MUSSOLINI AND FASCISM: The View From America by John P. Diggins


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A valuable and important study by a University of California historian which investigates American impressions and appraisals of Mussolini and Fascism before and after the onset of the depression, Nazism, and the Ethiopian War. In his breakdowns by social grouping, Diggins finds that Italian-Americans tended to support Mussolini out of sentimental patriotism and inferiority feelings, rather than a commitment to Fascist beliefs; that American business was almost wholly pro-Fascist; and that, once Gompers died, organized labor was opposed. The right, the left, and the liberals are surveyed. Among the most interesting cases of Fascist sympathizers were muckrakers such as Tarbell and McClure, anti-""commercial"" conservatives such as the New Humanists and the Southern Agrarians, and liberals concerned with modernization such as Steffens and Charles Beard. What appealed to the liberals, says Diggins, was ""the experimental nature, anti-dogmatic temper, and moral elan"" of Fascism. He offers excellent material especially on pragmatism vis-a-vis Fascism; he does not pursue the connection, or relate Fascism to syndicalism; but his critique of conservative, left, and liberal post facto interpretations is often suggestive. And he rightly criticizes the failure of all but the Trotskyists on the left to view Fascism as a mass movement. The last section of the book reviews American opinion during World War II, and the reluctance of the U.S. government to commit itself to militant anti-Fascism after Mussolini's fall. On the whole Diggins' approach to American opinion emphasizes vague general impulses (the ""need for a political hero"" in the '20's) and particular interests (the J. P. Morgan ties with Mussolini are well documented), but while acknowledging class correlations tends to de-emphasize them, e.g., he is reluctant to link the overwhelming press support for Mussolini in the '20's with big business domination of the press. The book is overwritten in a jaunty style which reinforces the opera bouffe qualities some Americans at first perceived in Mussolini's rule. Nonetheless it remains a work of praiseworthy scholarship and considerable consequence as the fullest contribution on the subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press