Good health to you, Mr. Berlusconi… and to Italy



He was the idol of many men and women. He had it all—the money, the power, the girls, the friends.

The money: He was one of the richest men in the world, coming from nothing.

The power: He was the most potent Italian politician in two decades. He dominated national politics and its culture. He shaped a way of communicating in the country that persists even now.

The girls: He was the famous “bunga bunga” man. He had girls coming into his houses by the busload. Everyone who touched him could be blessed with generous gifts.

The friends: He was surrounded and loved by a group of loyal friends who have stood by him since his early years. He changed girls but didn’t change friends.

Yet now, while lying in bed besieged by a platoon of hostile sicknesses and an unforgiving age—he’s turning 87 this year—he’s just an old man struggling with his legacy.

His media empire: To protect it, he went into politics 30 years ago. Now it is a big question mark. He’s stuck with television stations even as their importance is declining, ceding space to the new internet world.

His politics: He tried to present himself as a liberal, yet his liberalism couldn’t get through as his first priority was to protect his firms.

Italy has been warped by the culture of fast money and fast pleasures and is left almost empty inside. Recovering from all of this will take years, perhaps decades, if ever.

And yet he is like a superhero of modern times or a demigod of ancient times, when their will shaped the era and conquered all.

This is the capital sin of modernity; by having it all and flaunting it, he broke the principle of division of powers. You can be rich but have no political power; or you can have political power but not be rich.

In fact, superheroes and demigods are very different.

In ancient times, demigods were heroes and kings. In modern times, superheroes put on a cape but then take a second identity to disguise themselves as more or less normal men.

Mr. Berlusconi never took off his cape. He was always a superhero, yet now this is intolerable. It cannot be sustained.

And still again, in the effort to hark back to ancient times when there were no limits to superhuman powers and ambitions, he reminded us of antiquity with some nostalgia mixed with repulsion.

He attracted and revolted us simultaneously. In this contradiction, there was art; his life, a masterpiece. Out of the box and scheming, he was an example to many politicians out of Italy and a stumbling block for Italy. Now that he is better but certainly won’t be able to recover his former activism, the question is what Italy will do without his liberalism.

The rest of the right coalition (Fratelli d’Italia and Lega), now ruling the country, claims to be quite radical, but Italians are moderate, not extremists. They look at the ongoing rough French protests with shock and astonishment. Yet without Berlusconi, no one is speaking for the liberal, conservative right that possibly represents the absolute majority of the Italians.

Will current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni step up into his large, moderate boots? She’d need to change a lot in her ways to do that. Who else could do it, and how?

Then, after he morphed Italian habits for so long, Italy seems deformed without him. Good health to you, Mr. Berlusconi, and best wishes to Italy, which needs them too.

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