The Malta Independent 16 August 2018, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Italy politics - Apocalypse near

Tuesday, 22 May 2018, 10:21 Last update: about 4 months ago

We, or at any rate, most of us, follow Italian television, support Italian teams, watch Italian variety shows such as Amici – but have absolutely no idea of the implications of the new Italian government that is being formed as we speak.

Naively, we judge that parties who have won in the election have all the right to get to govern. We are not understanding the lessons of history if we do so. People point out that both Hitler and Mussolini came to power through the ballot box, but not even that is the issue right now.

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The issue, the most terrifying one, is that today’s situation has its terrible parallel in the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the Italian liberal parties. As the leaders of Germany and Italy did so many years ago, so too the world at large is now underestimating the scale of the threat their country faces.

Harold James, a professor of history at Princeton University, has come up with 10 reasons why today’s political systems share some of the self-destructive characteristics of the Weimar Republic. People then and now share an excessive optimism about the power of constitutions to protect the system.

Writing on the Financial Times yesterday, experienced opinion writer Wolfgang Munchau called this complacent narratives – a belief that the worst will not happen, that the Italians will not exit the euro because their constitution does not allow it.

But there exist circumstances under which a country can leave the Eurozone. All the new government needs to do is to engineer a financial crisis, declare force majeure and over a long bank holiday weekend introduce a parallel currency.

Talk about this parallel currency has been current during the long negotiations to set up a new government. This was clearly mentioned by one of the leaders of the new government, Matteo Salvini, and there are many members of the other party in the coalition, 5 Star, who openly think so too.

5 Star and the League will generate a recovery through a large fiscal stimulus, against all the rules of the euro. They will gain the credit for it. They are in power precisely because the centrists failed to deliver on the economy. 

Here, Munchau concluded, lies the main lesson of the Weimar Republic. “If liberal democracy fails to deliver economic prosperity for a sufficiently large population over long periods, it ends – along with the financial and economic institutions it has created.

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