The Rhetoric of Being “Non-rhetorical”

After reading this article, I felt that I really needed to actually watch Mussolini speak to really understand the different, and often seemingly oxymoronic, things that were being said about his style of speech. This is what I watched:

Mussolini Speech at Bolzano, 1935

I did pretty quickly come to agree with Spackman that he doesn’t seem like a particularly captivating speaker – the kind that could put an entire audience under a spell, so much so that they forget to listen to what he is actually saying. So I do definitely agree with her that we shouldn’t take for granted that he had some sort of magical quality that made him such a smashing public speaker.

What fascinated me in this article, and in the above footage, were the great rhetorical devices he went to in order to seem un-rhetorical. For instance, you can see the parataxis (elimination of conjunctive words) in this speech – the series of phrases each beginning with “per” in the very beginning, for example. Parataxis is a rhetorical device, especially when used for emphasis, but it cuts out unnecessary conjunctions, thus making Mussolini able to construe it as being part of his promise to only speak the bare minimum, without any extra language.

For me, this was just another example of Italian fascism being plagued by contradictions.

Rhetoric “for” the masses

What I couldn’t understand was why Facism, as a conglomerate of all political parties that advocated for the masses, used violence to facilitate the masses. Furthermore, what more can be said about the contradiction between the ideology that Fasicm was nonrehtorical and the language of body movements in Mussolini as rhetoric (beyond the actual debates and definitions of what Facism is and stands for). This article provoked more questions for me than it provided answers.

The State as a Body

Overall, I found this article to be very interesting. Looking at the “rhetoric” of fascism and picking apart speeches by Mussolini to show how contradicting they actually were was interesting for me. Language can be very powerful but can also be used in many different ways, even bad ones.

What I found most interesting was the connection to Machiavelli’s The Prince but also his The Discourses to Mussolini’s speeches.  It all seems to begin when Mussolini mentions the need to populate Italy further as a means to justify their colonialization:

“Since the nineteenth century, Italy’s colonialism had been justified as “demographic,” as a “need” caused by the large numbers of Italians who had been forced to emigrate abroad in order to find work and sustenance.” This next quote shows this concept even further:

“. . . A continued increase in population was deemed necessary in order to provide the nation with this pressing “need” to expand its borders.”

This fascist way of justifying colonialism then places a strong emphasis on the reproduction of its citizens and thus their health. Overall, this makes the state seem like a metaphorical “body” which is mentioned later in the article. Mussolini viewed himself as a “doctor” with cures for both the internal and external diseases of the “body” but this idea is not a new concept. We can see this idea of the state being a body even in Thomas Hobbes work. But Machiavelli, which I am reading for another class right now, was the person that I saw a connection with the most while reading this article. Machiavelli compares what an actual doctor says about disease to the metaphorical diseases of a state:

“. . . these princes have not only to watch out for present problems but also for those in the future, and try diligently to avoid them . . . and what physicians say about disease is applicable here: at the beginning a disease is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; but as time passes, not having been recognized or treated at the outset, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure.”

This is the front cover of Hobbes's Leviathan. If you look closely, you can see that the ruler's body is made up of all the people in the state.

Mussolini tried to do what Machiavelli had advised many years ago. He mentions the importance of external threats and internal ones, just as Machiavelli does in The Discourses with regards to conspiracies, and recognizing how to avoid such threats. For Mussolini, his external threats were politically opposed parties and his “cure” was the “policing of the national borders.” The cure for internal threats was expelling them. Here we can see two concepts even found in modern medicine today: first you prevent a disease and if you cannot, then you try to expel it.

The idea of the state being a metaphorical body is a powerful one in my mind because it is something that many people can connect to, making the argument even more powerful. Nobody wants to be “sick” and everyone would like to expel the “diseases” that the “doctor” has diagnosed. In the end, it is a strong technique that Mussolini was not the first or only to incorporate within his speeches.