Mussolini: Master Propagandist or Savior of Italy?

Mussolini ha sempre ragione, loosely translated to Mussolini is always right, in many ways perfectly embodies the complicated identity of the Italian fascist dictator.1  As B.J.B Bosworth explored the various biographies put forth about Mussolini in “Mussolini The Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” several key themes emerged in his analysis.  The local and international idolization of Mussolini coupled with the external pressure of several wars partially explained the downfall of the Italian Fascist regime and Italy after the Second World War.

Mussolini’s image as a capable stalwart symbol of Italian potential gained much of the initial support for the Fascist party.  By 1923 and the official takeover of the regime, Mussolini attained an almost godlike and Messianic position in mass politics.2  The main problem with placing Mussolini on a pedestal came when he could not live up to the heroic potential he promised.  While throughout the 1920s Italy became a great European power, with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, once more the country lost its prestige.  Moreover, the almost immediate disaster in Greece following entry in WWII obliterated the superman image of Mussolini.  This turn away from Mussolini as a savior, or even a shining example of an inferior race (in Trevelyan and Coote’s perspective), propelled biographies from the mid-1930s towards labeling him a consummate actor caught up in the role of a godlike dictator.  The fall in public opinion on Mussolini signaled the end of popular support for the Fascist state.  Bosworth stipulated that Mussolini as a fake superman lasted in popular and scholarly biographies through the 1980s.3

The broad change in opinion over the true identity of Mussolini brings up two important questions.  Can the blame for Italy’s failure to truly dominate as a great power during and after World War Two be placed, even partially, on Mussolini’s shoulders?

  1. B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” In The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism ed. by Bosworth (London: Arnold, 1998), 64. []
  2. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 65. []
  3. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 81. []

5 thoughts on “Mussolini: Master Propagandist or Savior of Italy?

  1. I think it stands to reason that Italy was in no shape, before or after World War II, to attain a status as a great world power regardless of Mussolini’s influence. Bosworth mentions that several diplomats and scholars were highly impressed with what Mussolini’s fascist policies had done for the structural integrity of Italy as a nation, and even the country’s disasters during the war and Mussolini’s failures to live up to his promises cannot take away from the advancements that were made during his reign.

    • I agree with Dalton, there are a lot of factors that contributed to Italy’s rise and fall as a world power. For example, when you look at Italy in the most basic sense (by looking at the state itself) you learn how divided Italy was prior to Mussolini taking power. In reality, those feelings of division could not have been completely eradicated with the rise of one man, no matter what is said. This division among Italian people would have made it very difficult to form a cohesive system. Thus the formation of Italy prior to Mussolini’s rise would have been just one factor contributing to the rise and fall of the state.

  2. Italy (much like Germany) spent a great deal of time attempting to establish itself as a colonial power before the First World War, and Mussolini (at least in Ethiopia) continued this trend; the entire nation spent years playing catch-up with little success. Unlike the Unification of Germany in 1871 which created a cohesive, united system, Italy’s unification loosely tied together a conglomerate of people who even today express stark differences in culture, customs, and even language. Mussolini is not entirely at fault. Italy, the canvas on which he chose to make his mark, did not stand a chance at success; the fascist artist was doomed to failure from day one.

  3. Based off Victorias question, Daltons Comment, and Claire’s comment, one could say that because of how diverse Italy was, a man like Mussolini would not have been successful in making Italy strong. Like my fellow classmates have stated before me, Italy was so diverse. Making them united behind a single goal would have been difficult.

    I do believe that Mussolini was the weakest of the three dictators. With that said, how would Hitler and Stalin fair if they, and their political systems, were established in Italy?

    • You can’t compare Mussolini to Stalin or Hitler cultural wise because there was too much cultural differences in each region of Italy. True there were many different cultural identities in Russia but Stalin brought them all together through communism.

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