Fascist Italy did not happen overtime. From the need for Mussolini to restore an order that he considered absent to the modern Italy that looked toward the future, many different steps were crossed with a certain hesitation in regard to how fascism should rally a population that was not entirely favourable to support its ideology. Ruth Ben-Ghiat details in the first chapter of Fascist Modernity: Italy (2004) how compromises have been made and how political propaganda used culture and art to disseminate ideas for both the sake of internal unity but also transnationally by comparing to other nations who in the eyes of the fascists captured a darker side of modernity.
The issue for Mussolini was to be able to integrate the intellectuals in his ideology firstly at a national level then at an international scale as his aspiration for expansion grew stronger. The author navigates between these two goals by using references to culture and art in general. Through control of the press and by carefully choosing members for organizations that ensured that individualism was not detrimental to the collectivity, censorship drew a model for fascist art and culture that very much resembled the one that was taking place in Germany in the 1930s and which culminated in 1937 with the “ Degenerate Art” exhibit in Munich. The term “degeneration” was wildly used as well as “non-productive” to describe a society that relied on too much individualism and not enough collective effort. Mussolini in his 1927 Ascension Day speech used medical terms to support his statement on the necessity to regenerate the nation which resembles the Nazi ideology very much without targeting a specific race at that time yet.
But with openness to other countries come comparison and fear of the other. The author dedicates a sub-part of the chapter to the experience that Italian travellers encountered in the USA, Soviet Union or Germany. She greatly highlights the conflict that Italy faced especially with the USA which has always been admired and an important emigration land for many Italians and unfortunately how the mass-consumerist society perverted its culture. In this passage, it is interesting to see how Italians perceived these dystopian countries as a downfall to avoid. The strength of this chapter is to explain how politics played a role in culture and art to disseminate an ideology based on modernity whilst keeping it on a short leash. The distorted ideas about the American society are the proof that Italy was struggling between adopting a new attitude toward modernity and staying conservative with the patriarchal traditions and national identity.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, 2004), pp. 17-45.