And while Jones is acute at chronicling the rise of Berlusconism, which the author points out is not so much the right-wing radicalization of politics so much as its utter banalization, his dismayed stance doesn’t allow him to acknowledge fully the man’s appeal to his countrymen, and possibly beyond. While it might seem obvious that ownership of Mediaset empire, which controls three of Italy’s seven national channels might give Berlusconi quite an edge over his rivals (particularly when Government control of the three state channels is taken into account), mass brainwashing cannot be the sole reason behind his electoral success. (One hundred percent control of the media outlets was not enough to save either Erich Honecker or, more seriously, Nicolae Ceausescu when they found themselves radically out of step with the public mood.)
Perhaps a clue can be found by tracing the first steps of Berlusconi’s path to Rome to the exposure of Tangentopoli, or ‘Bribesville’: the revelation that the bulk of the Christian Democrats–the exclusive party of government since the Second World War–were on the take. What initially was promised to be a root-and-branch reform of Italian politics–the Mani Pulite or “Clean Hands” movement–quickly gave way to distrust of a legal establishment that appeared to have grown too big for its boots. Brazenly, given his status as the country’s richest man, Berlusconi tapped into this disillusionment with the elites, portraying himself, almost laughably, as the little guy, persecuted by a faceless state apparatus answerable to no one. It seems Berlusconi is popular not despite the accusations of wrong-doing but because of them.
Is it possible Berlusconi’s formula will be repeated across the continent, this show of force by blithely cutting through the Gordian knot of red tape and litigation that seems to keep many Western states in bondage? It’s not difficult to find echoes. In Ireland, for example, the interminable tribunals into political corruption seem only to have confirmed people’s belief that the legal system is ludicrously dysfunctional. It certainly appears not to have dented the popularity of the country’s largest party and the one whose members are most implicated: Fianna Fail–Ireland’s answer to the Christian Democrats.