October began with conservative thinkers and political veterans from across the Western world joining together in the eternal city for the conference, Italian Conservatism: Europe, Identity, Freedom, sponsored and hosted by The European Conservative, the Fondazione Tatarella cultural institution, and the Nazione Futura research centre and publisher.
The tone was an optimistic one, basking in the afterglow of the Right’s electoral victory and Giorgia Meloni’s likely, looming, prime-ministership.
Organisers of the Roman gathering, however, did not know it would be so. Not for a fact. The election, after all, might have gone differently. But whether to celebrate a victory, or assess a defeat, the meeting would be valuable in charting a path forward, as Ellen Fantini of The European Conservative observed.
As it happened, it was not only Italy that contributed to the optimistic mood, for this election came on the heels of another victory by the Sweden Democrats. From Europe’s north to her south, then, it is difficult to avoid the sense that the prevailing order is coming apart, that the cultural revolution to which her people have been subjected is being met with some real resistance.
Several speakers adopted this European perspective, expressing what is now the dominant opinion among what the mainstream media terms ‘populist Right’ parties: namely, that euroscepticism, or rather, scepticism towards the EU—or towards the EU’s current political class—does not entail a denial of European unity.
As David Engels of the Instytut Zachodni (Institute for Western Affairs) in Poznań put it during a speech that, out of sheer enthusiasm for Fratelli’s victory, he delivered entirely in Italian: Europe will be united and conservative, or she will not be at all—solo insieme can her people solve the problems that assail them.
Of course, the nations that constitute the irreducible constituents of this continent have their own interests, and these must be honoured as well as harmonised. Honoured in their particularity, harmonised collectively. It was fitting, therefore, that the conference featured a panel entirely devoted to the question of the nation-state.
The Herzl Institute’s Ofir Haivry, reminded us that a nation is not a collection of individuals, it is a community; the Italians, for example, knew they were Italian before 1859. Indeed, if we submit to a starkly liberal social contract theory of association, we will lose the sense of organic, historical identity.
A similar opposition presents itself in the realm of economics: the Right has long focused on the market as a mechanism for delivering positive social outcomes, rather than thinking about the kind of economic actors and entities that best serve to cultivate virtue, to serve the community, and the ends of human flourishing. In the words of Jorge Buxadé of Spain’s VOX party, whose speech was met with general acclaim, “a nation is not a company.”
In this regard, we may consider Meloni’s fondness for G.K. Chesterton, whose economic thought, promoting widespread family and community ownership over productive resources, is very much relevant to the present moment, and can contribute to an alternative paradigm.
Indeed, concerning economic policy and social justice, as well as that ever-pressing issue of mass migration, Meloni has spoken of the need to help would-be migrants in their country of origin, and to fight the scourge of poverty. In a similar vein, Buxadé referred to a universal right to an identity, to a home, and, therefore, the right not to have to immigrate on account of economic deprivation.
Hardly the sort of ‘hateful’ discourse their opponents might want to hear (as Francesco Giubilei of Nazione Futura commented: the conference’s participants were not the raving madmen much of the media would have preferred to confront).
For his part, Mattias Karlsson of the Sweden Democrats, one of the conference’s keynote speakers, described his motivation for entering the fraught fray of politics as love—love for place, love for people.
Karlsson quoted Tolkien (another of Meloni’s favourites) to the effect that it is not principally the exercise of power, but “small acts of kindness and love,” that keep the darkness at bay. In terms of a community and the preservation of its institutions, these small acts of kindness take the form of everyday civic engagement.
The state and top-down policy must be complemented by real social regeneration. To this end, Karlsson’s think-tank, Oikos, works to empower non-state actors and initiatives.
The other keynote speaker, André Ventura of Portugal’s Chega party, made the important point that the dominance of today’s deconstructionist, postmodern Left is our fault. Those who should have promoted solid, traditional values in the public sphere abdicated the fight, forfeited the cultural battle. This needs to change.
These, then—politics and culture, state and society—are the twin pillars of conservatism Elio Gallego, director of CEFAS—Centro de Estudios, Formación y Análisis Social (Centre for Studies, Training, and Social Analysis), a Madrid-based think-tank—referred to during one of the conference’s most penetrating speeches: patria and popolo. The homeland and ‘the people.’
When ‘the people’ remember what past generations have secured, a nation’s identity becomes like a treasure they may guard, even as they offer it to the world, to paraphrase Buxadé.
Through the particular, we discover the universal. (Again, not the kind of discourse the conference’s opponents would associate with their ‘extremist’ enemies.)
This is ultimately what united conference attendees, speakers, and audiences alike: The idea that the universal desire for compassionate, ordered communities should manifest in a myriad of nations; that the ideal of justice should inspire a multitude of constitutions adapted to local conditions.
The standardised, homogenised, deodorised world the globalists seek is a pale parody of genuine universality.
The true universal does not manifest as a grey uniformity, but as a vivid harmony between different nations, like a flower bed with its many contrasting, complementing petals. It A treasure we may guard, a gift we may offer.
Such was the message of the Italian Conservatism conference; such is the work in whose service we must continue to struggle.