The Day of the Lion: The Life and Death of Fascist Italy 1922-1945
by Roy MacGregor-Hastie
Coward-McCann, 395 pp., $6.95
Mussolini and Italian Fascism
by S. William Halperin
Van Nostrand (Anvil paperback), 191 pp., $1.45
Mussolini: A Study in Power
by Ivone Kirkpatrick
Hawhorne Books, 726 pp., $10.00
The career of Benito Mussolini and the Fascist regime that became almost indistinguishable from it seem at last to be emerging from undeserved obscurity. For nearly two decades after his death, Mussolini’s role in contemporary history was blurred, overshadowed by the memory of an inglorious end. The Italian dictator’s gradual eclipse by Hitler, his repudiation in 1943 at the hands of his own people, his unworthy reincarnation as a puppet ruler in the North—the whole sequence epitomized by the final macabre scene of a horribly swollen corpse hanging upside down in a Milan square—all this so reduced Mussolini’s historical dimensions that he remained in our minds as little more than a figure of folly, of farce, of small-scale tyranny, or, at the best, of pathos. We forgot that the Italian Duce had ruled nearly twice as long as Hitler, that his had been the original Fascist system which gave the subsequent European movement its name and character, and that in the decade between Lenin’s death and Hitler’s accession Mussolini had ranked as the most dynamic of European leaders to whom the great of England and America were only too glad to pay their respects. Such is the full record which three recent books by British and American authors have tried to rescue from oblivion.
A large-scale analytical and critical study of Mussolini’s life has long been needed: neither Italian nor foreign historians have seemed up to the job. Only the beginning and end of his career have received detailed treatment. For the early years, there is Gaudens Megaro’s admirable Mussolini in the Making, a task of research carried out under the most difficult circumstances while the Duce was still in power, and for the bitter aftermath, F. W. Deakin’s recent volume, The Brutal Friendship, which reads more like a dossier than a finished book, but is irreproachable from the standpoint of scholarship. In the last half decade there have also appeared two small-scale biographies written for the general public, a perceptive study by Laura Fermi, admittedly “psychological” and selective in treatment, and a more orthodox work by Christopher Hibbert, which is ill-balanced and in several key respects simply uninformed. Beyond these, more specialized studies have illuminated particular aspects of the Duce’s life, the most important in English being Elizabeth Wiskemann’s The Rome-Berlin Axis and Charles Delzell’s Mussolini’s Enemies, which promises to remain the standard work on the opposition within Italy and abroad. The Duce’s career, then, has by no means suffered from neglect. It is rather that no one since the late 1930s has tried to make a full assessment of the Fascist experience; the best analytical works remain those by Herman Finer and Gaetano Salvemini published a quarter century ago. A reviewer must keep competitors such as these in mind when judging the most recent wave of literature of Mussolini.
Roy MacGregor-Hastie’s The Day of the Lion is an infuriating book in so …