First Response: Italian Fascism

 

Italian history is no stranger to success and wealth. Its old empire subjugated 5 million square kilometers. Conquest of Sicily brought free bread to Rome. Silver from Spain would pay for its monuments, lavish games, and its armies – which would march Eastward to secure Alexander’s legacy. Juxtaposed to Italy’s former intoxicating power is the shambled form of its state in the early 20th century. Italians are confronted with the humiliation by Versailles, and were challenged to feed the population.

In Fascist Modernities, Ruth Ben-Ghiat describes the horrific occupation of Ethiopia. It was to become the food source to Italy, an experiment for a fascist social revolution, and a new Italian lebensraum. It was essential to expand propaganda control, and to maintain the image of the omnibenevolent state, omnipotent state. Italian Propaganda depicted Ethiopia’s occupation idealistically. But what was neglected is the story of genocide against the Ethiopians, and laws which determined Italian women ought to be publicly whipped, and transferred to concentration camps, should they dare lay with the native population. In this, the fascist tries to construct a new Italian nationhood. This was essential to Mussolini – point 7 of The Doctrine of Fascism states “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist idea is embodied in the State.” Fascism needed to define Italians as separate, and superior. Defining Italians in opposition to Ethiopians and others would encourage self-reliance.

in the Reading by Ben-Ghiat, he notes that limitations to creative freedom within the confines of Italian censorship severely hampered artistic creative expression. This impediment would severely limit not only the diversity but also the quality of Italian art, from books to movies. Art became the forceful expression of the state, and not of the artist’s creativity.

Keeping in mind the intense and effective use of propagandized movies in Italian fascist history, to what degree has Hollywood propagandized its movies? (talk about examples)

 

First Response to Mussolini and Italian fascism

What was evident in the linear narrative of human history is there is always a social, or political version of Newton’s third law of thermodynamics, which states “for every action, there is an equal and opposing reaction”.  Mussolini was masterful at using this cause-and-effect to shape Italy’s social policies. This includes, however is not limited to, massive military spending, the development of a massive existential threat to the state, suppression of legal liberalism and core rights. Consequentially, Mussolini would provide others a working model of fascism which would be adapted to the unique cultural, political, and economic challenges of their respective nation states.

Mussolini and his political philosophies were in response to economic, human, moral, and national destruction following the end of the First World War. During the 1920’s and 1930’s England and France had the near impossible task of rebuilding themselves due to being devastated by shortages of manpower, stagnate economies, and were experiencing hyperinflation; resulting from territorial incorporation of Ottoman and other nation states/empires that had be disassembled following the treaty of Versailles.

In response to all this, there was massive political unrest, demonstrations, and worker strikes which paralyzed economies, and perpetuated ongoing systemic poverty that is inherent to the democratic-capitalist system of government and economics. With poverty, and massive political unrest, the democracies of England, France, and the United States must have seemed weak, when compared to the Fascist system which portrayed itself as strong, and purposeful.  Mussolini was confirmed in his belief that the supposed superpowers of Europe (England and France) lacked political will to resist Fascism when Italy invaded Ethiopia.

Fascism Explioting a Broken System

Italian fascism had a clear goal to rid of their society of what they deemed to be undesirable aspects of liberalism and socialism. It is quite easy to see why so many people can fall prey to this ideology. Those who feel patriotic and proud of their heritage can be easily coerced into thinking of the heroism and unbending wills of their forefathers. Moreover, utterly rejecting any idea of the Marxist concept of class conflict can be a uniting force for a whole nation. It brings together the poor who no longer feel as if the rich are putting them down, and the rich no longer see the poor as lazy. It gives unity and gives them a reason to work together for a common cause. Besides, capitalism often leads to a culture of consumerism. The more things you have, the happier you will be. This idea often leads individuals to have feelings that life is something more to than just acquiring material goods. These beliefs and insecurities are easily exploited. In my opinion what fascism uses the most is the idea of ‘the good old days.’ This notion that if you give us the power will bring back the good times in the past, by riding of all what they consider to be degeneracy. What made it more interesting is why do so many people believe they were countering “masonic” bodies in their nations? What is with this obsession with masonic power? Who are these Masonic influences and how do they manifest themselves? Are they a real force to reckon with or are they all just a big conspiracy?

First response: Fascismo e violenza

The prime principles of fascism is systematic violence against an enemy. This ideology manifested itself circa 1920’s Italy, where Benito Mussolini took control of the country as an authoritarian leader. As mentioned in his doctrines,

War alone maximizes to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it”.

As a counter-resistance to Socialism and Liberalism, the rise of fascism as an ideology was defined by Mussolini through action rather than theory or principle. This idea of being able to act, rather than just theorizing concepts of war and conflict, allow for leaders like Mussolini to mobilize quickly.

The Italians were able to find national unity in the demographic colonization of Ethiopia. The examples given in the Ben-Ghiat chapter which include the obvious racism against Ethiopians and sexual exploitation of women demonstrate the ability under fascist regimes to act swiftly and place these violent  principles into action, and as a unifying factor in their [Italy’s] state building.

What is most interesting about this principle of structured violence within a political theory is that while Italian fascism is the first concrete example, it is but the first example of many. Finchelstein makes reference to many examples in Asia, the Middle East and South America, as well as the infamous Nazism, as German fascism. The transnational aspect of this ideology shows the universality, especially historically, in violence as a means of identity, action, and legitimate justice. In each country example, while there are different ends, the means of consolidating power through violence is still the same.

 

First Response: Fascism, an Italian reaction to a loss in supremacy

Fascism in Italy appears to have stemmed from a deep-seated sense of a loss of international supremacy and world power. Twice in Italy’s long and respected history has it gained unquestionable world prestige and power and twice squandered it in a failure to adapt with the ages. By this I am referring to the the fall of the infamous Roman Empire, and their demise from their central position in the economic advancement and the Renaissance in the 16th and 17th century in Florence and Venice. By the 1930s, Italy had lost a World War and was being comprehensively punished by the Paris Peace treaty of 1919. After reading Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s chapter of the emergence and progression of Italian fascism, it appears clear that fascism was a reaction to their repeated falls from power in history. The Abyssinian crisis in 1936 exacerbated this: it led to them leaving the League of Nations and creating an Axis-Alliance with Germany. Originally, this led to a feeling of empowerment in Italy, as it was as if they had acquired central Europe in an equal alliance with Germany. However, this was not the case: the alliance made Italy even more extreme fascists (evident by the increase in anti-semitic laws and the increase in support for Mussolini in this year) and Germany had no intention of making Italy an equal. Italians saw this Axis alliance as a success for Italy as a fascist nation. However Hitler, who had gained a lot of his insight from the ideas of Mussolini, made sure that this was not the case.

A couple of questions clearly appeared for me from the reading from Ben-Ghiat, and these were:

Was the alliance between Italy and Germany beneficial or obstructive for the progression of fascism?

Is Fascism inherently anti-semitic or was it something that was developed with the atmosphere of the 1930s?

I found Finkelstein’s chapter also particularly interesting in observing how the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, which made it the communist Soviet Union, increased the popularity of fascism in Italy and in other places, such as Ireland. This was because it did not reject the idea of capitalism or the free market, but it made it a totalitarian state.

Had the Bolshevik revolution not happened, do you think that fascism would have spread as quickly and as powerfully as it did in the interwar period?

First Response: The Significance of Italian Fascism

Italian fascism is credited with being the first fascist state in mainland Europe in the 20th century and for providing a model that other authoritarian states sought to emulate or expand on. While whether it was the first to engage in extreme state control can be debated, the impact that Italian fascism had on the ideologies of other authoritarian state is very evident.

One of the readings this week was a primary source document by Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile that outlined what the considered some of the essential tenets of fascism. A key quote from this reading that embodies Italian fascism (and all fascism) is “he Fascist idea is embodied in the State. It is for the individual insofar as the individual coincides with the State, [which is] the conscience and the universal will of Man in his historical existence” . All individual needs and characteristics must be ignored for the benefit of the construction of the state. Mussolini, as shown as well in the Ruth Ben-Ghiat reading, was more pragmatic about the controls his state put into place. In comparison to Hitler, “For Mussolini and most of his officials, unlike the Nazis, national prerogatives almost always took precedence over racial ones” is used to describe the process in which they instituted anti-Semitic laws.

However, attempts to portray Italian fascism as the ‘nicer’ version is both useless to debate and also untrue. The casualties of their war with Ethiopia are examined in the Ben-Ghiat reading, as well as the lack of recognition of the atrocities committed. Comparatively, they pale against the holocaust but framing the atrocities of two separate regimes against each other in order to diminish the significance of one is not a fair examination of the events. Overall, the readings do a good job of outlining what was significant about Italian fascism and gives some context as to why it is often overlooked in popular understanding, at least compared to Nazi Germany and the USSR: their fascism was more pragmatic and focused the outright slaughter less on people inside the regime.

Sweeper: History, A Glamourized Tale?

This week’s lecture and readings focused on the Middle Ages and the 20th-21st century’s imagination, which can taint historical accuracy. Our group touched upon many different ideas, one that intrigued me the most was the idea that what we believe to be entrenched in our society is important to study, because many times this box that we are put in is created by people. Therefore what we think is an absolute can actually be quite arbitrary.

To put this into better context, our group focused on the Geary reading which talked about nationalism throughout time. Our group discussed how nationalism was widely ignored until it could be used for political gain. We started noticing that people tend to reuse the past for specific reasons, something that was also touched up in the Kaufmann reading. What interested us was how we first thought that nations were the way they were because of a shared culture amongst its people. However, we soon learned that in many situations, nations were build by conquest, where one more dominant culture takes over and weakens other cultures until they fade and become homogeneous. We related this to British culture invading what would be Canada, and dominating first nations people.

Just as the Medieval Ages is tainted by romantic imagery, so is our idea of nationality. So I will leave you with some questions to ponder. Does Canada have a Medieval past? When does Canada’s history start? Finally, why is Parliament gothic?

Introduction

Hello! My name is Anita, and yes I am a little late to the party due to some technological issues. However, what I lack in technological savvy I make up for in curiosity, primarily in the past! For the first three years of my undergrad I majored in Law, however while accidentally taking a history coarse in the winter semester of 2017, I discovered that history was one of my passions (once again, better late than never). I am currently double majoring in Law and History with a minor in Sexuality Studies. After my undergrad I plan on attending Law School.

I have always been intrigued by the idea of fascism. It may have started from reading books like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or my grandpa’s war stories about Nazi Germany. Either way, I am extremely excited to learn more about fascism, and populism which I am not as familiar with. I believe we are living in an extremely interesting time politically, but can’t wait to see what the past can teach us!

First Response Week 1 Middle Ages

In the article Race, racism and the middle ages, Amy Kaufman focuses on white supremacy, hate crimes and violent acts in the Middle Ages. Amy compares modern ‘alt right’ movements with the grand titles and aggressive military regimes to that of medieval times. She also argues how modern notions about medievalism are shaped through the contemporary ideas about the Middle Ages which have been shaped over time through public perception and depicted through film and other media. She states that the popular sentiment for many of those who discuss the middle ages is based around myths which feed their imagination, and based less around factual history. Amy argues that there are many white men who fantasize about medievalism in order to cope with their changing status in society, from dominant and powerful to a more equal position with women and people of all races. She then argues how these kinds of sentiments contributed to the creation of violent and hateful organizations such as the KKK.  The KKK, which was formed after the Civil War in the US, was a cult which worked to re-establish and maintain the supremacy of the white male in society. One of my concerns with this article is the way the author sometimes uses the term ‘alt right’ very generally, or in direct connection or relation to violent organization such as the KKK. Amy does not exactly define what she means by ‘alt right’ and although the organizations she talks about could be considered ‘alt right’, when she uses the term on its own it blurs the lines between ‘alt right’ movements which are socially acceptable and those which are hateful and violent.

Sweeper: The role of Populism in Nation Building

Marc Saurette’s lecture on the misinterpretation of history and it’s use within populist movements formed the foundation of our group’s discussion on the wider role of populism in the creation of the nation state. As Professor Saurette demonstrated, purposeful misinterpretations of medieval history has formed the basis of populist rhetoric which has been used by both modern and historic hate groups in order to stigmatize ethnic and religious minorities. What is often ignored however is that this same populist rhetoric of an ethnically homogeneous population and an “us verses them” mentality has also been an essential element in the creation of the European nation state. Take for example the creation of modern Germany which exists in an area historically populated by a multitude of both German and Non-German ethnic groups which was never a single homogeneous national entity. In the pursuit of a nation state the nationalist founders of modern Germany advocated the ahistorical view of a unified and homogeneous German people which were threatened by their Non-German neighbors, namely the Slavic peoples. This rhetoric is remarkably similar to the rhetoric used by the Nazi movement in Germany to justify their genocidal expansion eastward in pursuit of “living space” for the German people. While the negative impact of this misuse of history cannot be ignored, our group also discussed the role of populist rhetoric and the myth of an ethnically homogeneous population in maintaining stability within a state. As members of our group noted, much of the violence and instability that has plagued both Africa and Asia following the decolonization of the mid 20th century has been rooted in ethnic and religious conflict. This is in no small part due to the creation of artificial states by European colonial empires for the purpose of dividing territory among themselves, which fail to correlate to existing ethnic and geographic boundaries. This is further compounded by the fact that colonial powers often encouraged ethnic division and conflict within their colonies in order to destabilize opposition to their rule. This was tragically demonstrated in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide in which ethnic tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu populations resulted in the massacre of nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The strife that led to the genocide had its roots in the colonial system established by the Belgian rulers of Rwanda which placed the Tutsi minority in a position of authority over the Hutu majority in order to prevent the creation of a common Rwandan identity which could lead to opposition to their colonial rule. This policy of exacerbating pre-existing ethnic division contrasts sharply to the domestic policy pursued by colonial European powers such as France which aggressively sought to break apart local ethnic identities in favor of a homogeneous French national identity in the pursuit of domestic stability. This has led our group to conclude that the stabilizing effect of populist rhetoric as well as it’s ability to induce collective action, is in large part responsible for the reoccurring and drastic rise in both the popularity and scope of populist movements during times of crisis throughout modern history.