The recent elevation of Giorgia Meloni as Italy’s Prime Minister has provoked comment on various fronts, not least because she quoted Chesterton in her victory speech.
It was not one of his most familiar comments which might be found in a book of quotations or summoned by a Google search. This suggested that she had actually read Chesterton – and his 1905 book, Heretics, in which the lines were published in the final paragraph.
It was not the first time Meloni had cited Chesterton. In 2019, she finished a speech to the World Congress of Families with the same quotation.
On that occasion, she said – somewhat prophetically, as it turned out:
“Chesterton wrote, more than a century ago, ‘Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.’ That time has arrived. We are ready.”
In the 2019 speech, Meloni attacked the cultural trends that were destroying traditional identities and ordinary loyalties:
“I can’t define myself as Italian, Christian, woman, mother. No. I must be citizen x, gender x, parent 1, parent 2. I must be a number.”
In her 2022 victory speech as leader of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), the pro-family party heading the winning political coalition, Meloni made a similar point – and quoted Chesterton again as part of a rousing declaration of belief:
“We are not code numbers… and we’ll defend our identity. I am Giorgia. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am Italian. I am Christian!”
Such statements were bound to raise the hackles of the dominant political elites in Europe who are devoted to a globalised world of shifting values, and no longer prize the cultural roots and local loyalties that bind most ordinary people together.
“The most dangerous woman in Europe,” warned Germany’s Stern magazine – in a common dismissal of Meloni as a representative of the “far right”.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed concern even prior to the Italian election: “If things go in a difficult direction, I’ve spoken about Hungary and Poland, we have tools.”
As a columnist in the London Telegraph, Allison Pearson, commented:
“They call Giorgia Meloni a fascist, but it’s the impeccably liberal von der Leyen who behaves like one. ‘We have tools.’ Spoken like a true totalitarian.”
Recovery of common sense
If time had allowed in her speeches, Meloni might have read out the final sentences of Heretics. They expanded on Chesterton’s passionate cry for a new intellectual revolution – the recovery of common sense.
In Chesterton’s words, immediately after the statements Meloni cited:
“We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage.
“We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.”