Il Duce Essay - Critical Context

Richard B. Lyttle

Critical Context

The study of the life of Mussolini has always been overshadowed by that of his famous fellow dictator, Adolf Hitler. Thousands of volumes have been written about Nazi Germany, but Mussolini frequently has been dismissed as a posturing clown. His melodramatic claims for Italy’s place in the sun seem ridiculous in the light of the ignominious failures of the Italian military forces both before and during World War II. It is easy to forget that, at least for a few years, he united Italians in a sense of national pride that had never before existed. His domestic policies helped to lift Italy out of the Great Depression while the United States was still stumbling, and he ended sixty years of conflict with the Papacy and the Roman Catholic church.

For many young readers, the phenomenon of fascism is mostly a dim memory, an oddity that lasted for less than a quarter of a century. Unlike communism or social-ism, it was never hammered into a coherent political philosophy, and Mussolini, as the first leader to put it into practice, eventually may become merely a historical footnote. Il Duce, however, should help to remind readers that, during its short life, fascism (in its Nazi version) caused the greatest war in history—World War II—as well as the Spanish Civil War and other conflicts.

Lyttle’s careful judgments and brisk, simple style give Il Duce both credibility and clarity while encouraging a high level of interest. His explanations of abstract terms such as “socialism” and “fascism” are concise and strongly grounded in historical examples. Although he offers no new or unusual interpretations, he has distilled much of the scholarly consensus on Mussolini into a form that is eminently suitable for a young audience.