Over the last thirty years, Silvio Berlusconi shaped Italian politics to an unprecedented degree. Several power sources – economics and finance, mass media, government – have been concentrated in his hands, giving rise to a phenomenon without parallel in modern democracies. What conditions made the sudden irruption of the “Cavaliere” possible, and what determined his downfall, well before his death? The author expands on some of his reflections developed in a 2014 book and identifies the features of Italian society that, to a certain degree, struggled to find representation after traditional parties’ collapse in the aftermath of the 1990s’ “Clean Hands” judicial investigations into political corruption. The book provides an overview of the development of Forza Italia, the party Berlusconi founded, by examining its relations with allies and clashes with the opposition, and then describes Berlusconi’s fading appeal in a profoundly changed society, where television no longer plays a key role and new actors have taken up his “anti-politics” legacy.
Piero Ignazi formerly taught Political Science at the University of Bologna and is a chercheur associé at the Centre for Political Research (CEVIPOF) in Paris.