What gave Mussolini popular traction is what gives Grillo traction: a virulent hatred of parliament and the politicians who infest it. The dictator famously said he could have moved his bivouacs into ‘this deaf and grey chamber’ but had chosen not to. The comedian uses the same language. Whereas Mussolini spread the word through his own mass daily newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia, and enforced it by means of his blackshirts, Grillo does so through his website, Il Blog di Beppe Grillo, and violent verbal abuse and ostracism of opponents. Whereas Mussolini travelled by train to his rallies, Grillo travels to his by camper van.

‘I did not invent fascism,’ said Mussolini, ‘I extracted it from the Italian people.’ Grillo did not invent his movement, he says, he merely provided the humus — the internet forum — in which it grew. During the election campaign, he did not give one television or newspaper interview, because journalists, like politicians, are the enemy. Both Mussolini and Grillo appeal to the spirit and soul rather than the wallet and mind of Italians. Fascism was a civic religion and the Duce its god. The MoVimento 5 Stelle is a sect, with Grillo its guru, and like all good sects it does not have an office. Its HQ is not real, but virtual: Beppe’s blog…

Fascism was able to flourish thanks to the impotence and corruption of Italian democracy, especially in the first two decades of the 20th century, which made it incapable of dealing with an existential crisis — the threat of communist revolution. In 1945, with the fall of fascism and the monarchy, Italy returned to an updated form of the same impotent and corrupt democracy. Through fear of dictators, the new constitution severely limited the powers of prime minister, cabinet and president, and complex versions of proportional representation made it impossible for any one party to obtain a majority of the seats.