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Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America

Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America

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    Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America
    Book Description:

    Mussolini, in the thousand guises he projected and the press picked up, fascinated Americans in the 1920s and the early '30s. John Diggins' analysis of America's reaction to an ideological phenomenon abroad reveals, he proposes, the darker side of American political values and assumptions.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6806-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xx)

    Shortly after the Second World War two of the more interesting “remains” of Italian Fascism turned up at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a psychiatric institution in Washington, D.C.: a fragment of Benito Mussolini’s brain tissue and Ezra Pound. Mussolini’s brain would be dissected to determine if the dictator had had paresis, a paralytic condition caused by syphilis; Pound’s mind would be observed to determine the mental condition of one of America’s famous men of letters who had been charged with treason. St. Elizabeth’s presented a somewhat macabre scene: the dictator’s brilliant, self-appointed poet in residence in a mental institution and Pound’s...


    • 1. Arcadia and Mulberry Street: Two Italys in the American Mind on the Eve of Fascism
      (pp. 5-21)

      Italy is in some ways a concept as much as a country. For nineteenth-century Americans, it was a state of mind as well as a nation-state. Somewhere between the idea and the reality hovered a geographical abstraction that beguiled the imagination. “There are a good many things about this Italy which I do not understand,” confessed Mark Twain in 1869. Over a century later Italy still appears a sunny enigma wrapped in the shadow of paradox: A nation steeped in history, a nation left behind by history; a culture rich in art and music, a culture poor in mass education...

    • 2. Enter Il Duce
      (pp. 22-41)

      As he walked amidst the majestic splendor of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, entered the huge folding doors of the Hall of the Mappamondo, and continued down the wide, arching halls filled with Madonnas, frescoes, and Byzantine chests, one question haunted biographer Emil Ludwig. For a week he had been returning every evening for his hourly conversation with Benito Mussolini. Taking his customary seat across the desk from the always composed and courteous statesman, Ludwig finally broached the question:

      Curiously enough, in the course of my travels I have found you more popular in America than anywhere else. In a...

    • 3. American Journalists and Mussolini
      (pp. 42-57)

      In January 1923, the young journalist Ernest Hemingway covered the Lausanne Conference for theToronto Daily Star.His first encounter with Mussolini left him distinctly unimpressed. Ushered into a room along with other journalists, Hemingway found the Premier so deeply absorbed in a book that he did not bother to look up. Curious, Hemingway “tiptoed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary—held upside down.”¹

      Unfortunately for American opinion, few reporters were as willing as Hemingway to peer behind the facade of Fascist power in order...

    • 4. Mussolini as American Hero
      (pp. 58-74)

      To conclude a study of the Mussolini vogue by maintaining that in America he was nothing more than a press-manufactured celebrity is only half the story. Dismissing him as the product of a news-hungry media and a public given to dramatic “pseudoevents” ignores two salient facts: that neither publicity nor propaganda can by itself create a popular “symbolic hero,” and that Mussolini enjoyed the acclaim of many prominent contemporaries who were uninfluenced by the press. It would be tedious to quote here the lavish accolades heaped upon him by such astute admirers as Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps...


    • 5. Italian-Americans and Mussolini’s Italy
      (pp. 77-110)

      Mannaggia America!(Damn America!) Whether heard in New York’s Mulberry district, Boston’s north end, or San Francisco’s North Beach, this same thought tormented many Italian immigrants who swarmed to the United States in search of, if not streets paved with gold, something more promising than a wilderness of asphalt. No human mind is atabula rasa: to forget this fact in discussing the Italian-American response is to miss the whole social meaning of that experience. Psychologically the Italian immigrant was conditioned to respond positively to Fascism even before Mussolini’s regime dazzled his mind. Doubtless Fascist propaganda provided the fertilizer, but...

    • 6. The Italian-American Anti-Fascist Resistance
      (pp. 111-143)

      America’s first organized opposition to Fascism originated in the Italian-American labor movement. Many leaders of the Italian-American Left had received their political education in the old country, where they had inhaled deeply the gusty crosscurrents of anarchism, syndicalism, and socialism. In the United States they found the radical winds of doctrine no less turbulent and dissident, ranging from Lassallean political activism to DeLeonist revolutionary trade unionism. Italian immigrants, who were the last to arrive in America and thus economically at the foot of the occupational ladder, generally gravitated to the Socialist Labor Party, originally an uneasy alliance of Populist protest,...

    • 7. Business and Labor
      (pp. 144-181)

      On March 18, 1923, Benito Mussolini, flanked by a platoon of Blackshirts, entered the Fine Arts Building amid, according to theNew York Times,“flourishes of trumpets and all the pomp and solemnity to which Rome so well lends itself.” His stately appearance was greeted by the earnest cheers of the 1,000 businessmen who gathered in Rome for the Second Congress of the International Chamber of Commerce. For the American delegation—numbering 200 and the largest present—II Duce had special words of welcome. The large American audience indicated the abiding interest of American businessmen in European affairs, and the...

    • 8. Church Windows
      (pp. 182-203)

      “If anyone ventures today to suggest that the Vatican in any sense supported the Fascist regime,” wrote Giorgio La Piana and Gaetano Salvemini in 1943, “every Catholic voice in America is raised in formidable protest.” The charge levelled by the two Harvard historians reflected the bitterness of many exiles whose anti-Fascism appeared vindicated during the war but whose anti-Catholicism remained as vindictive as ever. In their eyes it was not only the Vatican that bestowed its blessings upon Mussolini but American Catholicism itself. Angrily reflecting upon this unholy alliance, the anti-Fascist 11 Mondo (New York) issued the following indictment in...

    • 9. Three Faces for Fascism: The American Right, Left, and Center
      (pp. 204-239)

      Fascism was the political wonder of the twentieth century. Whereas the Bolshevik Revolution appeared to Americans as the culmination of nineteenth-century revolutionary radicalism, the March on Rome seemed shrouded in a thick ideological fog. Significantly, no American thinker clearly anticipated the rise of European Fascism. Looking back, one can find vague premonitions in Brooks Adams’ martial elitism and Herbert Croly’s corporate nationalism, in Thorstein Veblen’s and Randolph Bourne’s descriptions of imperial Germany and its “cosmic heroisms”; and above all, in Jack London’sThe Iron Heel,which depicted the revolutionary immaturity of the masses and their liquidation by a master “ligarchy.”...

    • 10. Politics and Culture
      (pp. 240-261)

      “Politics in a work of literature is like a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, something loud and vulgar, and yet a thing to which it is not possible to refuse one’s attention.” Stendhal’s remark applies especially to Fascism, the first modern political movement to blare the noise of ideology into concert halls, art galleries, and literary salons. Unable to resist the “loud and vulgar,” the author has addressed this chapter to the faint but occasionally important repercussions of Italian Fascism upon American cultural, literary, and academic life.¹

      Mussolini seemed the appropriate statesman to preside over the flowering of...

    • 11. The View from Washington
      (pp. 262-284)

      Except for a vicious outbreak of anti-Italian vigilante atrocities in New Orleans in 1891, diplomatic relations progressed smoothly throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries between Italy and America. The rise of Fascism did little to alter friendly relations. Like the rest of the public, American diplomats were at first disturbed by the Blackshirts and the bands ofSquadristi.After the March on Rome, however, Fascism’s image improved considerably. Even while maneuvering into power Mussolini found time to send Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes a message expressing desire to continue the “economic and spiritual collaboration” between the United States...

  4. Part Three FASCISM AT WAR

    • 12. The Ethiopian War
      (pp. 287-312)

      During 1934, perhaps the apogee of Mussolini’s world fame, a Cole Porter hit tune featured the line, “You’re the tops —— you’re Musso —— li —— ni.” By the following year, when the popular number was being sung by Americans young and old, all references to Mussolini had been deleted. The time for lyrical salutes was over; the Ethiopian War had begun.

      The complex diplomatic background of the Ethiopian War need not detain us. What is relevant in ascertaining America’s changing attitudes toward Fascism is the public’s response to Italy’s expansion into North Africa prior to the outbreak of war. We can begin...

    • 13. The Eclipse of Fascism: Nazi Germany, Mussolini and the Coming of World War II
      (pp. 313-361)

      No discussion of American attitudes toward Italian Fascism in the thirties is meaningful without some reference to the rise of Nazi Germany. With the appearance of the German Brownshirts the whole Fascist question took on a chilling international connotation. Yet Mussolini’s image as a sane and sober statesman was enhanced when contrasted with the shrieking outbursts of Adolf Hitler. Moreover many Americans were quick to stress the distinctions which set the Italian experiment apart from the German phenomenon, favorable distinctions which, as we saw earlier, Mussolini himself was forever pointing out to a candid world. Thus the exact impact of...

    • 14. Liberation: American Ideals and Italian Realities
      (pp. 362-398)

      Sitting around their customary table in the Associazione della Stampa Estera in Rome were Herbert Matthews and Camillo Cianfarra of theNew York Times,Allan Raymond of theHerald Tribune,Mark Watson of theBaltimore Sun,John Whitaker of theChicago Daily News,Richard G. Massock of the AP, and Reynolds and Eleanor Packard of the UP. Here, at 8:00 p.m. on December 10, 1941, America’s Rome correspondents first heard the “official confirmation” that Mussolini was about to declare war on the United States. They were also informed their offices had been closed and they would not be allowed to...

    • 15. Italian-Americans and the Fuorusciti in World War II
      (pp. 399-421)

      In August 1940,Collier’smade a plea to Americans to “Lay Off The Italians.” The popular magazine felt it necessary to offer brotherly exhortations because some Americans had begun to look askance at their Italian neighbors. The uneasiness became more widespread after December 7, 1941, when a veritable loyalty scare gripped the nation. Many Americans felt they had good reason to suspect Italian-Americans of subversive intent: the propaganda broadcasts beamed directly from Rome to New York and Boston Italian neighborhoods; the Italian-American press which, unlike that of the German-Americans, remained faithful to Italy almost until Pearl Harbor;¹ and the various...

    • 16. The Rediscovery of Italy
      (pp. 422-443)

      Outside the town of Anzio stands a statue of two soldiers. Both figures are stripped to the waist and, with the arm of one around the other’s shoulder, leaning forward with unconquerable determination. Surrounding the statue are sprinklers which dart playfully into the air, spreading precious water into the dark soil, a small, rich breast of earth amid the barrenness of the Anzio countryside. This is the American military cemetery. Its thousands of rows of simple, marble crosses bear silent testimony to America’s contribution to the liberation of Italy.

      The primary concern of this chapter is the encounter between Americans...

    • 17. American Intellectuals and Fascism: The Ambiguous Legacy
      (pp. 444-496)

      Americans have always known their enemies better than themselves, what they stand against better than what they stand for. Thus in World War II many Americans, even American intellectuals, believed they understood why it was necessary for the United States to wage a world war against Fascism. Yet though America could defeat Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, few American thinkers could define adequately the nature of Fascism. This continues to be true even among contemporary scholars, and due to the absence of agreement I feel all the more reluctant to try to impose a precise definition upon a polymorphous reality....