Do We Need Fascists?

In the early 20th century Mussolini became a master of narrative construction as he sought to reform Italy. However, Mussolini did not rise to power simply owed to factors outside his own control but, with the aid of narratives. Narratives that conjured fear the hearts and minds of the Italian people and painted an image that required their response. Fascism as a movement utilized the trope of a sick patient (as many veterans of war at the time once were) to argue that Italian nation had been taken by disease. As Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote in her 2004 book Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945, Alfredo Rocco, and other nationalist thinkers such as Scipio Sighele and Enrico Corradini argued a need for “order and collective discipline at home” given the “ ‘congenital Italian illness’ of excessive individualism that had supposedly hindered Italy’s progress as an imperial force” (Ben-Ghiat 2004, 18). Mussolini continued these tropes calling Italy “unhealthy”, “sick”, “infected” and calling for “necessary hygienic action”.

Ultimately, Mussolini rose to power as the great healer that would bandage the Italian nation and pull the state from the brink of death. However, in the lead up to and the duration of Mussolini’s fascist administration there were great measures enacted to ensure that the Italian people would continue to choose the Mussolini regime as the surgical hand by which they would be rid of ‘infection’. The ‘infection’ of individualism and a troubled nation that Italians were told that they had.

This gave credence to policies enacted from 1925-1929, as Ben-Ghiat wrote, to effectively create a police state in Italy, autonomous organization such as the mafia were made to organize in line with the objectives of the nation-state. Fascist Italy made and re-made organizations and the histories that went along with them to ensure one collective narrative was shared among the Italian people. This narrative was indoctrinated by the national fascist organization known as Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND), State controlled media, and intellectuals such as Luigi Pirandello whose careers benefited from the intervention of the Fascist regime. In the case of Pirandello, Ben-Ghiat pointed out that he was recommended to the Italian Academy for his support to the nation.

The very people those being intellectuals, thinkers and artists who work to critically analyze the business of those in positions of power accepted that the “world of ideas ran on a strictly parallel course with that of the dictatorship” (Ben-Ghiat 2004, 23) and not in opposition to it. The work of intellectuals within the system were Mussolini declared it “permissible to advance objective judgments on art, prose, poetry, and theater without the threat of a veto due to an irregular party card” (quoted in Ben-Ghiat 2004, 23) kept the surgical hand of Mussolini steady.

The Italian nation ultimately needed a fascist solely because the Italian people were told they needed one. The push for intellectuals and policy makers to speak with the same breath put Italy, in the eyes of the Fascist regime, in a “privileged position” over other states. But the limits of Fascism was tested from within as the old men and ideas were faced with modernity in a Fascist sphere.

2 Replies to “Do We Need Fascists?”

  1. I totally agree with the fact that intellectuals were the glue that held together the Mussolini’s administration in its search for a transformation in the Italian population. If the intellectuals had not been supporters , it might have been very difficult to assert this ideology ( yes, I call it an ideology) nationally and internationally. Fascism emphasized on the concept of unity , “collective discipline” in the sense that the excessive individualism would lead to anarchy. For these reasons, intellectuals were the best allies to spread propaganda not only through literature or politics but also through cinema, paintings or music where the possibility to reach out to the common people was easier. It also became a mean to report on the international opinions and solidify the Fascist beliefs. Would the intellectuals have passed on the possibility to be supported by the state and not subject to harsh censorship ? Afterall, this state patronage facilitated their fame and assured them commissions that they might not have dreamt of otherwise.

  2. According to Sighele, Rocco, and Corradini, “excessive individualism…supposedly hindered Italy’s progress as an imperial force.” Fascist sentiments such as these may certainly influence public perception of a nation insofar as they begin to support right-wing parties and turn to extremist leaders as saviours. However, the social and economic context in the 1920s made Italians ripe to receive this information: Italy had emerged from World War I in a poor and weakened condition. Widespread inflation, debt and an extended depression contributed to changing political values in the post-war period. Like many nations who have faced economic slumps, Italians were ready for a change, and Mussolini was the one to step forward.

    While there is no doubt fear mongering was used to increase uncertainty and made fascists alternatives seem more appealing, these strategies of control were not applied in a vacuum. Economic crises and a desire for change was ultimately why Italy chose a fascist region, not solely because they were told they needed one.

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