There is little that hasn’t gone wrong for Italy in the last three decades. Economic growth has flatlined, infrastructure has crumbled, and out-of-work youth find their futures stuck on hold. These woes have been reflected in the country’s politics, from Silvio Berlusconi’s scandals to the rise of the far right.
Many commentators blame Italy’s malaise on cultural ills—pointing to the corruption of public life or a supposedly endemic backwardness. In this reading, Italy has failed to converge with the neoliberal reforms mounted by other European countries, leaving it to trail behind the rest of the world.
First They Took Rome offers a different perspective: Italy isn’t failing to keep up with its international peers but farther along the same path of decline they are following. In the 1980s, Italy boasted the West’s strongest Communist Party; today, social solidarity is collapsing, working people feel ever more atomized, and democratic institutions grow increasingly hollow.
Studying the rise of forces like Matteo Salvini’s Lega, this book shows how the populist right drew on a deep well of social despair, ignored by the liberal centre. Italy’s recent history is a warning from the future—the story of a collapse of public life that risks spreading across the West.