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The Best Book on Fascist Italy

ISSUE:  Autumn 1929

Making the Fascist State, By Herbert W. Schneider. New York: Oxford University Press. $5.00.

No other book on the market can compete with Schneider’s “Making the Fascist State” in giving the American reader an accurate and orderly knowledge of that welter of ideas and actions that is Italian Fascism. Professor Schneider’s contribution derives not merely from his wide acquaintance with the background of Fascism, with the political philosophies which served to justify it and the political exigencies that gave it power, though he has this sort of knowledge in abundance; the uniquer side of his contribution is the deftness with which he forestalls the American reader’s questions. What does “Fascism” mean? Where were the first fasci? How does the ex-Socialist Mussolini justify his right-wing activities? Or is Fascism indeed opposed to Socialism? Where does the ecstasy and exultation that characterize Fascism come from? From just high spirits, or from some large historic perspective of national destiny? Or from both?

Professor Schneider is a sure guide through the maze of postwar Italian life, just because he knows not only that life, but also which aspects of it are certain to puzzle his American visitor. Though a thoughtful scholar, he has not been ashamed to serve at the same time as a good newspaper reporter, a reporter who sees accurately but who also knows the deficiencies of his public. Nor should I wish to be understood as congratulating him on writing a book which though too superficial for the initiate, would help the first wandering steps of the student of Italian current events. There is plenty of meat in his book and, in the “Selections from Fascist Literature and Documents of Fascist History,” which he prints as an appendix, for the most seasoned student of Fascism.

The book is neither a defense nor an indictment, though the author has too much sense to try to conceal his amusement at Fascist extravagances—or are they human extravagances on fertile Fascist soil? This willingness to see both sides, a far better quality than real “detachment,” has fitted him peculiarly to discuss Fascist ideology and Fascist legend in relation to fact. Whoever reads this book will soon find out why Fascists feel they have evolved not only an efficient government but a new political philosophy, Professor Schneider knows the sources of that philosophy, but better still he knows why Fascism turned to those particular sources for its pabulum.

This practical, comprehensible survey of Fascist Italy deals with Italy’s intervention in the World War; with the “squadrist” movement which bears painful resemblances to our postwar Klan and which arose to challenge socialism; with the transformation of Fascism from a sporadic and pervasive movement to a cohesive parliamentary party; with the curious marriage of Fascism to socialism which is expressed in the Corporate State; and perhaps most interestingly, of all with what the author terms “Fascist cul-

ture.” In the last connection, Professor Schneider surveys Futurism, Gentile’s philosophy of idealism, educational reforms, Fascist art, Fascist morals, and the aristocratic concept which Fascism opposes to “equality.”

“Making the Fascist State” should be read by every per-son proposing to visit Italy and interested in contemporary life there, and by every person here who tries vainly to follow in the news despatches the shifting Italian scene. It if a pity that a book of such unique merit, published in such an attractive format, should exhibit so many typographical slips. Let us hope they will be corrected in the second edition which the book deserves.


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