I used to think of Fascist regimes as strict and highly consistent. However, Christopher Leeds’ article, “The Fascist State” describes the vast changes that occurred within the Fascist party during its time in power. The party’s lack of concrete political ideologies granted it the flexibility to react to economic, social, and political developments throughout the decades.
The Fascist party, led by Mussolini, could implement policies even if they seemed useless or superfluous. I particularly enjoyed the example of the party’s incentives to increase the Italian population and the exchange between Emil Ludwig, the German writer and reporter, and Mussolini. When Ludwig questioned Mussolini’s goal to increase the Italian population, the Duce erupted in the reporters face1 Such a lively exchange highlighted Mussolini’s political sensitivity and his obsession with control. The Fascist state, and its leader, needed to appear infallible in order to legitimize the authoritarian control it exerted over Italy. Ludwig questioned, and rightly so, the necessity Mussolini’s policies aimed at increasing the Italian population due to the country’s existing high population density2 These policies cemented the post-WWI fears that we studied earlier in the year. The devastating casualties inflicted by modern weapons taught world leaders that military success hinged on manpower.
Such episodes, such as the one between Ludwig and Mussolini, also start to highlight a trend that authoritarian leaders all stand on edge and might suffer from some sort of self confidence problems. Do you think that self-consciousness is a prerequisite to become a dictator?
This raises an interesting point. I had never thought of self-consciousness as a factor into a dictatorship. Certainly for Stalin, he was self-conscious, for he as a little Georgian man who lacked the charisma of Hitler. Though, even for Hitler, with the purification of Germany he had some issues with himself. Hitler did not represent the perfect German race he wished to create.
This raises an interesting point. I had never thought of self-consciousness as a factor into a dictatorship. Certainly for Stalin, he was self-conscious, for he was a little Georgian man who lacked the charisma of Hitler. Though, even for Hitler, with the purification of Germany he had some issues with himself. Hitler did not represent the perfect German race he wished to create.
The element of performance that goes into being a political leader demands a certain self-consciousness, even beyond being a dictator. Schivelbusch wrote about the charisma inherent in FDR’s popularity as a benign paterfamilias during his fireside chats. Leaders, especially dictators, in order to gain support must be conscious of how they are perceived by their target audience.
While I have never thought of the idea of self-consciousness as a quality in leaders, Leeds states, “Mussolini did not consciously plan to establish Italy as a totalitarian state”. ((Christopher Leeds, “The Fascist State” in Italy under Mussolini (London: Wayland Publishers), 43)). Do you think his unconscious plan of creating this Fascist state was a result of the self-consciousness? And if self-conscious, what was he embarrassed or uneasy about, as they are not clearly visible as Hitler and Stalin’s self-consciousness ideas were.