In this Series, our Head of Ideology Research Unit, Balša Lubarda, speaks to some of the people helping to make CARR the ‘one-stop shop for knowledge and resources on right-wing extremism’. Today’s guest is Valerio Alfonso Bruno. Dr. Bruno is an expert of contemporary European and Italian politics and his research has focused in particular on populist radical right parties.
In your recent piece with another member of Ideology Research Unit, Alessio Scopelliti, you wrote about the “Tricolour flame“ as, among other things, reflecting the post-facsist nature of the Fratelli d’Italia. To what extent should one follow iconography to understand political ideologies? One may argue that this can be counterproductive, as the cases of “greenwashing“ the radical right have shown…
Following iconography to understand political ideologies may certainly be misleading, as it is dependent on the specific context. In the case of Fratelli d’Italia, Giorgia Meloni has been very clear in considering herself and the party as ”custodians and heirs“ of a specific and long tradition, the tradition of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (ça va sans dire, with its well-known values…). In a number of pages of her recent autobiography Io sono Giorgia. Le mie radici, le mie idee (Rizzoli, 2021), Meloni uses the symbol of the Tricolour flame as a metaphor of a long historical experience that has to be kept and preserved, from both the Left of the „pensiero unico della globalizzazione“ (pp. 138-139 and following) and the “destra moderna“ (p. 192), that Right that allegedly does everything it can not to be a true right-wing, betraying itself (Fini and the end of Alleanza Nazionale?)
In your research, you also took a stab at defining some of the ideologically kindred concepts such as authoritarian populism and fascism – can there be a non-authoritarian far right nowadays, e.g., the (rather decentralized) extreme-right groupuscules? Is this really a non-authoritarian outlook on the world and politics or is it just a different decontestation of what authority is?
Following Giovanni Sartori’s fundamental lesson, any in-depth study and analysis must always come before the use of concepts. Authoritarianism is arguably a key element of the far right, even when the extreme right groups and movements perceive themselves as the opposition to a state’s authoritarianism and dictatorship, as in the case of the anti-vax demonstrations. The far right, whether acting in the name of an alleged silent majority or when considering itself a persecuted minority, is always characterized by the arbitrary use of power, intolerance and the inability to truly distinguish between the use of force versus naked violence.
What does Italian politics tell us about the potential of the Right to act as a corrective to liberal democracy? Can conservative politics contain the populist and radical menace? Your research indicates that we should not have very high hopes...
Besides elements of propaganda, pragmatic opportunism and the necessity of political compromise, I do not see within the frame of the current Italian Right any possibility to act as a corrective to liberal democracy. As I said above, the ”destra moderna“, i.e. conservative but truly moderate and liberal (Berlusconi? Fini?), is considered as a betrayal to what the true Right allegedly is. Speaking of the alleged transcending of the categories of the right and left in the 20th century, Meloni writes “[…] but a more careful analysis would easily show how the basic values, the setting from which it moves, are always the same, adapted to a profoundly changed reality”.
You have also written extensively about geopolitical issues, such as the role of China. To what extent are geopolitical developments an expression of ideological constellations?
Ideologies definitely play a key role at the geopolitical level. If we consider Joseph Nye’s definition of soft power as. „”the ability to affect others without the use of coercion or payment, by means of attraction,“ both political values and culture are key pillars. It is also important to differentiate between ideologies that have been instrumentally adopted and ideologies that are more strictly inherent to the specific history and culture of a given country. Beyond simple military strength and economic power, future geopolitical dynamics will be increasingly influenced by ideologies, in particularly by political cultures in the narrow sense, what in German is defined as Politische Kultur, not to be confused with Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilizations.
You have been a part of the IRU ever since its foundation in July 2020. What is it that you would like to see the IRU focusing on the most in the future?
I think the complex interplay between ideology domestically and at the international level is a poorly researched subject, therefore that could be the focus of the IRU in the future. In fact, international and regional systems are based on institutions, alliances and cooperation, which are often favoured, or even built, but also opposed, in virtue of ideological complementarities.
You can read more about Valerio’s work on the radical right in Italy here.
Read more interviews with CARR Fellows here.
Find out more about CARR’s Ideology Research Unit here.