Is politics more like religion than like shopping?

von macchiato

Beppe Severgnini, author of ‘Mamma Mia! Berlusconi’s Italy Explained for Posterity and Friends Abroad’, columnist of the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, a popular blogger ( and formerly a long-standing correspondent of The Economist, has published a comment in the Financial Times of 4th June, with which many inhabitants of the mother- and fatherlands of fascism will, I assume, will agree with, especially where he states: 

Italians “enjoy being dramatically governed”, wrote the American embassy to
the state department in the 1920s. Back then, the showman was a darker, more
dangerous figure: Benito Mussolini. But do we really have a weakness for larger-thanlife bosses?
The answer is yes; and we are not alone. When times are tough, the way forward
painful and traditional parties are offering no hope, democracies are tempted by easy
solutions put forward by histrionic leaders. Obviously, tactics and tools have changed.
In the beginning, it was a soapbox and a pitch in a town square; then radio and films;
then TV; and now it is the internet. We could call it Populism 2.0.

Neo-populists may not have much in common, apart from a swagger, but they are no
longer fringe groups. They feel no responsibility for – and have no commitment to – the
European project. In this climate they pose a real challenge to mainstream politics,
which is proving ineffectual. The stage is empty, waiting for new braggadocio-mongers
to strut their stuff.


But if you read the whole of this article, you might be surprised to see that the first person Beppe is worrying about here is another Beppe: 

Call him a comedian, a clown or a showman but Beppe Grillo is the juiciest piece of

Italian political news for a while

Apart from the comedy web and now political phenomenon Beppe Grillo (, with versions in English and Japanese), to whom opinion polls at this moment of deep disillusionment with all Italian parties are attributing two-digit percentages, Beppe Severgnini also mentions the Greek Alexis Tsipras, leader of the radical left Syriza part, and the new German „Pirates“ movement on the left-of-center side of the political spectrum. On the other side, Severgnini duly registers

that populist movements are also on the rise in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria,
Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Hungary..

But on the whole, from reading Severgnini, one might conclude that at the moment it is mainly the left which is thriving on (euro-)crisis.

I would not be too sure of that, after having read what Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor of the University of Virginia, has written about: „Conservative tastes“ in yesterday’s Guardian’s g2 (p.10/11):

Across the world working-class people vote for the political right, even when it appears to be against their own interests. Why? Because such parties often serve up a broader, more satisfying moral menu than the left.

More satisfying in which sense?

Despite being in the wake of a financial crisis that should have buried the cultural issues and pulled most voters to the left, we are finding in America and many European nations a stronger shift to the right. When people fear the collapse of their society, they want order and national greatness, not a more nurturing government….

in focusing so much on the needy, the left often fails to address…other moral needs, hopes and concerns…When working-class people vote conservative, as most do in the US, they are not voting against their self-interest, they are voting for their moral interest. 

…from the point of view of moral psychology, politics at the national level is more like religion than it is like shopping. It’s more about a moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see this more clearly than the left. 

One might not want to agree on these conclusions by Jonathan Haidt ( but one should not discard them altogether when trying to understand what made (or still makes?) various aspects of fascisms look so hugely attractive to millions of Europeans.