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Italy - 1928 Model


ISSUE:  Autumn 1928

Mussolini, the Man of Destiny. By Vittorio E. De Fiori. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company. $3.00. Fascist Dictatorship in Italy. Volume i. By Gaetano Salvemini. New York: Henry Holt and Company. $3.00. Italy and Fascismo. By Luigi Sturzo. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co. $3.75. Italy, the Central Problem of the Mediterranean. By Count Antonio Cippico. New Haven: Yale University Press. $2.00. Mystic Italy. By Michael i. Rostovtzeff. New York: Henry Holt and Co. $2.50. Storia d’ltalia dot 1871 al 1915. By Benedetto Croce. Bari: Gius. Laterza & Figli. Lire 25.


Our minds are on Italy just as our minds are on Russia because while we continue to assert with varying degrees of sincerity our belief in the principles of democracy, Italy and Russia have noisily thrown them overboard. Those of us who honestly want to understand that act of violence can find only one contemporary problem more hopelessly confused than Russia, and that problem is Italy.

Confusion comes from two directions. In both cases censorship and propaganda have concealed or clouded half the issues and in both cases life has been organized on a new set of axioms not recognized or not even understood by the Liberal. The censorship has left us without the facts to construe and the introduction of new and strange political axioms has prevented our construing even the few facts we possess. In brief we are still in the state of polemic.

De Fiori’s “Mussolini” will not help us. It is intellectually valueless. It is a clear case of propaganda for Fascism, aimed largely at Italian-Americans by the editor of a New York Italian newspaper. But it is bad propaganda and it does Mussolini, a powerful personality, and Fascism, a political mode capable of attracting to itself fine minds, a grave injustice. Its Horatio Alger style, its cherry-tree anecdotes, its open-mouthed amazement at its hero’s greatness give us a most disagreeable effect of naivete and make of Mussolini the theatrical ass which the Liberal Anglo-Saxon is only too inclined to see in him. Intelligent propaganda is bad because its facts are suspect. Unintelligent propaganda is worse because the good sense of the propagandist is suspect too. The subtitle “Man of Destiny” is unfortunate in a trivial book following so close upon Lud-wig’s masterpiece with the same subtitle. This Mussolini can not afford to challenge comparison with that Napoleon. Were I Mussolini and had I decided to stand for “runner-up” to Bonaparte, I should have picked my publicity man with greater circumspection.

Gaetano Salvemini’s book is on another plane. It is the work of an historical scholar of demonstrated ability and wide culture. Signor Salvemini is probably Fascism’s most dangerous foe and this first volume of his philippic has already done infinite harm to the Fascist cause among thinking persons in America and Great Britain. Needless to say, he does not live in Italy.

Which leads me to observe that Signor Salvemini suffers from what may be called emigre psychology. The Royalists along the Rhine during the French Revolution suffered from this dread intellectual malady. It afflicts the Russian emigre today in Prague, Berlin, Paris, and London. Far be it from me to suggest that Salvemini is the sort of emigre who intends to go home and clean up the mess, but even in this exquisitely analytical work he is the emigre who insists on mistaking a Revolution for an outbreak of disorder. I may be wrong in agreeing with the Fascists that a Revolution has been made. Certainly I possess but a ludicrous fraction of the knowledge that produced this book. But i feel strongly that Salvemini is the unreconstructed Liberal, as incapable of comprehending the forces behind bludgeons and castor-oil as the Royalist of 1793 was incapable of seeing the forces behind the guillotine. Now, I believe the true Royalist, be he ever so intelligent, must of necessity, miss the essence of a democratic revolt just as the true pacifist is not likely to say anything very important about trench warfare. Salvemini is a noble Liberal spirit faced with the illiberal horrors of the Twentieth Century, a Protestant describing a new Papacy. I doubt if any Liberal history of the “Fascist Dictatorship” will ever surpass his book, but I believe that in an important sense his book is beside the point. And I say this in spite of the fact that the stabbing, beating, shooting, cowardice, brutality, and spite-work he details have left me with the sense of loathing for Fascism that the modern Ku Klux Klan inspires.

Don Sturzo, a Sicilian priest and politically a Christian Democrat, has written another Liberal story, a magnificent piece of historical thinking, in some ways even more compelling than Salvemini’s account. Where Salvemini is fair, as oniy a great Liberal can be, to the enemy, Don Sturzo has written with the tranquil patience of a Christian philosopher. He believes that a newly-interpreted democratic spirit will from historic necessity, replace the abnormalities of Fascism.

I have refrained from commenting on the particular points made by these two democrats, such as Salvemini’s contention that the Fascists appropriated and capitalized a reconstruction effected by Italy without and before Fascism, or Don Sturzo’s valuable comment on the tragedy to Italy of the unnecessary struggle between clericals and anti-clericals. The first point, made by most anti-Facists, does not take cognizance of mass psychology. Whether Calvin Coolidge brought prosperity to America or not, he symbolized prosperity in the popular mind. Prosperity elected him so he must have brought prosperity. Politics has less to do with logic than the Liberals suppose. Italy got a good scare from “Bolshevism” even after the basis of the scare disappeared. Don Sturzo’s argument that the Pope’s lost temporal power was a mere bogey in Italian politics is thoroughly plausible, but we cannot explain Fascism by the mistakes that made its birth possible. Such historical connections are generally inorganic and resemble the connection between a garden fertilizer and the plant it helps grow rather than that between a plant and its seed.

Senator Cippico’s book comprizes six lectures he gave before the Institute of Politics at Williamstown. They are very worth reading by Americans and even more by Britishers. It is a truism that Germany and Italy arrived late at the banquet of European imperialism and colonial conquest. Senator Cippico explains how it feels to Italy, nominally a war victor, to be almost without colonies and with no ocean outlet from the Mediterranean except through Suez and Gibraltar, both in British hands. He is not ugly or threatening but he believes something has eventually got to be done about it. The idea is not new but the book does much to explain to other great Powers why over-populated industrial Italy persists in calling the British Mediterranean “Our Sea.”

Professor Rostovzeff’s archaeological studies are included in this list on two counts. First, the book demonstrates how thrilling archaeology can be, even to a layman, when it is in the hands of a master. Secondly, though primarily, concerned with the Greek mystery religions at Rome and Pompeii during the first three centuries A.D., it paints a society that offers curious analogies to contemporary Italy and contemporary Europe, and explains somewhat the Fascist preoccupation with Imperial Rome.

The last of this group is Croce’s newest work, this time a history of Italy from 1871, when the royal government took possession of Rome and an almost completely unified Italy, until 1915 when Italy entered the World War with a program that included the winning of the unredeemed provinces from Austria. Benedetto Croce is by so far Italy’s greatest living philosopher and he exercises so decisive an influence on the whole of intellectual Europe that whatever he might say would be important. Ever since his essay, “On History,” appeared, I have longed to see him in the role of practical historian. Well, here he is. And the result makes one wonder whether any man now living is so eminently suited to write a history of modern Europe. His broad culture, his mature judgment and wide sympathies have produced the many-sided sort of work that the new “social” historians long to do and don’t. His wealth of detail, of minor comment, and even of illuminating anecdote never submerge the Idea that infuses the whole with creative energy. His thesis has infuriated the Fascist press. Mussolini once remarked that there was room in Italy for Fascists and non-Fascists but not for anti-Fascists. Signor Croce has taken him at his word. He has written a history of contemporary Italy that stops short of the Fascist Era. He says nothing directly about Fascism. The reaction of the elect to his book shows that psychologically Mussolini is wrong. There is no room for non-Fascists, perhaps less than for anti-Fascists. Like self-conscious bad boys the Fascists adore being attacked and loathe being ignored. Benedetto Croce has ignored them. Moreover, Fascism is based on the assumption that the parliamentary regime from 1871 was a complete fizzle. Croce believes Liberal self-government during those years made incredible strides. He thereby removes one of the chief bases of Fascism—the decadence of democracy.

Croce’s house in Naples was sacked by the Fascists in 1926. It has not affected his style, which remains that of a frank and benevolent philosopher. He declines to go further than 1915 because he is writing history and not political polemic, “which is written and certainly ought to be written, but in another place.” If Croce’s political axioms must be characterized, they are the axioms of Liberalism, not of a Liberalism that violently opposes movements like Fascism but a Liberalism that observes such things as among the interesting phenomena of life. He is judicious where the Fascist is apocalyptic, aloof where the Fascist is earnest, and reminds one altogether of a mature man examining the exciting projects of inexperienced boys. The boys think he is getting old, played out, hopeless. On the contrary his spirit is that eternally, youthful one that oniy the wise and mature earn and that mere lack of years cannot bring. He is not opposed to Action—holy word of the New Political Faith—but there are Actions and actions. The Fascists are working against time. Croce is waiting, observing, understanding.

This is awkward because one cannot well bludgeon Benedetto Croce. The Fascists are sincerely working for Italian nationalism and whatever glorifies Italy glorifies Fascist Italy. Now, when intellectual Europe thinks of Italy it thinks of Benedetto Croce. But Croce, unlike Gentile, declines to give his blessing to Fascism. And you cannot prove you are great by bludgeoning your chief claim to greatness. It is an awkward situation.

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