The Corner

National Security & Defense

In Europe, the Ghosts of the Past Linger

The Italian referendum is a rejection of proposals on the part of Matteo Renzi that the office of prime minister — which he just happened to be holding at the time — should acquire greater powers. This aspiration must be in the air or maybe goes with the job: Other prime ministers in the throes of that same incentive to be rid of inconvenient checks and balances include Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. Obviously, a lot of factors are in play and one of the more crucial is the ghost of Benito Mussolini. His accumulation of dictatorial powers proved a national mistake. Italy has been an enthusiastic member of the European Union with its euro hallmark on the grounds that this provided insurance against future national mistakes.

And obviously among a lot of factors also in play in the decision of Austrians to prefer a president from the Green Party to one from the nationalist Freedom Party, the ghost of Adolf Hitler is one of the more influential. Austrians in his day had eagerly welcomed his dictatorship, and that had proved a national mistake. The price for benign re-modelling of the country was EU membership.

Now it is possible that the gathering political and economic crises impel Italy to follow the example of Britain and leave the EU. It is also possible that the same crises will lead Austria to cling to the EU, to in effect remain subordinate to even a demilitarized Germany. Contradictions and unforeseen outcomes of the kind are evidence of the old national mistakes now working their way out as the collective mistake of the present.