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PART 1Clarifying question:▪ What in the readings could someone in class find confusing? Was the author unclear about something, use an unfamiliar term, or use a familiar term differently.EXAMPLE:What does ______ mean in context?PART 2THE ANSWER SHOULD BE FROM THE READING I WILL PROVIDE AND THE ANSWER SHOULD IN EITHER WAY FROM THE FORMS BELOW ▪ Open-ended (not yes/no); Usually 3-4 sentences: set up, your point, question▪ A) Can cite particular passages and ask people to look at them closely and drawconnections between these passages and the rest of the work▪ B) Can make and challenge connections between the text at issue and other works, andthe themes and issues of the course▪ C) Can be a controversial questioning of the author, intent, audience, idea, or topic▪ D) Offer some judgement or critique of the work on concepts discussed thereiTHE QUESTION SHOULD BE FROM EITHER ONE FROM THESE READING Gianfranco Pasquino (2016) Renzi: the government, the party, the future of Italian politics, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 21:3, 389-398Fabio Bordignon (2014) Matteo Renzi: A ‘Leftist Berlusconi’ for the Italian Democratic Party?,South European Society and Politics, 19:1, 1-23


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South European Society and Politics
ISSN: 1360-8746 (Print) 1743-9612 (Online) Journal homepage:
Matteo Renzi: A ‘Leftist Berlusconi’ for the Italian
Democratic Party?
Fabio Bordignon
To cite this article: Fabio Bordignon (2014) Matteo Renzi: A ‘Leftist Berlusconi’ for
the Italian Democratic Party?, South European Society and Politics, 19:1, 1-23, DOI:
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Published online: 18 Feb 2014.
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Date: 20 July 2016, At: 15:02
South European Society and Politics, 2014
Vol. 19, No. 1, 1–23,
Matteo Renzi: A ‘Leftist Berlusconi’ for
the Italian Democratic Party?
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Fabio Bordignon
Matteo Renzi’s rise to the leadership of the Democratic Party brings to the heart of the
centre-left the leadership model imposed upon the Italian scene by Berlusconi in the early
1990s. A post-ideological, anti-political and innovative type of leadership, which has
proved to be highly effective in attracting electoral support and media attention. Yet a type
of leadership that clashes with the cultural and organisational roots of the centre-left. The
article frames the experience of the new party Secretary, focusing on his political history,
public narrative and style of communication.
Keywords: Matteo Renzi; Democratic Party; Berlusconi; Populism; Italian Politics
Since 8 December 2013, the Italian Democratic Party (Partito democratico, PD) has
had a new leader – the fifth in just six years. He is Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old
Mayor of Florence (born January 1975) who, in 2010, launched a radical challenge to
his own party’s establishment, proposing the setting aside of the old ruling class. Renzi
finally decided to ‘take’ the party, winning the office of party Secretary General
in December 2013 before aiming at his real objective: the leadership of the entire
centre-left in the next general election.
The rapid rise of the Florentine leader implies that the Italian centre-left is facing an
issue that has remained unresolved since the early 1990s: the tension between leader
and party. In 1994, Berlusconi’s entrance onto the political scene accelerated the
process of personalisation of the Italian political system, favouring the establishment
of a new model of leadership: a postmodern leadership founded on the personal
qualities of the leader, and thereby questioning the centrality of parties at the heart of
representative democracy. It is a model that Renzi seems, today, to be relaunching in
many of its aspects, often leading to his being accused (by his own party) of expressing
a left-wing ‘Berlusconism’.
This article proposes to set out, sine ira et studio, Renzi’s political experience,
beginning with an analysis of his personal history, his public narrative and his style of
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F. Bordignon
communication. In addition to illustrating ‘who Matteo Renzi is’, and identifying the
salient aspects of his political project, the article attempts to shed light upon (a) the
scope of the challenge posed by the new Secretary, both to the PD and to the Italian
centre-left; and (b) the potential difficulties that the leader will face during the course
of his mandate.
The discussion is divided into six sections. The first section provides the essential
characteristics of the leadership model ‘imposed’ on the Italian scene by Berlusconi,
and explains why it has generated difficulties for the major forces of the centre-left
(Calise 2013). In the next two sections, Renzi’s political history is traced from his
beginning at a local level to his national success, his race for the primaries and finally
his winning of the office of PD Secretary. The two subsequent sections concentrate on
specific aspects: the characteristics of Renzi’s political communication, and the way in
which his message fits into the anti-political discourse that has characterised Italy for
over twenty years. Finally, the concluding section analyses how and to what extent
Renzi’s leadership can be likened to the Berlusconian model, and how it may be set
within the highly effervescent context of Italian politics today.
The Italian Centre-Left and the Postmodern Leader
In 2007, the birth of the PD ended a period of convergence, lasting over ten years,
between the two principal political forces of the First Republic: the Italian Communist
Party (PCI), which had become, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the
Democratic Party of the Left (PDS, 1991) and subsequently Democrats of the Left (DS,
1998); and Christian Democracy (DC), later renamed the Italian People’s Party (PPI,
1994) before merging into the new project of La Margherita (Democracy is Freedom –
The Daisy, 2001).
The PD possesses, therefore, in its genetic patrimony, the colours and the body of the
great parties of the twentieth century. The colours are white and red, which symbolise
the two great ‘ideologies’ of Italian politics during the last century: Communism and
Catholicism. The body is the bureaucratic mass party: a heavy body, endowed with a
strong organisation and a ramified presence in society. This party model was designed
to represent a society rigidly divided into classes, in which the individual dimension
was always subordinated to the collective one. The leadership in the mass party is a
collective leadership – a function of the organisational pyramid of the party – while
personal, charismatic and plebiscitary phenomena are viewed with suspicion.
Berlusconi’s entry into politics in the early 1990s overturned this model in many
respects. The leader of the new centre-right replaced the white and red with a new
colour: sky blue (Diamanti 2009) – a colour that represents Italy as a whole (it’s the
colour of the national football team, the azzurri), thus highlighting an explicit route
towards a catch-all perspective. The new body was that of the leader. Forza Italia,
Berlusconi’s personal party (Calise 2010), was a light, post-ideological organisation
based on the leader’s appeal, and also on his companies (he was, and still is, the owner
of a veritable media and publishing empire). At the moment of its foundation in
South European Society and Politics
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1994, Forza Italia was an electoral committee, which preferred the label of
‘movement’ to that of ‘party’ (Poli 2001). Berlusconi entered the field with his wealth,
but also with his history and individual attributes. In Forza Italia, the leader came
before the party.
With Berlusconi, therefore, a new type of party leadership appeared in Italy – a
leadership that immediately enjoyed success because of the transformations
undergone by society in the preceding decades – a postmodern leadership whose
‘ideal’ profile may be traced through six essential points (Bordignon 2013).
(1) A post-ideological leadership. The leader declares himself ‘beyond’ ideologies and
‘above’ traditional political categories (including those of right and left). His
programmatic proposal is aimed at the electorate as a whole, according to a catchall logic.
(2) An anti-political leadership. The leader adopts a populist style and rhetoric (Meny
& Surel 2002), proposing his movement, and indeed himself, as the authentic
interpreter of the will of the people, in opposition to the political establishment.
The direct relationship between the leader and the citizens is therefore offered as
an alternative to the traditional forms of political intermediation. The parties and
the professional politicians are identified as the principal ‘enemies’ of the people: a
self-referential caste, entrenched in defence of its own privileges.
(3) A personal leadership. The leadership is personal for two different reasons: (a)
because it works upon the monocratic principle, with regard to government
workings and party leadership; and (b) because the leader takes the role of
political representative above all as a person (who addresses himself to other
persons), rather than as an expression of some collective entity. The personal
characteristics of the leader become a central part of the party’s message and
political proposal.
(4) A leadership from outside. The leader presents himself as an outsider, who made his
way outside the ordinary recruitment circles of the elite, in opposition to the
oligarchies and the traditional political apparatus. Even when he reaches positions
of political responsibility, he continues to assume a function of ‘internal
opposition’ to the system.
(5) An inspirational leadership. The appeal of the leader is based on the main abilities
associated with soft power – a type of power that blends charisma (‘the emotional
or magnetic quality of inherent attraction’) with an ability to communicate
effectively. It is a type of leadership that can be ‘symbolic (leadership by example)’,
or persuasive, when it puts forward ‘arguments and visions that cause others to
believe, respect, trust, and follow’ (Nye 2008, p. 39).
(6) An innovative leadership. Thanks to his or her transformational gifts (Burns 1978)
and political foresight, the leader becomes the potential reformer (or refounder)
of the political system so as to give voice to the people, indicating new procedures
and new infrastructures to foster the popular will.
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F. Bordignon
This leadership model, in the twenty years since Berlusconi’s appearance on the
political scene, has been followed in part by other leaders and by other parties,
including some of those of the centre-left. Nevertheless, the major forces of this area –
successors of the large parties of the First Republic – have resisted the paradigm of the
personalised leader, which has been in constant tension with their cultural and
organisational roots.
The birth of the PD at the end of 2007, however, marked a turning point (Pasquino
2009). The new party responded, in fact, to the need to consolidate a fragmented and
internally quarrelsome political centre-left, providing it with a strong leadership.
Already in the choice of its name, the PD positioned itself as an ‘American’ party: a
party of voters (and no longer of enlisted members), orientated towards the election
campaign within the context of an adversarial, two-party presidential race. For this
reason, the choice of the leader was placed directly in the hands of the voters, through
the method of primaries. The use of the term was, in reality, improper, since the vote
was intended to elect the Secretary of the party, and not to select a candidate for a
monocratic position (Valbruzzi 2009). But even before the birth of the PD the term
‘primaries’ had been part of the vocabulary of the centre-left, having been used to
choose the coaltion’s prime-ministerial candidate in the 2006 General Election.1 The
winner of that first primary election was Romano Prodi.2 The choice of the method
responded, in this phase, to a double necessity: to renew the link between the ruling
establishment and centre-left voters; and to guarantee, to the political forces of this
area, a respected leader, legitimised by popular vote.
The first Secretary of the PD, Walter Veltroni (born July 1955), seemed to bring the
leadership of the centre-left closer to the new model that had emerged with Berlusconi
in 1994. A former Mayor of Rome, Veltroni was, in fact, relatively young. He enjoyed
widespread public appreciation, and was able to put his own personality into play, so
as to connect with his electorate. He conceived a ‘light’ party, centred on its leader, and
directed towards a bipartisan type of competition, through its majoritarian
philosophy: the idea of running alone, without allies, against the centre-right
adversaries, ‘absorbing’ the whole electorate of the centre-left (Veltroni 2007).
This was, however, an experience that was soon set aside, along with its
undergirding model. Veltroni resigned less than a year after the 2008 general election,
which had marked the return to government of Berlusconi and his centre-right
coalition. Thus for the PD began a phase in which the party – its organisation and
bureaucratic apparatus – took the upper hand with respect to the leader. The new
Secretary General – Pier Luigi Bersani3, an exponent of the old guard of the PCI –
replaced Veltroni’s ‘party of citizen-voters’ with a ‘party of members and voters’, in
which the members (not by chance) explicitly came first (Bersani 2011). In 2009, the
procedure chosen for the choice of the Secretary demonstrated an effort to combine
popular involvement with the PD higher leadership’s prerogatives, grassroots selection
with traditional congressional procedures.4
In Bersani’s PD, the idea of balancing the demands of an ‘open party’ with the
features of the organised party was explicitly stated. In terms of competitive strategy,
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South European Society and Politics
Bersani returned to the perspective of a wide-reaching coalition: extended to the
radical left, yet open to a pact with the centre. This meant, implicitly, the possibility of
abandoning the majoritarian principle on which the Second Republic (but also the PD
itself) had been founded. The possible allies from the centre – particularly the Union
of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC), led by Pier Ferdinando Casini – were, in
fact, favourable to a consensus democracy, in which alliances are formed in Parliament
after the elections. Such a model renders recourse to primaries useless – indeed,
counterproductive – because the choice of the prime minister is a result of (postelectoral) agreements among the parties of the coalition. True to this line of thought,
Bersani was wholly against any possibility of ‘presidential’ reform, and repeatedly
declared he did not believe in the ‘one-man party’. In this phase, the party’s orientation
towards both the media and the spectacular elements of politics were considerably
downsized. On a more general level, the PD seemed to give out ambivalent signals
regarding the proposed model of party (and of democracy) (Pasquino & Valbruzzi
2010). Such uncertainties were reflected in the 2013 electoral campaign, in which the
centre-left and the PD began as clear favourites. But the style of Bersani’s leadership
revealed itself unable to benefit from the political climate.
The combination of several factors contributed to the growth of an anti-political
wave that brought Italy back to the ferment of the 1990s, foreshadowing a new crisis of
the political system. Chief among these were: (1) the deepening of the economic crisis;
(2) the fall of Berlusconi’s government, and its replacement by Mario Monti’s
technocratic government, supported by a large parliamentary coalition (2011); and (3)
the scandals that struck parties across the entire political spectrum (Bosco &
McDonnell 2012; Ceccarini, Diamanti & Lazar 2012). In an increasingly anti-party
climate, the candidate-premier of the centre-left projected the image of a party
bureaucrat. Bersani’s understated style, as he was busy ‘rationally’ presenting the
points of the programme, contrasted with the aggressiveness and attention-seeking
behaviour of his competitors, who tried to ride the emotional wave passing through
Italy. His political message focused clearly and with conviction on the ‘principle of
reality’ – the description, beyond every (media-fuelled) pretence, of Italy’s difficult
economic conditions. He did not succeed in offering a vision – an idea of change – to
a nation eager to see a chink of light beyond the crisis.
As a consequence, twenty years after Berlusconi’s entry into politics, the centre-left’s
chance to win a majority in Parliament was once again foiled by the rise of a new party
and a new man. The former comedian Beppe Grillo, leading ‘his’ internet-based 5 Star
Movement (M5S), was able to translate the resentment towards the parties into votes
(Bordignon & Ceccarini 2013; 2014; Corbetta & Gualmini 2013; Biorcio & Natale
2013; Diamanti 2014). The M5S established itself as a political force of national
stature, obtaining the largest share of the vote in the 2013 General Election,5 and above
all ‘stealing’ 19 per cent of the PD’s 2008 votes (Diamanti, Bordignon & Ceccarini
2013, p. 214).
Renzi’s race for the centre-left leadership took place during this delicate phase, in
which adaptation to the paradigm of postmodern leadership seemed hampered, once
F. Bordignon
again, by the inertia of the past and the resistance of the old post-Communist and
post-Christian-Democrat ruling elite.
Renzi’s rise began in provinces and towns: two institutional contexts that had
represented the most advanced testing ground for Italian-style ‘presidentialisation’
(Calise 2005). Beginning in the early 1990s, in fact, the direct election of mayors and,
subsequently, of presidents of provinces and regions has assigned to these figures
unprecedented levels of power, autonomy and visibility.
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Renzi’s ‘Third Way’
Renzi, who was Bersani’s main challenger, was also the creator of the most radical
attempt at break-up and renewal carried out inside the PD. Renzi’s political project is
tightly connected to the concept of scrapping (rottamazione): in the jargon of the
automobile industry, the discarding and dismantling of worn-out or damaged vehicles
(often favoured by subsidies from the State); in the lexicon of the would-be leader, the
reset of the party’s entire ruling establishment. He presents himself as an outsider: a
leader who does not respect the hierarchies and the cursus honorum inside the PD, and
who openly challenges its ruling elite.
In reality, Renzi’s path, at least in the initial phase, followed rather traditional
channels (Allegranti 2011; Poli & Vanni 2013). Having been a student of law at the
University of Florence, he entered politics as a member of the PPI and of the
committees that supported Prodi as the centre-left candidate for prime minister in
1996. Renzi’s profile corresponds to that of a young Catholic activist: he has occupied
positions of responsibility in the Association of Catholic Guides and Scouts. In 1999,
he was elected Secretary of the post-DC PPI for the province of Florence and in 2001
he became Secretary of La Margherita.
In 2004, Renzi was elected president of the province of Florence for the centre-left.
Already, by that time, he was noted for his direct, non-conformist decision-making
style and for his explicit recourse to the ‘generational’ factor as a political argument,
used both against the adversaries of the centre-right and against his party colleagues.
‘When I turned 18,’ he declared during the 2004 electoral campaign, ‘neither the DC
nor the PCI existed any more. I belong to another geological age’ (Renzi 2004).
Already in the first year of his mandate the word ‘scrapping’ entered the young
President’s vocabulary as he began to reorganise the province’s administrative machine
by eliminating a significant number of executive posts (Vanni 2004).
The myth of …
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