One of Benito Mussolini’s better quips was that anyone could govern Italy but it is pointless to do so. And that’s where Italy is today. At the outcome of the general election, the Left and the Right, respectively under an old Communist Pier Luigi Bersani and an old corner-cutter Silvio Berlusconi, are about equal in numbers and equally unable to form a government. Into this political vacuum comes Beppe Grillo. The Five Star Movement is his flash-in-the pan party, and it looks like having some 160 members in the parliament, one of them a 25-year-old postgraduate student who may become the speaker. Swearing not to join a coalition, Grillo is instead institutionalizing instability.
In his sixties, Grillo is a stand-up comedian by profession, and he has disordered white locks, Arafat stubble on his cheeks, and dark glasses, type-casting himself as an ageing hippy. Some of his quips are funny, as were Mussolini’s, but the outlook is too desperate to leave it at that. Italy has a debt of two trillion euros, the highest in the euro zone after Greece. This year alone, Italy has to borrow 420 billion euros to service this debt. The common currency has made the country uncompetitive. In the last decade the economy has shrunk 10 percent and is still shrinking. Youth unemployment is 37 percent. For the politicians who created this horrible mess, Grillo proposes “Tutti a casa,” or send them home. The next recommended step is for Italy to break with the euro and return to its own currency.
“Combinazioni” is the brilliant Italian term for finding all-purpose ways through dead-ends, and maybe in the end Grillo will do deals like the others. And maybe his mind-set will prevent him. A comic, he’s also a nutter who has taken anti-Semitism on board and spews full-time hatred of Jews. Israelis, he believes, are using a translation service called Memri to conspire against Arabs. To him, Iran is a lovely pacifist country, traduced by Zionists. Hitler, he has said, was eliminating Jewish financial dictatorship.
Between the world wars, democracy failed throughout continental Europe, to be replaced by elementary fascism. It’s often quoted that history repeats itself as farce, so it’s quite perfect that Grillo should be a professional comedian. Inept, limited but too vain to acknowledge their limitations, the politicians of Europe have created the political space for the new digital-age fascism. We can’t guess how great the collapse is going to be, but the folly of those responsible for leaving us in this position is hallucinating.