Studying CasaPound in the European far-right context

Writing yet another book on the far light can be risky as there is no shortage of literature on the topic. A quick look at Kai Arzheimer’s bibliography on the Extreme/Radical Right in Western Europe3 reveals that this is one of the most prolific fields in political science and sociology, counting more than 170 peer- reviewed articles in just the last three years (for an overview see Hainsworth 2016). In related disciplines, such as history (Mammone 2015; Mammone et al. 2013), political communication (Aalberg et al. 2016; Ellinas 2010), and more recently international relations (Liang 2016), the situation is not much different.

This impressive scholarly attention, however, has overwhelmingly concerned certain aspects of far-right politics, whereas others attracted less interest. While much is known about the ideology and electoral fortunes of far-right parties, non- electoral aspects of right-wing activity are, overall, still under-studied (Virchow 2016; Pirro and Castelli Gattinara 2018). Similarly, despite much scholarly knowledge on contextual and individual factors driving electoral support for the far right, little is known about the internal workings and developments of these organizations, especially the less established and extremist ones. By studying the ‘internal supply side’ of CasaPound Italia and its external mobilization, this book aims to redress some of these theoretical and empirical lacunae. To this end, we start by presenting the ideology of CPI and its organizational configuration in the context of the multiple variants of contemporary far-right politics in Europe.

In this respect, it is hard to classify CPI due to its unconventional way of doing politics. Indeed, while journalists picked on the aesthetic side and addressed CPI militants as ‘hipsters’ (The Guardian 2018) and its ideology as ‘glamorous fascism’ (Torrisi 2018), scholars are divided about the nature of CPI politics. Some have claimed that CPI represents a genuine transformation (if not an evolution) of traditional extreme-right politics (Di Nunzio and Toscano 2011; Rosati 2018). Others, instead, suggest that the new image is only deceptive, a facade used strategically to increase the attractiveness of historical Fascism for broader audiences and youth (Cammelli 2017; Koch 2013, 2017). Besides ideological factors, however, very little attention has been paid to the way in which the group organizes to sustain mobilization, and communicates with the external world. To contribute to this debate, the next sections justify the authors’ choice to consider CPI as an extreme-right organization engaging simultaneously in the social movement and electoral arena.

How to distinguish extreme and radical variants of far-right politics

Several designations are used to qualify different types of far-right actors. Acknowledging these differences is necessary not only to recognize that the far light is more heterogeneous than usually assumed, but also to define specific collective actors, in the present case CasaPound, with respect to the vast ideological and organizational spectrum of far-right politics. Actors located at the ‘right’ end of the political spectrum have in fact been alternatively labelled as extreme right, populist right, neo-fascist right, post-fascist right, and radical right (Mudde 1996). While these different labels have been pinned to groups displaying substantially different worldviews, scholars have also recognized a set of common ideological traits. In this respect, the umbrella concept of ‘far-right politics’ is used to recognize standing differences within the political right while also including several of its ideological and organizational variants.

Varieties of far-right politics are thus defined by three core ideological features: the relationships with (representative) democracy, nativism, and authoritarianism. The democratic element informs the distinction between so-called ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’ variants of the far right, as we discuss below. Nativism and authoritarianism refer to two core far-right beliefs: respectively, that nation states shall be inhabited only by native people; and that societies must be strictly ordered and any infringement severely sanctioned (Mudde 2007: 18-23).

The differentiation between ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’ right-wing organizations ultimately rests on their hostile or oppositional attitude towards constitutional democratic principles. Extreme-right organizations, in fact, reject even the minimum core features of democracy: popular sovereignty and majority rule (Mudde 2007: 138—56). On the contrary, radical right organizations oppose liberal democracy but accept popular sovereignty and the minimal procedural rules of parliamentary democracy. The most important ideology for the extreme right is fascism, a patchwork of ideas that took different forms (Mudde 2000; Costa Pinto and Kallis 2014). Defining fascism across its subsequent historical variations and contextual re-adaptations certainly goes beyond the scope of this volume. For the purposes of this study, instead, we are only interested in pinning down some of the core characteristics of Italian Fascism (which we refer to as historical Fascism or Fascism with a capital ‘F’) that we deem important to understand contemporary CPI’s politics.

In the vast literature dealing with this subject, classic Italian Fascism is addressed as a nationalist ideology rooted on the glorification of the figure of the leader as the embodiment of the nation and of the state (see Payne 1996; Griffin and Feldman 2004). In historical Fascism, the state was not just a formal legal institution, but an ethical and mystic entity that requires devotion and full submission (see Gentile 2008). Accordingly, historical Fascism rejected democracy and party politics and it aimed at creating a new man who would be free from class struggle (Paxton 2004; Mudde 2019). Fascism calls for a ‘third way’ beyond socialism and liberalism and it believes in violence as a regenerating force for the nation and the state, and on the prominence of actions over words (Eatwell 2011).

Another important variant of fascism is German fascism that is better known as Nazism or National Socialism. It shares some characteristics with Italian Fascism but also crucial differences (see for an overview Kallis 2000). If Fascism is characterized by vitalism, Nazism is driven by Nihilism. Furthermore, if Fascists believe that the state is the main entity, Nazis believe that it is race. Nazis believe that there are different races and that the Aryan race is superior. As such, they consider that the superior race (Ubermenschen, superhumans) has the right to dominate and exterminate the inferior one {Untennenschen, subhumans). Nazism sees Jews as physically and morally inferior but economically powerful and politically influent and it claims that Jews infect the Aryan race. While Fascism does not give to race the same relevance as Nazism does, in 1938 Mussolini openly supported racism by endorsing the ‘Manifesto of Race’ and passing the ‘racial laws’. (Neo-)fascist, (neo-)Nazi, fundamentalist, or supremacist extreme-right groups thus openly refer to these variants of fascism and they advocate for the instauration of non-democratic regimes. They believe in a system ruled by individuals who possess special leadership characteristics and are thus naturally different from the rest of the ‘people’. In this sense, the Duce and the Ftihrer are a direct embodiment, rather than the representatives, of the will of the people (Eatwell 2002, 2018).

Radical right groups, instead, seek to obtain the support of (a majority of) the people by criticizing crucial aspects of liberal democracy. Notably, they target pluralism and minority rights and defend a ‘monist’ vision of society (Rydgren 2007: 243). In this respect, as we shall see, CPI’s ideology cannot be located completely outside the legal boundary of democratic electoral competition in Italy, despite being strongly indebted to the ideas of historical Fascism.

The second core ideological feature of the far right is nativism. Just like democratic values, nativism too can be articulated in multiple ways (Bar-On 2018; Brubaker 2017). Some organizations privilege biological interpretations positing that specific ethnic groups are genetically superior to others (e.g. white suprenracism or racial nationalism). Most radical right parties, instead, reject racial hierarchies, but posit that the mixing of ethnic groups creates insurmountable cultural problems. These positions, often referred to as ‘ethnocentric nationalism’ (Rydgren 2008; Taguieff 1985), draw on cultural racism and on distortions of dominant conceptions of citizenship and liberal values (Froio 2018; Halikiopoulou et al. 2013). With respect to nativism, as we shall see, CPI takes inspiration from both strands, advocating a predominantly cultural interpretation of the native people that is not immune to biological understandings of race.

The third feature of far-right ideology is authoritarianism. Some organizations believe that a strictly ordered society can be achieved only within a non- democratic regime, either authoritarian or totalitarian (see Linz 1985). Others simply display authoritarian attitudes: this includes the uncritical glorification of authority figures of the in-group, and the predisposition towards punishing any behaviour considered ‘deviant’ from the far right’s moral standards (Adorno et al. 1969: 228; Ignazi 1992). Both interpretations however see order and punishment as the crucial conditions to keep society together. As we shall discuss, CPI’s authoritarianism combines both elements. On the one hand, the group is openly nostalgic for the Italian fascist regime. On the other, it advocates ‘law and order’ measures punishing deviant behaviour within the democratic constitutional and legal system.

Overall, we contend that CPI ought to be considered as an ideologically ‘extreme’-right group (Cantmelli 2017; Koch, 2013). In fact, its political campaigns focus on specific features of liberal democracy such as pluralism and the protection of minorities, and thus articulate authoritarian and nativist values within the legal boundaries of the Italian constitution. At the same time, however, the importance of Mussolini’s Fascism for the group’s ideology makes it barely compatible at all with liberal democratic principles in general.

 
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