The television presenter lets out a smooth and collaborating smile. Flustered, she gives the floor over to the guest who she calls ‘professor’. The first slogans thunder: “stateless capitalism,” “they are replacing the people of Europe with migrants,” “in absence of any racism the anti-racists play power games,” “in the same way the homosexual myth is smuggled in,” the “new world order does not tolerate nation-states and families.”

Have they invited a member of CasaPound, the infamous neofascist party, onto television? That sort of thing tends to happen these days. Instead, peeking out on screen is the well sought after tan of Diego Fusaro, with the camera lingering over his shaggy hair and his glaucous eye-catching look. The appearance is sustained by his vain confidence and a talkativeness that has the rhythm of football slang. A disturbing product of today’s Italy, Fusaro marks himself of as a ‘leftist’ whilst peppering slogans and mottos of the new right that are aggressive and cunning, and capable of noteworthy attention. Concealment and deception are the weapons of choice for this skilled tightrope walker, who, on closer inspection, is simply the sovereigntist next door.

Here is the revealed secret of his success: what is better than to listen to one’s own sleazy and shameful feelings (feelings that are deeply fried in a self-absorbed and grandiose sauce) against migrants, feminists, homosexuals, vegans and stateless persons of all kinds, especially when carried out in such a simplified manner? Fusaro’s formula works wonders: posting on social media or giving out rhythmic and professorial proclamations on television channels, including Rai, the state broadcaster. All of a sudden everything becomes clear: on the one hand ‘we’ (the good, who are in the ‘low’ position; oppressed, precarious, deceived); on the other hand ‘them’ (the villains, who are in the ‘high position’: the puppeteers of the market, the European bureaucrats, but also the internationalists, denounced as being the hidden agents of globalization).

And so it is that this newly ordained Zarathustra of our national and sovereign ‘superiority,’ who poses himself as an ‘anti-systemic thinker’, comes to reveal the conspiracies of which we are victims. He carries out his role as a refined art, mimicking the high-sounding vocabulary of the ‘philosopher’ in the imagination of the Italian collective, whilst sprinkling his rants with quotes at random — a little bit of Marx and a bit of Heidegger, a little Gramsci and a bit of Gentile. So, in this country, where illiteracy has reached epoch-making heights and where there is no longer any hesitation against being ignorant, who is in control? In an instant the exotic effect is reached, which is enough to let anyone who doesn’t know (or who doesn’t want to know) that this rare character that ‘thinks otherwise’, is really a promising philosopher, and that his long paraphrases that fill books and statements are the fruit of deep and original reflection. Except, those extravagant words do not carry across and convey the actual sinister ideas and subtle notions of his words to a public that is easy enough to deceive.

What a caricature of philosophy that is brought into the public space just to be mocked! It’s a slap in the face to those who do serious work. Yet in Italy there are no lack of philosophers, young and very young, many of whom are forced to go abroad to seek their fortune. What lessons should we draw from the improper recognition given to such rubbish back home? Many have expressed themselves on the web, where Fusaro — of whom there is a fake account Diego ‘Fuffaro’ (@FuffaroDiego) — is now openly taunted. Responsibility not only lies with media, television, newspapers, and websites. Philosophy has its faults both because it has taken heed of him, or sometimes even applauded him, and also because it has shut itself away into an obscure academia that has left the field free for such an anti-politics. Not even the publishing companies who have published the volumes are free from accusation. Feltrinelli has entrusted the monograph on Gramsci to him who would make him a Gentilian of the last hour, a sort of fascist. The same for Marx, who is reduced to a mere champion of anti-capitalism.

Fusaro could be ignored if it were not for two reasons. Firstly, the case remains open as to this ambiguous figure, as he is almost an icon of our contemporary times, an incarnation of the current state of Italian culture. On the other hand, his hyper-ideological tangles — with which he proclaims the end of all ideologies and the overcoming of the left and right — have turned out to be far more damaging than what one wanted to admit. His obsessively reiterated slogans have certainly contributed to the victory of North League/Five Star Movement government, of which Fusaro has no qualms in acting as a mouthpiece. In the aftermath of his departure from academia, the truth that his being a ‘professor’ is actually fake news, his position has been exposed.

It’s not that a mixture of left and right is being pointed to: of some kind of a ‘red-brown pact’! As there is no red here. Where does this even situate him who underlines the ‘parable’ that “the Communist International leads to today’s international-financial-liberal.” (Pensare altrimenti, Einaudi, Turin 2017). One need not be a fascist to furnish a critique of these so-called leftist social democrats, who have yielded to power and are not supporting workers and are shutting down ports.

Fusaro resumes with abundance, summarising and trivialising his master Costanzo Preve’s teachings. Preve ended up being to denying Holocaust and using the publishers of the extreme right Settimo Sigillo and All’insegna del veltro. Moreover, Fusaro collaborates with ‘Il Primato Nazionale’, a newspaper close to CasaPound, a political force that he does not despise visiting. Does this all mean that Fusaro is a fascist of the third millennium? Or a neo-Nazi? Not exactly.

He is a sovereigntist who points to how Europe is “a criminal project,” he is a sovereigntist who loves Putin, who is close to the anti-abortionists, who is anti-Semitic when required, overtly homophobic, a lover of ‘identity’, and a proponent of a return to nation-states, with their classic sovereignty and their walls raised against immigrants. Of the immigrants he speaks as if they were not people who are free to choose, but that they are only tools for the “ethnic substitution” (which has become the myth of neo-fascism today). Fusaro can only be seen as a master of conspiracy, with paranoid obsession with the great powers — the ‘world government’, the ‘caste’, the ‘elites’ — that somewhere hold sway over the course of history, the disillusioned world diseases, the need of certainties and simplifications, the fable of the plot, easy to propagate and difficult to refute, this is the pillar of today’s populism.

How then do we define this unusual reactionary mix of Fusaro? Perhaps it is not even necessary to define it. The important thing is to see the differing aspects clearly, without underestimating it. Do we not remember when such speeches were already given? The same speeches that today in Italy have helped the extreme right to become a government force.

Donatella di Cesare is a Professor of Philosophy at La Sapienza University of Rome. She tweets under @didonadice Originally published in La Lettura, the literary supplement of Il Corriere della Sera, on the 31st October 2018, pp. 11.

Translation from Italian by Thomas Winn. Thomas Winn is a recent MA in Political Philosophy graduate from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona and a MA in Philosophy Candidate at the Università degli studi di Torino