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In his The Revolt of the Elites: The Betrayal of Democracy, published in 1996, Christopher Lasch argued that the elites were turning against democracy, and predicted that a clash between them and the people would soon come to dominate Western politics. It feels a bit like that reading a few issues of Il Foglio, the daily which until a few years ago was often described as the newspaper of Italy’s “neo-cons”. Il Foglio now leads the charge against the populists and the sovranisti, and has grown closer to the PD and the centre-Left. References to barbarians and talk about the plebs abound — some in jest, no doubt in line with the eccentric and provocative liberalism of the newspaper. But, as in Britain, a sense of moral panic about democracy and popular sovereignty has set in among the elites.

In a country with a constitution that in Article 1 recites that “sovereignty belongs to the people”, it is strange how the idea of popular sovereignty should ever be viewed as heretical. A small but conspicuous group of jurists, philosophers and political scientists has gathered around a magazine, Logos, to propound sovranisti positions. The founder of Logos, Giuseppe Valditara, a Professor of Roman Law at the University of Turin, is regarded by the League as one of its intellectual reference points. Valditara, whose book, Sovranismo, has just come out, tells me: “Sovranismo is the only hope for democracy — we have only limited time to reshape Europe and the global order to ensure that popular sovereignty remains a central political value.”

As I left Italy to return to London, the crisis of the MS Aquarius dominated the news. Salvini denied access to the NGO boat carrying 690 migrants, and announced the closure of Italian ports to other NGO boats. In a poll taken during the Aquarius crisis, 59 per cent of Italians approved of the closing of Italian ports to migrants. Support reached 85 per cent among the League and Five Star Movement voters; even 30 per cent of the PD electorate was in favour.

On immigration Italy may have its way in the end, not least because Merkel’s CSU allies are making similar demands. But Salvini does himself and Italy no favours, with statements about deporting Roma in TV interview on June 18: “The Italian ones [Roma] we are  unfortunately stuck with.” A state can choose to keep economic migration under strict control and remain liberal, but one that stigmatises a group of its own citizens on ethnic grounds will cease to be so.

A bigger clash with Europe looms on the new government’s radical fiscal plans. The League seems ready for the fight. Salvini does not mince words on what he regards as German hegemony in Europe. One thing that will not be necessary to complete the transformation of the “League” into national party is the adoption of a new political symbolism. At the heart of the Northern League’s symbolism has always been the Oath of Pontida, which representatives of the Italian Comuni allegedly took in the 12th century in their struggle for liberty against the Holy Roman Empire of Frederick Barbarossa. The League may now realise that this imagery was better suited all along to unite the country than divide it.
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August 22nd, 2018
7:08 PM
"Italy should never have been part of the EU." No-one should be in the EU. The EU is a map drawn by the self-regarding founders, nothing more. It is the unfortunate fate of those statelets included in its boundaries to suffer under the rule of people with no interest in them.

July 21st, 2018
6:07 PM
"Saving Europeans isn't the Italians' job" Neither it is Europeans job to save Italians from their mediocrity! Who was ever dumb enough to allow Italy to be a founding member of the EU? Did they think that this time Italians would show fortitude, backbone and honesty? How mistaken! Italy should never have been part of the EU.

June 30th, 2018
12:06 PM
Those "in charge" of the European Project only have one goal, to stay "in charge". Consequently, they accept assistance from anyone offering support, without questioning the motivation. To attempt to build an empire from the roof down without even a copy of "Empire-Building For Dummies" to hand, seems foolhardy. We live in interesting times.

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