Mussolini experimented with socialism as a young man, but as Europe was consumed by World War I he was drawn to nationalism. Wounded in the war, he came home in 1917 and began to formulate the fascist ideology, which celebrated military might, extreme devotion to country and the superiority of the Italian people. Fascism also glorified ancient Rome, with the promise to return the country to the glories of the past.
The Road to Dictatorship
- Mussolini built fascism into a movement, complete with a paramilitary force: the blackshirts. Thirty thousand blackshirts marched on Rome in 1922, seizing government buildings and train stations along the way.
- Already a member of parliament, Mussolini demanded to be made prime minister—and Italy’s king capitulated. Once in power, Mussolini began a systematic effort to weaken the country’s fragile democracy.
- A former journalist, Mussolini was a gifted writer with an instinct for playing on people’s dreams and fears. He connected with the public at mass rallies—and through the power of a new technology, radio.
Dig Deeper: Mussolini and the Jews of Italy
Under pressure from Hitler, Mussolini deported thousands of Jews to concentration camps. But years earlier, Mussolini’s regime was already passing anti-Semitic laws.
Italian Fascism glorified the notion of a "pure Italian," evoking an ideal world where men were warriors and women were devoted mothers. This vision was used to justify a series of racial laws, begun in 1938, that mostly targeted the Jewish population. Jews were prohibited from owning property, banned from professions like medicine and law, and prohibited from joining the army. They were not allowed to marry non-Jews or enroll in schools or universities. The Fascist government even revoked citizenship from Jews who had been in the country for a short time, endangering thousands of refugees who had fled to Italy from Nazi Germany. In 1943, arrests and deportations began. And ultimately, around 10,000 Jews were deported from Italy to Nazi concentration camps.
Meet the man who created fascism, an ideology that plunges all of Europe into darkness.
Ben Ghiat, Ruth. Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945. 2001 University of California Press.
Diggins, John Patrick. Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America. 2015 Princeton University Press.
Hibbert, Christopher. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. 2008 Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan.
Ridley, Jasper. Mussolini: A Biography. 2000 Cooper Square Press.