Pedro Molina

Italy’s Last Democratic Despot

Outgoing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s fall from power marks the end of one of Western democracy most controversial recent chapters. But the story of Berlusconi’s rise and fall was written long ago, during the Renaissance, in Niccolò Machiavelli’s classic work The Prince.

ROME – Italy has always had a weakness for authoritarian figures. Emperors, kings, princes, or despots have held power one after another since the time of the Roman Empire. The last dominant personality, Silvio Berlusconi, deserted by his supporters under the pressure of global financial markets, is out as prime minister. Political fragmentation, age constraints, and emotional exhaustion have induced him to promise that he will not seek office again.

Berlusconi’s fall marks the end of one of Western democracy’s most controversial recent chapters. History will judge Berlusconi’s actions, but Italians remain divided. All agree that he was never primus inter pares. To his devotees, he was like an enlightened monarch, a man who gave up his successful private businesses to help Italy rebuild from the ashes of Italy’s post-war party system, which had collapsed in a vast corruption scandal that had left almost no part of government unsullied. To his opponents, Berlusconi was akin to a despot, albeit democratically elected, who abused his office by pursuing his commercial interests and protecting himself from legal sanction.

Whatever one’s view, the story of Berlusconi’s rise and fall was written long ago, during the Renaissance, in Niccolò Machiavelli’s classic work The Prince. Berlusconi carefully followed all of Machiavelli’s teachings on how to obtain and maintain power – all but one, and that lapse sealed his fate.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now