Published October 4, 2022
Last week, the slow rumblings under the ground of European politics burst forth in a political earthquake that has the potential to reshape the landscape of European conservatism. The same events offer lessons for conservatives here in America as well. After weeks of leading in the polls for the Italian general election, the “far-right” Brothers of Italy party came out on top, setting it up to establish a coalition government with its leader, Giorgia Meloni, as the country’s new Prime Minister.
Following hard on the heels of the recent second-place finish of the ideologically-similar National Rally party in France’s elections this spring, Meloni’s triumph has EU leaders and mainstream media in near-hysterics over the resurgence of “fascism” in Italy.
This is, of course, no more than the usual name-calling. Although fascism was once a political force in Italy, there is nothing recognizably fascist about Brothers of Italy’s current political priorities, and Meloni has been fierce in rejecting any hint of such association. More importantly, Meloni’s success is largely a function of the profoundly fractured and disillusioned state of Italian politics. Turnout in the elction was historically low. Further, the Italian economy is too dependent on the EU now for even a maverick like Meloni to do anything too radical.
But there really is a big story here. While concrete policy changes by the new government may be limited, the symbolic and rhetorical impact of Meloni’s ascent may in time justify the hubbub it has generated. For, although Italy’s first female prime minister, Meloni is the very opposite of a feminist icon.
A devout Catholic who takes pride in motherhood and is fond of quoting J.R.R. Tolkien, Meloni has built her political career on an outspoken attack on reigning liberal ideology, using the slogan, “God, homeland, family.” In the hands of many politicians, this would just be an empty phrase designed to pander to conservative voters, but for Meloni, it expresses deep convictions about the nature of politics. She lives it.
Critically, Meloni, unlike many conservatives until recently, perceives keenly the unholy alliance of big business and big government, woke capital, and woke bureaucrats. She expressed her argument powerfully in a recent speech: “Why is the family an enemy? … Because it defines us, because it is our identity. Because everything that defines us is now an enemy for those who would like us to no longer have an identity and to simply be perfect consumer slaves. And so they attack national identity, they attack religious identity, they attack gender identity, they attack family identity.” She continued by arguing that “when I no longer have an identity or roots, then I will be the perfect slave at the mercy of financial speculators, the perfect consumer.”
For Meloni and the political coalition she represents, the cruel irony of “identity politics” is that such politics are at war with genuine identity, for a true identity is always that which binds us to other people in an intergenerational story, not something we simply choose or create for ourselves. Such identities—faith, family, and nation—may be limiting, but it is precisely through the acceptance of such limits that we discover our purpose and meaning. Without them, stripped of all bonds and exhorted to become whatever we want to be, we are reduced to nothing but a consumer, ripe for the plucking by anyone who stands to profit from our rootless desperation.
It is no wonder that abortion, cutting us off from future generations just as we have cut ourselves off from past ones, has become the sacrament of this new religion. For Meloni’s brand of conservatism, however, the nation (from Latin natus=born) is to be celebrated above all because it is a sign of our natality, our shared birth and interdependence.
It is many years since the leader of any major Western nation has so clearly and fearlessly articulated these insights, or offered such an unequivocal defense of the natural family and the love of homeland as gifts of God to be cherished. It remains to be seen just how much of a mandate Meloni will have to implement policies designed to protect and advance these goods, or how much difference they will make in a nation that has one of the world’s lowest birth-rates.
However, by daring to speak such blinding common sense into the dark fog of contemporary political discourse, and doing so with eloquence and conviction, Meloni may perhaps chart a path forward for other conservative leaders to follow, both in Europe and around the world.
Brad Littlejohn, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping public leaders understand the intellectual and historical foundations of our current breakdown of public trust, social cohesion, and sound governance. His research investigates shifting understandings of the nature of freedom and authority, and how a more full-orbed conception of freedom, rooted in the Christian tradition, can inform policy that respects both the dignity of the individual and the urgency of the common good. He also serves as President of the Davenant Institute.