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Renarrating Italian Fascism: New Directions in the Historiography of a European Dictatorship


The extent to which European dictatorships of the twentieth century enjoyed popular support is one of the most contested and difficult questions in international contemporary history. In the case of Italian Fascism, two opposing points of view continue to hold sway. The first, orthodox viewpoint was established before 1945, and holds that the majority of the Italian population rejected Mussolini's regime, making widespread repression of the ubiquitous antifascist resistance essential for maintaining Mussolini's claim to power. A second, revisionist opinion first gained ground in the 1960s, and asserts that large segments of the population consented to the rule of regime, but that Fascist Italy was harmless compared to the dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler. It is only in recent years that an anti-revisionist, and, in certain cases, post-revisionist school of thought has been established. The five publications discussed in this article are representative of this new line of thinking. I argue that some of these publications are best characterised as anti-revisionist, as they focus predominantly on overturning the thesis of consensus. By contrast, only three of these works exhibit a truly post-revisionist perspective that attempts to combine both narratives into a new synthesis.

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1 Fishman, Sarahet al., eds, France at War: Vichy and the Historians (Oxford: Berg, 2000).

2 Focardi, Filippo and Klinkhammer, Lutz, ‘The Question of Fascist Italy's War Crimes: The Construction of a Self-Acquitting Myth (1943–1948)’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 9, 3, (2004), 330–48.

3 Golsan, Richard J., Vichy's Afterlife: History and Counterhistory in Postwar France (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).

4 See Nattermann, Ruth, ‘Politische Beobachtung im “tono fascista”: Italienische Konsulatsberichte über das Dritte Reich’, in Bajohr, Frank and Strupp, Christoph, eds, Fremde Blicke auf das ‘Dritte Reich’: Konsulatsberichte über die deutsche Gesellschaft der NS-Zeit (Göttingen: Wallstein 2011), 304–48, which explicitly states that such reports say more about the value judgments of the person who wrote them.

5 Corner, Paul, ‘Fascist Italy in the 1930s: Popular Opinion in the Provinces’, in Corner, Paul, ed., Popular Opinion in Totalitarian Regimes: Fascism, Nazism, Communism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 122–46.

6 Klinkhammer, Lutz, ‘Was There a Fascist Revolution? The Function of Penal Law in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 15, 3 (2010), 390409.

7 Sørensen, Gert, ‘The Dual State and Fascism’, in Sørensen, Gert and Mallett, Robert, eds, International Fascism, 1919–1945 (London: Frank Cass, 2002), 2541.

8 In this regard, Ferris's work is a wonderful extension of the Janz, Oliver's book, Das symbolische Kapital der Trauer: Nation, Religion und Familie im italienischen Gefallenenkult des Ersten Weltkriegs (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2009).

9 Bernhard, Patrick, ‘Konzertierte Gegnerbekämpfung im Achsenbündnis: Die Polizei im Dritten Reich und im faschistischen Italien 1933 bis 1943’, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 59 (2011), 229–62.

10 In this regard, see also Guerrazzi, Amedeo Osti, The Italian Army in Slovenia: Strategies of Antipartisan Repression, 1941–1943 (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

11 In this regard there are interesting parallels to the German experience: the Nazi party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP) became increasingly discredited, but faith in Hitler remained unbroken nearly to the very end. See Römer, Felix, Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht von innen (Munich: Piper Verlag, 2012).

12 Sarfatti, Michele exposes these claims as legend; see ‘Autochthoner Antisemitismus oder Übernahme des deutschen Modells? Die Judenverfolgung im faschistischen Italien’, in Klinkhammer, Lutz, Guerrazzi, Amedeo Osti and Schlemmer, Thomas, eds, Die Achse im Krieg: Politik, Ideologie und Kriegführung 1939 bis 1945 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2010), 231–43.

13 Lindenberger, Thomas, ‘Die Diktatur der Grenzen: Zur Einleitung’, in Lindenberger, Thomas, ed., Herrschaft und Eigen-Sinn in der Diktatur: Studien zur Gesellschaftsgeschichte der DDR (Cologne: Böhlau, 1999); Wirsching, Andreas, Die Weimarer Republik: Politik und Gesellschaft (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2000); Bourg, Julien, ed., After the Deluge: New Perspectives on the Intellectual and Cultural History of Postwar France (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004); Wakeman, Rosemary, ‘The Fourth Republic’, in Berenson, Edward et al., eds, The French Republic: History, Values, Debates (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 7382.

14 Wildt, Michael, ‘Die Epochenzäsur 1989 /90 und die NS-Historiographie’, Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History, 5, 3, (2008), 117.

15 Recker, Marie-Luise, ‘Stark machen zum Einsatz von Gut und Blut für Volk und Vaterland: die Nationalistozialistische Volkswohlfahrt’, in Becker, Stephanie and Studt, Christoph, eds, ‘Und sie werden nicht mehr frei sein ihr ganzes Leben’: Funktion und Stellenwert der NSDAP, ihrer Gliederungen und angeschlossenen Verbände imDritten Reich’ (Munster: LIT-Verlag, 2012), 269–80.

16 Eric Salerno has drawn attention to the uncritical adoption of Fascist rhetoric by De Felice; see ‘ “Uccideteli tutti”: Libia 1943: Gli ebrei nel campo di concentramento fascista di Giado’ (Milan: Il Saggiatore, 2007).

17 Hikel, Christine, Kramer, Nicole and Zellmer, Elisabeth, eds, Lieschen Müller wird politisch: Geschlecht, Staat und Partizipation im 20. Jahrhundert (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2009).

18 Forthcoming from Suess, Winfried, ‘Functional Elites: Motives, Forms, and Sites of Self-Mobilization’, in Gotto, Bernhard and Streber, Martina, eds, National Socialism and ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

19 Nolzen, Armin, ‘The NSDAP, the War, and German Society’, in Echternkamp, Jörg, ed., Germany and the Second World War, vol. IX/I: German Wartime Society 1939–1945: Politicization, Disintegration, and the Struggle for Survival (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2008), 111206.

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Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
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