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Stephen Gundle, Cristopher Duggan, and Giuliana Pieri (eds), The Cult of the Duce: Mussolini and the Italians.

Stephen Gundle, Cristopher Duggan, and Giuliana Pieri (eds), The Cult of the Duce: Mussolini and the Italians, Manchester University Press: Manchester and New York, 2013; 304 pp.: 9780719088964, $110.00

It has been said that the history of Italy since the Unification is the story of a constant search for strong leadership at the helm of the state. Given the poor job done by the kings from the House of Savoy, that strong leadership eventually came to reside in the office of the Prime Minister, an office that reached its peak of power and prestige with Benito Mussolini, the strongest leader in the history of unified Italy, a dictator by any definition of the term. As this text points out, other dictators, such as Francisco Franco of Spain and Adolph Hitler of Germany, contemporaries of the Duce, and even others in more recent times, such as Peron of Argentina, Chiang Kai-shek of China, Ceau[section]escu of Romania, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq, drew much inspiration from Mussolini's regime and emulated many aspects of the personality cult that was created, cultivated, and managed during the Duce's 20 years of government. That cult has persisted until today, in spite of the Duce's ignominious death in 1945. (Modern technology--the internet, websites, and the like seems responsible for a revival of the hero-worship). The 16 well-researched and illustrated essays included in this book, devoted to an analysis of the Duce's cult, are grouped into four sections: 'The Origin of the Personality Cult,' 'The Duce and the Fascist Regime,' 'The Iconography of the Duce,' and 'After the Fall of Fascism.'

The 11 authors who contributed to this volume are associated mostly with British and Australian institutions. Seven of them have Italian surnames, evidence perhaps of the large number of Italian intellectuals who for lack of opportunity in their mother country are doing excellent work in universities and research centers in other parts of the world. Six authors are women. The 16 essays explore how, during the ventennio, the cult of the Duce was present not only in the institutions of government but also in every facet of the life of Italians. The very young were figli della lupa, later they became baldias', in the world of work there was il corporativismo, and after work, in leisure time, the dopolavoro. Mussolini's efforts early in his regime to resolve the serious conflict with the Vatican that resulted from the forceful occupation of Rome in 1870 served well in toning down, if not eliminating, a potentially dangerous rivalry between Church and State, as they competed in the struggle to gain 'souls' and recruit followers. For the Catholics, with the Concordato, Mussolini became I'Uomo della Provvidenza.

The initiator of the cult and the inventor of the term Duce (Dux) was Margherita Sarfatti, who also created the myth of the new man, the homo novus, who embodied the virtues and strength of Mussolini's region of origin: Romagna. The machinery that was created to invent and propagate the cult of the Duce made Predappio, Mussolini's birthplace, a center of pilgrimage. All members of the Mussolini family were part of the cult, but especially the mother, Rosa Maltoni, who became the symbol of unique family virtues. Her resting place in the Predappio cemetery was turned into a destination point for all good family people in their pilgrimage. Yet, as noted in the text, early in the history of the Duce the operators of the cult worked quite hard at hiding from the public the sad story of what may have been Mussolini's first wife and family--Ida Dalser and their son Albino Benito--both of whom were forced out of circulation and died, eventually, in an asylum for the insane.

The apparatus that stoked the fires of the cult of the Duce saw to it that his image was present in any positive national and local event that occurred in Italy. Mussolini dried-up marshes, founded new cities, built new roads, and created the Empire; Mussolini added Ethiopia to the Italian colonies in Africa, a dream of Italy since the 1900s. The Duce became identified with every region of the peninsula and with every city in it. However, the ultimate and highest identification is with the Eternal City: Rome. The Duce is thus the new Caesar Augustus. The image of the Duce was an ever-present reality in Italian life. Fascism had close interaction with art: futurismo and razionalismo. In fact, this book has so many descriptions of artworks that influenced or were influenced by Fascism (particularly in architecture and photography) that it begs for a companion volume devoted to the visual aspects of the Duce's cult.

The Cult of the Duce is a thoughtful, thorough, and well-written book that adds welcome layers of interpretation and discussion to the already substantial bibliography surrounding the figure of Benito Mussolini and all he represents.

DOI: 10.1177/0014585814543252

Reviewed by: Salvatore G Rotella, Emeritus, Riverside College, USA
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Author:Rotella, Salvatore G.
Publication:Forum Italicum
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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