces, the decline of traditional parties, and persistent public policy challenges related to corruption, economic stagnation, and immigration (Albertazzi and Zulianello, 2021). Remarkably, Italy has had an astonishing 69 governments in 79 years. This means that on average, governments in Italy last for just over a year.

Our forthcoming book “The Rise of the Radical Right in Italy: A New Balance of Power in the Right-Wing Camp” to be published by Columbia University Press and ibidem Press in June 2024 examines the more worrying trend in Italian politics of the rise of the radical right between 2018 and 2023, and the implications that this has for the future of liberal democracy worldwide.

The Rise of the Radical Right in Italy

The contemporary rise of the radical right in Italy has coincided with high levels of electoral volatility, with widespread anti-incumbency effects (frequent changes of government), reduced party affiliation and rising levels of political distrust. Two parties on the radical right of the political spectrum, the League (La Lega) led by Matteo Salvini and the Brothers of Italy Party (Fratelli d’Italia) led by Giorgia Meloni have dominated Italian politics between 2018 and 2023.

Between 2018 and 2023, Italy saw three short-lived coalition governments, all of which involved radical right parties (Garzia, 2019). The Giuseppe Conte I Cabinet (2018–2019) was formed by the populist Italian Five Star Movement Party and the radical right League Party. The next coalition government, the Conte II Cabinet (2019–2021) included the Five Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party. Then the Mario Draghi Cabinet (2021–2022) featured a coalition of different right and left-leaning ideologies with a diverse technocratic-populist configuration of political parties (Chiaramonte, 2023).

Mario Draghi’s government collapsed in 2022, leading to snap elections on September 25, 2022. The government’s collapse was attributed to a combination of factors, including the withdrawal of support from key coalition partners, disagreements over main policy issues related to debt restructuring in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and immigration, as well as Draghi’s refusal to lead a significantly weakened government. This created an opportunity for radical right opposition parties like Fratelli d’Italia, which capitalised on the situation (Chiaramonte, 2023). The general election in September 2022 brought Giorgia Meloni’s’s Fratelli d’Italia Party to power as part of a right-wing coalition government.

The Mainstreaming and Normalisation of the Radical Right

In Europe we are currently witnessing the emergence of a new political elite whose core values and ideas were historically marginalised after the Second World War. This phenomenon, commonly referred to as the resurgence of far-right political parties is often characterised as a cultural backlash (Norris and Inglehart, 2019) or the onset of a fourth wave of far-right political movements (Mudde, 2019).

Norris and Inglehart (2019) explored the predicament faced by the majority ethnic group in Western societies, which is largely made up of ageing white male working class individuals. Both scholars contend that these individuals increasingly perceive themselves as persecuted or marginalised within their own countries due to the progressive and cosmopolitan policies of the past three decades, which have sought to protect and integrate various minority groups – ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual, among others – under the banner of the rule of law.

In recent years, Western societies have undergone a mass transformation, marked by a post-materialist wave that began in the mid-1970s. However, this wave has given way to a counter-narrative that seeks to revive often disregarded political values and ideas, including nativism, authoritarianism, and opposition to liberal democratic principles, including the protection of minority groups. A series of macro-political shocks and economic downturns that have plagued Western societies over the past two decades have coincided with rising levels of electoral support for far-right political parties.

The mainstreaming of radical right discourse has been extensively written about by Mudde (2019). We are currently in a historical period in which previously stigmatised discourses, such as those espoused by far-right political movements, are no longer marginalised but have been embraced and internalised by society, marking the broader process of mainstreaming.

The mainstreaming of the radical right occurs in different ways. First, the mainstreaming may involve the normalisation of political parties that were once pariahs, shunned by society because of their extreme right-wing political ideologies. These parties may now have become accepted and integrated into wider society. Second, mainstreaming can also involve the radicalisation of centre-right parties, a phenomenon often attributed to their strategy of capturing the electorate of radical right parties (Downes et al, 2021). In this context, the ideas and values previously considered extreme have become an acceptable part of the liberal democratic discourse.

Mudde (2019) has also written extensively about the normalisation of the radical right. It is important to note that Mudde’s (2019) normalisation of the radical right is not only about the electoral success of the radical right, but also about the strategies of radical right parties to appear more ideologically moderate. This, in turn, allows contemporary radical right parties to appeal to a broader segment of the population across Europe, often by toning down overtly extremist language or policies, which are then gradually mainstreamed across society.

The Future of Liberal Democracy in Italy

Over the past year, Meloni’s government has been careful not to seek confrontation with international organisations such as the EU, adopting a “soft” Eurosceptic strategy, while showing a degree of ideological moderation and pragmatism, particularly on economic issues given Italy’s precarious economic situation. However, the duration of this political stability in Italian politics under Meloni’s government in 2024 remains uncertain. The ongoing power struggle within the radical right government, between Giorgia Meloni’s dominant Brothers of Italy Party and Matteo Salvini’s weaker League Party, adds to the unpredictability of Italy’s political landscape. Furthermore, at the domestic level, the Meloni government (2022–Present) has grappled with several culture wars over immigration, reflected in the establishment of two migrant processing centres in Albania to detain people emigrating to Italy. In addition, there have been ongoing civil rights issues, such as the recent decree outlawing the practice of surrogacy among homosexual couples, as well as the rights of ethnic minority groups. Most worryingly, these recent developments under the Meloni government demonstrate how forms of racism, homophobia and Islamophobia have increasingly spread to all sectors of Italian society.

Similarly, the global mainstreaming of radical right ideas has far-reaching consequences for liberal democratic societies around the world. These political ideologies, often characterised by a hostility towards ethnic minorities and civil liberties, have often led to policies that weaken fundamental freedoms while restricting liberal democratic participation. Hungary (Fidesz under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán) and Poland (The Law and Justice Party) are examples where radical right parties have prioritised the majority and suppressed minority rights and core liberal democratic principles.

Given the electoral success and normalisation of radical right parties such as the League and the Brothers of Italy, this normalisation tends to increase tolerance for hatred and discrimination, which is likely to further divide Italian society along political lines between liberal cosmopolitan values and radical right values. This growing divide is likely to have devastating consequences for the future of liberal democracy in Italy and many countries across the EU which have seen record levels of support for the radical right in recent years.


Note: This article is part of a forthcoming book by the authors entitled: “The Rise of the Radical Right in Italy: A New Balance of Power in the Right-Wing Camp” to be published with Columbia University Press & ibidem Press in June 2024.

Note: This article reflects the views of the author and not the position of the DPIR or the University of Oxford. 



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