Italian Elections: The Great Five-Star Surprise

March 8, 2018

In several senses, it is not difficult to understand the results of the recent Italian elections. Think of the center-right leader, Mr. Berlusconi, as an older Mr. Trump. At nearly 82, Mr. Berlusconi still tries to play the role of the alpha-male while his acolytes built up a program based on building a barrier against immigrants (not exactly a wall, because there is a sea in between Italy and Africa, but the concept is the same.). The center-right is also pursuing policies akin to “making Italy great again” (or perhaps grate again, if they were referring to Parmesan cheese). In short, the Italian right and the American right are very similar, including such details as allowing citizens to carry firearms.

The left – what remains of it – is represented by Mr. Matteo Renzi, the perfect equivalent of Ms. Clinton, in terms of being both hateful and out of touch with reality. Just like Ms. Clinton, Mr. Renzi and his followers managed to conduct an unbelievably obsolete and counterproductive campaign. The left carefully avoided any references to new ideas or – God forbid! – ideas that could be understood as being “leftist”. During the campaign, they gave the impression of being completely dominated by the right, desperately trying to tell voters that they would do the same things that the right was proposing, just with a little extra human touch – maybe. One wonders whether Mr. Renzi was actually paid for the job of finishing off the remnants of the Italian left. It was a necessary outcome anyway, the only surprise was how well the Italian left played the role assigned by the Gods to those whom they want to destroy – that is, of becoming crazy. (at least, however, so far the Italian Dems didn’t blame Putin for their defeat.)

But how about the “five-star” movement? Who are they? Why did they win? For sure, there is no equivalent of the M5s in the US or anywhere in the West – so far. Their strong point, it seems, was the obsolescence of the traditional political parties. Politicians are widely perceived as thieves and, perhaps worse than that, they are deeply embedded and compromised with the “system.”

In the US, the “system” is mainly represented by the military-industrial complex, pushing for more and more money for more and more useless wars overseas. In Italy, there is less emphasis on the military system, but the government is surely embedded with this and other traditional power centers, including the oil and gas industry. Otherwise, how would you explain that the Renzi government engaged in the destruction of the Italian renewable energy industry, killing tens of thousands of jobs? Do this and more idiocies, and eventually, the people will remember that and punish you, if they can.

In the end, Italians seem to have reasoned that their political system is so deeply corrupt to be unrecoverable, at least in terms of the traditional political forces (e.g. the left). So, they rewarded a force claiming to be composed of honest citizens – in a way amateurs rather than professional politicians. And the M5s movement won despite the concerted effort of both the Left and the Right to defame them.

My impression, however, is that there is more than that. The M5s movement may be the harbinger of things to come. Maybe the M5s success will turn out to be short-lived. But the great intuition of the founders of the M5s movement (Beppe Grillo and Roberto Casaleggio) that social media are destined to become more and more important. And that not just as tools for politics. Social media are becoming politics.

If you look at how the M5s movement works, you see that it is unlike anything you would call a “political party.” I could say it looks like more like a version of Facebook. No leaders, no plans, no ideology, just a general idea that a networked group of people debate to find the best solutions for the problems we face. It seems to work – it is a new way to manage the system.

Government by Facebook, in the name of Facebook, for Facebook? Maybe.


Teaser photo credit: Nearly definitive results of the Italian national elections of March 4, 2018. The “five-star movement” (M5s) got the most votes, although the center-right wing coalition (CDX) has the largest number of seats in the Italian parliament. For the center-left (CSX), it was a total disaster. So, what made the M5s party so successful: my impression is that their mode of functioning could be described as  “government by Facebook, for Facebook, in the name of Facebook.” Is it our political future?

Ugo Bardi

Ugo Bardi teaches physical chemistry at the University of Florence, in Italy. He is interested in resource depletion, system dynamics modeling, climate science and renewable energy. He is member of the scientific committee of ASPO (Association for the study of peak oil) and regular contributor of "The Oil Drum" and "". His blog in English is called "Cassandra's legacy". His most recent book in English Extracted: How the Quest for Global Mining Wealth is Plundering the Planet (Chelsea Green”, 2014. He is also the author of The Limits to Growth Revisited (Springer 2011).

Tags: Italian politics, Italy