In This Review

Mussolini and the Eclipse of Italian Fascism: From Dictatorship to Populism
Mussolini and the Eclipse of Italian Fascism: From Dictatorship to Populism
By R. J. B. Bosworth
352 pp, Yale University Press, 2021

Bosworth is among the leading English-language biographers of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and those seeking a magisterial treatment of his life and regime should consult the author’s previous work. Here, instead, is a provocative reexamination of Italian fascism. Bosworth is not an apologist for Mussolini’s excesses, but he maintains that labeling both Mussolini and Adolf Hitler as fascists obscures the relative mildness of the Italian variant. Italian fascism resembled Hitler’s Nazism or Joseph Stalin’s communism less than it did other authoritarian regimes that spread throughout Europe in the 1930s—and even some democratic systems. In Italy, domestic repression, although deplorable, was far less thorough than in Germany or the Soviet Union. Italian imperialist impulses were less brutal and far less successful than British and French efforts. Mussolini neither desired nor provoked World War II, but Italy could not avoid it as an ally of Germany shunned by the West. Even so, Italian casualties remained a third lower than the number incurred in World War I, when Italy was led by liberal governments. One might not accept all these judgments, but this book does pose the question of whether Mussolini should be understood less as a totalitarian and more as a harbinger of modern populism.