Christopher Duggan, Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy, Oxford University Press, 2013
Today Mussolini is remembered as a hated dictator who, along with Hitler and Stalin, ushered in an era of totalitarian repression unsurpassed in human history. But how was he viewed by ordinary Italians during his lifetime?
In Fascist Voices, Christopher Duggan draws on thousands of letters sent to Mussolini, as well as private diaries and other primary documents, to show how Italian citizens lived and experienced the fascist regime under Mussolini from 1922-1943.
Throughout the 1930s, Mussolini received about 1,500 letters a day from Italian men and women of all social classes writing words of congratulation, commiseration, thanks, encouragement, or entreaty on a wide variety of occasions: his birthday and saint’s day, after he had delivered an important speech, on a major fascist anniversary, when a husband or son had been killed in action.
While Duggan looks at some famous diaries-by such figures as the anti-fascist constitutional lawyer Piero Calamandrei; the philosopher Benedetto Croce; and the fascist minister Giuseppe Bottai-the majority of the voices here come from unpublished journals, diaries, and transcripts. Utilizing a rich collection of untapped archival material, Duggan explores “the cult of Il Duce,” the religious dimensions of totalitarianism, and the extraordinarily intimate character of the relationship between Mussolini and millions of Italians.
Duggan shows that the figure of Mussolini was crucial to emotional and political engagement with the regime; although there was widespread discontent throughout Italy, little of the criticism was directed at Il Duce himself. Duggan argues that much of the regime’s appeal lay in its capacity to appropriate the language, values, and iconography of Roman Catholicism, and that this emphasis on blind faith and emotion over reason is what made Mussolini’s Italy simultaneously so powerful and so insidious.
Offering a unique perspective on the period, Fascist Voices captures the responses of private citizens living under fascism and unravels the remarkable mixture of illusions, hopes, and fears that led so many to support the regime for so long.