Mussolini: What is he?

“Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” by B.J.B Bosworth discussed the different views of Mussolini. Mussolini was fascist Italy. There cannot be one without the other. He was imbued with mythical even biblical status by his followers. He was a hero to Italians across the globe, he offset the negative Italian stereotype many faced. Each dictatorial nation created a myth of the leader, and Italy was no different. Mussolini was initially welcomes and praised as fascism led Italy out of the Great Depression.

To fully understand Mussolini and fascist Italy one must also look at the circumstances of the time. At first Mussolini was viewed as a pioneer in Europe, he controlled a nation for more than two decades. He modernized Italy and expanded it’s border in an attempt to recapture it’s roman prestige. Fascism allowed Italy to overcome the Great Depression with greater ease than other nations.  Mussolini was initially looked upon with admiration and respect before the Nazis rose to power in Germany. With the emergence of the Nazi party Italy was downgraded to the lowest of the “great European powers”. As Bosworth stated, Mussolini became a “dictator minor”, he did not command the same respect and power that Hitler and Stalin did.1

Mussolini in 1934 was more than willing to fight against the union of Austria and Germany. He was an opponent of the Nazis belief of the existence of a true Aryan.2 However, when Italy entered WWII six years later, the people felt betrayed by their leader.3 Mussolini created a nation in a period of peace that fell short during the war.

According to Emil Ludwig, in the 1930s, Mussolini was the “Nietzschean superman”, whose movement helped Italy to prosper4. His fascist nation created “new forms, new myths, and new rites” for the Italian people. This is in opposition to many reviews of Mussolini that portray him as a propagandist, a man who failed as a leader. There are many conflicting views, and as Bosworth stated in his conclusion, more research needs to be conducted to make a full “appraisal” of Mussolini.5 There is still much unknown as to his decision making role.

1. B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism, London: Arnold, 1998, 74.

2. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 73-74.

3. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 67.

4. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 73.

5. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 81.


Commonalities vs. Sameness

In Three New Deals, author Wolfganf Schivelbusch  argues how three powerful states were all led by common ideals leading up to WWII.  This is not to confuse with ‘same’ ideals in any sense.  While these terms may seem alike, Schivelbusch clearly states there is a difference.  He argues that while the United States, Germany, and Italy had common features the three cannot be considered identical in any way.  It is difficult to place the United States, a democratic society, in the same category as two authoritative countries, but Schivelbusch continues to explain how they represent one another while being different at the same time.

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal consisted of a series of acts that were established to help the United States recover from the Great Depression.  While the New Deal looks as it could help the recovery process, it ultimately did nothing but create criticism both internationally and domestically.  Much of the criticism was towards FDR and his Fascist and National Socialist fascinations.  Schivelbusch argues how Germany and Italy identified the similarities of FDR’s economic solutions and supported his dictatorial leadership style.  While these solutions may have been similar to those of the Fascist or National Socialist, they are not identical in any matter.

Another element Schivelbusch recognizes that is common within these three states is the use of  propaganda, particularly war propaganda.  War propaganda was used create a sense of nationalism through the respected states, and Italy and Germany seemed to create a strong idea of nationalism.  Stated, “fascism and National Socialism saw themselves as the continuation of solders’ solidarity, as heroic, messianic movements that would invigorate nations still ruled by outdated ideas with new revolutionary spirit.  Politics was a call to arms on the home front” (39).  FDR and the United States did not have anywhere near the strength of the Germans or Italians, but was convinced he could spread it.

Berlin Stories

In The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood explains the daily life of a British ex-patriot living in Germany during the early 1930s. His section called “A Berlin Diary: Autumn 1930” explores the daily life and activities of the protagonist and his friends/acquaintances. Within this chapter, the reader is introduced to daily life, seeing a glimpse of how an everyday person may have lived during that time.
One line within this chapter was especially surprising given the financial and economic difficulties of the time. The protagonist, in talking about the character of another, states, “like everyone else in Berlin, she refers continually to the political situation, but only briefly, with a conventional melancholy, as when one speaks of religion. It is quite unreal to her” (223). This reaction is surprising given how dire the situation in Germany was at the time. Did the average person tend to ignore or dwell on these problems?
This piece of the text brings up interesting questions about the time. The timeless issue of the strength of a semi-fictitious piece as a source for historical analysis. This type of interpretation forces the reader to interpret and analyze questions about population demographics and popular support. How was the population so unsupportive of attempts made to help them during such an uncertain time? How did people like Hippi talk only briefly about the problems that were present in Germany, but also in almost every other European country during the latter part of the 20th century?