by Daniele Scalea

Italians under 40, except for having shown a precocious interest in politics, have never experienced it without the presence of Silvio Berlusconi. Those over 25 are old enough to have seen the entire system revolve around the "Berlusconians - anti-Berlusconians" polarization. These two considerations are enough to give an idea of how much Silvio Berlusconi has marked the lives of a generation (and beyond).

Looking at him from the right (and not from the "center-right," the formula he embraced and brought to success), one cannot deny having often felt for Berlusconi blame and disapproval. Feelings related not so much to what he has done as to what he has not done despite having the means to do it.

The blessing

The Cavaliere had the historic merit of having served, for at least two decades, as a check on the post-communist Left, which, already having control of a variety of apparatchiks (from the judiciary to culture, from schools to labor unions), greedily extended its hands toward the government and parliament. There were no longer the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party to bar its way, swept away by judicial investigations. In four months, from nothing (political; from so much of his business empire), Berlusconi pulled up a brand new party, Forza Italia, which in 1993 defeated, indeed humiliated, the "joyous war machine" of the Communist Party, which had recently become the "Democratic Party of the Left."

He paid for this "guilt" with as many as 36 prosecutions, until his only conviction, for tax fraud, in 2013, under which he lapsed as senator and was rendered ineligible for six years. He was, at the time, a Berlusconi who was still very competitive electorally: in February of that year, only a few hundred thousand votes prevented him from overtaking his Center-Left rivals, certain to triumph after the last center-right government had disastrously fallen in 2011. Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Berlusconi was judicially eradicated.

The other credit to be given to the Cavaliere is that of having "legitimized" the right wing in Italy. It had since 1945 been paying for the sins of fascism by being excluded from the "constitutional arc." The cordon sanitaire was broken only when Berlusconi welcomed the MSI, renamed "Alleanza Nazionale," into his coalition and brought it into government. In Italy today Giorgia Meloni, the last heir to the MSI tradition, heads the government. In Germany, where there has been neither a Tangentopoli nor a Berlusconi, the Christian Democrats still disdain any contact with the AfD.

The curse

What, then, can we blame Berlusconi for? Why haven't we loved him madly these past 30 years? Because, when he administered, Berlusconi did so without exercising power. He was content to deprive others of it, but he did not know how or did not want to use it himself.

Berlusconi has not significantly reformed the country, despite having received a popular mandate for a "liberal revolution." He has not exercised the spoil system to guarantee himself at least neutral apparatchiks. Nor has he used his media to counter the proselytizing of "progressive" nihilism - indeed, they have often been in the forefront of propagating it.

Il Patto Trumpatlantico: le foto del convegno

Why? First, because Berlusconi cultivated interests, both economic and "worldly," that distracted him from politics. In foreign policy, a field that he was passionate about (perhaps because it allowed him to speak as an equal to the most powerful men in the world), he made a good showing as the ultimate interpreter of so-called "neo-Atlanticism": he used loyalty to the U.S. to give Italy room to maneuver in the Mediterranean and toward Russia (understanding with foresight the need to engage the latter, rather than oppose it and give it to the alliance with China). But in other areas he "did not apply himself," as they say of capable but lazy students.

The second reason is that Berlusconi was and always remained a liberal. As such, he did not feel revulsion for moral decay - indeed: a certain hedonism was congenial to him. He had no meta-political agenda. He had no interest in cultural wars simply because he had nothing to win or lose in them. And as a liberal he surrounded himself with liberals who were convinced that he should exercise neutrality and non-intervention in the administration of ministerial staff or in culture. Neutrality which, of course, translated into a de facto endorsement of the "ethnic cleansing" policies that the Left instead conducted in the apparatchiks, hoarding them.

The one area in which Berlusconi should have shown himself to be liberal was one in which he instead showed himself to be tyrannical: the Popolo delle Libertà, as the single center-right party he briefly managed to create was called. Such a big tent party, incorporating various souls, would have needed a free and competitive internal dialectic, with a system of elite selection similar to that used by the American Republican Party. Wanting to make himself its master and godfather, Berlusconi decreed the failure of the experiment.

The opportunity

What to say, then, in conclusion, about Silvio Berlusconi? In the face of death, gratitude always prevails over resentment in memories. The Cavaliere's political deeds resembles a great missed opportunity. But without his genius and charisma, there probably would have been no opportunity at all.

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Founder and President of Centro Studi Machiavelli. Graduated in Historical Sciences (University of Milan) and PhD in Political Studies (Sapienza University), he is professor of "History and doctrine of jihadism" and "Geopolitics of the Middle East" at Cusano University. From 2018 to 2019 he was Special Advisor on Immigration and Terrorism to the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Guglielmo Picchi. His latest book (as editor) is Topicality of sovereignism. Between pandemic and war.