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How the Italian Right appropriated a British writer

J.R.R. Tolkien Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=J.R.R.+Tolkien&title=Special:MediaSearch&go=Go&type=image

Staff Writer Danila Patti examines the historic connection between the fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Italian Far Right.

In 1977, a Southern Italian town with barely 12,000 inhabitants and no less than five parishes hosted a festival with live music, free radio and, of course, debates on social and political issues ran by the youth organisation of the Italian Social Movement, ‘Fronte della Gioventù’. Hundreds of young right-wingers slept in tents and weathered the predictable hormonal storm by talking about the condition of women, avant-garde theatre, and listening to bands like the Amici del Vento and the Compagnia dell’Anello. This festival was called ‘Camp Hobbit’, named after the fantastical creatures invented by the English writer J.R.R. Tolkien, the progenitor…but who am I, Italian to the core, to come and teach you your language? Any further presentation is superfluous. The camp of 1977 was followed by several other editions, still considered the most striking example of the Italian extreme right’s fascination with Tolkien.

The passion for Hobbits held by the Italian neo-fascists of the 1970s was one of an extra-parliamentary and marginalised right-wing that fed on esoteric readings and the poetry of Julius Evola, as well as that of vaguely northern European mythology richly adorned with Celtic crosses which had been held so dear to the Third Reich.  Among the tents of a small village in Campania, one could see in Tolkien’s work a sort of toy-land of para-fascist symbols, or in any case of those topics that the Hard-Right typically adores: stories of a war and heroes, a society organized by castes, an eternally threatened homeland, militarist values, the spirit of sacrifice, a sense of duty and, unfailingly, respect for one’s own lineage.

Hobbit camps continued to be organised, more or less, until the 1990s, then it is unclear what happened: was it the Department of Decorum or the Decency Police that banned them? Nevertheless, some traces of this attempt to appropriate fantasy imagery have endured over time: Fratelli d’Italia’s biggest youth event is still called Atreju, named after the protagonist of Michael Ende’s ‘The Never-ending Story’. In 2015 it was Ms. Meloni herself, in a social post, who invited her followers to fight that “cunning enemy that Tolkien would call the rings of power”, referring, ça va sans dire, to the global financial elite. And today, finally in power and with an ally in the form of a Culture Minister determined to replace the cultural hegemony of the left, an exhibition is even dedicated to Tolkien. The event was organised at the National Gallery in Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his death and the first Italian translation of ‘The Hobbit’. Half the government, including Ms. Meloni, and even the President of the Senate Ignazio La Russa marched in the days of the opening.

“Tolkien, Man, Professor, Author” is the title of the exhibition: malicious tongues claim that, once the tour through the rooms is over, one does not gain much more knowledge about either: Tolkien the man or the professor, and even less about the author or his art. However, while avoiding making harsh judgements on what one has not even bothered to visit, the question remains: Why bother with Tolkien? If the goal is to ‘think themselves historically’ and brag about cultural roots, wouldn’t it have sufficed for Ms. Meloni to send in her application for Scrutopia Summer School? Alternatively, couldn’t she have opened, together with Orban, a Scruton café, a twinned bar between Istanbul and Rome where you could buy T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Conservatism is more an instinct than an idea’? Why is it not enough to stop at the proclaimed fathers of conservatism, and is there a need to bother elves, trolls, and other magical creatures?

The answer is of a disconcerting banality: Italian conservatism, in fact, has never existed. Whatever Evola and company may say, it is evident that what has taken root in Italy has been rather a blind reactionism: conservatism – the real kind, the kind that besides being a political proposal is also a philosophical theory – has never really been imported. Italian conservatives have always been the slightly filthy version of a slightly vulgar anti-modernism: by way of example, amoral familism that rejects the progress of society in the South, a heartfelt and faithless attachment to a Catholic and bourgeois God in the North. Italian conservatives don’t like today’s world because they feel excluded from it; Scrutonian conservatives don’t like today’s world because they are too elitist. That is why Scruton and traditions are not enough, a myth is needed to rally the infantry and lead them to war: Giorgia Meloni as a new Gandalf, a maieutical force for the salvation of Middle-earth, the government team like the brave kings of men who go to their deaths to face the terrifying hordes of invaders and the plots hatched by internationalist lobbies; the Shire nothing but the beautiful green Italy, a traditionally rural country of good food and good people. Then a touch of petty heroism and an approximate sense of solemnity complete the picture of a cursory post-ideological reinterpretation of Arda’s universe by the Italian political class.

Anyway, the exhibition is mobile, first in Italy and then who knows: maybe they will also come to your home to teach you your language.

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