Left and Right

Italy Illustrates the Way to Liberal Democracy’s Demise

Some hysterical hand-wringing from the ruling class press over Italy. Maybe some of these Antifa guys can start writing for the Financial Times.

By Wolfgang Muchau

Financial Times

Comparing today’s populists and nationalists to the Nazis and fascists of 80 or 90 years ago is pointless. But I see much clearer parallels between the fall of Germany’s Weimar Republic and the vulnerability of Europe’s liberal elites. Some of the current defenders of the liberal order are making the same mistake as, for example, the German Centre party of the early 1930s, by underestimating the scale of the threat that they face. Harold James, a professor of history at Princeton University, has recently given us 10 reasons why our political systems today share some of the self-destructive characteristics of the Weimar Republic. One is the strength of the economic shock. Another is an excessive optimism about the power of constitutions to protect the system. I would like to offer some additional thoughts on the role of complacent narratives — the stories we tell each other that make us feel better. As a commentator on eurozone affairs, for example, I keep hearing that an Italian exit from the euro cannot happen because it is not allowed. Italy’s constitution, for example, makes it impossible for a government to rescind international treaties by referendum. This argument not only overestimates the power of constitutional law to protect us from illegal acts by governments, as Prof James pointed out. It also ignores the circumstances under which a country would leave the eurozone. All its government would need to do is engineer a financial crisis, declare force majeure, and introduce a parallel currency over a long bank holiday weekend. There is nothing in the Italian constitution to prevent a financial crisis or to stop a government from giving people the means to buy food.

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