Berlusconi lecture delves into the cult of personality

With the 2012 US presidential election fast approaching, visiting scholar Sergio Fabbrini’s campus lecture Tuesday offered up a cautionary tale about the cult of personality in today’s TV-dominated electoral politics.

More than 50 members of the campus and local communities squeezed into the Wildavsky conference room on Channing Way for the event, which was presented by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and co-sponsored by the Institute of Governmental Studies.

Fabbrini, director of the School of Government at Rome’s Carli University, outlined the personalization of politics and monopolization of media that vaulted media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi to the all-powerful position of prime minister. The multibillionaire businessman only relinquished his punctuated stranglehold on power in November after a scandal-ridden reign that spanned 17 years and transformed the landscape of Italian politics.

Berlusconi’s most recent party-political vehicle, the People of Freedom party (PdL), released this 2008 electoral campaign video “Thank goodness Silvio’s there.”

The Berlusconi experience, Fabbrini argued, stands out as the archetypal manifestation of the modern tele-democracy in which permanent campaigning, “policy-lite” sound-bite politicking and the personality of the individual define and dominate the political process.

For Lawrence Rosenthal, executive director of ISSI’s Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements, the Berlusconi experience offers some valuable insight — as well as a not insignificant cautionary nudge — about the direction of America politics, just as the GOP presidential primary season reaches fever pitch.

“Many of the elements Sergio has talked about in the case of Berlusconi are extremes, but we have certainly seen similar dynamics at work in this country,” said Rosenthal.

On Thursday, Fabbrini, a recurrent visiting professor of comparative and international politics at Berkeley, will deliver the second of three mid-day lectures delving into the future of the European Union.

Titled “Will the European Union Survive?,” the lectures series, 119 Moses Hall, features distinguished Berkeley faculty and is sponsored by the European Union Center of Excellence, the Institute of Governmental Studies and the Institute of International Studies.

This week, professor of political science Chris Ansell will join Fabbrini to discuss the resurgence of national governments. The final lecture, Feb. 16, sees professors David Vogel and Martin Shapiro join the discussion to consider potential future outcomes for the EU, from full federation to complete disintegration.