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. ((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.))  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. ((Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 65.))  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. ((Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 81.))

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?