Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present

By Spencer M. Di Scala | Go to book overview
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17
World War II and the Resistance

The changes wrought by fascism had important repercussions not only for Italians but also on international developments, and thus the world. In discussing Fascist foreign policy, historians debate whether the aims and policies of fascism represented an essential continuation of pre-Fascist Italy’s foreign policy or a radical departure.


The Radicalization of Foreign Policy

Surface similarities exist between Fascist and pre-Fascist foreign policy. The country had previously embarked on colonial adventures, nationalism had been a potent force, and to some extent inconsistency had marked Italian diplomacy before Mussolini; but imperialism characterized all the great powers, exasperated nationalism was comprehensible after centuries of foreign control, and Italy’s internal weakness made it particularly sensitive to alterations in the balance of power. The peculiarities of Italian foreign policy before fascism could be rationally explained by history or the international situation, and Italian foreign policy operated within the mainstream of European diplomacy.

With Mussolini’s advent, this essential characteristic would change. It would be surprising if fascism’s nature and ideology had not affected foreign policy. Extremist nationalism—once the province of the small Nationalist Association and now absorbed by fascism—became official policy, favoring expansionism and generating unreasonable demands on other nations to boost Italy’s prestige. Fascism’s exploitation of nationalism as a means of mobilizing the masses increasingly fed on itself, for failure to make touted gains could destabilize the regime. For its own internal reasons, the regime heightened existing resentments—for example, that Italy had been cheated of the fruits of victory in World War I and that the country should have colonies because it was overpopulated— and further exasperated the diplomatic situation. More properly ideological considerations also complicated the foreign policy picture, especially Mussolini’s

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