Prelude to World War II

Prelude to World War II

Prelude to World War II

Prelude to World War II

Excerpt

Collective terms like "Britain", "Germany", "France", "Italy" are banned as a rule from the present book. Those and all other collective-abstract term, like "State", "Church", Bank", "Union" denoting "corporate persons", as lawyers say, have an indispensable task to perform in juridical doctrine and practice. But in history and politics they should not hide the men, of flesh and blood, who stand behind those words. Responsibility for their decisions has to be pinned squarely on the politicians and diplomats, or at most, on the "Governments" or "Foreign Offices" that made those decisions, and not on "Britain", "Germany", "Italy", etc., or on the peoples of those countries. To be sure, "Government" also is a collective-abstract term. But it is less abstract, and less deceptive than the names of the countries.

This does not mean that one man and one man alone—to make we of the words Churchill used of Mussolini in December 1940— could govern a country of more than forty million men and women. He could not govern even a village. A leader needs followers who support him, and, to keep their support, he has to meet their needs and expectations: he must follow his followers.

But his followers need not include the whole population. The British "National" Government, from 1931 to 1935, were supported not by the whole population but by the rank and file of the Conservative Party, and by that floating section of the population who, though not consistently Conservative, voted Conservative in the National elections of 1931 and 1935, Moreover, the Conservative leaders had to be, more or less, in agreement with the top permanent officials of the Foreign Office, the Admiralty, the Colonial Office, the different branches of the Civil Service, the Secret Service, ana with the most influential politicians, newspapermen, clergymen, intellectuals, and businessmen—those who form the so-called public opinion in each country.

In the case of Mussolini, he did not need such wide support as leaders need in democratic régimes. There were no free elections in Italy, and the bulk of the population had no legal channels through which to express their satisfaction or grievances. Mussolini only needed to be supported by those high military chiefs and big businessmen who had brought him to power; those politicians of the pre- Fascist vintage who had joined the bandwagon; those high civil servants who almost all had done the same; the chieftains of the Party and the rank and file of the Fascist Militia; most of the higher clergy and those among the lower clergy who followed . . .

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