The two “winners” of the election, if that’s the right word, are Grillo and Berlusconi. Berlusconi showed skeptics that he remains a viable political force while Grillo built a political party out of nothing. Both men pushed hard against Monti and his austerity but neither offered a realistic program to replace it.
The European project is good, humane, rational, and deeply difficult to sell to democratic electorates. Only a great leader could have persuaded the Italians to continue on the harsh path of austerity. That is, assuming that anyone could do it.
With the possible exception of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, great leaders are nowhere to be found on the European stage today. Perhaps the anti-heroic culture of the continent works against greatness. Perhaps it’s just bad luck that there is no Churchill, DeGaulle, or Adenauer on the contemporary European scene. Surely the historical experience of fascism makes many nervous about leadership. Then there is Berlusconi, a great communicator who promised much but delivered little in his years in office.
Oh, for an Alcide DeGasperi, the anti-Fascist who was one of the founders of Italy’s postwar prosperity and of the European Union!
Grillo means “cricket” in Italian. As a symbol of the fallen state of leadership, the chirp is all too apt. Italy, Europe, and the world deserve better. If Italy has a great leader waiting in the wings, we can only hope for a rapid emergence on center stage.
Barry Strauss is professor of history and classics at Cornell University.