Dr George Newth

The Italian far right, represented by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FdI) and Matteo Salvini’s League, look set to form a new majority in parliament after the September 25th elections. In a republic founded on the values of the anti-fascist resistance, this is a worrying development and one which owes much to a mainstreaming of far right ideology and discourse. This blog piece provides a brief explainer of how ‘post-fascist’ logic has contributed to this process of mainstreaming.



Brothers of Italy is the latest iteration of a neo-fascist political tradition which has its roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI). founded by Giorgio Almirante in 1946. Under fascism, between 1922 and 1943, Italy had experienced a violent suppression of political opposition and civil liberties and a palingenetic form of nationalism which culminated in the country’s fateful entry into World War Two. With Italy’s 1948 constitution explicitly proscribing the reorganisation ‘under any form whatsoever, of the dissolved fascist party’, the MSI was logically excluded from government coalitions. However, the early 1990s saw a series of corruption scandals, the disappearance of the dominant Cold War political subcultures in Italy and a wave of electoral reform sweep away the post-war ‘constitutional arch’ i.e. the alliance of anti-fascist parties that contributed to the drafting of the Republican Constitution. The MSI was one of the key beneficiaries of this crisis alongside Forza Italia (FI), led by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi - whose anachronistic anti-communism and historical revisionism paved the way for a rehabilitation of the far right -  and the populist far right Northern League (LN) of Umberto Bossi. Since 1994, various alliances of these parties have formed three - euphemistically termed - ‘centre right’ administrations. The LN, while arguably always a far right party due to its espousal of racism towards both southern Italians and foreign migrants, does not come from a fascist tradition. It emerged as the political expression of a ‘Northern Question’ which emphasised a growing economic  and  social  gap between North and South. Under Matteo Salvini, the North was dropped from the party’s logo as regionalism was abandoned for nationalism, and the party shifted further towards the far right, forming closer links with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. Both parties have used a post-fascist logic to bring reactionary and racist ideas into the mainstream.


Post-fascism: A mainstreaming strategy

Post-fascism is by no means a new term and has been used by politicians from the MSI themselves, including former leader Gianfranco Fini, to distance themselves from Mussolini’s fascist regime. Rather than this euphemistic term for far right politics, post-fascism refers here to a political logic through which far right actors rearticulate and recontextualise fascist ideas - such as palingenetic ultranationalism, conspiracy theorising, cult of personality, counter-revolution and militaristic masculinity - while claiming to be ‘post-ideological’. As such it is a form of mainstreaming i.e. the process by which parties/actors, discourses and/or attitudes move from a position of unacceptability (outside the norm) to one of legitimacy (within the norm). An analysis of  Salvini’s and Meloni’s social media (predominantly Twitter and YouTube) reveals three key aspects of ‘post-fascist’ logic.

A reconstruction and borrowing of fascist tropes in the League’s and FdI’s discourse is most recently encapsulated by their respective campaign slogans, ‘Credo’ (belief/faith) and ‘Pronti’ (ready). Salvini defines politics as ‘an act of secular faith’ echoing how fascism employed discourses of ‘faith in Mussolini’, while, Meloni’s  ‘ready for victory’ also harks back to Mussolini’s slogans of being ‘ready to fight for the honour of Italy’. These tropes help articulate far right Great Replacement conspiracy theories via promises of  believing in a secure Italy and being ready to defend borders. However, in what amounts to a form of political gas-lighting, Salvini and Meloni use these fascist tropes while claiming fascism no longer exists.

A depiction of Fascism in a remote past and of the Left as the real threat to democracy and ‘the people, is the second component of post-fascist logic. In an example of what Katy Brown refers to as ‘talking about’ the far right.’  Meloni and Salvini have claimed that “Fascism is history”,  condemning  and claimed it is consigned to the past. While Salvini has threatened to sue those who call him fascist, Meloni has stated ‘if I were fascist, I would say so’, yet both leaders have embraced the term populist to claim they are on the side of the people, thus using populism as a euphemistic term for far right ideology. This allows them to depict themselves as post-ideological while arguing the Left are the ‘real fascists’ or a form of dictatorship. Via a populist logic of ‘us’ v ‘them’, the far right juxtaposes what it claims are inhumane migration policies of Left ‘do-gooders’ (buonisti) against a so-called ‘sensible’ migration policy consisting of a naval blockade. This logic also pits a Left elite against an FdI and League backed by the popular will of Italians.

Discrediting anti-fascism as an ‘irrational’ pathology lacking ‘common sense’ forms the third aspect of post-fascist logic. While Meloni argues that the use of fascism by the Left is part of a ‘deliberately misleading campaign, Salvini depicts his opponents perceived ‘obsession with fascism’ as laughable and a sign they are bereft of ideas. Dismissing accusations of racism and fascism as irrational, the far right claims to represent ‘real problems  and  issues close to Italians’ hearts, This builds on a populist trope vis-à-vis a depiction of policies as ‘common sense’ (buonsenso), and a claim to speak on behalf of all ‘common sense Italians’  

Italy’s far right parties are treading a fine line between espousing coded references to fascism, while at the same time claiming fascism no longer exists, and discrediting those who warn of its return as ‘irrational’. This attempt to bring reactionary and racist ideas into the mainstream is helped by the discursive reconstruction of these parties - in both the media and academia - as ‘centre-right’. Post-fascist logic represents an insidious threat to democracy and, in particular, to minority and marginalised groups in Italy. It must be countered as a matter of urgency.


With thanks to Marzia Maccaferri and Katy Brown for their advice on this piece.


Dr George Newth is a Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies, University of Bath, from which he received his PhD in Politics in 2019. His research focuses on the links between regionalism, nationalism, the far right and populism with a particular interest in the Lega (Nord). Recent publications include  The delegitimisation of Europe in a pro-European country: ‘Sovereignism’ and populism in the political discourse of Matteo Salvini’s Lega, (with Marzia Maccaferri) Journal of Language and Politics (2022);  Populism in abeyance: the survival of populist repertoires of contention in North ItalySocial Movement Studies (2022) and , Rethinking 'Nativism': Beyond the ideational approach,  Identities (2022). A forthcoming monograph with Routledge entitled Fathers of the Lega (2023) examines the Lega’s political ideology and discourse in historical perspective. George is a convenor of the PSA Populism Specialist Group and Secretary of the Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI).