Throughout the history of mostly patriarchal societies, there have been many men who have had extravagant visions of their future and of their fellow countrymen. History has also shown that that is not necessarily a positive thing as evidenced by various political regimes that have emerged and the idea that you should build a giant, literal wall in order to keep out undocumented citizens. And then expecting the country said citizens hail from to pay for it. Such is the case with Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini. Or just Benito Mussolini. Or Mussolini. Or the Moose Man, He was likely a xenophobe as according to a biography fromWorld History: The Modern Era written by the late author John C. Frediksen andupdated in 2016, nationalism was an element of his concept of fascism. However, this likely was not to the extent that he would want a giant wall to be built to keep everyone else out. But also according to this biography, the “bombastic Benito Mussolini sought to rule Italy like a modern-day Caesar and even went so far as to attempt to recreate a new Roman Empire in his own image” (Frediksen 1). Within this speech, I will briefly discuss Mussolini’s early life, political ideologies, rise to power, and then his career as leader of Italy, earning himself a unique place in history.
Like with generally most people, Mussolini was born. Specifically, he was born in Dovis, Italy on July 29th 1883 (Fredriksen 1). The biography said he was the son of a blacksmith and a schoolteacher, and by drawing conclusions based on archaic gender roles, his father was likely a blacksmith and his mother a schoolteacher. He also inherited from his father “an abiding interest in the socialist movement and a taste for political extremism” (Frediksen 1). After a few years of working as a schoolteacher himself (way to defy our preconceived notions), he fled to Switzerland in 1902 in order to evade compulsory military service, but according to the biography written in Chambers Biological Dictionary published in 1997, it was in Switzerland that Mussolini developed revolutionary beliefs and returned to Italy in 1904 (Chambers 1).
After a brief period of being imprisoned for his political activities, Mussolini was an editor for a socialist publication which was from Austria during his time and then in 1912 he became an editor for an influential nationalist newspaper called Avanti (Chambers 1). As written in the Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Mussolini broke away from the socialists because of his refusal to support their neutral stance in World War I, founding the Popolo d’Italia to “publicize his belief that only by supporting the Allies could Italy retrieve the disputed Austrian territories” (Chambers 1). He even fought in World War I and was injured 1917 and returned to civilian life committed to the new right wing ideology of fascism. In 1919 Mussolini founded the Fasci di Combattimento, or fascist movement, “ostensibly to serve the interests of neglected ex-servicemen, but in reality to promote the extreme form of nationalism to which he was now committed” (Chambers 1). Mussolini’s brand of fascism was, to quote Fredriksen, “his own unique blend of nationalism, imperialism, corporatism, and a political alliance with large business interests” (Frediksen 1). Musollini’s vision of Italy was that of a corporate state organized by groups rather than individuals like in a democracy and thus the state would deal with corporate groups of workers and industrialists, and small farmers and large landowners together rather than with individuals or class divisions. Mussolini meant this design to carry Italy into the future even as it “recaptured the glory of ancient Rome” (Frediksen 1). With that, the Roman symbol for authority, an axe bound in wooden rods was adopted as the party logo and in 1919 Mussolini’s Italian Fascist Party was officially founded and began its quest for political power in Italy.
In 1921, as Italy continued slipping into a postwar economic depression, Mussolini used his growing popularity through agitation and rabble-rousing to win an election to the Chamber of Deputies, presenting himself as the only man capable of restoring order to a country that seemed to be rapidly spiraling into political chaos and in October 1922, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy asked Mussolini to form a government. Mussolini finally took the title of Il Duce, ‘the leader’, in 1925 and turned Italy into a totalitarian regime through a “mixture of intimidation, patronage, and propaganda” (Chambers 1) and began cracking down on dissenters. Despite Mussolini’s fierce nationalism and imperialism, Mussolini’s foreign policy was not marked by over or aggressive expansion until the mid-1930s where he launched a successful attack on the country of Ethiopia and in the following year, introduced land and air units into the Spanish Civil War alongside Adolf Hitler’s forces from Germany. In 1936 Hitler and Mussolini signed the Rome-Berlin Axis pact which would link the two fascist countries together. Over the next few years, Italy’s conquests would make it the dominant Mediterranean power but when Hitler began World War II in 1939, Italy’s economy was still too feeble to make any moves toward world domination. Realizing this weakness, Mussolini delayed declaring war until 1940. However, Italian armies still fared poorly and Germany had to rescue them from nearly disastrous defeats on several occasions including in 1941 in the Balkans and met with humiliating defeats in North Africa thanks to the British. Italy sustained even further losses in its commitment in the German-led invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941.
Many Italians had had enough of Mussolini by the middle of 1943 however, and when the Allies invaded in 1943, both King Victor and the Fascist Grand Council moved to strip Mussolini of his power and according to Mussolini’s Obituary found in the Biography Reference Bank, he was made prisoner of the Grand Council in June and placed under house arrest until September of that year when a special German commando operation rescued him. He spent the last days of World War II attempting to re-establish his authority in Northeastern Italy (Fredrikson 1) and when it failed he attempted to flee the country but was caught. His obituary states he was executed by Italian Partisans on April 28th, 1945 and as a final sign of disrespect his body was hung upside down in a public square then buried in an unmarked grave.
From this, one can conclude that while Benito Mussolini had a big vision for himself and for his country, it was fortunate that he was also a failure. Working on both ends of the political spectrum, he was an agitator and a journalist and using the power he was granted, he has earned himself a place as one of history’s most ambitious and incompetent despots.