Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Myth, Style, Substance and the Totalitarian Dynamic in Fascist Italy

  • DAVID D. ROBERTS (a1)
Abstract

Recent studies of Italian Fascism have focused on ritual, spectacle, commemoration and myth, even as they also take seriously the totalitarian thrust of Fascism. But whereas this new culturalist orientation has usefully pointed beyond earlier reductionist approaches, it has often accented style and myth as opposed to their opposites, which might be summed up as ‘substance’. Some of the aspirations fuelling Fascism, responding to perceived inadequacies in the mainstream liberal and Marxist traditions, pointed beyond myth and style as they helped to shape the Fascist self-understanding – and Fascist practice. This article seeks to show how the interplay of substance, style and myth produced a particular – and deeply flawed – totalitarian dynamic in Fascist Italy.

Copyright
References
Hide All

1 Griffin, Roger, ‘The Primacy of Culture: The Current Growth (or Manufacture) of Consensus within Fascist Studies’, Journal of Contemporary History 37, 1 (Jan. 2002), 2143. See also the invited commentaries by Roberts, David D., DeGrand, Alexander, Mark Antliff and Thomas Linehan that appeared in the next issue (vol. 37, 2, 259–74).

2 Payne, Stanley G., A History of Fascism, 1914–1945 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), 494. Payne also cited the work of Ernst Nolte and Eugen Weber.

3 Griffin, Roger, The Nature of Fascism (London: Routledge, 1991), is arguably the most important work on the overall problem of fascism in any language over the past generation.

4 For an exemplary survey of the uses of the concept, see Abbott, Gleason, Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

5 Arendt portrayed Stalinist communism and German Nazism as archetypally totalitarian, whereas Fascist Italy was merely authoritarian and thus not part of the novel mix to be explained. Most importantly, Fascist Italy lacked the terror apparatus and camp system of the other two, but she also cited its apparent statism. Whereas Mussolini merely seized the state, recognised as the highest authority, a movement claims superiority to the state and even aims to destroy it. Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Cleveland: World [Meridian], 1958), 256–60.

6 See Getty, J. Arch, ‘The Politics of Repression Revisited’, in Getty, J. Arch and Manning, Roberta T., eds., Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 4062, for a good introduction to this strand of revisionism in Soviet studies. Other prominent revisionists, loosely within the same camp, were Gabor Rittersporn and Robert Thurston. Although they differed crucially among themselves, all three portrayed the Soviet terror as the result not of intention and control from the top, but of an inability to control, a process out of control. Thurston was fairly typical in suggesting that ‘totalitarianism is of some use in thinking about what the Nazi and Soviet regimes wanted, but it does not have much to do with what they got, for state intervention ‘often produced disorder and other negative consequences for the regime’. See Thurston, Robert W., Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934–1941 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), xviii.

7 When he came to the years after Ethiopia in his monumental biography of Mussolini, De Felice's choice of subtitle was highly indicative: see Felice, Renzo De, Mussolini il duce 2: Lo Stato totalitario, 1936–1940 (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1981). In his earlier volumes, De Felice had concluded that Mussolini was quite serious about domestic transformation, with corporatism as its core. But he had come to recognise by the early 1930s how potent were the obstacles to any effort to fascistise society directly. Felice, Renzo De, Mussolini il fascista, 2: L'organizzazione dello Stato fascista, 1925–1929 (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1968), 359, 363–7. Felice, Renzo De, Mussolini il duce 1: Gli anni del consenso, 1929–1936 (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1974): 177–81. See also Renzo, De Felice, Fascism: An Informal Introduction to Its Theory and Practice (An Interview with Michael A. Ledeen) (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1976), 79; and Michaelis, Meir, ‘Anmerkungen zum italienischen Totalitarismusbegriff. Zur Kritik der Thesen Hannah Arendts und Renzo De Felices’, Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Biblitheken 62 (1982), 291.

8 Berezin, Mabel, Making the Fascist Self: The Political Culture of Interwar Italy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 108–9, 225–6.

9 De Felice, Mussolini il duce, 1: 220–8. See especially 227–8. For a typically negative account of the Starace era in English, see Smith, Denis Mack, Mussolini: A Biography (New York: Random House [Vintage], 1983), 175–81.

10 Gentile, Emilio, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 28, 75–9, 132–3; see also Gentile, Emilio, La via italiana al totalitarismo: Il partito e lo Stato nel regime fascista (Rome: La Nuova Italia Scientifica, 1995), 144–8, on ‘the myth of the duce’.

11 Gentile insisted that although comparison of course reveals differences, they are best understood from within a common totalitarian departure. At the same time, the incompleteness of the totalitarianism, so often noted in the Italian case, was true in the other two as well. See Gentile, La via italiana, 148–53; especially 149–50. Arguing explicitly against Arendt and De Felice, Michaelis had earlier (1982) made much the same overall point in ‘Anmerkungen’.

12 Gentile, La via italiana, 148–9.

13 Ibid., 119, 135–6

14 With these accents, Gentile was moving far from De Felice, who had observed in his famed interview of the mid-seventies (Fascism, 76) that in Italian fascism ‘ritual existed – the salute to the Duce, the call to the fallen heroes – but it does not have a decisive role. Here we have another difference with Germany, where ritual tends to become everything.’ De Felice was explicitly drawing from Mosse's work on Germany; indeed, his interlocutor, Michael Ledeen, had been a student of Mosse's. Bosworth noted that Gentile was essentially translating Mosse to the Italian case. See Bosworth, The Italian Dictatorship, 22. See also Emilio Gentile, Storia del partito fascista, 1919–1922: Movimento e milizia (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1989), preface, vii–x, where Gentile nicely locates his own effort, noting especially what he deemed the anomalous neglect of the Fascist Party in recent research.

15 Gentile, La via italiana, 113–19; see especially 116. All quotations from untranslated works have been translated by the author.

16 Ibid., 134, 178–91. While recognising that the Fascist Party was of course caught up in the infighting among Fascist oligarchs, each struggling to preserve and expand their turf, Gentile stressed the overall coherence of the party's effort and its success in expanding its role during the 1930s. Thus, for example, the party secured a monopoly over the formation of youth with the creation of the Gioventù Italiano del Littorio (GIL) 1937. But he also notes, for example, the ‘grotesque and risible aspects’ of the cult of the duce. See Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 138.

17 Gentile, Emilio, Le religioni della politica: Fra democrazia e totalitarismi (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2001), xviixviii.

18 For Gentile's overall conception of totalitarianism and political religion, see ibid., 69–102, especially the definition on 70–4. See also Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 160, for some especially cogent remarks on the seriousness of the impulse.

19 Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 160, is especially clear and explicit.

20 Much like Gentile, Mabel Berezin warned that ‘to ascribe the proliferation of fascist public spectacle to the fanaticism of Starace is to attenuate the extent to which it was part of the fabric of the fascist cultural project . . . Starace notwithstanding, fascist spectacle sprang from a general agreement among fascist elites, including Mussolini, that the state needed to theatricalise everyday life.’ See Berezin, Making the Fascist Self, 65.

21 Schnapp, Jeffrey T., Staging Fascism: 18 BL and the Theater of Masses for Masses (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 57. Berezin, Making the Fascist Self, 29–30.

22 Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 159–60.

23 Gentile, Emilio, Le origini dell'ideologia fascista (1918–1925) (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1975). See the conclusion to Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 153–61, for his way of placing Fascist sacralisation within the wider framework since the French revolution. Gentile's more recent Le religioni della politica of course extends that discussion of the supranational framework.

24 Although the confusion has remained more or less constant, the sense of anomaly or disconnect has long been noted. George Lichtheim observed in 1965 that with uses of the ‘ideology’ category, ‘one encounters a terminological vagueness which appears to reflect some deeper uncertainty about the status of ideas in the genesis of historical movements’. George Lichtheim, The Concept of Ideology and Other Essays (New York: Random House [Vintage Books], 1967), 3. More recently, Steven, E. Aschheim has offered much insight on the issue, particularly with respect to the problem of Nazism, in The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890–1990 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); see especially 318, 320, 329.

25 Bosworth, R. J. B., The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism (London: Arnold, 1998), 5, 179, 204, 225.

26 Ibid., 5.

27 Ibid., 21 and 21n., 26–7. Bosworth found Jeffrey Schnapp an extreme example of the overall culturalist tendency. Although Bosworth was surely right in finding Mosse the key source of the newly dominant culturalist reading (ibid., 24), he went too far in referring to ‘the curious alliance between the De Feliceans, and especially Emilio Gentile, and American cultural and intellectual historians’ (ibid., 127). Although there are points of contact, partly, indeed, though the influence of Mosse, Gentile is not to be conflated with the US culturalists, especially because, as noted above, he does not accent style as opposed to ideological content or substance.

28 Caplan, Jane, ‘Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and Deconstruction: Notes for Historians’, Central European History, 22 (Sept.–Dec. 1989), 274–8.

29 For an influential recent analysis of fascism that, though brilliant in its way, ends up repairing explicitly to an abiding fascist psychological type, see Umberto Eco, ‘Ur-Fascism’, New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995, 12–15. The piece also appears, in slightly modified form, in Eco's Five Moral Pieces, trans. Alastair McEwen (New York: Harcourt, 2001), 65–88; see also x–xi on the circumstances surrounding its genesis.

30 In The Italian Dictatorship, 228–9, Bosworth notes that ‘only a purblind and recalcitrant anti-Marxist will want to think about fascism, or the history of the twentieth-century, without some reference to class and its discontents’. Some reference, to be sure – the question is to what degree we privilege that dimension a priori, on the assumption that getting at some putative social ‘base’ is the key to understanding. What else are we prepared to countenance in a non-reductionist way going in? We cannot deal with the ‘meta’-issues here, but it is worth recalling Bernard Yack's point that we tend to miss the import of ideas because we have come to privilege certain contexts of expression; the use of shared philosophical concepts as an explanatory context appears more abstract than common economic interests or shared use of language. But though they seem more concrete, these latter are no less constructions – abstractions from the context of acts of expression – than a shared set of concepts. The question, Yack stressed, is which context yields the greatest insight into the material at issue. And the answer is not to be determined a priori but only on the basis of historical research. See Bernard Yack, The Longing for Total Revolution: Philosophic Sources of Social Discontent from Rousseau to Marx to Nietzsche (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), xxi–xxii. This insight, I suggest, simply invites more flexibility in the face of long-standing prejudices about hard and soft, practice and theory, concreteness and abstraction.

31 Hobsbawm, E. J., ‘The Great Gramsci’, New York Review of Books, 4 April 1974, 39.

32 Raymond Grew noted the Italian tendency during the pre-Fascist period to view problems that were at least as worrisome elsewhere as distinctively and endemically Italian. But thus in the Italian case a new sense of possibility might be especially likely to become exaggerated, engendering myth. See Grew, Raymond, ‘The Paradoxes of Italy's Nineteenth-Century Political Culture’, in Woloch, Isser, ed., Revolutions and the Meanings of Freedom in the Nineteenth Century (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), 244.

33 Sternhell, Zeev, with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994; French, original ed. 1989). Central to been, A. James Gregor's effort haveThe Ideology of Fascism: The Rationale of Totalitarianism (New York: The Free Press, 1969); The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974); Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979); and Mussolini, Young and the Intellectual Origins of Fascism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979). For a critique of Sternhell that also briefly addresses Gregor, see Roberts, David D., ‘How not to Think about Fascism and Ideology, Intellectual Antecedents and Historical Meaning’, Journal of Contemporary History, 35, 2 (April 2000), 185211.

34 MacGregor, Knox, Common Destiny: Dictatorship, Foreign Policy, and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 55–9; see 57 for the quoted phrase.

35 This was title of Knox's first book, Unleashed, Mussolini, 1939–1941: Politics and Strategy in Fascist Italy's Last War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). Although he has nuanced the argument considerably in recent years, its main lines have remained the same.

36 Knox, MacGregor, ‘Fascism: Ideology, Foreign Policy, and War’, in Lyttelton, Adrian, ed., Liberal and Fascist Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 137–8.

37 Ibid., 115.

38 We find significantly different accents even in Giovanni Gentile, Alfredo Rocco, and Sergio Panunzio, whom foreign contemporaries routinely took to be the key fascist intellectuals. Yet each believed that fascism was propelling Italy to the forefront by moving in an overtly totalitarian direction. Examples of such recognition from abroad are Neumann, Franz, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933–1944 (New York: Harper & Row [Torchbooks], 1966), 75–7; and Matthews, Herbert L., The Fruits of Fascism (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1943), 151–3.

39 Ruth Ben-Ghiat effectively features the centrality of bonifica, reclamation, remaking in her Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 4–5, 80, 209.

40 For well-known examples, see Mussolini's speech in Milan to the Fascist militia on the first anniversary of March on Rome and his ‘Discorso di Pesaro’ (18 August 1926), now in Opera omnia di Benito Mussolini, ed. Edoardo e Duilio Susmel, vol. 20 (Florence: La Fenice, 1956), 64–5; and vol. 22 (Florence: La Fenice, 1957), 197. See also Berezin, Making the Fascist Self, 104–5, 107.

41 Bottai, Giuseppe, Esperienza corporativa (1929–1934) (Florence: Vallecchi, 1934), 584–94.

42 Sergio Panunzio touched all the totalitarian bases in a speech on education to the Chamber of Deputies in 1929, published as Lo Stato educativo (Rome: Camera dei Deputati, 1929); see especially 11, but also 4–8, 23. For a major survey of Fascist education, see Michel Ostenc, L'éducation en Italie pendant le Fascisme (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1980).

43 Gleason found Gentile's conception of the totalitarian state ‘extraordinary’ and ‘prophetic’, while concluding that ‘Gentile deserves to be called the first philosopher of totalitarianism’. See Gleason, Totalitarianism, 19. It should be noted that the historian Emilio Gentile is not related to the philosopher and fascist Giovanni Gentile.

44 Such significant critics as George Boas and Herbert Marcuse were simply unprepared to make sense of Gentile's fascism at the time. See Boas, George, ‘Gentile and the Hegelian Invasion of Italy’, Journal of Philosophy 23 (April 1, 1926), 184–8; and Marcuse, Herbert, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (Boston: Beacon, 1960 [1941]), 402–12. Even the question of the relationship between Gentile's philosophy and his reading of, and commitment to, fascism, is vexed indeed. A major authority, Gennaro Sasso, denies that Gentile's fascism had any connection with his antecedent philosophy or, conversely, that his philosophy can tell us anything about the wider aspirations that produced this, the first fascism. For Sasso, what led Gentile to fascism was a fanciful, tortured reading of Italian history that betrayed an a priori determination to construct a distinctively Italian tradition with special contemporary relevance. See Sasso, Gennaro, Le due Italie di Giovanni Gentile (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1998), especially 280, 286, 568–9. I have challenged Sasso's approach and sought to indicate the scope for an alternative in Roberts, David D., ‘Maggi's Croce, Sasso's Gentile and the Riddles of Twentieth-Century Italian Intellectual History’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies 7, 1 (Spring 2002), 116–44. For an orientation in English to the Gentile question, see Gabriele Turi, ‘Giovanni Gentile: Oblivion, Remembrance, and Criticism’, Journal of Modern History, 70, 4 (Dec. 1998), 913–33.

45 For example see Fanelli, G.A., Contra Gentiles: Mistificazioni dell'idealismo attuale nella rivoluzione fascista (Rome: Biblioteca del Secolo Fascista, 1933). See also Alessandra Tarquini, ‘Gli antigentiliani nel fascismo degli anni venti’, Storia contemporanea 27, 1 (Feb. 1996), 5–59; Alessandra Tarquini, ‘Gli antigentiliani nel regime fascista’, Journal of Contemporary History, 40 (2005), 637–62; and the aptly entitled conclusion – ‘Una difficile egemonia’ (a difficult hegemony) – to Gabriele Turi's well-researched and carefully balanced biography, Giovanni Gentile: Una biografia (Florence: Giunti, 1995), 446–526.

46 Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 469.

47 Gentile, Sacralisation of Politics, 58. Even as he stressed Giovanni Gentile's importance as ‘chief theologian’, Emilio Gentile gave little sense of the bases of Gentile's totalitarian ideal. He had, however, treated Gentile in greater detail in his Le origini dell'ideologia fascista of 1975; see 343–69.

48 Sternhell and I have both shown the central importance of these two strands, though we have come to different conclusions about the relationship between them and the meaning of the themes at issue. See Sternhell, The Birth of Fascist Ideology; and Roberts, David D., The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian Fascism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979). I have sought to pinpoint the differences between Sternhell and myself in Roberts, ‘How not to Think’.

49 See Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 462, for indications of the important links between the key corporatist leader Giuseppe Bottai and Gentile and his followers Ugo Spirito and Arnaldo Volpicelli. Bottai inaugurated Archivio di studi corporativi with an article by Gentile in 1930. The uncertain relationship between tecnica and politica was much at issue in the proto-fascist quest for a ‘third way’ in the aftermath of World War I. See Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, 250–6; and Domenico Settembrini, Storia dell'idea antiborghese in Italia, 1860–1989: Società del benessere-liberalismo-totalitarismo (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1991), 277–95.

50 Bottai consistently emphasised that corporatism, organised around concrete tasks and productive roles, was making possible the active participation of the workers in the discussion and resolution of the great problems of the day, from the organisation of single branches of production to international tariff policy. See Bottai, Esperienza corporativa.

51 The examples are legion, yet there seems little interest in dredging them up today. For one such example, see Einzig, Paul, The Economic Foundations of Fascism (London: Macmillan, 1933), which vehemently contrasted corporatist fascism with Nazi Germany, deemed merely barbarous and destructive. In her Fascist Modernities, 119, Ben-Ghiat noted that Indro Montanelli, editor of L'Universale, was irritated and surprised that some of the French attending the Italian-French Conference on Corporativist Studies in Rome in May 1935 viewed fascism as a nationalistic movement of the extreme right. Caught up in traditional categories, they were not prepared to grasp the innovative thrust of fascism.

52 Compare, for example, Emilio Gentile's accent on ‘the practice of its politics through myth, ritual, and symbolism’ with the Giovanni Gentilian Giorgio Masi's explicit accent on ongoing history-making, which Emilio Gentile quotes in stressing the decisive contribution of the Gentilian idealist intellectuals in institutionalising fascist religion. But the Giovanni Gentilean concern with collective history-making points well beyond the mode of belonging or being that an experience of ‘myth, ritual, and symbolism’ would make possible. See Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 53, 57–8.

To accent a new mode of collective action as opposed to a new mode of experience or belonging is to suggest that fascism was not simply an instance of the familiar secular substitute for traditional religion. Bernard Yack usefully delineated a deeper departure in the aspirations that came to inform philosophy with the modern break, though he did not consider systematically what happened as the modern longing for a total alternative reached an impasse. I suggest that what happened then was essential in making possible the subsequent totalitarian departures. See Yack, Longing for Total Revolution, 14–20, 75, 282.

53 Mosse, George L., The Nationalisation of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Mosse, George L., The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism (New York: Howard Fertig, 1999).

54 See, for example, Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 3, 32–33, where his reference to the Fascist propensity to abolish liberty rests on a too-conventional understanding of liberty, contrasted with such contraries as authority, discipline and hierarchy. If we back up a step, thereby better grasping the instability even of so essential a category as liberty, we also better grasp the scope for novelty, for innovative ‘substance’, bound up in this case with positive liberty, the collective freedom to act. See also 1–18 on the Italian context.

55 See, for example, Sternhell, Birth of Fascist Ideology, 118. Mosse, too, fell into the widespread tendency to treat myth as a way to direct and control mass movements; see Nationalisation of the Masses, 12.

56 Typical was Mussolini's use of ‘myth’ in his well-known speech in Naples of October 24, 1922, just before the March on Rome, excerpted in Roger Griffin, ed. Fascism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 44. ‘We have created our myth. . .the greatness of the nation’. Such a myth, Mussolini noted explicitly, need not literally anticipate reality but, bound up with hope, faith, and passion, it affords a stimulus to ongoing action. Although his usage clearly reflects his reading of Sorel, Mussolini was using the category in a ‘post-Sorelian’ way, reflecting his wider sense of the scope for collective action. Such a lucid embrace of myth was not consistent with Sorel's primitivism, a distinction often missed. See, for example, Morgan's, Philip treatment of the same passage in his Fascism in Europe, 1919–1945 (London: Routledge, 2003), 127.

57 See, for example, Dino Grandi's use of myth and its link to a demand for institutional change in a proto-corporatist direction in ‘Le origini e la missione del fascismo’ (1921), in Il fascismo, by Adolfo Zerboglio and Dino Grandi (Bologna: Licinio Cappelli, 1922), 53–4, 63, 69–70. See also Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, 219–20.

58 Abbott Gleason noted that the methods of Gentile's activist state included the mystification and social myths that Sorel had made famous. See Gleason, Totalitarianism, 19. If Gentile's thinking did indeed entail ‘irrational activism’ or ‘action for its own sake’, as the caricature has long had it, some such connection with the conventional notion of myth could surely be drawn.

59 See, for example, Emilio Gentile, La via italiana, 131–2.

60 Ibid., 134, 136, 206. See also Emilio Gentile, Il mito dello Stato nuovo dall'antigiolittismo al fascismo (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1982).

61 See Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 3, 28–9, 82–4, 104; and Gentile, La via italiana, 131–2, 270, for examples of Gentile's liberal and undifferentiated use of myth.

62 Pellizzi, Camillo, Problemi e realtà del fascismo (Florence: Vallecchi, 1924), 157–65, especially 161 and 164.

63 Ibid., 161, 163–5.

64 Ibid., 161.

65 Ibid., 157–60. In 1941 Pellizzi was still insisting on the endlessness of the task and thus the open-endedness of the fascist revolution. Neither the state nor the educational process would ever be finished. See Pellizzi, Il partito educatore (Rome: Studi di Civiltà fascista, 1941), 7, 43–4. By this point, however, Pellizzi was using ‘myth’ in a less overtly positive way: the idea of full realisation was the myth.

66 Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini's Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 187–8.

67 See especially ibid., 88, 122–4, where Mussolinian fascism is linked to the Nietzschean ‘superman’, understood as an artist-creator who shapes masses.

68 Ibid., 186–7, 192. See also 129–35, 144–6, on corporatism.

69 Ibid., 129–35, 144–6. Even as she quoted both Panunzio and Carlo Costamagna on 134-45, Falasca-Zamponi gave no sense of their crucial differences, which emerged clearly in their important polemic in Rivista internazionale di filosofia del diritto during 1926. See Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, 240–4, on this polemic, and De Felice, Mussolini il duce, 2: 67–9, for further observations on the import of the differences between the two fascists.

70 Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle, 124.

71 Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities.

72 Ibid., 2–3, 8, 94–5, 209.

73 In his influential study of Weimar Germany, the late Detlev Peukert noted that whereas German difference was undeniable, it stemmed not from mere waywardness or some failed adjustment to modernity. Rather, the special circumstances of the Weimar Republic forced Germany in a sense beyond Britain and France, which did not face the same challenges. Yet the resulting effort at a hyper-modern welfare state in Germany produced an impasse that then invited, or demanded, a still more radical step – into totalitarianism, which seemed the only alternative in the light of that impasse, and which was thus an effort precisely beyond ‘classical modernity’. But Peukert also noted how hard it was for contemporaries – and remains for us – to distinguish forward-looking from reactionary impulses in responses to the outcome of modernity to that point. See Peukert, Detlev J. K., The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity (New York: Hill & Wang, 1993), 50–1, 130–6, 243–6, 271–2.

74 Payne, A History of Fascism, 478. See also Bruno P. F. Wanrooij, ‘Italian Society under Fascism’, in Lyttelton, Liberal and Fascist Italy, 182–6, for a good brief treatment of the plausible rationale but problematic execution and essentially failed outcome of the ‘ruralisation’ strategy. Also of interest is Roberto Dainotto, ‘“Tramonto” and “Risorgimento”: Gentile's Dialectics and the Prophecy of Nationhood’, in Ascoli, Albert Russell and Henneberg, Krystyna von, eds., Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento (Oxford: Berg, 2001), 241–55, on Giovanni Gentile's open-ended dialectic of regional and national culture.

75 Knox, ‘Fascism: Ideology, Foreign Policy, and War’, 113–114.

76 Ibid., 113; Knox, Common Destiny, 57–8. Renzo De Felice, in contrast, maintained that Gentile's ideas constituted ‘an important and authentic component’ in Mussolini's political culture. See De Felice, Mussolini il duce, 1: 35.

77 Knox, Common Destiny, 58. De Felice, in contrast, found Mussolini's commitment to corporatism ‘beyond doubt and amply documented’. See De Felice, Mussolini il duce, 1: 177.

78 Citing the scope, through corporatism, for involving the individual not as an abstract citizen but as a specialised force of production, Gentile insisted on the democratic character of the fascist state, in explicit opposition to the Nationalist view. See, for example, Giovanni Gentile, ‘The Origins and Doctrine of Fascism’, as excerpted in Adrian Lyttelton, ed., Italian Fascisms from Pareto to Gentile (New York, Harper & Row [Torchbooks], 1975), 310–12. Alfredo Rocco gave that contrasting nationalist view classic expression in ‘The Political Doctrine of Fascism’, in Kariel, Henry S., ed., Sources in Twentieth-Century Political Thought (New York: The Free Press, 1964), 91115. See especially 104 for Rocco's way of combining explicit elitism with an accent on mass participation in a subordinate mode.

79 Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 390–1.

80 Ibid., 472.

81 Ben-Ghiat is especially good on this impulse among leading ‘second generation’ Fascists such as Gastone Silvano Spinetti, who even organised an anti-idealist conference at the University of Rome in June 1933. See Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, 30, 102–3, 108–9. See also Calandra, Giuseppe, Gentile e il fascismo (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1987), 165–7. Ben-Ghiat noted that the new generation itself tended to fissure over some of the key points at issue. For example, was the depersonalisation of mass society to be fostered or resisted? See Fascist Modernities, 113–15.

82 Gentile helped to create, for example, the Istituto italo-germanico in Cologne, which he inaugurated together with Mayor Konrad Adenauer in October 1931, and subsequently the Istituto italiano di studi germanici in Rome. But, subject to increasing pressure from Starace and the Fascist Party, he was finally replaced as head of Istituto nazionale fascista di cultura in 1937, as this entity fell under more immediate party control. See Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 436–7, 442.

83 See, for example, the critique by the veteran syndicalist A. O. Olivetti, ‘Le corporazioni come volontà e come rappresentazione’, La stirpe, 9, 4 (April 1931), 145–6. See also Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, 291, 293–4.

84 Gentile, La via italiana, 164–5, 168–70, 172–5.

85 Thus, for example, Gentile noted that self-portrayal as a religion afforded both an enduring fascist sense of identity and a significant element of continuity in fascist practice, enabling the party to preserve ‘the whole complex of myths, rituals, and symbols’ that had originated in the squadristi experience and that ‘remained basically unaltered until the fall of the regime’. Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 29. See also La via italiana, 270.

86 See De Felice, Fascism, 49, for a distillation of his views on the place of corporatism. He recognised the import of the originating corporatist vision, associated especially with neo-syndicalist Carta del Carnaro that the syndicalists Alceste De Ambris and A. O. Olivetti had drafted for Gabriele D'Annunzio's outlaw regime in the disputed city of Fiume in 1920.

87 Corporativism barely comes up even in passing in Gentile's Sacralization of Politics; see, for example, 126–7.

88 Ibid., 29.

89 Ibid., 50–1, 63–4; Gentile, La via italiana, 90–2, 188–91, 225, 227–8.

90 Pellizzi referred to ‘dimostazioni spettacolari’. See Gentile, La via italiana, 273–4, for this passage, the source of which is the Pellizzi Archive. By this point Pellizzi was director of the Fascist Cultural Institute – and still trumpeting Gentilian themes. Bottai similarly suggested approvingly (though well after the fact) that Starace was finally dismissed because he was obsessed with mere style. See Bottai, Giuseppe, Vent'anni e un giorno (Milan: Garzanti, 1949), 146.

91 This happened, of course, at those moments when the revolutionary thrust was in danger of compromise, or when the overall direction of fascism seemed uncertain. Writing on 21 December 1924, as the outcome of the Matteotti crisis was being determined, Curzio Suckert stressed that Mussolini was no more than a servant of the revolution like every other fascist. Quoted in Aquarone, Alberto, L'organizzazione dello Stato totalitario (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1965), 45 n.

92 In Sacralization of Politics, 132–3, Gentile convincingly distinguished the myth that had developed around Mussolini even before the rise of fascism from the cult of the Duce that developed later. At the same time he insisted that as one measure of its richness, the political religion of fascism was not initially identified with Mussolini; the cult of the duce derived from the religion, but then served to reinforce it. Whereas this line of argument usefully highlights the ongoing process and the scope for change up to a point, it betrays Gentile's restricted sense of what the process of change could entail. The cult of the duce was central to a wider trivialisation and narrowing, not just another step in the effort to implement the new political religion. See also Passerini, Luisa, Mussolini immaginario: Storia di una biografia, 1915–1939 (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1991) and Imbriani, A. M., Gli italiani e il Duce: Il mito e l'immagine di Mussolini negli ultimi anni del fascismo (1938–1943) (Naples: Liguori, 1992) on the changing image and role of Mussolini within Fascism.

93 Michels, Roberto, First Lectures in Political Sociology (New York: Harper & Row [Torchbooks], 1965), 119–33, especially 125–6, 131–2. These lectures were presented at the University of Rome in May 1926.

94 De Felice, Mussolini il duce, 1: 18–25, 172–81, 227–8, 299–300. De Felice found a downward parabola beginning around 1933, as Mussolini became the prisoner of his own myth.

95 Gentile, La via italiana, 238, 269. See also Panunzio, Vito, Il ‘secondo fascismo’, 1936–1943: La reazione della nuova generazione alla crisi del movimento e del regime (Milan: Mursia, 1988), for a retrospective account of the period by a participant. The son of Sergio Panunzio, the young Vito Panunzio had called for renewed corporatist revolution in a pamphlet entitled Fedeltà al sindacato e alla corporazione (Rome: L'economia italiana, 1942).

96 Seeking seriously to radicalise the regime, Serena invited proposals from major Fascist spokesmen, such as Carlo Costamagna, Alberto De Stefani and Sergio Panunzio, each critical of the outcome of fascism so far. See Gentile, La via italiana, ch. 7 (225–98), especially 226–7, 239, 242, 263, 276. See also 211.

97 Ibid., 246, 248–50, 256–62, 281–2.

98 Ibid., 266.

99 See especially ibid., 263–4. Although Gentile found him typically elusive, Bottai was quite coherent on how to continue the revolution, but, as before, he did not see the party's institutional role, and certainly not its prerogatives, as the key to the extent Gentile himself does. Reflecting his Giovanni Gentilian vision, Pellizzi insisted on the organic interplay of all aspects of life within the new Fascist state. The party had its specific educational function – but it did not uniquely embody the fascist

revolutionary spirit, and it did not play its role through more or less permanent opposition to the state. See Pellizzi, Il partito educatore, 7–8, 32–3, 44–5. Yet Pellizzi's pamphlet drew some harsh criticism, as Emilio Gentile makes clear. Conversely, even as he stressed that De Stefani's reflections, accenting the role of the party, attracted much attention, Gentile recognised that De Stefani lacked concrete proposals to offer. Gentile, La via italiana, 250–1, 264–6.

100 Gentile, La via italiana, 226.

101 Ibid., 288–9.

102 While insisting that the proliferation of fascist public spectacle was not to be ascribed to the fanaticism of Starace, Mabel Berezin noted that it was only in the late 1930s that all the absurdities and cruelties that have contributed to the popular cultural image of fascism came to the fore. So whereas she recognised change as she accented the ongoing role of ritual, she tended to miss the meaning of the overall trajectory – and even to over-credit the degree of success. See Berezin, Making the Fascist Self, especially 137.

103 Comparisons with the Soviet experience seemed by the early thirties to confirm the superiority of Fascism's ‘spiritual’ approach, although the Fascists surely imitated Soviet techniques on occasion, and even recognised a significant kinship. Most emphasised that the outcome of the Soviet communist experiment was already definitively negative, confirming the scope for a third way. Others offered a more positive spin, but only insofar as Stalinism seemed necessarily to be moving toward fascism. For a typical example of this latter, see Bertoni, Renzo, Il trionfo del fascismo nell'URSS (Rome: Angelo Signorelli, 1934), especially 144, 148–58. Writing in 1924, Pellizzi noted that fascism, although specifically Italian, was bound to interest and involve the world. See Pellizzi, Problemi e realtà del fascismo, 161. See also Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, 33–4, 38–9, and Bosworth, The Italian Dictatorship, 54, on the overall import of this ‘epochal’ competition with the other two regimes. Although typically extreme and provocative, Gregor, A. James usefully addresses the fascist understanding of the Soviet trajectory in The Faces of Janus: Marxism and Fascism in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000); see especially ch. 7 (128–48).

104 See especially the developing work of Luca de Caprariis, starting with ‘Fascism for Export? The Rise and Eclipse of the Fasci Italiani all'Estero’, Journal of Contemporary History 35, 2 (April 2000), 151–83. By avoiding teleological assumptions, de Caprariis significantly deepens our understanding of the impulses at work, as well the proportions and the interplay among them.

105 For an example see Pellizzi, Problemi e realtà del fascismo, 164. See also De Felice, Fascism, 65–6.

106 Volpicelli, Arnaldo, preface to Carl Schmitt, Principiî politici, ed. Cantimori, Delio (Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1935), vii.

107 For examples in the context of the Ethiopian turn, with the link to corporatism explicit, see Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, 305. Note 133 provides references to Bottai and Panunzio. See also Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, 123–4, 126–7, 130. She cites Elio Vittorini and Ruggero Zangrandi.

108 See Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition, 303–4, for the arguments of Sergio Panunzio that fascist Italy was setting the pace, that Nazism was merely reactionary. Panunzio was the author of a sort of textbook on fascism for German consumption, Allgemeine Theorie des Fascistischen Staates (Berlin, 1934).

109 Ben-Ghiat argues convincingly that the antisemitic turn was widely embraced by the Fascist elite; see her Fascist Modernities, 152. Still, this new accent occasioned further fragmentation among committed fascists, cutting across other axes. Whereas Bottai, for example, joined others such as Farinacci, with whom he was otherwise often in dispute, in actively approving the race laws, Pellizzi, clearly uncomfortable with the whole business, scrambled to deny imitation. See Meir Michaelis, ‘The Current Debate over Fascist Racial Policy’, in Robert S. Wistrich and Sergio DellaPergola, eds., Fascist Antisemitism and the Italian Jews (Jerusalem: The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, 1995), 71–3. Note also Michaelis's still indispensable book, Mussolini and the Jews: German–Italian relations and the Jewish question in Italy, 1922–1945 (Oxford: Published for Institute of Jewish Affairs by Clarendon Press, 1978).

110 Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, 149, 156–7. In Dictating Demography: The Problem of Population in Fascist Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Carl Ipsen traced the new antisemitism to the wider official demographic effort to create a race of hardy conquerors and childbearers; see 185–94. On the overall issue, see also Israel, Giorgio and Nastasi, Pietro, Scienza e razza nell'Italia fascista (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1998).

111 Those who most explicitly addressed the issue, like Giacomo Acerbo and even the subsequently notorious Julius Evola, explicitly criticised the materialism of Nazi doctrine – and provoked Nazi indignation in response. See Michaelis, ‘The Current Debate over Fascist Racial Policy’, 73–4. See also Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, 153, on the import of the distinction, and point of pride, at issue. Even in 1941, Mussolini noted with satisfaction that, thanks to stepped-up intermarriage, ‘Jewish’ characteristics would disappear in Italy within a generation, as Jews were absorbed by the ‘Aryan’ bloodline.

112 Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, 149; Ruth Ben-Ghiat, ‘The Secret Histories of Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful’, Yale Journal of Criticism, 14, 1 (2001), 262.

113 Here again, my accent on narrowing and trivialisation is to depart somewhat from Emilio Gentile, who has consistently portrayed the antisemitic measures as a logical outcome of an abiding aspiration, the anthropological revolution central to the fascist totalitarian vision. Totalitarian implementation required eliminating any separateness. See, for example, Gentile, Sacralization of Politics, 101. At the same time, Gentile has suggested that Mussolini adopted the antisemitic laws partly to enable the Fascists to claim superiority over Nazism. See Emilio Gentile, ‘Fascism in Power: The Totalitarian Experiment’, in Lyttelton, Adrian, ed., Liberal and Fascist Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 167–9. While it is convincing to feature competition as opposed to mere imitation, this accent, too, needs to be understood in terms of the wider, changing dynamic that brought the need for such competition to the fore.

114 Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, 183–4.

115 For his influential account of the cultural mission that allegedly fell to Italy as a result of the war, see Gentile, Giovanni, I problemi della scolastica e il pensiero italiano (Florence: Sansoni, 1963), 209–18, 235–6; Gentile, Giovanni, Guerra e fede (Naples: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1919), 158–9, 175, 205–6, 209–12, 217–18, 222–3, 288–90; and Giovanni Gentile, Dopo la vittoria (Rome, 1920), 3–25, especially 24–5. See also David D. Roberts, ‘Croce and Beyond: Italian Intellectuals and the First World War’, International History Review, 3, 2 (April 1981), 201–35.

116 Gentile, La via italiana, 270.

117 Bosworth, The Italian Dictatorship, 106–7 (quotation from 107). For Bosworth, ‘totalitarianism’ is applicable only insofar as there was realisation, producing personal, practical and ideological uniformity.

David D. Roberts is Albert Berry Saye Professor of History at the University of Georgia. He has written widely on fascism, historiography and the Italian idealist-historicist intellectual tradition. His most recent books are The Totalitarian Experiment in Twentieth-Century Europe: Understanding the Poverty of Great Politics (2006) and Historicism and Fascism in Modern Italy, a volume of selected essays (forthcoming 2007).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
  • URL: /core/journals/contemporary-european-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed