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235 11 Nietzsche, Mussolini, and Italian Fascism Mario Sznajder Most of the writings dealing with the intellectual origins of fascism mention the name of Friedrich Nietzsche as one of the philosophers whose work influenced Nazism.1 However, when examining the central sources of Italian Fascism as a political regime and movement, little or no mention is made of Nietzsche’s influence. Here we will try to assess the relationship between Nietzsche’s work and Italian Fascism through an examination of Gabriele D’Annunzio, the warrior poet who interpreted and introduced Nietzsche into Italy and was one of the main figures of Italian culture between the 1890s and the advent of fascism; and we shall also look at Mussolini’s uses of Nietzsche during his transition from socialism to fascism and subsequently as Duce of Italy. In the 1930s, at the zenith of fascist power, Mussolini had pronounced D’Annunzio as Italy’s greatest living writer, yet the poet never held any official position in Fascist Italy except that of President of the Royal Academy. Still, D’Annunzio’s influence on Fascism was considerable . He was, for example, seen as one of its cultural precursors, having co-authored with Alceste De Ambris (a national syndicalist leader closely related to Mussolini and the “fascism of the first hour” in 1919) the Carta del Carnaro. The constitution of the Regency of Fiume in 1920, was seen as a model for Italy. Fascism even claimed that its corporative model and ideas were inspired by it. D’Annunzio also invented the political style later adopted by Mussolini and fascism, stressing the 236 䡲 mario sznajder theatrical side of politics, the mise en scène of political rallies, and direct dialogue between the leader and the masses. D’Annunzio later supported fascism in the critical year of its ascent to power and saw in Mussolini a modern Italian hero. In this context, it is interesting that Nietzsche’s ideas not only played a central role in shaping D’Annunzio’s views, but also, through the poet’s literary and political activities, they became a vehicle for the dissemination of a distinctive brand of Nietzscheanism in Italy and in the fascist movement. Mussolini’s views on Nietzsche also became at a very early stage important in the shaping of his political vision and leadership style. Already as a revolutionary socialist, Mussolini began using concepts and a terminology drawn from Nietzsche and relating to the German philosopher as one of his main sources of inspiration. With varying levels of intensity, the future Duce of Italian Fascism kept relying on or referring to Nietzsche throughout his political career, in different contexts. Although Mussolini did not place Nietzsche among the intellectual ancestors of Italian fascism, there is little doubt about the strong influence that the German philosopher’s thought had on his views, however manipulative Mussolini’s use of them may have been. An examination of how these two bridging figures dealt with Nietzsche demonstrates a striking paradox—namely his ideological influence on fascism despite the highly individualistic views and aristocratic ethos that he espoused. Yet leaders like D’Annunzio and Mussolini could personally identify with major themes of Nietzsche’s thought—such as life as art, the “Overman,” or “living dangerously,” while translating these ideas into a political movement, oblivious to the highly distorting effect of “Nietzschean” mass politics. Nietzsche on Politics The political dimension in Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought is inseparable from his general philosophical approach in all its logical, ontological, and aesthetic manifestations. There has been a marked tendency to see Nietzsche’s political thought only in terms of his philosophy of power. Yet Nietzsche argued that social habit and custom were the elements that keep society together, that functional hierarchies were superior to social and economic equality. The ideal historical model of society for Nietzsche was the one that governed the ancient Greek polis and the European aristocracy of the Renaissance. In modern terms, his political preferences could be characterized as neo-aristocratic conservatism, hostile to democratic rule but also to the state and the German nationalism that developed in the Second Reich, as well as to anti-Semitism.2 nietzsche and mussolini 䡲 237 In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the state is depicted as “the coldest of all monsters” that likes to surround itself with heroes and honorable men (Z, I: “On the New Idol”). According to Nietzsche’s view, the politics of domination would eventually give way to a society without...


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