Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

After Il Duce, the Rest Is Silence

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

After Il Duce, the Rest Is Silence

Article excerpt

Strong ties between ruler and ruled became taboo subjects post-1945, says Ruth Ben-Ghiat.

Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini's Italy

By Christopher Duggan

The Bodley Head, 528pp, Pounds 25.00

ISBN 9781847921031 and 9781409028956 (e-book)

Published 1 November 2012

A popular saying in Italy reflects the manner in which Italians of a certain generation chose to remember their lives during Benito Mussolini's dictatorship: "I wasn't there, and if I was, I was sleeping." This tendency to remove oneself from association with the Fascist dictatorship, whether out of moral unease or the need for political survival, translated after the Second World War into a collective unwillingness among Italians to account for the dictatorship and its multiple crimes. With no Nuremberg trials (despite participation in the Axis and the Holocaust), no process of decolonisation (Italy lost its empire in the course of its Second World War defeat) and Cold War anxieties about Italy's large post-war Communist Party leading the Allies to favour leniency in the interests of stability, Italians were able to absorb themselves in the process of reconstruction, allowing many to avoid reflecting on the past.

More than half a century later, we know much about Fascism's institutions, major actors, policies and cultures, and in the past decade have come to know more about its violence, too, both at home and in the colonies. Many of these studies were top-down in their approach, and have reconstructed for us the networks of party and state agencies that sought to regiment Italians' lives and control their everyday choices and movements. What we still lacked were the histories of those everyday experiences as told from the perspective of ordinary Italians, and it is here that Christopher Duggan's book intervenes.

Duggan uses a deftly sketched narrative of those policies and institutions as background and context for individual points of view. Through this approach, Fascist Voices takes up the challenge of understanding why the Duce and his regime appealed to so many Italians. The author's thoughtful tone and sensitive handling of his sources, which include diaries, police informers' reports and letters sent to Mussolini, enhance the book, and his clear prose makes it eminently readable. …

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