The Italian political elections of March 2018 seem to have marked a profound discontinuity in the country’s political history. The clear winners—namely the Five Stars Movement and the League—were two (relatively) new political forces which had very little in common with each other, except their outspoken intention to steer the path of Italian politics in a new, and for many analysts, unpredictable direction. Nor was it particularly clear whether they be actually able to mend the significant differences in their political platforms and form a parliamentary coalition to support a joint government—which they eventually did, after a protracted stalemate and endless negotiations that repeatedly seemed on the verge of failure. Defining their identity and their political goals remains, to this day, a rather elusive goal. Both parties pride themselves in their having escaped traditional politics and in their capacity to respond directly to their electorate outside of more conventional political channels. The Five Star Movement identifies their electorate in “the people of the web” and make ample use of internet to align to any swings in its mood, while the League, which in its previous incarnation openly advocated the secession of the Northern part of the country, has now morphed into a somewhat rightwing/nationalist force under the shrewd leadership of Matteo Salvini. Both parties are usually referred to as “populist,” and analysts group them together with the analogous political parties which are spreading across most of the Western world. But is this analysis correct? Are these forces just the Italian version of a broader worldwide trend, or are they uniquely Italian? And how new are the ideas they represent in the history of Italian politics? What does their emergence tell us about the peculiarity (or lack thereof) of Italy as a Western democracy?

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