In fact, the League leader is, before anything, a politician of our time. One of what Ilvo Diamanti and I call the "peoplecracy" that populists in Italy and elsewhere promote, whether or not they win the elections. They impose their topics, their style, their way of doing politics, their temporality, their simplistic, conspiracist and binary vision of the world, the idea that the sovereign people is all-powerful, without any limits. This is what is causing liberal and representative democracy to falter. And so emerges the possibility of a "peoplecracy", synonymous with immediate democracy, without any intermediate bodies, which establishes a kind of digital agora in which the leader, in this case Matteo Salvini, plays a more fundamental role than ever.
Finally, the latter’s popularity is part of a larger historical period. It is not the first time that a large share of Italians follow a man who promises miracles: Mussolini in the inter-war years, the socialist Bettino Craxi in the 1970s and 1980s, and more recently Silvio Berlusconi or Matteo Renzi. These leaders differ radically in the content of their policies and in their personalities. Nevertheless, all of them embody, to varying degrees, the figures of providential men, bearers of a form of Caesarism conceived as a response to profound moments of crisis. This bears witness to the weakness of political liberalism in this country. And to the Italian democracy’s fragility, which did not, however, prevent it from successfully facing significant challenges in the past, including that of terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet if Matteo Salvini does not embody the figure of an authoritarian leader, in the full sense of the term, it is because the quest for authority expressed by the Italians does not mean that they aspire to authoritarianism, to "democratic dictatorship" or, worse, to the establishment of a real dictatorship. But it does nevertheless testify to a recurrent fascination for "decisionismo", as we say in Italian. And thus for men who display their strength, if not their virility. Who combine the power of speech with the ability to act. Who free themselves from the exhausting parliamentary deliberations and avoid multiple mediations. Today, Matteo Salvini is that man. For how long? At what cost? Many of our questions remain unanswered. For now.
Ilvo Diamanti, Marc Lazar, Peuplecratie. La métamorphose de nos démocraties, Paris, Gallimard, publication in March 2019.
"Italie : le temps du populisme. Entretien avec Matteo Salvini, par Richard Heuzé", Politique internationale, n°161, Fall 2018, p. 23-36.
Gianluca Passarelli, Dario Tuorto, La Lega di Salvini. Estrema destra di governo, Bologne, Il Mulino, 2018.
Illustration : David MARTIN for Institut Montaigne.