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

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

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

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


How did Mussolini come to fascism? Standard accounts of the dictator have failed to explain satisfactorily the transition from his pre-World War I "socialism" to his post-war fascism. This controversial new book is the first to examine Mussolini's political trajectory during the Great War through his journalistic writings, speeches and war diary. The author argues that the 1914-18 conflict provided the catalyst for Mussolini to clarify his deep-rooted nationalist tendencies. He demonstrates that Mussolini's interventionism was already anti-socialist and anti-democratic in the early autumn of 1914 and shows how in and through the experience of the conflict the future Duce fine-tuned his authoritarian vision of Italy in a state of permanent mobilization for war.


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 . . .

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