Father of His Country

Fond of Mussolini quotes: Matteo Salvini, Torino.

There has never been in the history of Italy a state so completely identified with one man as in the case of Fascism — and there has never been a Government in which the name of its creator and the title of its governmental system has been so meticulously kept apart. You hear plenty of  the Duce del Fascismo, but never nowadays of the “Mussolini ” Fascists; you hear in Italy of the “ Fascist ” or the “ Italian ” but not of the “Mussolini ” government, and there are Fascisti, but no “Mussoliniani.”

As early as 1924 Mussolini checked any attempt to confuse himself as the leader of Fascism and Fascism itself, “ There are some who would create an antithesis between Fascismo and Mussolinismo. I don’t accept this. In reality, Mussolinismo would be used by certain folk as a kind of viaticum to enable them to fight, first Fascism and then Mussolini. I tell you that the most decided Mussoliniano is Mussolini. I beg of you to abuse my name no longer.”

Despite the publicity which surrounds Mussolini’s public activities there is still a considerable misreading of his governmental methods and personal character in administrative affairs. The most persistent myth is that he is a dictator whose desk is piled up with ministerial portfolios ; that laws jump ready-made out of his brain and that he sees to their immediate and unalterable application ; that he has, not collaborators, but more or less terrified underlings; and that no one dare mention his name above a whisper without risk of being clapped into gaol!

To my mind, the best word to describe Mussolini is not dictator of Italy but final arbiter. In an abstract sense, the dictator of Italy is not a person, but is the doctrine of Fascism itself, as a way of living. It is a creed, which imposes itself on the nation; and Mussolini is the absolute interpreter of that creed in its translation into law and is the arbiter of its interpretations by others. In the practical field, Mussolini is also more an arbiter than a dictator. Schemes are worked out by their exponents and experts. The finished plan or rival plans are submitted to Mussolini. With a genius for quickly grasping the essentials of any problem and with an uncanny flair for sensing the competence or otherwise of exponents and experts, he works out his conclusions and his judgment becomes law.

Mussolini’s assumption of several ministerial portfolios — he has held as many as eight at one time — means that he accepts responsibility while some question of ministerial policy is under discussion, while some particular question requires special handling or public confidence reinforced, or while an undersecretary is being trained and tried out for the full post. The changes wrought from time to time in the junior ministerial and diplomatic ranks make the cabinet a training ground where future ministers, ambassadors and consuls learn the Mussolini way not only of thinking about things but of doing things.

These changes are usually made with disconcerting suddenness and unexpectedness, the deposed official even learning from his morning newspaper that his “resignation has been accepted”, a pill usually coated with a few words of appreciation about his work.

This changeover system in government and party office has been reduced to a ritual known as “ changing the guard” so that no stigma is attached to dismissal.

For the preparation of the enormous number of Legislative Decrees which are passed, Mussolini lays down the general principles. The Fascist Grand Council defines, in the form of a resolution, the party policy for the furtherance of these principles.

There is perhaps no prime minister with such a number of collaborators as Mussolini because for every given task he calls on the best man available in the country to work with him for its speedy completion. In fact, it is possible to follow the evolution of Fascism by noting the kind of men whom Mussolini successively calls to cooperate with him for the furtherance of his national programme.

It will be seen from this typical example that Mussolini’s “dictatorship ” consists of utilising the collaboration of the right men at the right time and for the right period. Cabinet changes no longer meaning crises, but rather an adjustment of governmental rhythm.

The same thing may be noted in the party hierarchy. But behind all that ebb and flow of collaboration, there is Mussolini’s final word in all things. He does not, however, stick blindly to his pronouncements. His decisions are the means and not the end of his leadership.

Mussolini spoke of his collaborators, saying: “But I must add that to those who make their reports there are my more direct collaborators in my daily task, collaborators who especially share with me the salt bread of Fascist governmental responsibility. To those, I hereby express the full sense of my friendship and gratitude.”

As the inspirer, driving force and one responsible for the growth of present-day Italy, the work which Mussolini has accomplished since he became prime minister in baffles the imagination. It is doubtful if any man in world history has so much transformed a nation in so short a period of time. Others have made territorial expansion — raising states to empires — or have revolutionised the administrations of countries, but Mussolini has done something more profound. He has changed the spirit of a race, individually and collectively. It is not only the Italians in Italy who are different from what they were eleven years ago or so, but also the millions of Italians in the two Americas and in other parts of the globe.

In addition to his labours as Capo del Governo and his ministerial work in all home and foreign affairs, he has arduous responsibilities as Duce del Fascismo. He takes a keen and knowledgeable interest in every constructive aspect of Italian life, from the motorcycle trade to high finance. He receives an endless stream of people, from statesmen to labourers, from interviewers to curiosity-mongers who have pulled wires to be able to add Mussolini to the sights of Rome.

He writes articles and plays, delivers lectures, opens conferences, inspects public works, receives petitions and deputations, attends the Chamber of Fasci, holds cabinet meetings at ten in the morning and Fascist Council meetings at midnight, and drafts all his resolutions, minutes, reports and plans.

At the Fifth Annual Assembly of the regime in 1929, he told his audience that he had granted 60,000 audiences and had interested himself in 1,887,112 matters concerning citizens who had written to him, and “every single citizen who had applied to him, even from the remotest villages, had received a reply”.

Mussolini could appropriately be called Pater Patriae (Father of His Country).

Adapted from Through Fascism to World Power: A History of the Revolution in Italy (1933), by Ion S. Munro. Photograph courtesy of Fabio Visconti. Published under a Creative Commons license.