Surprise! Giorgia Meloni actually is a fascist

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In the Oct. 3, 2022 issue of The Tartan, Forum published an article by Andrew Salzman titled “Giorgia Meloni and the Media,” which discussed Giorgia Meloni’s recent electoral victory in Italy and its subsequent media portrayal. Salzman claims that Giorgia Meloni is not a facsist. He argues the media has unfairly characterized Meloni by using “malapropisms” such as “fascist,” “far-right,” and “extremist” (confusingly, the context of Salzman’s argument suggests purposeful usage of such words by the media, but this is not the definition of a malapropism whatsoever). He accuses mainstream media outlets, who he labels as “left-wing,” of purposefully ignoring context and evidence to promote a political agenda.

According to Salzman, the “evidence supports that Meloni does not fit the bill [for fascism],” instead claiming she has “traditional values,” espouses moderate views, and mostly promotes center-right policies. But Salzman provides neither evidence nor much of that context he yearns for. So I took the liberty of finding the evidence and providing the context for him.

Let us begin at the most obvious: Meloni’s direct roots with fascism. It is an undeniable fact that Meloni and her party descend from a fascist lineage. In 1946, remnants of Mussolini’s Republican Fascist Party formed the Italian Social Movement (MSI), becoming Mussolini’s de facto successor. After MSI came the National Alliance (NA), where Meloni’s political career began as a youth activist before forming the Brothers of Italy (FdI) in 2012.

Meloni has created distance from this history by marketing herself as conservative, not fascist. But contrary to her statements, Meloni has continued to cling to this fascist legacy. She has publicly praised Benito Mussolini and celebrates her fascist past by bearing MSI’s old logo, known as the tri-color flame, as FdI’s emblem. Salzman insists comparisons to Mussolini for Meloni’s use of “God, Homeland, and Family” as her slogan are outrageous. But Meloni is in fact reviving Mussolini’s own slogan and critics point to what this callback signals to people.

Salzman does not explore this context; instead, he acknowledges and then sweeps her fascist connections under the rug, implying their irrelevance by suggesting Italy’s complex political history is something Americans faintly understand. However, it is a reach to suppose that these things are unrelated or coincidence, that Meloni’s adoption of fascist aesthetics occurs irrespective of her politics. Furthermore, evidence of Meloni’s fascism extends beyond her adherence to her fascist legacy.

Giorgia Meloni’s political messaging, her policies, and the underlying political ideology all reveal her fascism. Central to Giorgia Meloni’s platform is what she describes as “the defense of national Italian identity.” She positions this identity as under threat from an ill-defined enemy who seeks to “destroy everything that defines [Italians].” For Meloni, what defines Italians refers to the “Christian values” core to this identity: the centrality of the heteronormative nuclear family made up of man, woman, and child; typical sexual practices including heterosexuality; patriarchal gender norms; etc. Meloni does not really define these terms, but their meaning is already a given for her conservative base. Her rhetoric is intended to address Italy’s privileged classes discreetly, conveying her message without any explicit mention of beliefs or policies that might incite opposition. We commonly refer to such a rhetorical technique as a dog-whistle.

So, by “national Italian identity” and “Christian values,” Meloni actually means an ethno-nationalist identity that privileges Italy’s already dominant group to the exclusion of all others and a system of values historically favored by the powerful.

Perhaps some of this sounds familiar to you. If you recall your history lessons, you might recognize Meloni is employing fascist techniques. As Yale Professor Jason Stanley, who specializes in rhetoric and propaganda, explains, “In the past, fascist politics would focus on the dominant cultural group. The goal is to make them feel like victims, to make them feel like they’ve lost something and that [it] has been taken from them by a specific enemy, usually some minority out-group or some opposing nation.” Meloni operates exactly as Stanley describes, and her politics subsequently revolves around protecting this ethno-nationalist identity from cultural extermination by an external enemy.

Meloni’s particular brand of enemy is who she describes as the globalist left: a coalition of international powers orchestrating “a project of ethnic substitution” against Italians in cooperation with non-white immigrants, minority groups, and any other external groups.

Her “ethnic substitution” theory believes in a plan to gain power by replacing white Italians through immigration and eroding (white) Italian culture.
Shockingly (or, rather, not really), this narrative has roots in neo-fascist ideas and white supremacist conspiracy theories. Meloni has built her political career rallying against these so-called “globalists” and “financial speculators” but her rhetoric draws links to the New World Order theory — the idea that a secret cabal of global elites are trying to enslave humanity through covert control of the world.

She explicitly uses the terms globalist and financial speculators, antisemitic terms associated with the theory She also frequently refers to George Soros, a Jewish-American financier, as a globalist; in conspiracy circles, Soros is famous as a secret global mastermind. She is quoted elsewhere saying, “when you've no roots you’re a slave, and when you're a slave, you serve Soros' interests,” alluding to the theory’s idea of global enslavement. Likewise, Meloni’s “ethnic substitution” theme draws directly from The Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which posits that native white populations are being replaced to seize power and spark a “white genocide.” The theory is strongly linked to many of the most violent and terrible acts of white nationalist terrorism recently, including the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting and Unite the Right rally. Conservatives have increasingly mainstreamed the theory, but the ties to far-right extremism and fascism remain undeniable.

Thus, Giorgia Meloni’s “ethnic substitution” message is a fascist narrative derived from racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic ideas that find their origin in conspiracy theories crafted by far-right ultranationalist white supremacists — a.k.a. fascists. So when Salzman refers to her “strict” policies against so-called “illegal immigrants,” policies such as denying immigrant children birthright citizenship and prioritizing Italians over immigrants for social services, he is referring to an anti-immigrant position informed by fascist ideas. That is the context.

To further understand the deeply rooted fascism of Meloni’s politics, we can look to the rest of her policy platform. For example, a major theme in Meloni and her party’s politics is the emphasis on and essentializing of motherhood. Even in Meloni’s political persona, she specifically centers her motherhood rather than her womanhood.

Her party also promotes that a major function of government is to raise the birth rate so as to prevent the “extermination of Italians” (more ethnic substitution). Likewise, the party has advocated for welfare spending linked solely to motherhood and child care while also rejecting a minimum wage or welfare benefits for those seeking employment, to the detriment of women living in precarity. On abortion, legal in Italy since 1978, the FdI have again prioritized motherhood over women’s bodily autonomy, restricting access to abortion services, financing anti-abortion efforts with public funds, and has even required those seeking an abortion to first consult with anti-abortion groups. Importantly, this obsession parallels Benito Mussolini’s own obsession with birth rate and motherhood in his Battle of Births program, which restricted reproductive healthcare, offered financial incentives, and enforced traditional gender norms to prevent the decline of the white race.

Meloni’s other policy positions include her strong opposition to the so-called “LGBT lobby,” which involves banning gay adoption (on the basis that “what is best [for a child] is having a father and a mother,” despite herself being raised without a father and asserting she was raised well), opposing gay marriage, and has also calling for a ban on sex education.

Yet, conservatives still claim that criticisms against Meloni, especially her positions on women’s rights, are actually sexist. Unfortunately, all this really does is reveal, at best, the utterly pitiful understanding of feminism by conservatives or, at worst, their willful misunderstanding for political ends. These critiques are based on her ideology, not her gender, and to insist she is feminist given her policies is laughable. Meloni’s conflation of motherhood with the advancement of women’s rights merely asserts that being free means being a mother — the total opposite of liberation from gender roles. At the barest minimum, you can not lay claim to the identity of feminism when your actual policies and rhetoric diminish the economic, bodily, social, and cultural autonomy of women — such actions are anathema to feminist principles.

You might be noticing the pattern, but these policies and positions also parallel fascist history. Fascist Italy, too, condemned and criminalized homosexuality, pornography, birth control, contraceptives, and prostitution (although enforcement was sporadic). Nazi Germany was much the same, for instance, criminalizing the abortion of pure “Aryan” babies, exalting motherhood, and being strong proponents of draconian gay conversion therapy.

Meloni and earlier fascists built policies with the goal of preserving their traditional values. But why the obsession with traditional values? According to Meloni, these traditional Christian values “founded our civilization.” Meloni sees her beliefs as justified because she views her values as the ideological foundation of civilization. Alright everyone, time to check your bingo cards because, once again, Meloni is engaging in another defining feature of fascism: the making of an origin story, “the myth of decadence and rebirth.”

Recall, fascists gain power by convincing supporters they have lost something and in fascist mythology, the past is lost. The mythology’s function is two-fold: First, fascist use the history of “Western Civilization” as evidence of their racial and cultural supremacy, constructing a moral justification for seizing power. Both the construction of fascism’s ethnonationalist identity and system of values is based in this historical narrative. Secondly, this idealized past is contrasted with the declining modern age such that modern problems are explained as a divergence from this past. The proffered solution then is to reclaim the past by preserving traditional culture and its values against fascism’s enemy.

Fascist ideology is built on this mythology: a narrative that aggrandizes a lost past and calls for its reclamation from the jaws of modernity. But this mythology is based on a Eurocentric and racialized conception of history that is totally inaccurate. The Western civilization theory and derivative fascist myths are built on such a biased and selective retelling of history as to be total fiction. It completely disregards how human civilizations flourished beyond Europe and Western norms, while completely omitting how political, economic, cultural, and intellectual exchange between these civilizations occurred for a millennium. Thus, fascist political ideology has no leg to stand on and, by extension, Meloni’s ideology is untenable.

We should acknowledge that all of this boils down to power. The Western civilization narrative was invented by eighteenth and nineteenth century thinkers intent on protecting existing power structures — ones built atop the exploitation and oppression of peoples considered “different” from the ruling classes. Fascism, likewise, is an ideology that favors the privileged by leveraging these very same mechanisms and power structures. Salzman insists Meloni is a moderate conservative who simply supports traditional values, but these values are derived from a historical fascist narratives intended to privilege the powerful. That is the context Salzman sought.

Salzman claimed the evidence redeems Meloni, but it actually reveals the deeply rooted connections between Meloni’s politics and fascist ideology. Meloni claims she is not fascist, and Salzman treats this as evidence enough that she really is not. But I am not interested in listening to Salzman’s suggestion that we should simply take her at her word. Meloni’s own words and actions consistently contradict any disavowal of fascism. She has continuously participated in fascist circles, promoted fascist ideas, used fascist techniques, evoked fascist conspiracy theories, and built her politics on fascist ideology. She has followed the fascist playbook point by point. In light of this evidence, it begs the question when exactly does the title fascist become acceptable? I’m inclined to say she deserves the title — she is a fascist.

Salzman argues a parliamentary coalition will reign her in, forcing her to moderate her views (despite claiming she is not an extremist…). This is naively optimistic. At most, it will moderate her policies, but the FdI has a strong advantage given Meloni’s allies performed poorly. Meloni may adopt a moderate policy approach as part of an electability strategy, but she might not necessarily have to given her current electoral success. Plus, do not forget fascists already have precedent for taking political power democratically and moderate coalitions failed to restrict them but rather aided them. Personally, I have no interest in waiting to find out whether Meloni will faithfully respect democratic processes before deciding on the fascist label.

It also poses no surprise when moderate conservatives line up to defend Meloni given American and European conservatives have been trafficking fascist ideas for a while, emboldening the far-right’s most violent and militant elements. In truth, our political center is careening towards the far-right even if this goes against the majority’s political beliefs. This is why I find it hard to take serious conservatives’ cries about media bias or tech censorship. They are simply indulging in a victim fantasy and desiring freedom from social consequences for bigotry. That ostensibly center-right conservatives resonate with Meloni’s messaging and policy does less to discredit accusations against her and more to indict mainstream conservative politics. When the basis of your argument amounts to “She can’t be fascist because I agree with her points and I’m not a fascist,” it is time to do some serious self-reflection.

Honestly, at the end of the day, I don’t really care about this argument on whether Giorgia Meloni is fascist or not. While the evidence, in my opinion, pretty clearly points to Meloni operating like a fascist, what I actually care about is Meloni and her politics’s significance.

Meloni, like Mussolini and Hitler, is a fear-monger who plays into the peoples’ anxieties and worries, seizing on their fear as a vehicle for political power. She stokes public discontent into animosity and directs it, like a tightly-drawn arrow, at the most vulnerable: the poor, immigrants, minority communities, the Jewish people, and many others. She facilitates the continued normalization of fascism, which increases the chances of Europe violently descending into terror again. Her policies are violent, harmful, and ultimately will not help Italy. Regardless of label, Giorgia Meloni is morally bankrupt and a danger to Italy, Europe, and the world-at-large.

That is what actually matters.