Hamilton: Italian PM Berlusconi typifies poor leadership qualities

To understand ineffective governance, it is important to look at its roots. What traits occur in corrupt leaders that make them act the way they do? In the case of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, his personal life and overall psyche paint a picture of a deeply narcissistic and egomaniacal man.

Let’s take a look at his record as of late. It is telling that his most recent antics involve suspicion over bribing a senator to switch parties back in 2006. 

In addition, Berlusconi is on trial for a number of offenses, including tax fraud, publicizing confidential phone conversations and paying for sex with an underage girl. 

According to The Guardian, he has faced over 20 charges of both fraud and corruption throughout his illustrious career. He has never served jail time. 

One would assume that Berlusconi would attempt to keep his illicit activities private. As it turns out, he has intentionally accomplished the opposite. He is Italy’s richest man, has dominated politics since 1994 and was “Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini” according to a report by The Economist. He is even known to throw sex parties – where the incident with the underage girl allegedly took place – dubbed “Bunga Bunga” and has a very dubious business history.

Despite all this, he is a wildly popular figure in Italy. He has been voted into office again and again, even making a surprise appearance “from the grave” in Italy’s most recent disaster of an election cycle – one that has resulted in gridlock and the “Five Star Movement” led by comedian Beppe Grillo. According to Alexander Stille in The New Republic, “Unlike most of his rivals, who have to pretend to appreciate and understand popular culture, Berlusconi possesses an unerring feeling for the lowest common denominator.”

To understand Berlusconi and his appeal, one must delve a bit deeper into his character, past the pervasive corruption and scandal that saturates his reputation.

First of all, what is it that makes someone a leader? Although the man in question is far from an effective leader, there is a definitive explanation behind his participation in politics. 

LiveScience has found that narcissism is largely evident among individuals in high-pressure leadership positions. The article goes on to say that, “Their initiative doesn’t mean they are the best leaders. The study also found narcissists don’t outperform others in leadership roles.” 

And, as it happens, a recent publication in Psychology Today asserts that many cultures are “leader-centric,” which may account for the fervor that follows in Berlusconi’s wake. According to psychologist Ronald Riggio, “Another reason that we become obsessed with our political and business leaders is the role that celebrity plays. As politicians and CEOs become celebrities, we follow their every move in the media, and as much as we want to love and admire celebrities, like fickle lovers, our love turns to hate when they fall off the pedestal we had placed them on.”  

It is certainly evident that Italy’s former leader created a super-celebrity of himself. His misogynistic campaign videos depicting attractive women adoringly singing to him are evidence enough of Berlusconi’s narcissism. According to Sky News, Berlusconi commented, “I am not at all frightened. There is nothing scandalous in these pictures but this is a violation of my privacy and a scandalous aggression. The photographs show people having a jacuzzi by a private villa they were staying in while my guests.” 

Let the state of ruin that is Italy’s political stalemate and economic turmoil enlighten us as to the nature of pseudo leaders such as Berlusconi; behind superficial charm, there lies a malice that threatens sovereignty and democracy as we know it.