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Fascist Modernities

Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945

Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 327
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  • Book Info
    Fascist Modernities
    Book Description:

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat's innovative cultural history of Mussolini's dictatorship is a provocative discussion of the meanings of modernity in interwar Italy. Eloquent, pathbreaking, and deft in its use of a broad range of materials, this work argues that fascism appealed to many Italian intellectuals as a new model of modernity that would resolve the contemporary European crisis as well as long-standing problems of the national past. Ben-Ghiat shows that—at a time of fears over the erosion of national and social identities—Mussolini presented fascism as a movement that would allow economic development without harm to social boundaries and national traditions. She demonstrates that although the regime largely failed in its attempts to remake Italians as paragons of a distinctly fascist model of mass society, twenty years of fascism did alter the landscape of Italian cultural life. Among younger intellectuals in particular, the dictatorship left a legacy of practices and attitudes that often continued under different political rubrics after 1945.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93805-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1934, the young art critic Renato Poggioli asked his peers: “What is this Europe in dissolution that wants to drag us into the abyss as well? Should we Italians become more European, or should Europe become more Italian? . . . Are we merely an eccentric peninsula on the continent, or are we still and always the garden of the Empire? To defend ourselves spiritually, should our culture turn its back on Europe, or should we be open to that which comes from outside?”¹ Poggioli’s concerns over national identity and the future of Europe were shared by intellectuals throughout...

  6. 1 Toward a Fascist Culture
    (pp. 17-45)

    Six months before taking power, Mussolini asked readers of his new reviewGerarchia, “Does fascism aim at restoring the State, or subverting it? Is it order or disorder? . . . Is it possible to be conservatives and subversives at the same time? How does fascism intend to escape this vicious circle of paradoxical contradictions?”¹ With an impossibly heterogeneous coalition of supporters, which included Nationalists, monarchists, national syndicalists, squadrists, and conservative clericals, Mussolini did not really intend to clarify his movement’s ideological identity. The fascist leader had initially marketed himself as a radical populist, using antibourgeois rhetoric and promises of...

  7. 2 Narrating the Nation
    (pp. 46-69)

    In a 1928 article entitled “Invitation to the Novel,” the Italian literary critic Giovanni Titta Rosa remarked,

    It is commonly said that there is no modern Italian life, and the little that exists does not offer material for the writer. The truth is the opposite. Modern Italian life exists, and is rich with passions, with content. The war and postwar—for those who have known how to understand them—offer the most varied and vast panorama of passions imaginable. I dare say that even the Napoleonic era did not produce such an outburst of expression.

    Rather than remaining “in an...

  8. 3 Envisioning Modernity
    (pp. 70-92)

    “Today films have replaced novels as the source of new models for youth,” the journalist Leo Longanesi observed in 1933. “The situations, gestures, physiognomies and environments they see, like the words they hear, enter into their memories as real, lived experience; they stir up fantasies, stimulate dreams, and can even form characters. Manyyouth today possess a temperament that might be defined as cinematographic.”¹ Since World War I, intellectuals throughout Europe had pondered cinema’s capacity to represent the landscapes and rhythms of a rapidly changing world. Under Italian fascism, though, films came in for special attention from those who wished to...

  9. 4 Class Dismissed: Fascism’s Politics of Youth
    (pp. 93-122)

    Like many dictators, Mussolini showed little interest in grooming a successor. Ego, pride, and the need to project an aura of uniqueness and infallibility prevented him from ever anointing a political heir, and the timorous and sycophantic officials who surrounded him for twenty years were not about to press the issue. Yet the Duce and his functionaries had been preoccupied with problems of succession and continuity from the inception of the regime, since they viewed fascism less as a traditional political party than as a “way of life” that would give rise to a new civilization. Accordingly, even as the...

  10. 5 Conquest and Collaboration
    (pp. 123-170)

    The invasion of Ethiopia constituted a watershed in the history of the Italian regime. Spurred by fascist dreams of creating a Mediterranean and Red Sea empire, it set in motion a chain of events that destroyed millions of lives in and outside of Italy. By the end of 1937, Italy had left the League of Nations and formed an alliance with Nazi Germany that had lasting repercussions on fascist foreign and domestic policies. War now provided a new context for fascist social engineering schemes: combat and the colonial experience were envisioned as crucibles of a “new type of humanity” suited...

  11. 6 The Wars of Fascism
    (pp. 171-201)

    In June 1940, as German Panzer Corps swept into the heart of France, Mussolini announced Italy’s entry into the war. Low monetary reserves and an antiquated arsenal had prevented the fascists’ mobilization in 1939, and many top government advisors had recommended continued neutrality. Yet the Duce did not want to miss a prime opportunity to secure Italy’s leadership role in the New Europe. Nonintervention, he announced to the Italian public, would “downgrade Italy for a century as a great power and for an eternity as a Fascist regime.” Building on two decades of crisis thinking, Mussolini billed the war as...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 202-212)

    As the forces of the Resistance and the Republic of Salò faced each other in January 1944, the philosopher Gentile posed a question to his fellow intellectuals that dramatized the fracturing of their country’s national identity: “For which Italy should one now live think teach make poetry write?”¹ The choices Italian intellectuals made in response to this question not only determined their immediate future but also conditioned their views of their immediate past. Between September 1943 and April 1945, against the backdrop of the Holocaust and foreign occupation, a new moral universe took shape that ultimately facilitated the nation’s self-absolution...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-276)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-304)
  15. Index
    (pp. 305-318)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-321)