Berlusconism (Italian: berlusconismo) is a term used in the Western media and by some Italian analysts to describe the political positions of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. In general, Berlusconism could be reassumed as a mix of conservatism,[1] populism,[2] liberism,[3] anti-communism[4] and atlanticism.[5]

Other observers describe it as more of a personality-driven populist movement, where "a billionaire businessman and television personality" pledges to use his unique skills to "represent the interests of ordinary people" against the political establishment; and where the "scandals, investigations, and trials" that follow him are dismissed by his passionately loyal base of supporters as evidence that he is “the most persecuted” person in history.[6]

Origins and features

Berlusconi during a Forza Italia rally
Berlusconi during a Forza Italia rally

The term "Berlusconism" emerged in the 1980s, characterised by a strongly positive connotation as synonym of the "entrepreneurial optimism" of the time, defined as an entrepreneurial spirit which is not discouraged by difficulties, with a confidence in being able to solve problems.[7] However, starting in the 21st century and in consequence of the increasing identification of Berlusconi as a primarily political figure, the attributed meaning changed in the context of journalistic and political language.

According to the Italian definition given by the online vocabulary of the Encyclopedia Institute, Berlusconism has a wide range of meanings, all having their origins in the figure of Berlusconi and the political movement inspired by him: the substantive refers not only to the "thought movement",[8] but also to the "social phenomenon"[8] and even the phenomenon "of custom"[8] bound to his entrepreneurial and political figure. The term Berlusconism is also used to refer to a certain laissez-faire vision supported by him, not only of the economy and the markets, but also with reference to the same policy.[8]

According to his political opponents and business rivals, Berlusconism is only a form of demagogic populism, comparable to fascism, stressing the fact that Berlusconi has declared his admiration for Benito Mussolini,[9] even though he has criticised the racial Fascist laws and the alliance with Nazi Germany, referring to himself as pro-Israel.[10][11] In 2013, he returned to calling Mussolini a good leader whose biggest mistake was signing up to exterminate the Jews.[12] His supporters instead compare Berlusconism to the French Gaullism and the Argentine Peronism.[13]

Political positions

Berlusconi defines himself and by extension Berlusconism as moderate,[14] liberal and pro-free trade (liberismo),[15] but he is often also described as a populist or a conservative leader.[16][17] Berlusconism is also described as liberal-conservative,[18] or conservative-liberal,[19] but it is sometimes associated with right-wing populism.[20][21][16] After his resignation in 2011, Berlusconi has become increasingly Eurosceptical[22] and he is often critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.[23][24] However, there is also an opinion that Berlusconi is a pro-European.[19][25]

Berlusconi smiles with President George W. Bush
Berlusconi smiles with President George W. Bush

A feature of Berlusconi's leadership tactics is to use the party as a mean to gain power (with the party described as a "light party" because of its lack of a complex internal structure).[15] This is decidedly comparable to the political tactics used by Charles De Gaulle in France. Another feature of great importance is the emphasis on a "liberal revolution", publicised and summarised by the "Contract with the Italians" of 2001.[15] A strong reformism is added to these pillars, principally of the form of the Italian state and the constitution"[15] in favour of moving from a parliamentary system to a semi-presidential system,[26] a higher election threshold, the abolition of the Senate, the halving in size of the Chamber of Deputies, the abolition of the provinces and the reform of the judiciary, with separation of the careers between magistrates and magistrates's civil responsibility, from Berlusconi considered impartial.[26] Berlusconi has declared himself to be persecuted by the judiciary, having undergone 34 processes,[27] accusing them of being manipulated by the political left and comparing himself to Enzo Tortora as a victim of a miscarriage of justice. More recently, Berlusconi has declared himself in favour of civil unions.[28][29][30]

Comparisons to other leaders

A number of writers and political commentators consider Berlusconi's political success a precedent for the 2016 election of real estate tycoon Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States,[31][32][33] with most noting Berlusconi's panned Prime Minister tenure and therefore making the comparison in dismay. Roger Cohen of The New York Times argued: "Widely ridiculed, endlessly written about, long unscathed by his evident misogyny and diverse legal travails, Berlusconi proved a Teflon politician. [...] Nobody who knows Berlusconi and has watched the rise and rise of Donald Trump can fail to be struck by the parallels".[34]

In The Daily Beast, Barbie Latza Nadeau wrote: "If Americans are wondering just what a Trump presidency would look like, they only need to look at the traumatized remains of Italy after Berlusconi had his way".[35]


  1. ^ Berlusconi: «voglio fare la rivoluzione liberale», e noi ancora ci crediamo...
  2. ^ Berlusconi, Italy's original populist, fades from popularity
  3. ^ [L'Italia di Berlusconi, Indro Montanelli, page 40, 41]
  4. ^ Berlusconi vuole fermare i comunisti: 'I miei, i governi migliori della storia'
  5. ^ Clinton: "Berlusconi, il miglior amico"
  6. ^ SERHAN, YASMEEN (March 2021). "What History Tells Us Will Happen to Trumpism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  7. ^ Floriano De Angeli, "L'Europeo", n. 49, 1993
  8. ^ a b c d «berlusconismo» s. m., lemma del Vocabolario Treccani online, dal sito dell'Istituto dell'Enciclopedia italiana Treccani
  9. ^ Owen, Richard (14 April 2008). "Profile: the irrepressible Silvio Berlusconi". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 20 September 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  10. ^ "The strange relationship between Silvio Berlusconi and Italian Jews | +972 Magazine". 6 February 2013. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  11. ^ "Pro-Israel Berlusconi loses in Italy | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". 17 April 2006. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Berlusconi defends 'good' Mussolini". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  13. ^ "Il Berlusconismo è come Gollismo: durerà a lungo, non è passeggero". 2007-01-25. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  14. ^ Berlusconi: "Dialogo? Io sono il più moderato di tutti!", Affaritaliani, 11 febbraio 2009
  15. ^ a b c d Van Herpen, M. (2013). Putinism: The Slow Rise of a Radical Right Regime in Russia. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 204. ISBN 9781137282804. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  16. ^ a b De Mita:"Berlusconi populista e antieuropeista come Grillo" » IRPINIANEWS.IT Archived 28 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ " - This domain was registered with". Archived from the original on 25 February 2014.
  18. ^ G. Orsina, ed. (2014). Berlusconism and Italy: A Historical Interpretation. Springer.
  19. ^ a b Emidio Diodato, Federico Niglia, ed. (2018). Berlusconi 'The Diplomat': Populism and Foreign Policy in Italy. Springer. p. 162. ISBN 9783319972626. Berlusconi's vision retained a pro-European conservative-liberal matrix.
  20. ^ Liang, Christina (2016), Europe for the Europeans: The Foreign and Security Policy of the Populist Radical Right, Routledge, p. 187
  21. ^ Feffer, John (23 November 2016). "What Europe Can Teach Us about Trump". Foreign Policy in Focus.
  22. ^ "Quegli economisti euroscettici (proprio come Berlusconi)" (in Italian). Il Foglio. 31 October 2011. Archived from the original on 14 May 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  23. ^ "Can Berlusconi make a eurosceptic comeback?". la Repubblica/The Guardian. Presseurop. 26 June 2012. Archived from the original on 4 February 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  24. ^ "Berlusconi turns Eurosceptic in bid to return to power". City A.M. 18 July 2012. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  25. ^ Paolo Graziano, ed. (2011). The EU and the Domestic Politics of Welfare State Reforms: Europa, Europae. Springer. p. 167. ISBN 9780230307629. ... it was extremely difficult for the all but pro-European Berlusconi cabinet to convince the increasingly Euro-sceptical Italians to accept further losses 'in the name of Europe'. The Euro 'grip' was thus too weak, the message did not ...
  26. ^ a b "Internazionale » Riforme » Berlusconi: nuova Costituzione, riforma Giustizia e Colle eletto". Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  27. ^ "Tutti i processi a carico di Silvio Berlusconi - LISTA | Panorama". Archived from the original on 8 May 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  28. ^ "Idem: "Presto ddl sui matrimoni gay, anche Berlusconi è favorevole"". Il Messaggero. 10 May 2013. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  29. ^ "Berlusconi apre alle unioni gay (perché Monti tace). Pdl: "Coerente"". il Fatto Quotidiano. 7 January 2013. Archived from the original on 24 March 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  30. ^ Sergio Rame (8 January 2013). "Il Cav apre ai matrimoni gay e fa scoppiare un acceso dibattito". il Giornale. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  31. ^ Jebreal, Rula (September 21, 2015). "Donald Trump is America's Silvio Berlusconi". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  32. ^ Berlusconi, David (November 10, 2016). "What Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi have in common". Economist. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  33. ^ Foot, John (October 20, 2016). "We've seen Donald Trump before – his name was Silvio Berlusconi". The Guardian. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  34. ^ Cohen, Roger (March 14, 2016). "The Trump-Berlusconi Syndrome". The New York Times. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  35. ^ Nadeau, Barbie Latza (February 28, 2016). "Italy Elected Its Trump—and It Was a Fiasco". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 11, 2016.

Further reading