General Roberto Vannacci's book, The world upside down, has become the bestselling case of the summer. Quietly released as a self-published work by an author known only in military circles, it suddenly captured headlines and in a matter of hours climbed the Amazon sales charts, reaching No. 1 in Italy.
The editorial success could cost the general a high price professionally. The publication of some extrapolated sentences provoked the hysterical reaction of the Left and also that of Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, among the top members of Fratelli d'Italia. On X the minister immediately called Vannacci's "personal rantings [...] that discredit the Army, Defense and the Constitution," announcing a disciplinary probe. Within hours, the Army removed the general from his post.
Who Roberto Vannacci is
That post was actually of secondary importance: commander of the Military Geographical Institute in Florence. A position of little relevance compared to the impressive track record of Roberto Vannacci: 54 years old, a paratrooper, he took part in missions in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Iraq, Afghanistan (where he was chief of staff of NATO Special Forces), and Libya; he commanded the "Col Moschin" assault Regiment and the "Folgore" Brigade; in addition to various Italian medals, he also received the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit from the US.
We will try to summarize the main contents of the book by following the internal breakdown chosen by the author. I must point out that since this is a book of no less than 373 pages, which I only acquired very few days ago, it was a hasty and not accurate reading. But, at the very least, it was a reading, while much of the current debate is being based on only two or three sentences taken out of context.
The world upside down
Vannacci believes that a defining characteristic of the present moment is society moving in a direction antithetical to rationality and common sense: hence the title of the book. Organized minorities, the general explains, are subverting everything that the majority considers (or considered) normal:
A literal assault on normality which, in the name of minorities who do not fit into it, must be destroyed, abolished, disqualified by making the marginal prevail over the general norm and the usual.
Many conditions of exceptionality are forcibly inserted into an over-dimensioned conception of "normality." Subjective perceptions are taking over objective reality because, to be "inclusive," those of certain categories must be accepted without question. To this erasure of normality, the General believes he can oppose the return to "Common Sense," about the contours of which he is indeed rather vague, but which seems to lead back to the values and judgments transmitted to us by our ancestors.
Vannacci claims to believe in anthropogenic climate change and even that it is significant, but he disputes: a) that we are moving toward an apocalypse, given that the Earth has experienced far more drastic changes; b) that the situation can be remedied by de-growth policies. Developed societies, he says, are the ones capable of implementing environmentalist measures. Therefore, it is necessary to abandon Greta Thunberg-like hysteria, Manichean views of "good" nature and "bad" man, and focus on adaptation to changing climatic conditions. Vannacci devotes several pages in support of, among other things, genetically modified organisms. He approves of the energy transition but believes it should proceed slowly and gradually, and that it cannot exclude nuclear power.
A separate chapter is devoted to the phenomenon of animalism. Vannacci takes issue not only with the more radical manifestations, such as vegans or those who would like to remove animals from human exploitation altogether, but also with the increasing "anthropomorphization" of domestic animals. By now their numbers far outnumber those of children, and so too the private spending Italians devote to them is many times greater than that allocated to infants. Putting human beings back in first place is the appeal made by the General in his book.
Societies are formed around shared cultures and values. A people identify with the common heritage of military, cultural, linguistic and religious traditions. The work and sacrifices of ancestors have allowed that heritage to coincide with the political institutions in a nation-state.
Multiculturalism, Vannacci warns, undermines cohesion and stability by trying to include foreign values in a society. According to multiculturalism, "differentiated rights" and the possibility for internal communities to govern themselves according to their own laws should be introduced. But states succeed in ensuring peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups only in the presence of a dominant one, which imposes common norms.
Vannacci claims the right to prefer his own culture, the Italian one. He does not despise others, but believes that the one handed down by the ancestors should continue to prevail in Italy. The general does not make it an ethnic issue - he reiterates several times that in his opinion it is not a determining factor in identifying a people - but he demands that immigrants assimilate the national culture.
In these passages there is the controversial statement, admittedly rather unrelated to the rest of the argument in which it is inserted, about volleyball player Paola Egonu, who is of Nigerian origin: "[...] even if Paola Egonu is Italian by citizenship, it is clear that her somatic features do not represent the Italian-ness that can instead be discerned in all the frescoes, paintings and statues that from the Etruscans have come down to the present day." This statement could have inspired Vannacci to think more deeply about the ethnic dimensions of nationality, but it remains isolated in the text. So, the whole point he makes is that the somatic prototype of the Italian, as it has been for millennia and indeed still is in (fading) majority today, does not have black skin or other typically African traits.
Frankly, if anyone on the right is scandalized by this, then consistently they should also accept that Netflix and the rest of the culture industry proceed to rewrite European history by falsely assigning black skin colors to white historical figures. If it scandalizes Vannacci's statement, it is not even clear how one can then argue that ethnic replacement would be a problem.
The General laments that in Italy laws seem to protect criminals more than honest citizens, as is the case with home squatters. Moreover, he proposes that in assessing proportionality in self-defense, consideration should be given not to objective situations, as known to the judge, but to the perception of danger that at the time the person who was forced to defend against an attack had.
Vannacci asserts his patriotism and regrets that in Italy, the term "Fatherland" is no longer used and that the major symbols of it - the anthem and the flag - are increasingly hidden. His proposal is to reintegrate these symbols into daily life, mainly in the school routine of the very young, and to tighten the criteria for the acquisition of citizenship: knowledge of the language, the anthem, the flag, and history.
Also in this chapter it shines through how the General considers the cultural factor to be the main defining characteristic of nationality. He, correctly, writes that we are not born by chance in a place, but because we are the very children of our parents: that is, we enter the world as part, not by chance, of a lineage. However, he reiterates the idea that how one is brought up is the determining factor: "biological" origin matters only insofar as it is the "means" of transmitting certain values.
This is the most contested chapter in the book. Vannacci already seemed to foresee it as he was writing, as he opens it by describing his friends' exhortations to drop the subject. He explains that originally a decision had been made to omit this chapter, but he finally resolved to write it because "if you don't take a stand you won't have anyone against you, but neither will anyone with you."
The General's view is that homosexuality should be entirely permissible, as it has become in more recent times, but should remain confined to the sphere of sexuality and not enter the sphere of the family. The most "controversial" part of the book, however, is where the author questions the character of "normality" and "naturalness" of homosexuality and transgenderism. On the one hand, the General asserts, by mere statistical calculation it can be ascertained that they are not the norm but are the exception. On the other, he acknowledges that homosexuality is present in nature, albeit rare, but is absent as a family pattern.
Here we find the much disputed phrase, "Dear homosexuals, normal you are not, get over it!" - which, however, merely reiterates, perhaps provocatively, what was stated above: namely, that normality, in humans as in the vast majority of animal species, is the mating of males and females, the family consisting of one male and one female.
Vannacci does not challenge the lawfulness of homosexual practices, he does not challenge the respect due even to homosexuals and the recently acquired rights - including, he says explicitly, civil unions. What he disputes is the claim to be recognized as "normality," that is, in every way equal to and interchangeable with heterosexual union. After all - we add - the license of "normality" must necessarily be followed by equal recognition of same-sex marriage and the possibility of adopting children: for how could one justify unequal treatment between two equal couples?
In this chapter less than in the others Vannacci minces his words. He denounces and meticulously describes the actions of a lobby to spread and normalize homosexual practices, with marriage and parenting as the ultimate goal.
The point to ponder is not so much whether one shares the general's ideas, but whether they should be proscribed and declared incompatible with public service. Do those who believe that homosexuality is not normality, that the family is only the union of man and woman, that pressure groups promote transgenderism, therefore deserve to be punished? Are such views incompatible with serving in our military?
Although many, somewhat snobbishly, have turned their noses up at the idea of a military man's self-published book, Vannacci's work is well written. It undoubtedly has the flaw of excessive length (the author really wanted to throw in all his thoughts, and spice up the general considerations with inordinate numbers of topical examples), and there are no genial insights or much novelty to be found within it, but Vannacci himself declares in the opening that he only wanted to give an overview and popularizing representation of topics that have been explored in depth by others. The world upside down is not a masterpiece of thought and will not remain as a milestone of national thought, but few of the conservative critics of the book can claim to have written something with such qualities.
On a great many points the General's views trace the programs of Fratelli d'Italia - or at least those the party was declaring up to election day. No to multiculturalism and mass immigration, no to gender theory, yes to patriotism, yes to energy transition but in a phased manner. Some of the phrases that have fueled the controversy are, recontextualized, perfectly agreeable (do we really want to say, in the name of political correctness, that Paola Egonu is a prototype of Italian somatic features? To imagine a Scandinavian with blond hair or a Chinese with almond eyes is to have "racist prejudices," even for people who claim to be "right-wing"?) Others were vulgarly manipulated: at one point Vannacci recalls that Italians are the heirs of many illustrious historical figures, among whom he mentions Julius Caesar. It is not known whether through idiocy or bad faith, in social media the General is now portrayed as a mythomaniac who proclaims himself the sole heir of the great Roman leader.
On the issue of homosexuality, it has already been written. This is perhaps the only point where Vannacci really defies the limits of "permissible discourse." If on all the others he had expressed markedly right-wing but broadly held views, on homosexuality the General dared to go further. Allowing its jubilation now, or even taking an active part in it, means for the Right to give up - in the long run - the possibility of denying the full equalization of homosexual unions with traditional marriages. Including even the possibility of adopting children.
Beyond the specific issue of homosexuality, the Vannacci affair is a test of freedom of expression in Italy. Of the military but not only. The General's punishment will set a precedent that will allow that, on the job, of any citizen who dares to challenge the limits of "permissible" speech, set of course by the Left with the complicity of self-styled or fearful conservatives.
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.