Mussolini in the First World War: The Journalist, the Soldier, the Fascist

By Paul O'Brien | Go to book overview

Introduction

Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship
with a superior law and with an objective Will that transcends the particular individual
and raises him to conscious membership in a spiritual society. Whoever has seen in
the religious politics of the Fascist regime nothing but mere opportunism has not
understood that Fascism, besides being a system of government, is also, and above all,
a system of thought… Therefore, for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and
nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In this sense
Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values,
interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people… Outside the
State there can be neither individuals nor groups (political parties, associations, syn-
dicates, classes)… For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of
the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of deca-
dence… But empire demands discipline, the coordination of all forces and a deeply
felt sense of duty and sacrifice: this fact explains many aspects of the practical
working of the regime, the character of many forces in the State, and the necessarily
severe measures which must be taken against those who would oppose the sponta-
neous and inevitable movement of Italy in the twentieth century.

Mussolini, Dottrina del fascismo, 1932

In 1925 Giovanni Gentile, philosopher, former Minister for Education, and fascist ideologue, argued that fascism had emerged as the expression of a search for a renewal of Italian political and spiritual life. He contrasted this project with the failure of the liberal State to realize the nation-building project of the small group of idealists who had led the struggle to unite Italy. Recalling the religious-style language of 'sacrifice' and national 'mission' of Giuseppe Mazzini's Young Italy movement, Gentile went on to aver that this was directly comparable to the youthful ideals, romanticism and heroism of the fascist squads. These in turn were wearing black shirts reminiscent of the élitist arditi founded as special shock troop units during the Great War. The actions of these men were thus informed by reference to the memory of the experience of that conflict, now mythologized as the great founding event of fascism but nonetheless rooted, via Mazzini, in the very origins of Italian unity (G. Gentile, 1975).

How justified were these fascist claims to Italy's past? In his analysis of the means by which the regime sought consensus and consolidation through a cosmos

-1-

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Mussolini in the First World War: The Journalist, the Soldier, the Fascist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Stating the Programme November 1918-June 1919 11
  • 2: Man of Straw July 1914-May 1915 31
  • 3: Mind and Matter May-November 1915 59
  • 4: Digging in November 1915-June 1916 87
  • 5: Disenchanted Warrior July 1916-February 1917 107
  • 6: War and Revolution March-October 1917 123
  • 7: Victory Imagined October 1917-November 1918 141
  • 8: Envisioning Fascism October 1917-November 1918 163
  • Conclusion 183
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 201
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