Benito Mussolini

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George Orwell (essay date 1943)

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SOURCE: “Who Are the War Criminals?” in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: My Country Right or Left 1940-1943, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1968, pp. 319-25.

[Orwell was an English novelist, essayist, and journalist. In the following review of The Trial of Mussolini,which was originally published in the London Tribune, Orwell argues against both the sense and the effectiveness of a war crimes trial for Mussolini, noting that before the advent of World War II, the dictator received support from other European leaders.]

On the face of it, Mussolini's collapse was a story straight out of Victorian melodrama. At long last Righteousness had triumphed, the wicked man was discomfited, the mills of God were doing their stuff. On second thoughts, however, this moral tale is less simple and less edifying. To begin with, what crime, if any, has Mussolini committed? In power politics there are no crimes, because there are no laws. And, on the other hand, is there any feature in Mussolini's internal régime that could be seriously objected to by any body of people likely to sit in judgment on him? For, as the author of this book [The Trial of Mussolini by “Cassius”] abundantly shows—and this in fact is the main purpose of the book—there is not one scoundrelism committed by Mussolini between 1922 and 1940 that has not been lauded to the skies by the very people who are now promising to bring him to trial.

For the purposes of his allegory “Cassius” imagines Mussolini indicted before a British court, with the Attorney General as prosecutor. The list of charges is an impressive one, and the main facts—from the murder of Matteotti to the invasion of Greece, and from the destruction of the peasants' co-operatives to the bombing of Addis Ababa—are not denied. Concentration camps, broken treaties, rubber truncheons, castor oil—everything is admitted. The only troublesome question is: How can something that was praise-worthy at the time when you did it—ten years ago, say—suddenly become reprehensible now? Mussolini is allowed to call witnesses, both living and dead, and to show by their own printed words that from the very first the responsible leaders of British opinion have encouraged him in everything that he did. For instance, here is Lord Rothermere in 1928:

In his own country [Mussolini] was the antidote to a deadly poison. For the rest of Europe he has been a tonic which has done to all incalculable good. I can claim with sincere satisfaction to have been the first man in a position of public influence to put Mussolini's splendid achievement in its right light. … He is the greatest figure of our age.

Here is Winston Churchill in 1927:

If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. … [Italy] has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.

Here is Lord Mottistone in 1935:

I did not oppose [the Italian action in Abyssinia]. I wanted to dispel the ridiculous illusion that it was a nice thing to sympathise with the underdog. … I said it was a wicked thing to send arms or connive to send arms to these cruel, brutal Abyssinians and still to deny them to others who are playing an honourable part.

Here is Mr Duff Cooper in 1938:

Concerning the Abyssinian episode, the...

(This entire section contains 2566 words.)

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less said now the better. When old friends are reconciled after a quarrel, it is always dangerous for them to discuss its original causes.

Here is Mr Ward Price, of the Daily Mail, in 1932:

Ignorant and prejudiced people talk of Italian affairs as if that nation were subject to some tyranny which it would willingly throw off. With that rather morbid commiseration for fanatical minorities which is the rule with certain imperfectly informed sections of British public opinion, this country long shut its eyes to the magnificent work that the Fascist régime was doing. I have several times heard Mussolini himself express his gratitude to the Daily Mail as having been the first British newspaper to put his aims fairly before the world.

And so on, and so on, and so on. Hoare, Simon, Halifax, Neville Chamberlain, Austen Chamberlain, Hore-Belisha, Amery, Lord Lloyd and various others enter the witness-box, all of them ready to testify that, whether Mussolini was crushing the Italian trade unions, non-intervening in Spain, pouring mustard gas on the Abyssinians, throwing Arabs out of aeroplanes or building up a navy for use against Britain, the British Government and its official spokesmen supported him through thick and thin. We are shown Lady (Austen) Chamberlain shaking hands with Mussolini in 1924, Chamberlain and Halifax banqueting with him and toasting “the Emperor of Abyssinia” in 1939, Lord Lloyd buttering up the Fascist régime in an official pamphlet as late as 1940. The net impression left by this part of the trial is quite simply that Mussolini is not guilty. Only later, when an Abyssinian, a Spaniard and an Italian anti-Fascist give their evidence, does the real case against him begin to appear.

Now, the book is a fanciful one, but this conclusion is realistic. It is immensely unlikely that the British Tories will ever put Mussolini on trial. There is nothing that they could accuse him of except his declaration of war in 1940. If the “trial of war criminals” that some people enjoy dreaming about ever happens, it can only happen after revolutions in the Allied countries. But the whole notion of finding scapegoats, of blaming individuals, or parties, or nations for the calamities that have happened to us, raises other trains of thought, some of them rather disconcerting.

The history of British relations with Mussolini illustrates the structural weakness of a capitalist state. Granting that power politics are not moral, to attempt to buy Italy out of the Axis—and clearly this idea underlay British policy from 1934 onwards—was a natural strategic move. But it was not a move which Baldwin, Chamberlain and the rest of them were capable of carrying out. It could only have been done by being so strong that Mussolini would not dare to side with Hitler. This was impossible, because an economy ruled by the profit motive is simply not equal to rearming on a modern scale. Britain only began to arm when the Germans were in Calais. Before that, fairly large sums had, indeed, been voted for armaments, but they slid peaceably into the pockets of the shareholders and the weapons did not appear. Since they had no real intention of curtailing their own privileges, it was inevitable that the British ruling class should carry out every policy half-heartedly and blind themselves to the coming danger. But the moral collapse which this entailed was something new in British politics. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British politicians might be hypocritical, but hypocrisy implies a moral code. It was something new when Tory MPs cheered the news that British ships had been bombed by Italian aeroplanes, or when members of the House of Lords lent themselves to organised libel campaigns against the Basque children who had been brought here as refugees.

When one thinks of the lies and betrayals of those years, the cynical abandonment of one ally after another, the imbecile optimism of the Tory press, the flat refusal to believe that the dictators meant war, even when they shouted it from the housetops, the inability of the moneyed class to see anything wrong whatever in concentration camps, ghettos, massacres and undeclared wars, one is driven to feel that moral decadence played its part as well as mere stupidity. By 1937 or thereabouts it was not possible to be in doubt about the nature of the Fascist régimes. But the lords of property had decided that Fascism was on their side and they were willing to swallow the most stinking evils so long as their property remained secure. In their clumsy way they were playing the game of Machiavelli, of “political realism”, of “anything is right which advances the cause of the Party”—the Party in this case, of course, being the Conservative Party.

All this “Cassius” brings out, but he does shirk its corollary. Throughout his book it is implied that only Tories are immoral. “Yet there is still another England,” he says. “This other England detested Fascism from the day of its birth … This was the England of the Left, the England of Labour.” True, but only part of the truth. The actual behaviour of the Left has been more honourable than its theories. It has fought against Fascism, but its representative thinkers have entered just as deeply as their opponents into the evil world of “realism” and power politics.

“Realism” (it used to be called dishonesty) is part of the general political atmosphere of our time. It is a sign of the weakness of “Cassius's” position that one could compile a quite similar book entitled The Trial of Winston Churchill, or The Trial of Chiang Kai-Shek, or even The Trial of Ramsay MacDonald. In each case you would find the leaders of the Left contradicting themselves almost as grossly as the Tory leaders quoted by “Cassius”. For the Left has also been willing to shut its eyes to a great deal and to accept some very doubtful allies. We laugh now to hear the Tories abusing Mussolini when they were flattering him five years ago, but who would have foretold in 1927 that the Left would one day take Chiang Kai-Shek to its bosom? Who would have foretold just after the General Strike that ten years later Winston Churchill would be the darling of the Daily Worker? In the years 1935-9, when almost any ally against Fascism seemed acceptable, left-wingers found themselves praising Mustapha Kemal and then developing a tenderness for Carol of Rumania.

Although it was in every way more pardonable, the attitude of the Left towards the Russian régime has been distinctly similar to the attitude of the Tories towards Fascism. There has been the same tendency to excuse almost anything “because they're on our side”. It is all very well to talk about Lady Chamberlain photographed shaking hands with Mussolini; the photograph of Stalin shaking hands with Ribbentrop is much more recent. On the whole, the intellectuals of the Left defended the Russo-German Pact. It was “realistic”, like Chamberlain's appeasement policy, and with similar consequences. If there is a way out of the moral pigsty we are living in, the first step towards it is probably to grasp that “realism” does not pay, and that to sell out your friends and sit rubbing your hands while they are destroyed is not the last word in political wisdom.

This fact is demonstrable in any city between Cardiff and Stalingrad, but not many people can see it. Meanwhile it is a pamphleteer's duty to attack the Right, but not to flatter the Left. It is partly because the Left have been too easily satisfied with themselves that they are where they are now.

Mussolini, in “Cassius's” book, after calling his witnesses, enters the box himself. He sticks to his Machiavellian creed: Might is Right, vae victis! He is guilty of the only crime that matters, the crime of failure, and he admits that his adversaries have a right to kill him—but not, he insists, a right to blame him. Their conduct has been similar to his own, and their moral condemnations are all hypocrisy. But thereafter come the other three witnesses, the Abyssinian, the Spaniard and the Italian, who are morally upon a different plane, since they have never temporised with Fascism nor had a chance to play at power politics; and all three of them demand the death penalty.

Would they demand it in real life? Will any such thing ever happen? It is not very likely, even if the people who have a real right to try Mussolini should somehow get him into their hands. The Tories, of course, though they would shrink from a real inquest into the origins of the war, are not sorry to have the chance of pushing the whole blame onto a few notorious individuals like Mussolini and Hitler. In this way the Darlan-Badoglio manoeuvre is made easier. Mussolini is a good scapegoat while he is at large, though he would be an awkward one in captivity. But how about the common people? Would they kill their tyrants, in cold blood and with the forms of law, if they had the chance?

It is a fact that there have been very few such executions in history. At the end of the last war an election was won partly on the slogan “Hang the Kaiser”, and yet if any such thing had been attempted the conscience of the nation would probably have revolted. When tyrants are put to death, it should be by their own subjects; those who are punished by a foreign authority, like Napoleon, are simply made into martyrs and legends.

What is important is not that these political gangsters should be made to suffer, but that they should be made to discredit themselves. Fortunately they do do so in many cases, for to a surprising extent the war-lords in shining armour, the apostles of the martial virtues, tend not to die fighting when the time comes. History is full of ignominious getaways by the great and famous. Napoleon surrendered to the English in order to get protection from the Prussians, the Empress Eugénie fled in a hansom cab with an American dentist, Ludendorff resorted to blue spectacles, one of the more unprintable Roman emperors tried to escape assassination by locking himself in the lavatory, and during the early days of the Spanish civil war one leading Fascist made his escape from Barcelona, with exquisite fitness, through a sewer.

It is some such exit that one would wish for Mussolini, and if he is left to himself perhaps he will achieve it. Possibly Hitler also. It used to be said of Hitler that when his time came he would never fly or surrender, but would perish in some operatic manner, by suicide at the very least. But that was when Hitler was successful; during the last year, since things began to go wrong, it is difficult to feel that he has behaved with dignity or courage. “Cassius” ends his book with the judge's summing-up, and leaves the verdict open, seeming to invite a decision from his readers. Well, if it were left to me, my verdict on both Hitler and Mussolini would be: not death, unless it is inflicted in some hurried unspectacular way. If the Germans and Italians feel like giving them a summary court-martial and then a firing-squad, let them do it. Or better still, let the pair of them escape with a suitcaseful of bearer securities and settle down as the accredited bores of some Swiss pension. But no martyrising, no St Helena business. And, above all, no solemn hypocritical “trial of war criminals”, with all the slow cruel pageantry of the law, which after a lapse of time has so strange a way of focusing a romantic light on the accused and turning a scoundrel into a hero.

Piero Saporiti (essay date 1946)

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SOURCE: “How Mussolini Fell,” in The Political Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 4, October-December, 1946, pp. 320-9.

[In the following essay, Saporiti details Mussolini's last days of power.]

Twenty-fifth July, 1943, started in Rome like any other Sunday. Under the burning sun, the rare passers-by who crossed the Piazza Venezia looked furtively towards the famous balcony from which, for many years, a meglomaniac had given them his orders. In front of the Palazzo Venezia, two sentries paced up and down. Everything looked normal enough, yet since the night before vague unquiet seemed to linger everywhere in the capital.

Twenty-six men were sitting in their homes, waiting for news. They were the actors in the drama which had come to a climax the night before and they knew that a turning-point had been reached in the history of Italy. Their vote of the night before had for ever closed a period of tyranny and ended the dictatorship of “one man and one man alone.”

During the meeting on the night before, of the Fascist Grand Council in Rome, the youngest of the members present, Signor Giuseppe Bottai, former Minister of Education, had made a verbatim account of the session. He had perhaps realized its historic importance earlier than the others; or his university education had possibly given him the habit of taking notes. The fact remains that the details recorded by him and completed with a few notes taken by some of his colleagues, like Count Grandi and Ciano, enabled Bottai to give a true and minute account of Mussolini's disgrace.

The verbatim account of a discussion was usually summarized on the day following a meeting by the Secretary of the Fascist Party himself, submitted to the Duce for approval and only then became “official”. But during the night from 24th to 25th July, the atmosphere was so tense and events moved so quickly and in such an unexpected way that no verbatim account was ever published. Thus the report written by Giuseppe Bottai represents to-day the only exhaustive document of the meeting.

Doubtless, Bottai intended to complete his story at a later date and to make it part of a more important literary work. But events moved too quickly for him, and soon afterwards he was forced to disappear and to go underground. He was condemned to death by the Fascist “Government” of Verona and sentenced to life imprisonment by the present Italian Government. According to some reports he fought with the partisans against the Germans. To-day, he is still in hiding, probably outside Italy. The first version of his verbatim account, consisting of hastily written notes, has never been altered. Yet this report makes it possible for us to learn what really happened behind the monumental and well-guarded doors of the Palazzo Venezia.

Giuseppe Bottai's account opens in the dry manner characteristic of official minutes:

“At seventeen hours fifteen minutes, the Duce, President of the Council, declares that the meeting is open. Present: Mussolini, de Bono, de Vecchi, Scorza, Suardo, Grandi, de Marsico, Acerbo, Biggini, Paroschi, Federzoni, Polverelli, Cianetti, Galbiati, Bastianini, Ciano, Tringali-Casanova, Farinacci, Bottai, Albini, Alfieri, de Stefani, Rossoni, Buffarini-Guidi, Frattari, Marinelli, Gottardi, Barella, Bignardi.” Bottai notes that they all wear the Fascist uniform while the Duce has put on that of a Commanding General of the Fascist Militia.

Mussolini opens the discussion with a long report. He uses a large number of written notes. He starts thus: “There has been much talk recently about the supreme command of the Armed Forces which I have taken into my hands. Let us start, if you like, by recalling the genesis of this supreme command of the Armed Forces …” Mussolini then reads a letter dated 3rd May, written and signed by Marshal Badoglio. He affirms that it was according to the wish and the written suggestion of the Marshal that he was entrusted with total military power on behalf of the King.

“Then,” adds Bottai, “Mussolini makes a remarkable confession of impotence and incompetence.” “The working of the Supreme Command,” he says, “has been characterized by reluctance, ambiguity and falsehood. Above all, it is falsehood which predominated in the conduct of the war. I am the Supreme Commander. The only battle, however, which I have actually and personally conducted, was the battle of Pantelleria which took place in the absence of General Cavallero and for which I assume the entire responsibility. I myself gave the order to capitulate when Admiral Pavoni cabled to tell me that all resistance on the Island had become impossible. Only Stalin or the Mikado can give the order to resist to the last man. Anyway, Pantelleria was my invention for, until 1935, only the Police knew of its existence (the island was formerly used as a convict settlement for political prisoners). Pantelleria was my creation and it was mine to do with as I wanted.”

Mussolini went on to describe the defeat of El Alamein. “I had forseen that the British would attack on 28th October, because, with their grim sense of humour, they wanted the start of the attack to coincide with the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Fascism.” He threw all responsibility for the defeat on Rommel, whom he describes as “A magnificent Commander as far as tactics are concerned but deplorable as regards strategy.”

Mussolini then went into a detailed account of German help in the Italian war, taking certain figures from a voluminous file. He points out that by 1st April, 1943, Germany had sent 40 million tons of coal, 2[frac12] million tons of metals, 22 thousand tons of synthetic rubber, 220 thousand tons of fuel (petrol) for planes and 21 thousand tons of fuel oil. By the same date, 1,500 guns were in action in Italy.

Mussolini continues: “Defeatists say that the heart of the Italian people is not in this war. That may be. But in truth a war is only popular if it is won. It becomes very unpopular if events are unfavourable. Anyway, it doesn't matter whether it is popular or not. It is not what people carry in their hearts that matters but their behaviour and their acts. Nobody can deny that the majority of the Italian people are strictly regimented and subjected to a severe discipline. That is what matters.”

He concludes: “Now this is our dilemma to-day: war or peace? Unconditional surrender or resistance to the last? I admit that certain people, especially among the more educated class, are not enthusiastic about the war … But as I said before, no war has ever been popular. People accuse this war of being the war of Fascism, but then, every war is always the war of the party which is in power. If this war is the war of Mussolini, then the war of 1859 was the war of Cavour. The fact remains that England wants to have before her a century of domination over Europe in order to be assured of her five meals a day. She wants to occupy Italy to keep her under her domination for ever. All the rest is just rubbish.”

A few minutes of silence follow. Then General de Bono speaks. He starts a sentimental defence of the army and opposes Mussolini's arguments on the responsibility of military leaders.

Farinacci (former Secretary of the Party and leader of the pro-Hitler faction of Fascism) deplores the “hostility and distrust of certain official circles towards the Germans”. He concludes with a violent dithyramb to the German glory and power.

De Vecchi replies violently to Farinacci and accuses him of having dodged the first world war and of having mutilated himself to escape fighting in the Abyssinian war. The discussion loses its thread. When his turn comes Bottai gets up, in order, as he writes, to come back to the real object of the meeting.

“Contrary to the opinion of the General Staff, he (Bottai) thinks that the enemy, after having occupied Sicily, is going to concentrate his efforts on an invasion of Italy proper. Therefore the problem which faces the country is whether Italy is prepared for such an assault? From this issue, one can proceed to the wider problem which is: Shall we continue with the war or sue for peace?” And turning towards Mussolini, who listens to him musingly, Bottai adds: “As for you, your speech has given us the definite impression that a defence of the peninsula is virtually impossible. Your arguments kill finally any illusions which still might have been left to us. Your words point therefore, directly to the conclusion that we are technically incapable of sustaining the enemy's assault. To this, we have to add a corrupt military command. It is up to you all to draw your own conclusions.”

Again, a few minutes of silence ensued. Then Count Grandi slowly rises to his feet.

“I wish to repeat for the benefit of the Grand Council what I have already said to the Duce the day before yesterday and I wish to move the following motion …”: Then, in a clear voice, Count Grandi read the document which drew a formal indictment against the Fascist regime and recommended as the only road to salvation for the country, the return to a constitutional system and the restitution to the King of executive power as well as “the constitutional power of the King to declare war and to conclude peace”. The die was cast. That was the end of dictatorship though veiled by clever words … The Duce's expression is impenetrable, hard and distant.

Count Grandi defends his motion with vigour and verve. Stabbing his finger against the Duce, the speaker rains a torrent of abuse on Mussolini. (During the whole of his diatribe, he went on using the familiar “tu” instead of the more official “voi”, which lent a still more genuine fervour to his accusations). “You have imposed upon Italy a dictatorship, historically immoral. Gradually, day by day, you have suppressed our liberties and violated our rights.” With his hands grasping the lapels of his black tunic, he adds: “For years, you have stifled our individuality under this funeral cloak. Your dictatorship wanted this war. Your dictatorship has lost it. The leader whom we loved has disappeared. In his place to-day reigns the gold-braided puppet invented by this madman Starace (former Secretary of the Party who tries more than anybody else to standardize life in Italy and to create the myth of the infallibility of the Duce). Try to become once more the Mussolini you used to be. But you cannot. It is too late. Through your madness, through our weakness, the destiny of a great people has been handled like the private affairs of an individual. As to your absurd boasting about assuming responsibility! It does not suffice that you assume it. We are all responsible and it is the country that will have to pay. And yet, you have discarded us. We, the members of the Grand Council, have become impotent ‘extras' on your stage. Whenever you had to choose somebody for an important job, you always chose deliberately the biggest B.F. you could find: for instance, him (Grandi pointed to Polverelli, the Minister of Information), he's a good example. He's just ordered the newspapers never to mention the war nor Italian independence, not Vittorio Veneto, nor the Piave. For the last seventeen years, you've kept for yourself the three war portfolios, and what have you accomplished, Supreme Commander? You have destroyed the spirit of our Armed Forces, you have stifled the Crown, you have robbed it of its prerogatives.”

Count Grandi spoke for an hour and a half and these were his last sentences: “You have ordered that some of your sayings should be written on the walls of Italy. They are all ridiculous and devoid of sense, but there is one sentence which you pronounced in 1924 which is worth repeating. ‘Let all factions perish. Let our faction perish as well, providing that the Nation survive.’ To-day, the moment has come. The faction has to perish.”

Sinister silence followed Grandi's accusations. Everybody waited for a reaction from the Dictator, expecting him to call in his Blackshirts to wreak vengeance on the Count. Nothing of the sort happened. Everybody noticed the ghastly paleness of Mussolini who had sunk back in his arm-chair and, with a tired gesture, opened his collar. And Bottai heard and wrote down these words, whispered by the vanquished dictator: “Decidedly, fortune has turned her back on me.”

Polverelli asks to be heard. He does not seem to realize the import of the tragic atmosphere and thinks only of himself, as if this were an ordinary debate. He tries clumsily to refute Count Grandi's accusations about the instructions which he had given recently to Italian newspaper editors. In face of his well-known puerility, everybody relaxes for a moment and nobody listens.

Count Ciano, the Duce's son-in-law and former Foreign Minister, affirms that the necessity of continuing the war until the bitter end is beyond discussion. As the Duce, however, has just referred to the importance of remaining loyal to alliances and pledges, he (Ciano) thinks it might be useful to recall the genesis of the Italo-German alliance.

“Germany asked for this alliance twice. The first time was in 1938, during the naval review at Naples. At that time, Mussolini tried to evade giving a definite reply and produced only vague replies. The second attempt took place in 1939. Mussolini accepted ‘In the hope of stopping Germany in her race towards war’. Hitler pledged himself not to create any questions which might provoke a war. Now at that time the German General Staff had already fixed the date for the invasion of Poland.”

Ciano goes on to recall the meeting at Salzburg, where he arrived as the bearer of a letter from Mussolini to Hitler and in which the Duce described Italy's military situation in such terms that he could only advise the postponement of the opening of hostilities to 1943 at the earliest.

“You have never hidden anything from our Ally,” Ciano says to Mussolini, “but our Ally has never treated you with the same loyalty. Contrary to all agreements and all obligations towards us, the Germans started the war before the agreed moment. During the whole course of the war, they have never stopped confronting us with the fait accompli. Every attack which took place after Poland was notified to us only after it had already started: such as the attack on Belgium which the Ambassador Mackensen—even though I had spent the evening before with him up to midnight—announced to me at 4 a.m. in the morning, at the very moment when the German troops were crossing the frontiers; or the attack on Russia which Bismarck announced to me in the same way.”

And Ciano ends by saying: “In this alliance, we shall not in any case be traitors but the betrayed.”

It is Farinacci's turn to get up. He makes a demogogic defence of the Germans. He praises their power and their good faith and suggests a motion which reaffirms solidarity with Nazi Germany but agrees with the proposed restitution of military (though not the political) power of the King.

It is now for Mussolini to defend himself. His voice is low, humble and almost pathetic. The arrogance of the Dictator gives way to the submissiveness of the accused. He complains of what he considers to be futile criticisms. “What is the use of these reproaches at a moment when we are fighting against the power of three empires …”

De Marsico speaks in favour of Count Grandi's motion and of a return “to the spirit and not only the letter of the constitution, supreme bulwark of our conscience”.

Then Scorza tried to create a diversion: “It is late,” he says. “We could put off the rest of the discussion until to-morrow.” Mussolini, who sees his last chance in an adjournment, backs up the suggestion made by the Secretary of the Party. He says, his face distorted with a painful expression, that he is ill and that he has to avoid all overwork, adding “If the doctors had cared for me a little less well the last time I was ill, you would not be discussing to-night things that you cannot understand.”

Grandi jumps up: “No, no. I object to any postponement. How many times in the past have you kept us here until dawn to discuss the Charter of Labour or some other even less urgent question. To-night, we are not going to leave before we have discussed and voted on the motion. It is the life of the country which is at stake.”

Mussolini, tired and drooping, acquiesces with a wave of his hand, and the meeting goes on.

Federzoni refutes Mussolini's statement that all wars are unpopular. “This war,” he says, “certainly is, because of its unfortunate name of a ‘Fascist war’ which has divided the nation. But the Libyan war and, above all, the war of 1915-18 were not.”

It is ten minutes past midnight, and the meeting is interrupted for a short pause. Mussolini, accompanied by Scorza, retires into his office while the other members of the Grand Council break up into little groups, arguing feverishly. Grandi makes use of the break to collect signatures for his motion. Trays of lemonade and sandwiches are handed round.

12-35 a.m.—Mussolini comes back into the council room. The meeting continues. Bastianini, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, describes the situation on the Italian home front. He affirms that the demoralization of the inhabitants of Sicily had been one of the major causes of the rapid Italian defeat in this island. Mussolini interrupts him: “I had forseen the Sicilian problem for a long time. Last year, I ordered the chief of police of Catania to lock up anybody who was wandering about the town and to shoot anyone who abandoned his post during the bombardments.”

Without paying attention to the interruption, Bastianini goes on: “An unbridgeable gulf separates the Party and the country. The country is always in a state of passive resistance and obstruction towards the regime. It is perhaps already too late to embark on a complete change of policy which could alter the aspect and the soul of Fascism.”

Then Bastianini speaks of the project which he had already presented at the time of the Salzburg meeting. “We have been wrong in not improving our relations with the nations of eastern Europe who, like ourselves, do not like Nazi domination. Perhaps it is still not too late.”

Tringali-Casanova (President of the Special Fascist Tribunal), Biggini (Minister of the National Education), Galbiati (Chief of the General Staff of Fascist Militia), declare themselves against Grandi's motion: “All the Italian people are united around the Duce,” says Galbiati, addressing Bottai, Grandi and Bastianini. “If there be a rupture, it lies between you and the people. What does lack of armament matter when you have the will to fight.”

Mussolini, who has recovered his spirits during Galbiati's interruption, addresses his adversaries one by one: “Among the accusations which you have made against the regime, you have forgotten the one which is most often on the lips of the people: the fabulous wealth which several of you have amassed.” The dictator becomes indignant, slaps the brief-case in front of him and in a hollow menacing tone, goes on: “I have enough proof here to send all of you to the gallows. You more than anyone else (he says pointing to Ciano with his finger). When you're in the house, it is treason itself that has entered.”

Mussolini speaks of Grandi's motion. He is nervous and continuously raises his voice: “This motion raises grave problems of personal dignity. If the King accepts the restitution of military power, it means decapitation for me. We've had enough words. Let us speak frankly. I am sixty and I know the significance of such a step at such a moment. But beware! If to-morrow, the King renews his confidence in me which he has never refused, what will be your position, Gentlemen, before the King and before the Party, and what is more, before me personally? Moreover, I hold in my hands the key which could clear up the war situation, but you aren't going to know what it is.”

Grandi rises: “The Duce is blackmailing us. He is making us choose between our old loyalty to him and our devotion to our country. We can't hesitate for a moment, Gentlemen, it is our country that matters.”

The meeting has reached its most intense pitch. Scorza rises and shouts at Mussolini: “You haven't known how to be enough of a Dictator, you've been the most disobeyed man of the century,” and he praises the party at length. He presents another motion, which is halfway between Grandi's and Farinacci's. He proclaims resistance to the end but demands the immediate reform of constitutional bodies and military commands. “It is in my capacity of Secretary of the Party that I ask you to vote for the motion.”

Here Bottai notes that it is impossible to keep account of the meeting. Everybody is speaking at the same time. Insult follows insult. Bastianini is heard yelling—“Why do you propose a motion in your capacity as Secretary of the Party? To call us traitors if we don't vote for it? It's blackmail.”

And Ciano cries: “It's only you who'll go to Forte Boccea, not us.” (Forte Boccea is the usual execution ground.)

When order was re-established, de Bono, who hadn't taken part in the din, got up to defend the Army and the General Staff with energy: “In the national marasmus, the Army is the only guarantee of a real continuity of tradition and loyalty.”

De Stefani (former Minister of Finance) affirms that it is necessary to draw a clear distinction between the regime and the country: “It is for the country alone to prompt supreme decisions. You can't win a war like ours by mobilizing the Party. The whole country is supporting a weight that is definitely beyond its powers. It sees its houses, factories, monuments, in short, all its riches, destroyed. No matter what the cost, we must save what can be saved.”

Farinacci defends his motion violently. Then Suardo (President of the Senate) gets up. He is in tears and declares that he has taken back the signature which he has put under Count Grandi's motion. He asks his colleagues to vote in favour of the motion presented by Scorza. He is backed up by Cianetti who starts to express the same doubts as Suardo. Bottai intervenes with these words: “For two days I have not eaten and I have not slept. I have thought a lot before taking a decision, but if I were now to take back my signature, well, I would not be a man.”

Polverelli is going to vote against Grandi: “I was born and shall die a Mussolinean.”

Bottai affirms once more that the crisis which threatens the nation can only be solved by the restitution to the Crown of supreme powers.

By then, the Assembly is dead tired and the meeting draws to an end. A few more words from Grandi, Ciano, Biggini, Paroschi and Buffarini-Guidi. Then Mussolini with a gesture of utter indifference, signals to Scorza to take the vote.

Nineteen votes in favour of Grandi's motion—seven against and only one abstention—that of Suardo. The curtain slowly falls on the last act of a dictatorship.

Mussolini gets up with difficulty and asks: “Who is going to present this motion to the King?” and Grandi answers, “It's up to you to do it.”

Mussolini says: “That's all, I think we can leave. You have brought about a crisis in the regime. The meeting is closed.”

While the Duce turns to leave the room, Scorza, according to the usual procedure, shouts: “Salute al Duce.” Polverelli is the only one to answer. It is eighteen minutes to three in the morning of 25th July, 1943.

René Albrecht-Carrié (essay date 1949)

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SOURCE: A review of The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story, in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. LXIV, No. 3, September, 1949, pp. 469-71.

[In the following review of The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story by Benito Mussolini, Albrecht-Carrié considers the volume a “distorted” account of the events surrounding Mussolini's last days in power but valuable nonetheless for posterity.]

“One fact has been definitely overlooked in everything that has been written on the Italian catastrophe of the summer of 1943: France originated the catastrophe on a specific date, November 8, 1942” (p. 5, text). This opening sentence of [The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story, by Benito Mussolini], surely an original interpretation of events, is not an unfair measure of the value of Mussolini's account as history. It would be all too easy in fact, as pointed out in the introductory preface, to riddle these articles, originally published in the Corriere della Sera in 1944, for their inaccuracies and omissions. They have interest nevertheless, but on a different level.

However distorted, whether by purpose or blindness, Mussolini's view of the manner and causes of his downfall constitutes in itself a historic document of importance. Nor is he unaware of the possibilities of a Napoleonic legend after the lapse of a sufficient interval of time. In the face of the unfavorable turn of military events and of threatening defection in the rear, Mussolini saw possible salvation in a return to his earlier gods, stressing the radical aspect of fascism, even if that meant a conflict with Crown, Church and conservatives, all of them ever dubious allies. But this plan was thwarted by the Sicilian invasion which accelerated the pace of the drama and brought it to the climax of the Grand Council meeting of 24 July 1943. Mussolini fully realized the import of Grandi's proposal to lay the situation before the King for his decision, but after a surprisingly equable, though lengthy, debate Grandi's resolution was overwhelmingly adopted. As Mussolini was leaving the King the next day, he was quietly arrested and the crisis was resolved with outward smoothness by the appointment of Badoglio to form a new ministry. Fascism, along with the Duce, made a strangely anticlimactic exit.

Of Mussolini's account of these events and his subsequent detention and liberation the outstanding aspect is the apparent mildness of his reaction. His indignation at Italy's behavior toward her German ally is interesting, and his use of the stab-in-the-back phrase can only be called humorous in the light of Italian action in June 1940. But his own lack of humor is revealing: Mussolini and fascism were pure opportunism and expediency; for them principle could at most be an additional tool in the arsenal of propaganda. And this brings out one of the most fundamental considerations that should be borne in mind when thinking of the place of fascism in Italian history. Cavour, the maker of Italy, knew well how to seize—even create—opportunity. But if Cavour acknowledged the inevitability of compromise, he held a high view of the nature and ultimate purpose of the human individual and of freedom. This Mussolini lacked: it is hard to match the cynical “realism” that discovers as a historic law the collapse of the ruling class in a crisis because of its greater intelligence (p. 155, text). The same realism enabled him to see through the pious pretense of the popularity of the wars of the Risorgimento: that episode, too, was merely a successful exercise in the use of power. No doubt it was such in part, and this will make it possible to continue giving an interpretation of the fascist episode as an extension of the Risorgimento, in fact as the revitalizing of a weakened tradition.

It is particularly enlightening in this connection to read the searching analysis which Professor Ascoli gives of the Italian scene in the section of his introductory preface entitled “The People”. Mussolini did further unify Italy and was on the whole quite acceptable to the bulk of the nation—while successful at least. But in the closing section of his essay, Professor Ascoli lets himself perhaps be carried away by the enthusiasm of his hopefulness: the present politics of Italy hardly convey a picture of purge and redemption. If Mussolini's fascism is hardly likely to have for Italy the same significance as France's First Empire for the latter country, it is well to remember that the less glorious Napoleon III remains the subject of varying estimates, not all of them unfavorable. Mussolini will remain a controversial figure. To the perpetuation of this controversy, this testament of his may be a not insignificant contribution.

The English Historical Review (essay date 1951)

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The English Historical Review (essay date 1951)

SOURCE: A review of Benito Mussolini: Memoirs 1942-1943, in The English Historical Review, Vol. LXVI, No. 260, July, 1951, p. 454.

[In the following review of Benito Mussolini: Memoirs 1942-1943, the anonymous critic considers the memoirs biographically and politically significant but otherwise lacking in substance.]

Benito Mussolini: Memoirs 1942-1943 consists of twenty-one articles written by Mussolini in the spring and early summer of 1944, and published, anonymously in the first instance, between 25 June and 18 July 1944 in the Corriere della Sera. They were republished hastily, with many signs of hurried editing, on 9 August 1944, as a small booklet, with the author's name prominently displayed; a second and much more handsome edition, with two further chapters and some documents, was published by the Milan firm of Mondadori in November. The title of the first edition, Il tempo del bastone e della carota (a reference to Mr. Churchill's statement in Washington on 26 May 1943 that it was intended to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends), was retained as a sub-title in the second edition, Storia di un anno. This English translation by Frances Lobb was exhaustively edited by Professor Raymond Klibansky even before Mussolini's death, although it was not published in Great Britain until November 1949 (an American edition appeared in 1948). The numerous careful notes are useful in calling attention to the many and inevitable mis-statements and suppressions of evidence that one might expect in an account of the year 1942-3 written by Mussolini in the twilight phase of Neo-Fascism at the Villa Feltrinelli. There is a certain amount of first-hand information which is not likely to be duplicated elsewhere (such as the final interview with the king of Italy on 25 July 1943), but the most surprising thing about the articles is that the author should have found sufficient interest in life to write them at all. Mussolini was not quite finished; self-justification at least could arouse him, and the German censorship was sufficiently concerned to interfere with the articles on several occasions. But the lame final chapter, which attempts to interpret Italy's economic exhaustion and half-hearted bellicosity in 1939-40 as a statesmanlike preference for peace, shows how far the mighty had fallen. The ‘memoirs' will always, however, retain some biographical and political significance. The volume also prints accounts of Mussolini's conversations during his last two years with Admiral Franco Maugeri, Flavia Iurato and Domenico Antonelli, and Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster, archbishop of Milan.

Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1962)

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Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: “Duce and Führer,” in The Times Literary Supplement, November 30, 1962, p. 936.

[In the following review of The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism,the anonymous critic calls the book “enthralling reading.”]

Mr. Deakin's The Brutal Friendship is above all a book for specialists and must be judged as such; within the stern limits he has set himself it is a very fine piece of writing and for the specialist it makes enthralling reading. As Mr. Deakin explains, the book grew out of a study of the events leading to the meeting of the Fascist Grand Council on July 24, 1943, and its theme is essentially that of the decline and fall of Mussolini; Hitler is there rather as Mussolini's love-hate nightmare: when he woke from it both their lives ended.

The outline story of Mussolini's fall was already well known, though it is easily corrupted by the popular appeal of its very absurdity. Mr. Deakin has, however, been able to add not only much evidence of first-class importance but also evidence which modifies and extends the story we thought we knew. To begin with he presents a picture of the regionalism and incompleteness of the system which Hitler liked to claim as the model for his own totalitarianism. He is able to quote extensively from the new source of Farinacci's correspondence, Farinacci the Fascist “Jacobin” who failed to follow up his own success after the Matteotti crisis; thereafter he retired to his “fief” of Cremona until the fatal Grand Council meeting suggested by him three months before it took place. That the role of the King in the Fascist state, that of keeping up constitutional appearances, was anomalous is almost a platitude; it is Mr. Deakin's account of the easily forgotten Senate in Fascist Italy which is notable. “Here was one of the few places”, he writes,

where the small group of aging survivors of former governments and the commanders of other wars, the remnants of the political élite of the days before the March on Rome could meet with impunity and exchange impressions of the increasingly fragile Italian scene. Outside the circle of the Court, here was perhaps the only place where a discreet club vintage anti-Fascism could be audibly voiced, although the open debates were unanimous in their sycophancy. Here in a fragmented prism could still be discerned the historical shape of an earlier political world, that of the Ultras of a future Restoration.

Hitler, the great destroyer, was the destroyer also of the Fascist regime. Who knows how long and in what disguise Mussolini might have lingered on in a world without Hitler? And it may certainly be argued that it was in his desperate struggle against Russia that Hitler destroyed the power of Germany and with it the position of the Duce. Signor Bastianini, as Under-Secretary at the Palazzo Chigi, was the virtual successor of Ciano in February, 1943; that he did his utmost to disengage at least Italy and the smaller powers like Hungary and Rumania which were involved on the Axis side from their participation in the war was known at the time. His book Uomini, Cose, Fatti, published in 1959, has substantiated this knowledge and Mr. Deakin has followed up the book by discussing the whole topic with its author. But a more remarkable addition to the story is made by Mr. Deakin when he is able to display the efforts of German Foreign Office people like Megerle and Pfleiderer to induce Mussolini to influence their Führer to put an end to the limitless strain of the Ostfront.

It was known that many of the Germans involved in some way with the conspiracy against Hitler, which culminated in Stauffenberg's bomb, nursed the illusion created by the Munich conference of September, 1938, that Mussolini could be used to restrain Hitler; Canaris would naturally think in this way, and, as Mr. Deakin writes, “Göring also, during his visits to Rome, appears to have hinted in the same direction”. From Signor Bastianini he has now learnt that Ribbentrop himself “did not categorically dismiss the suggestion” that he should make contact with the Russians: in fact he put out feelers too late in Stockholm. More interesting is that Megerle, who accompanied Ribbentrop to Rome on this occasion in February, 1943, had a tête-à-tête with Signor Bastianini's chef de cabinet in which, according to the latter, Mergerle said among other things:

Even we Germans think of him [Mussolini] in our minds as our most effective interpreter with the rulers of Germany, who, too immersed and absorbed in the cruel war, are perhaps of necessity driven to see and appreciate only the military side of the problem too vast and too complex to be reduced to these narrow limits.

A little later, in April, Guariglia, who was then Italian Ambassador in Ankara, reported a conversation between his own subordinate, Relli, and a German official just back from the Russian front; the latter turns out to have been none other than Dr. Pfleiderer. Dr. Pfleiderer made it plain that he believed that Germany must come to some kind of terms with the U.S.S.R., probably offering the Straits to Russia for the time-being. “When I asked him finally”, Relli reported,

what were the possibilities of convincing certain German circles of the expediency of what he had disclosed to me, he remarked that “only narrow circles of the Party now rejected such ideas”, but that they were already understood and admitted by the majority of the German ruling clan.

It is an eloquent comment upon the German opposition to Hitler that it should have been, in spite of Hassell's long service in Rome, so ignorant of the Duce's weakness.

Already in March the big strikes which were initiated at the Fiat Mirafiori works on the outskirts of Turin, and which spread into Lombardy, had revealed the hollowness of Fascism; it was this movement which caused Farinacci to suggest the meeting of the Grand Council. Although the organization was communist, anti-Fascism of all shades had in fact become articulate far beyond the precincts of the Senate. “Everywhere”, as Farinacci wrote to Mussolini, “in the trams, the theatres, the air-raid shelters … people are denouncing the regime, and not only this or that Party figure, but the Duce himself.” Hitler was outraged both by the insubordination of the Italians and by the rather helpless reaction of the Fascist authorities. He had tried with little effect to induce Mussolini to build up his own S.S. in the M. division which was, however, created only in the following May. Now he was angered too by having been caught unawares. Mackensen, his Ambassador in Rome, was always slow to see what was happening in Italy, and, as Mr. Deakin writes,

German penetration of Italian Fascist circles, and indeed intelligence on Italian political affairs, was superficial and uncoordinated. … It was not until the spring of 1943, and conceivably as a result in part of the March strikes, that the German Security Service was allowed to operate directly on Italian territory and was able to report from its own secret wireless station from Rome on the spreading signs of conspiracy against the personal régime of the Duce.

In revenge, as it were, Hitler found himself thwarted in his Russian ambitions. After the fall of Tunis on May 7 the Germans began to plan Operations Alarich and Konstantin for the occupation of Italy and the Italian positions in the Balkans.

The Russian operation was held up, and, for the first time since the outbreak of war, the Germans gave their full attention to the Italian scene and to the assessment of future Allied strategic moves in the Mediterranean theatre.

It remained for the Allied invasion of Sicily, a skilful surprise thanks to Operation Mincemeat, to topple Mussolini from being the Duce to being the King's prisoner. The meeting between Hitler and Mussolini at Feltre, at which the Duce's ineptitude was finally illustrated, was immediately reported to Victor Emmanuel by Ambrosio and Montezemolo who seem to have driven straight from the station to see the King that same evening; at last the Monarch made up his mind. It was this that was decisive, not the Grand Council meeting which did, however, in the form of Grandi's motion, state the case for the royal action. It was grotesque that the majority of the Council which voted for Grandi should later have been indicted as traitors for expressing their views cautiously enough before a body of passive advisers with no executive powers. The technique of a coup d'état need not be elaborate when a dictator is blandly oblivious of the real threat to him which in this case came from the King and the Chief of the General Staff.

Mr. Deakin has perhaps not very much to add to the history of Badoglio's forty-five days, that macabre period of lying desperately to the Germans and struggling to gain credence from the Allies. His account of Mussolini's condition of “complacent resignation” confirms former statements. But with the six hundred days of Salò Mr. Deakin's story fills out again round the framework of the conflict between Hitler and his generals over their objectives in Italy. The soldiers all along wished for a straightforward German occupation as Goebbels also did, while Hitler, backed by the inevitable Ribbentrop and making use of Herr Rahn's ability, imposed upon them his “political solution” of a Neo-Fascist regime under a resurrected Mussolini; it is interesting that Herr Rahn himself was originally opposed to Hitler's intention, though he proceeded to do more than any other German to carry it out. Here again Mr. Deakin has gone straight to the source, and, while making considerable use of Anfuso's records, has discussed the Salò period with Herr Rahn in person; a reader gains the impression that he has culled information without succumbing to prejudices, either his own or those of his interlocutor.

The instability of Mussolini's new Republic can well be illustrated by the Duce's inconsequence concerning his capital. On September 23 Herr Rahn reported to Hitler that “the Duce would prefer Merano or Bolzano as the new seat of government”. This was to challenge Hitler's broken pledge over the Brenner frontier and indeed Hitler's long cherished Habsburg inheritance which had caused him by now to swallow Trieste as well. In fact Mussolini held the first meeting of his new Council of Ministers at his home in the Romagna four days after this; at this point he was pressing to go back to Rome, for, according to Graziani, “he had in this period a great fear that Rome would fall again under papal influence”, knowing that the retreat to Salò would emphasize “in the minds of Italians the historical disintegration of Italy”. That other dictator he had helped to make, Franco, would not now give him de jure recognition. Indeed it does not emerge exactly how Hitler had induced Mussolini to reassume his claim to power. With Pavolini, Ricci and Buffarini Guidi as his main gerarchi, one quip was to call his new regime the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The Social Republic of Salò was for nearly all its short life scarcely so much as a German puppet-state, for the conflicts between the Italian Party and Army (which latter Graziani was to re-create) were as suicidal as the conflicts between the Germans, who wished to preserve the economic status quo, and the Neo-Fascists who were eager collectivists. “The senior German representative attached to the person of Mussolini was Colonel Jandl, the liaison officer of the General Staff of the German Army.” Mr. Deakin quotes from Jandl's reports at length. The second one sent to Berlin in December, 1943, describes Mussolini as in better health and astonishingly industrious. “His ruling idea basically remains the creation of an Italian army, however small”: the rest of Jandl's account is not unconvincing. It seems not to have been until the meeting of Hitler and Mussolini at Klessheim in April, 1944, that the latter showed signs of reacting to the rumours which abounded in Italy to the effect that the Duce was mad or dead. Now Mussolini began to speak of addressing the people again himself. On this occasion and all the time he besought Hitler to allow the Italian soldiers to return from Germany to Italy; one of the greatest ironies of this most ironical of relationships was that Hitler objected to the return of Mussolini's soldiers, the new Italian army for which Mussolini so much longed, to their own country because they were sure to desert to the partisans. By this time the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was little but the valley of the Po.

At last in December, 1944, encouraged by Lord Alexander's gloomy proclamation to the partisans on November 13, Mussolini revolted against German rule. On December 10, apropos of the women wrongly arrested as prostitutes by the Germans in Udine, the Duce brought himself to the point of writing to Herr Rahn that

it is (therefore) absolutely necessary for the German military and political authorities to leave the allied Republic's government the power and responsibility of really governing.

On December 9 Mussolini announced to his Council of Ministers that he intended in a week's time to make a public speech at Milan, his first performance of this kind since his second, shadow reign; he also declared his intention of moving his government from the villages on the shores of Lake Garda to the great Lombard city which, in spite of its liberal traditions, had been the birthplace of Fascism. “Such an act could only be interpreted as a crisis of faith in his relations with the German ally”, for the Germans could not guard him at Milan as they had at the Villa Feltrinelli. The speech on December 16 showed spirit and had a brief success, and Mussolini followed this up by the dismissal of Buffarini Guidi who had been “the Germans' Man” since long before July, 1943. Whether the Duce had serious intentions of holding out in the Valtelline, or whether he hoped to find his way to the partisans and their socialism, his paltry end with his vulgar, faithful Claretta makes it impossible to guess.

His isolation as the Duce of Fascism was in part an unconscious and in part a deliberate compensation for his rejection of the normal and traditional sense of a militant identity with the masses, which forms the stimulating element in the character of a traditional socialist party leader. This emotion of fraternal communion Mussolini had destroyed in himself when he broke with his socialist colleagues, and its ghost was to haunt him to the end.

This is the epitaph Mr. Deakin provides. He has chosen a difficult technique with his long textual quotations as the essence of his work; logically these should have been reproduced in their original languages which would of course have created a fresh barrier. By and large Mr. Deakin is splendidly successful. But for the record it may be suggested that the letter from Mussolini to Hitler, which appears on page 165 as written on February 11, 1943, and refers to Rommel's departure from Africa, may be wrongly dated since Rommel did not leave Africa until March 8. Military experts may also criticize the definition of the code-names for the operations planned by Hitler on July 26, 1943, referred to on page 494. But no work on the scale of Mr. Deakin's book could escape one or two insignificant errors of detail.

L. B. Namier (essay date 1963)

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SOURCE: “Ciano's Early Diary,” in Europe in Decay: A Study in Disintegration 1936-1940, Peter Smith, 1963, pp. 106-28.

[In the following essay, Namier examines Mussolini and his regime using the diary of his foreign minister and son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.]

In a secluded room of the Italian Foreign Office, the Palazzo Chigi, Ciano kept his diary, making in it his daily entries. Married to Mussolini's daughter Edda, an ambitious woman, he was appointed Foreign Minister in 1936, at the age of 33, and retained the post till February 1943. The diary, which starts on August 23, 1937, covers practically his entire term of office. He greatly cherished these records, and would show them, or read passages from them, even to strangers; and in his last entry, written in Verona jail on December 23, 1943, shortly before his execution, he refers regretfully to the “excellent material” which they would have made for his autobiography, while in a letter addressed the same day to Mr. Churchill he speaks of them as evidence against the Nazis, “this loathsome clique of bandits … with whom later that tragic puppet Mussolini associated himself through his vanity and disregard of moral values”. How much must Ciano have forgotten of his own thoughts and actions! especially of those recorded in the diary for 1937-1938, now published for the first time. The five books covering the years 1939-1943, Edda Ciano managed to carry away when in 1944 she left the Parma clinic and in disguise escaped across the Swiss frontier; published in America in 1946, they have gone through various editions and translations. Those for 1937-1938 she had to leave behind, and the doctor at the clinic, under threat of death, handed them over to the Gestapo. Recovered in 1947, they were published in Italy the year after,1 but so far have not appeared in English.

The transactions of which they treat may seem less momentous than those dealt with in the later volumes; but as a picture of the author and his master they are perhaps of even greater value: not yet overwhelmed by irrefragable reality, these men are still free to revel in the pretence of their imagined rôles and idealized selves. But photographs for which people pose, autobiographies, and diaries are mediums of self-expression which easily lend themselves to self-exposure; and autoportraits fondly delineated in the hey-day of success even more so than apologias drawn up in adversity: there is greater scope for vanity, poor taste, and wrong values.

Ciano's early Diary should be read at least twice. The first time to accompany him through the passing show: immature even for his age both in looks and mind, he lives hand-to-mouth, enjoying rank, wealth, and power in an almost childish manner. Charming and plausible, sharp and intelligent, he can be amusing. He talks with apparent frankness: he lacks moral standards and relishes it. But his enthusiasms seem excessive; they serve a purpose, of which he himself is perhaps not fully conscious, and are expressed in clichés such as suggest a deliberate cutting out of critical faculties. Business is transacted not without ability or shrewdness, but at short range. On that level the Diary contains many an important historical fact or detail, and many a good anecdote, and by and large there is no reason to doubt its veracity.

But then let the reader sit back, and go through the book once more: these are the memoirs of the Italian Foreign Minister and perhaps the only man who at that time had intimate access to Italy's dictator; and though in fear of him, Ciano, himself highly impressionable and unsteady, had considerable influence with Mussolini, who was far more easily swayed than most people would have supposed. Does a clear pattern emerge of Italian foreign policy? Did these men calculate the results of their actions? The reader becomes aware of Ciano's concepts having lacked depth and shape; they were two-dimensional; all was surface. He strutted about the stage playing a set part in an unreal setting. It would have been well for Mussolini and Ciano if, having said their piece, they could each time have walked off the stage to the applause of their public. Thus the Duce had carried on for ten years to his own satisfaction, and without upsetting Europe. But now a different troupe had invaded the stage, intermingling with his own in a joint play which he had originally conceived: even more fantastic in their evil fancies than himself, and dead serious about them—what had been verbiage was to change into large-scale action. And Mussolini was forced to translate into life what had hitherto been elaborate make-belief. Reality beset with anxieties, difficult to hide yet not to be avowed, breaks through the brightly coloured surface: a comic and a gruesome scene.

Duce-worship was the first rule of the game. In Ciano it was too absolute to be altogether genuine; it suited the pattern of his life and his derivative greatness; but, entwined with fear, it would easily topple over into resentment. “The Duce is pleased”; “the Duce is in good humour”: “the Duce has expressed his approval”; “one works solely to please him … this is the greatest satisfaction”. “The sacred person of the Duce.” When a Minister complained—“even if right he should not worry the Chief”. On receiving expressions of love and loyalty from an opponent, Ciano wrote with perhaps too conscious virtue: “What do such declarations mean? Oaths of fealty are sworn to the Chief: between comrades they savour of plotting. And that I flee with all my strength.” And when, in February 1938, Grandi tried to play the peace-maker with Britain: “Nothing doing. Peace and war are in Mussolini's hand, and in his alone. No one else should claim a personal rôle.” But less than a week later, Ciano wrote in his Diary:

Choc [a French paper] attacks me saying that I am a real danger to peace, as I have no feeling for Latinity, and that I desire to profit from tragedy. There is much exaggeration in it, but also some truth. My conception of the Fascist Empire is not static. We must go ahead. And it is right that the sated should worry.

“The Duce's conversation is delightful. No one is richer in imagery or more colourful.” “The Duce, crystal-clear in exposition and most strictly logical. …” “The Duce is invariably right.” And during the Czech crisis of September 1938:

The Duce speaks. A grand, serene speech. Rarely do words equal deeds. This time, yes. Even if nothing more happens, the Duce has written a page of history wrought of courage, loyalty, and honour.

In another crisis: “Mussolini is calm. Very calm. … He awaits events with his monumental imperturbability.” And on February 2, 1938:

I told the Duce of the impression which his military oratory produced yesterday. He is pleased. He loves and adopts more and more the steel-like style of the soldier.

The Duce is “heroic”. When told that the French considered Italy “Enemy No. 1”: “A great honour. I want to be feared and hated rather than helped and patronized”. When he heard of reactions to Italian air-raids on Spanish towns, “he rejoiced at the Italians spreading horror by their aggression rather than causing pleasure as mandolinists”. And on another occasion: “They must learn to be less simpatici, and become hard, implacable, odious. That is: masters.” And here is the heroic concept of house-training:

April 20, 1938. The Duce rightly flew into a violent rage against some Bari peasants who, on a visit to the Brown House at Munich, misbehaved and relieved themselves in the staircase. … The Chief said that our people must be given a higher racial concept, indispensable also in the task of Imperial colonization. He inveighed against the “sons of slaves”, and added that if they bore a distinctive somatic mark, he would exterminate them all; convinced that he was rendering a great service to Italy and to humanity.

Ciano would ape Mussolini's militarist theatricals. “I envy the French Les Invalides,” he wrote on August 27, 1937, “and the Germans the Military Museum. No painting is worth a banner taken from the enemy.” The same day, about the Duce's retinue on his journey to Germany: “Take care of their uniforms. We must look more Prussian than the Prussians.” (And Mussolini himself on June 18, 1938: “Italy will never be sufficiently Prussianized”.) On seeing widows and invalids of the Spanish war, Ciano ponders and concludes: “Sacrifice is necessary to create the bold and strong spirit of nations”. On December 19, 1937, thinking of European war: “Sometimes I ask myself whether it is not for us ourselves to force the pace and fire the fuse”. Pariani, Chief of the Italian General Staff, thought the early spring of 1939 possibly the most suitable time for such a war.

February 14, 1938. Pariani believes in a lightning war and initial surprise. Attack on Egypt, attack on the fleets, invasion of France. The war will be won at Suez and in Paris. I suggested to him that it might be useful to set up immediately a secret Italian-German War Committee. He agrees and thinks it possible, now that Blomberg has been dismissed. … I suggested studying a plan of attack against France across Switzerland.

But to Mr. Churchill he wrote in 1943 about the Nazis: “I was the only foreigner to see at close quarters this loathsome clique of bandits preparing to plunge the world into a bloody war”.2 There was a difference—Mussolini and Ciano would talk of fighting the world, but pounce only on the weak: Abyssinia, Spain, Albania, Greece, or, to please the Nazis, on the Jews.

Mussolini said in the Grand Council on October 7, 1938, thinking of Albania: “I was born never to leave the Italians in peace. First Africa, to-day Spain, tomorrow something else.” The Council applauded. Occasionally he would spin bold day-dreams. Thus on December 21, 1937:

“Indeed, I prepare for the Italians the greatest surprise. As soon as Spain is finished, I shall publish a communiqué which will remain classical.” I remember [writes Ciano] that in August 1935 he planned a surprise attack against the British Home Fleet at Alexandria and Malta. He then said to me: “In one night one can change the course of history.” Afterwards he did not do it as the reports on the preparedness of the British fleet were not sufficiently accurate and because our own fleet hung back. But he meditates on such a plan and matures it ever since.

On December 31, 1937, Mussolini inquired about the strength of his air force; and, satisfied, said that “if the British don't conclude the agreement, the day of that famous communiqué is drawing near!”

Ciano's foreign policy was ultra-Fascist, and so long as he could think of Italy and Germany as equal partners, blatantly pro-German and pro-Nazi. He boasted of having “started” the pro-German policy, and was pleased when, on September 4, 1937, the crowd “for the first time loudly applauded the Germans”. “The solid unity of the Axis must always be felt.” When the Polish Foreign Minister, Beck, proposed to visit Rome, “there is nothing against it”, wrote Ciano, “provided the Germans are agreeable”. When Japan asked for recognition of Manchukuo: “it will be necessary to concert it with Berlin”. In 1937 he regretted that the German Foreign Office, “representatives of the Diplomatic International” and supporters of “the ancien régime”, had still “too much influence over the Führer”. In October he told Hess, then in Rome, that in Italy “the most Fascist Ministry is that of Foreign Affairs”. He asked for Hassel's recall and desired for successor “a party-man”, the alliance being based mainly on “the identity of the political régimes”. “You cannot change the heads of these old men. The men have to be changed.” Therefore, on February 5, 1938: “The changes in the German Government are good. They move rapidly towards integral Nazification, which is useful to the Axis. … The Duce, too, is very pleased. … Ribbentrop at the Foreign Office is excellent … he is hostile to the English who treated him badly.” “In Italy too,” wrote Ciano on another occasion, “fifteen years were required to conquer the Palazzo Chigi. And I alone know the labour I have to undergo to make these goats keep step with the Fascist march. …” They jittered “at the time of the Abyssinian affair, and do so now every time the heroic élan of Mussolini cuts across the traditional lines of professional diplomacy”. Indeed, a new tone and new methods were introduced by Fascist dinamismo.

Abstracting of documents and breaking of ciphers is done in diplomacy but not talked about. The Fascist Government were well served by their information service. A spy in the British Embassy regularly supplied them with photographs of its secret documents; and the copies in the Italian archives bear marks of having been carefully studied by Mussolini, otherwise not a great reader. Smaller, or less regular, scoops from other sources can be traced in the Diary (only the Russian and German ciphers and archives apparently proved immune). What is unusual is the brazen and extensive use made of material thus acquired. In September 1936 Grandi managed to obtain a copy of a dossier circulated by Mr. Eden to the Cabinet: it was entitled “The German Peril” and consisted of 32 documents and a covering note. Mussolini mentioned it to the Nazi Minister Hans Frank on September 23, 1936: “a document from which Ribbentrop … will be able to gauge what are likely to be the results of his mission”. And when in October Ciano went to Berchtesgaden, he showed the dossier to Hitler, who “reacted violently”.3 Further numerous examples can be culled from the Diary. Thus on August 28, 1937:

… I have sent Stoyadinovič [Yugoslav Prime Minister] photographic proof of the Franco-Czech conspiracy against him. … The stroke has gone home.

And on March 1, 1938:

I have given Christič [Yugoslav Minister in Rome] a copy of the Prague telegrams [deciphered wires of the French Minister]. It appears that Benes called Yugoslavia and Rumania “vile”. I believe that there will be a lively reaction in Belgrade.

On November 11, 1937, he sent Schuschnigg two purloined British documents “compromising” for Guido Schmidt, the Austrian Foreign Minister. And on November 25:

Anfuso [chef de cabinet to Ciano] … will take to Schuschnigg a Czech document containing serious statements by Hornbostel (Schmidt?) hostile to the Axis and friendly to the Western democracies. … I have also sent a copy of the document to Göring.

November 29: Schuschnigg “was much impressed by the quality of our information service”. And on December 16:

I mean to demand the head of Guido Schmidt. He talked to the British about the interceptions which I had communicated to Schuschnigg. This, of course, appears from a further interception.

These entries in Ciano's Diary tally with evidence given in March 1947 at the trial of Guido Schmidt in Vienna. Hornbostel, at the time of the Anschluss Director-General of the Austrian Foreign Office, spoke in the witness-box of a meeting which Schmidt and he had in September 1937, during a League of Nations meeting, with Sir Robert Vansittart at a restaurant outside Geneva; Vansittart's report of the talk was apparently one of the “intercepted” documents with which Ciano tried to blackmail Schuschnigg. And Berger-Waldenegg, late Austrian Minister in Rome: “Toward the end of November, Ciano told me of a diary he kept, showed it to me, and read out a few passages: he had recently sent Anfuso on a special mission to Schuschnigg to warn him against Schmidt”. Ciano added that he had documentary evidence of Schmidt “plotting (er pakelt) with certain people in England”.4

December 1, 1937. I gave the Japanese Military Attaché the plans of Singapore [obtained through the Italian Consul]. He was much impressed by the gesture. We must assiduously cultivate the Japanese General Staff to attain the military agreement that shall settle the game with England.

December 23, 1937. I was sharp with the Greek Minister. We have received a minute of the talk between Eden and the King of Greece. After the visit to Rome, he went to London to incite the British against us. He spoke badly about me: he called me ironically the super-Metternich. However, the Greeks of the Dodecanese shall pay dear for it.5

Probably nothing was done to them: but even without a bite the bark is significant.

Mussolini and Ciano were hatching a coup against Albania, and the date of it was fixed a year ahead. King Zog tried to placate them; invited Ciano to be witness at his wedding; contrary to the protocol, called on him at Durazzo; and in October 1938 sent an A.D.C. to him with the following message: “Albania is already in the hands of Italy which controls every sphere of her national life. The King is devoted. The people is grateful. Why should you want more?” “I turned amiable and genial”, writes Ciano. “This cheered him up. And he appreciated it most when, emphasizing every syllable, I told him how well-disposed I was to him, and that, whatever happened, I would consider him our man.” A fortnight later, on October 27:

The preparations in Albania are rapidly going ahead. … The action begins to take shape; the murder of the King (apparently ——— will undertake it for 10 million [lire]), street disturbances, a descent from the hills of bands faithful to us. … Italy is asked to intervene. …

On December 3 Ciano records having seen ——— “the man who prepares the stroke against the King of Albania”. And on the 5th: “The disappearance of the King will remove every centre of resistance”. Zog is still alive in 1949.

But there is also evidence of crimes which were committed. Thus on September 17, 1937:

The Duce apprehends that the French police may be on the track of the authors of the Paris outrages [attentati]. Em. [Emanuele, chief of the Italian secret service] tells me that this is impossible. Anyhow, we are not in it. These are Frenchmen in the service of Met. …

Even the lowest tactics would be employed by Mussolini and avowed by Ciano. Under date of November 12, 1938, two anonymous letters are mentioned in the Diary sent by Mussolini to the Belgian Ambassador when in an intercepted dispatch he was found saying that the Italian people did not want war. And on December 16: “Some time ago [November 1937] Percy Loraine spoke badly of Italy, and the Duce had anonymous letters sent to him containing choice insults and equally well selected newspaper cuttings with photographs of our armed forces”.

In writing to Mr. Churchill from Verona jail, Ciano spoke of “the cause of liberty and justice, in the triumph of which I fanatically believe” (“fanatically” echoes Hitler). But in 1937 Ciano felt much more certain of the triumph of an efficient police:

October 18. A review of the Police. … Very beautiful. A perfect small army equipped with all the most modern weapons. With such a police, if faithful, no movement of the street is possible; in a few minutes any riot would be crushed. Truly the modern State has always the means of self-defence, provided the man in authority is determined to use them. Himmler, who was present, expressed great admiration.

Mussolini hated the middle classes whose ideas of a good life ran counter to his heroics: Christian morality, respect for human rights, mercy or pity, peaceful enjoyment of property, a free growth of the arts and of knowledge, civic liberty—these were repellent to him both in his “proletarian” and in his totalitarian moods, which continually intermingled in a joint concept of “revolution”. And of that class and mentality France and England were the home and the cherished exponents. He hated them too, France even more than England, and professed to despise them; believed them decadent; and yearned to despoil them. Ciano aped him, though himself less consistently anti-British and less bitterly anti-French. September 14, 1937: “The Duce is in great form: aggressive and anti-British”. November 2: “The Tripartite Pact, so called anti-Communist, [is] in reality clearly anti-British”. December 23: Talk with Falange leaders: “Anglophobe. Spoke of retaking Gibraltar … I did not fail to encourage them.” January 4, 1938: Saw O'Kelly, Vice-President of Eire: “Very anti-British”. January 20: Told Bose that India should look to Italy and Japan, “the two countries which have shaken Britain's prestige”. On December 25, 1937, instructed by the Duce, Ciano said to the Japanese Ambassador:

“Moderate your attitude toward Washington: sharpen it toward London. For two reasons: first, to divide the two. Secondly, because in a conflict with the United States, we can do nothing concrete for you, whereas in a war against Great Britain we undertake to give you the maximum of support.” The Ambassador, diplomate de carrière, and therefore prudent, reserved, and godfearing, was somewhat perturbed by my declarations.

And on the very eve of signing the new agreement with Britain, April 15, 1938:

The Egyptians claim parity of rights with regard to the waters of the Tana River. Our officials raise many objections. I think we should agree. First, because it is meaningless, and next, because we should do a thing which helps to draw Cairo away from London.

An analysis of British policy toward Italy and her Abyssinian and Spanish adventures had better be deferred till the time when the British diplomatic documents bearing on the Agreement of April 16, 1938, are available—which cannot be far distant. But Ciano's Diary, to say the least, makes one doubt the premises and methods of Chamberlain's policy. A friendly Mussolini was, in the schemes of the appeasers, to restrain Hitler and his encroachments: seldom has a more inappropriate part been assigned to a jackal. Hitler had feelings of comradeship for Mussolini but no political regard, and the Axis partner was no better informed about his schemes and intentions than were his opponents. Nor would Mussolini, if he could, have tried to put the brake on Hitler unless he saw more danger than loot resulting from his undertakings. But the more empressement the British Government showed to gain Mussolini's friendship, the more he was convinced of their timorous weakness and the more he despised them. A firm attitude and a strictly correct approach, such as are of the tradition of British diplomacy, might have disconcerted Mussolini:6 courting him swelled his self-important conceit. Reading British wires and dispatches, Mussolini and Ciano knew where they stood. October 15, 1937: Lord Perth (the Ambassador) “is staking on the card of an agreement with us and wants to win”. February 12, 1938: The British “hold out the possibility of an understanding. Towards which we remain colder than the British would think.” March 8: “Chamberlain is more interested than ourselves in bringing about an agreement: on this he has staked his political future, and perhaps even that of the entire Conservative party”.

In London, Chamberlain was in constant touch with Grandi through unofficial intermediaries, behind Mr. Eden's back. But even in Rome, where Perth was a convinced adherent of Chamberlain's Italian policy, he thought fit to transact business of State through his sister-in-law. On December 22, 1937, Ciano sat at lunch next to Lady Chamberlain who talked “understanding, agreement, and friendship”. He notes: “Lady Chamberlain wears a Fascist badge. I am too much a patriot to appreciate such a gesture in an Englishwoman at such a time.” On January 1, another talk; and she showed him a letter from the Prime Minister with little to it. So far, the business, though ill-advised, was unimportant. But then on February 1:

I went with Lady Chamberlain to the Duce, to whom she showed an important letter from Neville Chamberlain. Two points: Great Britain is inclined formally to acknowledge the Empire [of Italy in Abyssinia]; conversations can start about the end of the month. Mussolini approved and agreed. Lady Chamberlain will write to her relative to give the Duce's reaction which was clearly favourable. … He dictated to Lady Chamberlain the terms of the letter.

February 17. A short casual talk with Perth to whom I spoke more or less on the lines of my letter to Grandi. Similarly to Lady Chamberlain who has, however, so far received no reply to her letter of February 1.

Eden resigned on February 20—and perhaps the Prime Minister no longer required unofficial intermediaries. Perth's personal relations with Ciano were excellent. April 16, 1938: “Perth is a friend. Scores of his reports in our hands testify to it.” December 16: “He is a man who has laboured hard and has come to understand Fascismo and even to love it. There is sincere affection between us.” Such a friendly relation might perhaps have influenced Ciano who, in October 1938, when Ribbentrop proposed an alliance, thought that Italy should not close the door on Britain. But Ciano did not count for much—nor did Mussolini himself.

The Anschluss was the first occasion for secret searchings of heart and doubts. Its prospect was envisaged with calm; the event was accepted with feigned indifference; but occasional remarks betoken different feelings. On November 24, 1937, Ciano wrote:

I have given Ghigi instructions for his mission to Vienna. … I thus defined to him the task of the Italian Minister at the Ballplatz: a doctor who gives oxygen to the dying patient without the heir noticing it. If in doubt: the heir matters more than the patient.

Mussolini, irritated at the Austrians, said on January 2, 1938, “that when the Spanish question is settled, he will invite Göring to Nazify Austria”. And Ciano on February 13: “The Anschluss is inevitable, but should be put off as long as possible”. On February 17 he starts yarns about a “horizontal Axis” composed of Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Poland, as a necessary complement to the “vertical Axis”. It was seriously discussed with Beck during his visits to Rome (March 7-10 and 14), and remained until the summer of 1939 one of those clever paper calculations devoid of substance. Meantime the Duce himself started fretting at the way the Germans, without a word of warning, confronted him with a rapidly changing situation. But what was he to do? He could not go to war over Austria. At first he highly approved of Schuschnigg's “strong speech” of February 24, its “imagination and stage management”. But Nazi reactions turned praise into criticism: Schuschnigg had talked big without possessing the means. And on March 11 Ciano wrote: “We cannot assume from here the responsibility of advising him in one sense or another”. That night the Prince of Hesse, son-in-law of King Victor-Emmanuel and Hitler's liaison-officer with Mussolini, arrived with a letter, acknowledging the Brenner as Italy's frontier. “We ask Berlin's permission … to publish the letter. The Führer agrees but asks for suppression of two passages directed against Czechoslovakia.”

March 13. To-day calm is restored. What happened is no pleasure for us: certainly not. But some day it will be seen that it was all inevitable. The Duce says that an équivoque has been removed from the map of Europe. He noted the three which continue, and should, he thinks, meet the same fate in this order: Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, and Belgium.

On March 16 the Duce addressed the Chamber on the Austrian problem:

A magnificent speech. Made a deep and concrete impression. Incalculable reverberations … Seldom have I “lived” a speech of his as to-day. The country has received a cut with the whip, and the melancholics are isolated and lost from sight.

But on March 7 Ciano spoke of Beck's lack of interest in the Anschluss as “disproportionate to the importance which the problem may assume for Poland”—perhaps a deflected criticism; and on April 21: “The Germans should not forget that the Anschluss has shaken many Italians”.

Mussolini hated Czechoslovakia for being loyal to France and democratic. When the Czechs mobilized on May 21, he expressed to the German Ambassador his “désintérressement in the future of Prague, and his complete solidarity with Germany”. But he would have wished to know her real intentions, and was told nothing. On August 19 the Italian Military Attaché reported from Berlin that a conflict was expected for the end of September, and everything was ready for action. August 20:

I send written instructions to Attolico to go to Ribbentrop [writes Ciano] and ask exactly what the Reich intends to do about Czechoslovakia, and this in order that “we should be able to take timely measures on our Western frontier.” This communication will greatly appeal to the Germans as it shows how far we are prepared to go with them.

Should France intervene, the Duce is determined to place himself “with all his forces at the side of Germany. … Hence the need to know things fully and in good time.” August 26: “Attolico has spoken to Ribbentrop in accordance with my instructions of the 20th. The reply is by no means clear … no final decision seems to have been taken.” September 2: “The Duce is anxious because the Germans tell us precious little about their programme regarding Czechoslovakia. … He wants to know how far Germany means to push things, and how and where she expects to be helped by us.” September 3:

Attolico had a talk with Ribbentrop. Nothing new. If there is provocation, the Germans will attack. … It is fitting for us not to ask any further questions. It is clear that the Germans don't want to draw us into the game. This leaves us the fullest freedom of action in all circumstances.

On September 7, Hesse arrived with a memorandum from the Führer: “He will attack if Czechoslovakia provokes: to-day he is not yet in a position to fix a precise programme.” On the 8th, the French Chargé d'Affaires tried to find out what had been settled between the Duce and the Führer: “I put on an air of mystery. In reality: nothing fixed.” On the 12th, Hitler proposed to Mussolini a secret meeting on the Brenner, not later than the 25th. The same day Chamberlain appealed to him to intervene with Hitler who, Chamberlain thought, was kept in the dark concerning the steps undertaken by Britain (in favour of the Germans). “Such nonsense proves that the English have gone hysterical”, said Mussolini; and ordered Ciano to offer the Germans further support. And when he heard of Chamberlain's flight to Berchtesgaden, he exclaimed: “There will be no war. But this is the end of British prestige.” And on September 17:

I reached a decision. If war breaks out between Germany, Prague, Paris, and Moscow, I remain neutral. If Great Britain intervenes, extending the war and giving it an ideological character, then we shall go into the fire. Italy and Fascismo could not remain neutral.

So not even Soviet Russia, but only Britain, would have given the war an ideological character—strange indeed! But perhaps there was a different reason why the Duce would pair with this country. He said on August 29: “The British will do anything to avert a conflict, which they fear more than any other country in the world”. And Ciano, later, on September 25: “In England people kneel in the streets and pray for peace. In Italy they wait with calmness, aware and strong.”

In March 1940, when it became clear that a German offensive in the West was imminent and Hitler suggested a meeting on the Brenner, Mussolini said to Ciano:

“I shall do as Bertoldo did. He accepted the death sentence on condition that he chose the tree on which he was to be hanged. Needless to say, he never found that tree. I shall agree to enter the war, but reserve for myself the choice of the moment.”

On September 28, 1938, on the point of starting for Munich, the Duce said: “As you see, I am moderately happy, for, be it at a high price, we could have finished off France and Great Britain for good. Of this we now have overwhelming evidence.” At Kufstein they met Hitler, who explained that he meant “to put an end to Czechoslovakia in her present shape, as she immobilises forty divisions and ties up his hands with regard to France. With Czechoslovakia properly deflated, twelve divisions will suffice. …” At the Führerhaus in Munich, Hitler cordially welcomed the Italians, but was stiff towards Chamberlain and Daladier.

There is a vague feeling of embarrassment, especially among the French. I speak to Daladier, and next to François-Poncet, about trifling matters. Then to Chamberlain who asks to speak to the Duce. He thanks the Duce for what he has done so far. But the Duce is cold and does not respond, and the conversation flags.

After Hitler, Chamberlain, and Daladier had spoken,7 Mussolini proposed as a basis for the further discussion a document which, says Ciano, “was in reality sent the previous night by our Embassy as giving the wishes of the German Government”. (Erich Kordt, at that time chef de cabinet to Ribbentrop, states that it was drafted by Göring, Neurath, and Weizsäcker; approved by Hitler; and given, without Ribbentrop's knowledge, to Attolico for transmission to Rome.) 8 It was accepted, and the discussion turned to details.

The Duce, slightly annoyed by the vaguely Parliamentary atmosphere which always develops in such conferences, walks about the room, his hands in his pockets, somewhat distrait. Occasionally he helps to find a formula. His great mind, always ahead of events and men, has dismissed the agreement. … He has gone beyond and thinks of other things.

He speaks again when the problem of the Magyar and Polish minorities comes up for discussion. The others, all of them, would have liked to drop it. … But as always happens when there is a strong will, it prevails and others rally to it. …

… It is suggested that the Duce should postpone his departure and meet Chamberlain. But the Duce dismisses the idea in order not to hurt German susceptibilities.

Yet there was to be an Anglo-German postscript to Munich; and on October 2, the Prince of Hesse explained it to Ciano: Chamberlain asked for an interview with Hitler; and started by talking about a conference on Spain, and about abolishing bombers.

Finally he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket with the draft communiqué, and declared that he needed it for his position in Parliament. The Führer did not think he could refuse it. The Duce, to whom I repeated it [writes Ciano], said: “The explanations were unnecessary. You don't refuse a thirsty man a glass of lemonade.”

The shams of Munich soon died upon their authors. For a while they could still strut about in fancy-dress, applauded for their make-belief. But the livid light of day was bound to break on them—how long would the game be allowed to continue? Hitler had no interest in the trappings and tinsel of Munich. The terrifying preponderance which Germany achieved in that night was all too real: rendered more ghastly by the characters and minds of her rulers and the inhumanity of her people. The Duce returned home in triumph: the card-sharping helpmate of the winner, the mediator honoured by self-interested “friends” of the victim. “From the Brenner to Rome,” wrote Ciano, “from the King to the peasants, the Duce had a reception such as I had never seen.” But even his tawdry glory could not last. He, too, had to readjust himself to a new, oppressive reality. Ciano's paean on the Duce's rôle at Munich seems as yet undisturbed even by the admission that the arbitrator had received his formula from Berlin. But four weeks later a jarring, faintly ironic, note creeps, perhaps for the first time, into the Valhalla motif sounded by Ciano for the heroic Duce:

October 24. The Duce … talks to me about … a reduction of armaments: he wants to restore war to a more heroic plane by eliminating all that is too complex in its mechanism. In practice, to place restrictions on weapons which are too expensive for us.

The Italians now busied themselves about their “horizontal Axis”, and suffered humiliation. They tried to satisfy Poland's aspiration to a place among the Great Powers, Hungary's claims to Czechoslovak territory, and the wishes of both for a common frontier across Carpatho-Russia. But Hitler thought, for a short while, that he could make the Czechs into his janissary vanguard in the East; and he anyhow disliked the Magyars: his politics were mostly those of pre-1914 Vienna. The Magyars were growing impatient and approached Rome with a request for the Four Power conference foreshadowed at Munich, to determine their gains at the expense of Czechoslovakia. Mussolini transmitted it to London, Paris, and Berlin, and informed Warsaw and Belgrade. But Hitler would have none of it. “This is our first climb down,” wrote Ciano, “and it greatly vexes me.” Others followed, and Mussolini grew wary:

Having read the Polish reports, he made me inform Berlin that we did not insist on a common Polish-Magyar frontier. He thinks it of no practical use, while any attempt at encircling the Germans he considers worse than stupid—absolutely absurd.

He was too much of a realist seriously to engage in the game of the “horizontal Axis” once the Germans were aware of it.

But Ciano, the Magyars, and the Poles continued to spin such fancies. On October 21, Hungary suggested frontier arbitration by the Axis in Slovakia, by the Axis plus Poland in Carpatho-Russia. Mussolini told Ciano “to feel Germany's pulse before inviting Poland”. Ribbentrop “turned up his nose at the idea”. It was therefore dropped. On the 24th, Mussolini instructed Ciano “to take a clear stand against the Magyar claim to Carpatho-Russia, as the French Press gives an anti-German turn to the attempt to establish a common Polish-Magyar frontier”. Finally Germany agreed to Axis arbitration on the Hungarian-Czechoslovak frontier. On October 28, Ribbentrop arrived in Rome.

He had not grasped the political significance of the Axis arbitration [writes Ciano]. I told him, it sets the seal on the fact that Franco-British influence in Danubian and Balkanic Europe has collapsed for good and all. A gigantic event: of no less import than Munich. Perhaps I convinced him. But he continues hostile to the Magyars, and defends the Czech cause with a zeal which I would describe as shameless.

They met again in Vienna on November 2. Ribbentrop still

means to plead the cause of Prague. But he is poorly, very poorly prepared for the discussion. He is not properly briefed, nor is his staff familiar with the problems. This plays into my hand.

The next day, in a private sitting,

I take the lead and, meeting with few objections, trace in red pencil the line of the new frontier. Ribbentrop's unpreparedness allows me to carve out for Hungary territory which could have indeed been the subject of much heated argument.

(Equally unprepared appeared Ribbentrop at the Nuremberg Trial.)

On October 28, Ribbentrop had offered Mussolini a Triple Alliance with Germany and Japan. The Duce hesitated, while Ciano was averse to such an irrevocable step. But had they still freedom of choice? On December 23, 1938, Mussolini ordered Ciano to notify Ribbentrop of Italy's acceptance. And thus Ciano's early Diary closes with a new chapter in Italo-German relations.


  1. Galeazzo Ciano, Diario, 1937-38. Capelli. Bologna.

  2. Winston S. Churchill, Their Finest Hour, page 115.

  3. See L' Europa verso la catastrofe, pages 78 and 94; or its English translation, Ciano's Diplomatic Papers, pages 46 and 56-7.

  4. See Der Hochverratsprozess gegen Dr. Guido Schmidt vor dem Wiener Volksgericht, 1947, pages 186 and 288.

  5. Italics in the original.

  6. When on one occasion Mussolini bombastically addressed Lord Curzon: “My principle in politics is nothing for nothing”, Curzon replied: “That's very interesting, Mr. Mussolini. And pray, what has Italy to offer?”

  7. According to the German minute, Mussolini spoke before Daladier; see Documents and Materials relating to the Eve of the Second World War, publ. by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the U.S.S.R., i. 236-7.

  8. Wahn und Wirklichkeit, page 131.

John P. Diggins (essay date 1966)

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SOURCE: “The American Writer, Fascism and the Liberation of Italy,” in American Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter, 1966, pp. 599-614.

[In the following essay, Diggins explains the varied reactions of American literary intellectuals—including Henry Miller, John Horne Burns, Sinclair Lewis, and Ernest Hemingway—to Italian fascism and Mussolini, noting that few American writers managed to rise above “narcissistic nationalism” when dealing with the issue in their works.]

The sudden fall of Benito Mussolini in July 1943 brought poetic as well as political justice. The first nation to succumb to Fascism, Italy was the first to be liberated by the democracies. To many Americans, the Allied advance up through the Italian boot seemed a cleansing “wind of the south” which, matched by the partisans' “vento del nord,” would soon purge Italy of her Fascist past, redeem her liberal heritage and ultimately destroy the Thousand Year Reich beyond the Alps. The coming of victory could not help but nurture a revival of Wilsonian idealism, for even if Americans were not fighting to make the world safe for democracy they were at least fighting to make Europe safe from Fascism. Yet the official American attitude toward the war, perhaps best expressed in Roosevelt's “Four Freedoms” declaration, could not explain the sentiments of two American writers in Italy at the time of the invasion; Ezra Pound and John Horne Burns. Pound, long a supporter of the Mussolini regime, had become an avid propagandist for the Fascist cause during the war. Burns “discovered” Italy in the invasion, and his account of the occupation throws into doubt any moral meaning of the term “liberation.” The activities and the writings of the poet and the novelist suggest two questions: how did the American literati, as a whole, respond to the rise of Italian Fascism, and how was Italy's liberation interpreted by those American writers who participated in that event? To answer both questions is to examine not only an overlooked chapter in Italo-American cultural relations but, more importantly, to present the American writer in a fresh perspective from which he eloquently projected either an affirmation or a negation of his own civilization—a unique perspective that could be shared by a Fascist poet and an anti-Fascist novelist.

In the last few years two perceptive studies on the American literary Left1 have appeared; both concentrate on the depression decade when the impact of Marxism and the trauma of the Spanish Civil War fired the ideological passions of the “Old Left.” Thus far, no full study has been made of the literary Right and its affinity to European Fascism, particularly during the twenties when the movement first astonished the world by seizing power in the famous 1922 March on Rome. In light of George Orwell's observation that “the relationship between Fascism and the literary intelligentsia badly needs investigation,”2 the problem at least deserves a brief discussion.

The ambiguous phenomenon of Italian Fascism succeeded in dazzling a small but significant number of American literary intellectuals. These writers were attracted to Mussolini's Italy, in part, as an expression of their own alienation from and indictment against the decadent chaos and frantic tempo of modern American life. Not surprisingly, Fascism thus commanded the admiration of some members of the major conservative intellectual movements or tendencies of the twenties: Southern Agrarianism, New Humanism and Aristocratic Naturalism. Stark Young, drama critic for the New Republic and contributor to the famous manifesto I'll Take My Stand, elaborated a defense of Fascist Italy that sprang from the agrarian bias of a southern intellectual. Enamored of the historic glory of Italian civilization, the supposed simplicity of a land-rooted people and the spiritual and mystical force of their Catholic religion, Young was convinced that Fascism offered a natural political order which would save the Italian people from “the greedy and vulgar scrimmage of the modern world.”3 Similarly, the literary critic and New Humanist Irving Babbitt, lamenting America's lack of classical standards, moral character and humanistic discipline, warned that “circumstances may arise when we esteem ourselves fortunate if we get the equivalent of a Mussolini; he may be needed to save us from the American equivalent of a Lenin.”4 Revulsion from American society also led the “naturalist” philosopher George Santayana to a sympathetic appraisal. Taking up residence in Italy in the twenties, Santayana came to see in the Fascist principle of “gerarchia” an approximation of his own vision of a timocracy based on the aristocratic values of decorum, deference and inequality.5 Even after the war Santayana could write that Fascism made Italy “a stronger, happier, and more united country than it [now] is or had ever been,” that “dictatorships are surgical operations, but some diseases require them, only the surgeon must be an expert, not an adventurer.”6

Elitist scorn for mass democracy, an idealist contempt for crass industrialism and an explicit preference for Italian and European culture over the tawdriness of American society were the main themes of the literary apology for Fascism. Accordingly the ultraconservative American Review was a natural vehicle for expounding the virtues of Mussolini's regime in America;7 in its pages one could hear the distant wail of guildists, distributionists, medievalists, royalists and other isolated social critics who called for a return to a past age.8 The popular Saturday Evening Post, however, not the estranged American Review, did more than any other American periodical to create a respectable image of dashing Il Duce. The novelist Kenneth Roberts told the almost four million readers of the “lowbrow” weekly that the “monkish asceticism” of the Fascisti heralded a triumph of virtue over vice, and that the Spartan Mussolini had heroically rescued his country from the “mental perverts” of the Left. Roberts' articles indicate that Mussolini's Italy, in addition to satisfying the elitist demands of thinkers like Babbitt and Santayana, could also be used as a model for the preservation of property and the status quo. In the turbulent wake of the “Red Scare,” his ecstatic writings on Fascism in Italy laid bare the nervous tic of bourgeois America. Let Fascism be a lesson, Roberts pointed out, not just to Italian radicals but to those “starry-eyed” and “pampered” progressives in this country who want to destroy liberty with the income tax and other parasitical collectivist programs. As an adventure novelist, Roberts had written glowingly of the Italian Fascist movement in Black Magic as early as 1922. By 1924, the year of La Follette's Progressive bid, he warned Americans that Mussolini had shown that “a nation doesn't have to endure demagoguery.”9

While most pro-Fascist writers found much to admire in the social philosophy of the novel movement but had doubts about the quixotic character of Benito Mussolini, Henry Miller found just the opposite. For Miller Il Duce was one leader whose brusque but honest style broke through the cant and false sentiment that characterized fawning democratic governments. In a world of venal politicians and sycophantic statesmen, his rule, however repugnant ideologically, stood out as an example of tenacious purpose and bold power. Writing to Lawrence Durrell in 1937, Miller advised: “The man who sticks to his guns has the world at his feet. That's why I prefer Mussolini a thousand times, much as I despise his program, to the whole British Empire. Mussolini's politics is real-politik. That's something in a world of cagey bastards, of pussy footers and stinking hypocrites.”10

Inevitably any discussion of American writers and Fascism must turn to Ezra Pound. Pound's connection with the Mussolini regime was more than a flirtation of curiosity; it was an ideological embrace that lasted until his arrest and imprisonment in 1945. What the poet liked about Fascism was its “lack of mental coherence.” He candidly admitted “any thorough judgment of Mussolini will be in measure an act of faith, it will depend on what you believe the man means, what you believe he wants to accomplish.” Unlike Santayana, whose positive interest in Fascist theory did not include Italy's leader, Pound saw in Mussolini himself the reincarnation of Jeffersonian agrarianism and Jacksonian anti-capitalism. As such, Il Duce represented an invigorating answer to America's grubby bourgeois ethos. For the aesthetic-minded poet Communism, with its cult of industrialism and fetish of egalitarianism, could never offer a satisfactory solution to the sickness of the western world. Thus to the author of the famous Cantos, who looked upon all recent history as a “usurocratic conspiracy,” only in Italy could one find a leader brave enough to expel the money lenders and establish a program of “social credit.” Attracted by these ill-founded visions, Pound cut himself off from his native America, a “half savage country” in a “botched civilization,” and became a permanent expatriate in Italy. During the war he conducted garbled short-wave broadcasts on behalf of the Fascist government.11

Mussolini's Italy, then, offered several writers an attractive antidote to the malaise of modern life in America, however diverse their perceptions of the sources of this malaise. But by no means all conservative intellectuals alienated from American society looked favorably on the rise of Fascism. T. S. Eliot, for example, dismissed the Italian phenomenon as a “false emotion” trying to impose itself on the more “authentic” emotion of religious faith; seeing no harmony between Fascism and Catholicism, he opted for the untried authoritarian national socialism of Charles Maurras and the Action Français.12 Nor was H. L. Mencken, despite his acid attacks on the lingering democratic idealism of the 1920s, taken in by the anti-democratic experiment in Italy. Coming to the assistance of Carlo Tresca (an Italian-American harassed by the State Department for his attacks on Fascism), Mencken must have seen in the pompous Mussolini an intolerance that surpassed even that of the pontificating William Jennings Bryan.13 Thus Babbitt, Young, Santayana, Roberts, Pound and the American Review represented a peculiar Right within a Right. And far from demonstrating Orwell's suggestion of an affinity between the literati and Fascism, their attitudes reflected a narrow stream of conservative thought that diverged distinctly from the main currents of intellectual opinion in the twenties.

The more numerous liberal literary intellectuals had not spoken on Fascism. But their relative silence in the 1920s reflected not assent so much as disengagement from political life—a characteristic of that disenchanted decade. Furthermore, most liberal expatriates during the twenties made Paris their spiritual home and thus had little first-hand contact with the Black Shirts. Nonetheless, a few writers who did so found Fascism repugnant. Sinclair Lewis, writing his father from Italy in 1923, described the Fascisti as “a kind of Ku Klux Klan, but more efficient,” and Mussolini as “a flabby faced, hard-jawed, mad-eyed fanatic.”14 Scott Fitzgerald, beaten and jailed in Rome after taking a swing at a policeman in an argument over taxi fare, dismissed Italy as “a dead land” and warned “whoever is deceived by the pseudo activity under Mussolini is deceived by the spasmodic last jerk of a corpse.”15 With the exception of the anti-Fascist poet Arturo Giovannitti, no American writer used his craft to attack directly the Italian dictatorship, as did Thomas Mann in Mario and the Magician (1930). Robert Sherwood's play The Road to Rome (1927) was an unveiled assault on the Samurai ethic of militarism in general and Elmer Rice, in See Naples and Die (1928), managed a few jabs at the bombastic pretensions of Mussolini's “new Italy.” Yet from the very beginning one writer, Ernest Hemingway, was a thorn in the side of the inflated Fascist image. A Farewell To Arms (1929), revealing Italy at its most ignominious moment (Caporetto) and excoriating such empty abstractions as patriotism, was antithetical to the whole warrior spirit of Fascism. It was only fitting that Hemingway, who spent his life wrestling with the moral problem of courage and violence, saw through the veneer of virility that propped up the Black Shirt movement. The novelist summed up his initial reaction in an interview in January 1923.

Mussolini is the biggest bluff in Europe. … Take one of his photographs and study it. You will see the feebleness of his mouth, which obliges him to cast that famous Mussolinian frown which every Fascist in Italy imitates. … Study his gift for developing small ideas into great words. Study his inclination to dueling. Truly courageous people do not have to duel, and many cowards must duel in order to give the impression that they themselves possess courage. And then look at his black shirt and his white spats. There is something that doesn't go together, also from the point of view of histrionics, in a man who wears white spats with a black shirt.16

Although one might find a passing literary barb directed at Mussolini in the twenties, until the coming of the depression and the rise of Hitler American writers did not take Fascism seriously. The economic crash caused many intellectuals to accept Mike Gold's advice, “Go Left, Young Writers,” which in general meant accepting the orthodox Marxist interpretation of Fascism as doomed bourgeois decadence and ostracizing the stubborn New Humanists as “literary Fascists.”17 Yet even those not steeped in the ideology of the Left now became occupied with the problems of Fascism. Robert Penn Warren, who wrote the original dramatic version of All the King's Men in Perugia and in Rome with “the boot heels of Mussolini's legionnaires clanging on the stones,” observed that the same moral degeneracy and “fetid slums” that produced the “inspired idiot” in Italy “made possible the rise of ‘Huey.’”18 Sinclair Lewis sounded a similar alarm in It Can't Happen Here (1934), a tour de force on native reaction. Lewis obtained much of his information about Fascism from his neighbor George Seldes, a journalist expelled from Italy in 1925 for violating censorship regulations.19 Hemingway, in Africa at the time of the Ethiopian crisis, wrote a series of articles in Esquire in which he again assailed the basic cowardice behind the braggadocio of the Fascisti.20 The invasion of Abyssinia, it is relevant to note here, also aroused the American Negro, particularly the Negro intellectual, to a passionate commitment against Fascism. Although the Negro could not strike back at Il Duce in 1935,21 he had his revenge two years later in the Spanish Civil War. A character in a short story by the Negro O. O. Hunter spoke for many of his people when he gave his reason for volunteering to fight for the Loyalists. “I wanted to go to Ethiopia and fight Mussolini. … This ain't Ethiopia, but it'll do.”22

Ultimately Franco's reactionary coup spirited the overwhelming majority of literary intellectuals into an unequivocal anti-Fascist front.23 Yet the lessons of Mussolini's movement were not lost: “Three years of residence in Italy was more than enough to convince me that Fascism is an unmixed evil,” stated one author in Writers Take Sides.24 William Carlos Williams believed that “without Mussolini there could not be Franco,” for the Italian dictator showed the way to all who would thwart democratic liberalism and social justice.25 It was also clear that American writers were appalled at what Fascism had done to the Italian people. “At first, when you go to Italy you hardly notice it,” Hamilton Basso recalled. “But slowly, little by little, it sinks into your awareness. … It is some dark blight on the human spirit. It is a cold black shadow on the land.”26 In this connection the most important Italo-American intellectual event of the thirties was the American publication of Ignazio Silone's Fontamara (1934). This moving account of the plight of the contadini under Fascism produced so strong a reaction among the literary intelligentsia that Stark Young felt compelled to offer a rejoinder. Young, criticizing what he regarded as a provincial reaction to Fascism, wrote that many Americans were oblivious to the Italian people's “austere dignity” and “passionate sense of tradition” which made Fascist ideology entirely compatible with their character and history.27 Young's earlier defense of Fascism in the New Republic (1931) had been unchallenged; his 1937 criticism of Silone was answered by, among others, Josephine Herbst, who attacked his cultural elitism, aristocratic agrarianism and organicist political theory.28 No socially conscious writer could ignore Fontamara; as Alfred Kazin has recently recalled, its political leitmotif translated the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia's cry “What must we do?” into a deeply personal “What must I do?” As a “summons to action through love,” the novel “expressed the necessity of some urgent, personal act of solidarity. In light of Fontamara, oppression, misery and injustice took on a luminous quality and became guarantees of response, the ground of human value.”29

The Mussolini government, which was remarkably effective in manipulating the mass media at home, conducted a successful propaganda campaign in America,30 making every effort to cement intellectual ties between the two countries.31 But, significantly, the sympathies of American intellectuals went to Il Duce's enemies: to exiles like maestro Arturo Toscanini, physicist Enrico Fermi and historian Gaetano Salvemini. It is no less significant that writers in Italy became interested in American literature as an expression of their own “inner migration” and as a protest against Black Shirt totalitarianism. Fascist authorities deliberately published Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, assuming its bleak scenes of agrarian life in America would demonstrate the virtues of the Corporate State to Italian intellectuals. But the move backfired: Italians came to admire a country that permitted authors like Steinbeck and Lillian Smith to engage in caustic social criticism.32 The works of Melville, Eliot, O'Neill and other Americans were translated and introduced to Italians by such writers as Mario Praz, Emilio Cecchi and Carlo Linati. Hemingway's fiction in particular impressed and influenced several Italian novelists—indeed Praz has called Elio Vittorini's Uomini e no “the Italian counterpart of For Whom The Bell Tolls.33 In the late thirties when works by Americans became difficult to obtain because of a crackdown in censorship (Hemingway was banned after his articles on the Ethiopian War, as were periodicals like Esquire, The New Yorker, New Republic and Nation), Italian writers published their own underground anthology, Americana, which was eventually confiscated by Fascist authorities in 1942.34 The spirit of American literature, which could embrace the fraternal humanitarianism of a Steinbeck or the spiritual idealism of a T. S. Eliot, came to represent for many Italians a reassertion of the moral values of both the Enlightenment and Christianity. For in Italy the ethical heritage of Rationalism and Catholicism alike struck at the shallow foundations of Fascism's cynical relativism and violent irrationalism. If Italian anti-Fascists, both in this country and abroad, found little encouragement in their appeals to American statesmen, they could and did find hope in the social and spiritual values expressed in American literature.

From early 1944 the Allied invasion and occupation of Italy opened a new chapter in Italo-American cultural relations. The American writer now had to comprehend and convey the meaning of freedom and justice in light of the recent experience of the Italians. Not all American writers, to be sure, viewed the liberation and occupation in terms of political values. Some wrote only of the battles themselves (Harry Brown, A Walk in the Sun, 1944) or of the regimentation of army life (Robert Lowry, Casualty, 1946). Others, some years later, used the Italian campaign as a springboard to discuss the war's effect on American domestic life (Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, 1955) or as a backdrop to explore the postwar readjustment of an army officer (Hemingway, Across the River and Into the Trees, 1950). More recently, a particular infantry assault could be recalled by one who took part in it, now a Dartmouth professor, to contemplate the meaning of war and victory (Harold L. Bond, Return to Cassino, 1964). And inevitably, after almost two decades the horrors of the Italian campaign could so fade from memory that the war against Fascism itself becomes the setting for a Rabelaisian satire on human frailty and pretense (Joseph Heller, Catch-22, 1961). Yet three American authors wrote of the liberation of Fascist Italy in broader social terms. Because their novels reveal implicit, unquestioned assumptions inherent in our native values, their works deserve the attention of students of American civilization.

The book that made the most favorable impact on Americans while the war was still in progress was John Hersey's A Bell for Adano (1944), a novel that won Hersey the Pulitzer Award and was soon after made into a popular Hollywood film. Hersey, who spent three months with the Allied invading forces, wrote of a Sicilian village occupied by the American army under Major Victor Joppolo, an Italian-American from the Bronx. A man of patience and integrity with a concern for honesty and justice, Joppolo feels that only simple good works reaching those at the bottom will reconstruct ravaged Italy. After winning the respect of the villagers by his grass roots activism, Joppolo becomes convinced that he must replace the town's historic bell, which the Fascists had melted down for munitions. The parallel with America's liberty bell is clear. To find a bell and sustain the support of the people, Joppolo must circumvent or defy the bureaucratic red tape of the Allied Military Government in Italy and the arbitrary dictates of his irascible superior, General Marvin, who embodies all that is Prussian and authoritarian in the American military. Ultimately Joppolo's quest succeeds; the restoration of the bell symbolizes the town's rebirth—but Joppolo himself is relieved of his command for disobeying General Marvin's orders.

Hersey was chiefly concerned with making Americans think beyond the military aspects of war and victory, to consider “what kind of politics the war itself represented.” Clearly he believed that America's only chance for permanent recovery of Europe depended not on abstract slogans but on simple deeds, not on governments but on those who govern. “I beg you to get to know this Joppolo well,” Hersey wrote (in a foreword to the Modern Library Edition published a year later). “We have need of him. He is our future in the world. Neither the eloquence of Churchill, nor the humaneness of Roosevelt, no Charter, no four freedoms or fourteen points, no dreamer's diagram so symmetrical and so faultless on paper, no plan, no hope, no treaty—none of these things can guarantee anything. Only men can guarantee, only the behavior of men under pressure, only our Joppolos.”

As a study of American democracy exported, Hersey's novel projected Wilsonian visions of traditional liberal humanitarianism. Like many Progressives who could never recognize the despair of a Diogenes, he believed that there were enough men of good will and hope to make democracy work both here and abroad. No doubt this theme explains the book's popular reception; in many respects, the humane appeal of “Adano” struck the same chord of moral energy as the Peace Corps ethic does for the generation of the 1960s. But with all its idealism, A Bell For Adano falls short of presenting the “real” Italy of 1944, the Italy Americans needed to know if they were to understand the problems of postwar reconstruction. Writing as a sincere but anxious reformer, Hersey's narrow American point of view failed to convey the heavy effects of Fascism and war on the Italian people, their unquiet desperation and bewilderment during the liberation, and the bitter hatred that often existed between Italians and American soldiers.35 As a result, the Italian characters are pale caricatures who, although rich in humor, appear devoid of any deeper emotion or passion (save in one scene describing the return of the prisoners). Hersey observed his Italians keenly, and he understood them sympathetically, but always on his own terms—as a paternalistic liberal humanitarian. Because the folk idealism and Progressive assumptions of his native political values governed his observations, Hersey's polite novel slighted the stark reality of Italy and the bitter Italian attitude toward the liberation. A Bell For Adano, in a word, rings more willed than true.

An entirely different view of the experience of liberation was provided by Alfred Hayes in his All Thy Conquests (1946) and A Girl on the Via Flaminia (1949). Here is no morality tale with oversimplified characters like Hersey's Joppolo and Marvin personifying good versus evil, nor any sentimentally quaint Italian characters who behave as puppets dancing to “God Bless America.” Instead, Hayes paints a more authentic picture of war-weary Italians who are either cynically indifferent or consumed with revenge, envy and hatred for each other as well as for the Americans. Hersey tended to interpret Fascism as a temporary aberration in Italian history, Hayes regarded it as a far more subtle phenomenon with roots deep in the corruption and opportunism that characterized much of Italian political and social life. Thus All Thy Conquests gives an incisive sociological sketch of the career of a Fascist bureaucrat whose “very defects as a human being contributed to his success as a Fascist.” Hayes believed that two decades of Fascist totalitarianism had spiritually maimed the Italian people. The lawyer in the book speaks for the author: “Our understandings have been crippled by twenty years of tyranny and six years of war, our sympathies debased, natural instincts of the heart distorted. And he who would today put together his broken world must mend more than his house and repair more than his garden.” Where Hersey implied that a mere “mending” of material conditions would suffice, Hayes felt that nothing short of a regeneration of the hearts of the Italians themselves would bring rehabilitation, for Fascism had wrenched human nature to a perverted amorality, “and who knows what terrible surgery may be needed before we are healed?”

The theme of the “liberatori” turned “conquistatori” prevails in Hayes' two novels. “Via Flaminia” is a delicate account of an indelicate relationship between a G.I. and a Roman girl which points up the degradations Italian youth suffered at the hands of their liberators. When the threat of starvation forces the young Lisa to become an American soldier's mistress, she is excoriated by an embittered Italian youth: “Shall I tell what I see, Signorina, when I look at you? Italy's shame, my shame.” In All Thy Conquests a mother, who discovers her daughter has been violated by an American officer, exclaims: “Dio mio, one thing I pray: send them away! Send them back where they came from! Let the ocean take them and their feed and their money! Let them ruin and disgrace their own country!” If Hayes had pushed this theme of exploitation too far, if he had focused solely on the responsibility of the Americans, he would have committed the opposite error of Hersey, who depicted the American liberators (save General Marvin) as benign emancipators. Yet Hayes rightly avoided an idealized view of the Italians as helpless victims. For him, the problem of evil was too diffuse, the problem of ideology too ambiguous. Thus his descriptions of the cynical indifference among American soldiers were balanced by a bleak picture of moral decadence and despair among all social classes in Italy, almost rendering indistinguishable the Fascists from the anti-Fascists. For Hayes, the political didacticism never takes over from his artistic intent—to study characters' reactions to events and their interactions; to penetrate the collective surface and probe the psychological wounds suffered by individual Italians as a result of Fascism, war and foreign occupation.

What adds to the historical verisimilitude of Hayes' work is not only the “realistic” description of the vices of individual Italians and Americans alike. For the focal point of All Thy Conquests is an actual incident of mass violence. A few months after Rome was liberated a mob stormed the Palace of Justice in search of Pietro Caruso, Rome's chief of police during the Nazi occupation who allegedly was instrumental in the German massacre of fifty Italians in the Ardeatine Cave atrocity. Failing to get Caruso, the mob turned on Donato Carretta, an innocent prosecution witness.36 While police stood helplessly by, Carretta was savagely battered, his half-conscious body thrown into the Tiber and clubbed to death; his mutilated corpse then hung from a window. Hayes tried to grasp the moral significance of the event. “They wanted, I think, some unimaginable death for him, some terrible form of it. Yes: one feels, now, after it is over, a little sick; kill him, one thinks, but not so, not with such bestiality. Well, and have you and I had to lift the lid on those coffins, to go there into the caves and to look at what bones are left, and to identify, by a ring or a gold tooth, what one had once loved? Have we had their tears, you and I?” Hayes was addressing himself to Americans; he was uncertain that Americans would be able to comprehend this primitive outburst of passion for revenge. Indeed, New York Times correspondent Herbert Matthews used his first-hand account of the “Carretta Affair” to lecture Americans on the barbarism of the politically improvident Italians who had lost “all sense of civic virtue.”37 Matthews' articles prompted an angry reply from Lewis Mumford, who maintained that Americans must not be blinded by their excessive “self-righteousness and unctuousness,” that this display of violence must be seen in the horrendous context of the terror and torture of Fascism and Nazism. Americans cannot, Mumford insisted, “obliterate” the “bestial” crimes of Fascism, in the name of law and order, from their memory, nor can they reproach “those truly humane men and women who are goaded into actions of violence by the law's delays and by the law's leniency.” Americans cannot afford to overlook the infinite evil of totalitarianism and its unnatural effects on normal human behavior. “This attack of many Americans,” he warned, “is a greater betrayal of morality than the most summary acts of retaliation by an inflamed mob; our superficial sensitiveness covers a deeper indifference to moral evil. Nothing could bring down upon us more deservedly or more surely the hatred of the people we are helping to liberate than such a perversion of moral judgments as Mr. Matthews has exhibited.”38 Americans lacked deep insight into the spiritual and psychic consequences of war and Fascism on the Italian people. In this respect, Hayes came much closer than Hersey in ascertaining Fascism's debilitating impact on the moral character of the Italians. Yet both Hersey and Hayes were surpassed by John Horne Burns, whose The Gallery (1947) recorded with epigrammatic brilliance not only the moral consequences of Fascism, but the ugly impact of the American occupation itself on the people of Italy.

If Hersey was concerned with what Americans could do for the Italians, Burns was concerned with what Americans did to Italians. The Gallery captured the Naples of 1944 and the Italian idiom in a prose that resembled that of Thomas Wolfe for sheer capacity to evoke reactions in our sensations of sight, sound and smell. Employing a device similar to Dos Passos' “Camera Eye,” Burns used “Portrait” and “Promenade” sections to provide impressionistic sketches of both Italian and American figures as well as his own poetic reflections. The locus of the novel, which has no conventional plot, is the Galleria Umberto Prima, the “unofficial heart” of Naples. All the characters pass through the gallery: Louella, an American Red Cross worker whose provincial, outdated standards wall her off from social reality; Momma, the Italian proprietress of a homosexual hangout; Father Donovan and Chaplain Bascom, the latter disdainful of the Neapolitans, the former defending them and calling for a “gradual return to the simplicities and felicities of Our Lord's life”; Captain Motes, an American businessman turned military officer who is applying his bureaucratic talents to the “serious” business of censorship; Moe, a Jewish taxi driver from Brooklyn who writes a poor man's version of Herzog's letters about the futility of war and of life itself; Hal, a handsome, neurotic young officer who suffers from cosmic pessimism when he realizes man's inability for natural love; and Giulia, a young Italian girl who observes the younger brother she worships taking to crime in the streets as “a symbol of the scabrous destiny which was debasing them all.” These portraits blend into a sordid montage; the characters are either killed meaninglessly, go insane or suffer from a growing realization of their anachronistic moral systems. “Guess I'm out of time,” says Motes. “I'm a gentleman from Virginia. Such must suffer in Naples of August, 1944.”

Burns' haunting scenes of decadent officer life, lucrative black market operations, camps for those with venereal disease, and the like offer a needed corrective to the genteel kitsch of A Bell For Adano. But the brilliant achievement of The Gallery is its sensitive portrayal of the drama of mutual misunderstanding between Italians and Americans. To make this cultural conflict emphatic, Burns juxtaposed the two national characters: on the one hand, the Italians with their genuine spontaneity, their passion for the present life, their aesthetic sensibility, their ebullience and unblushing sensuousness; on the other, the Americans with their strident acquisitiveness, their coarse moral numbness (“I decided Americans cried less because they lived mostly in a vacuum. They weren't close enough to birth or close enough to death”), their inability to distinguish between “love and having Sex” (the latter “an ejaculation without tenderness as the orgasm of a frigidaire”), their cultural barrenness and brooding Protestant conscience. The contrast, of course, was exaggerated, and Burns came too close to idolatry in his treatment of the Italians. Yet his central purpose was to show that America was not so much liberating the Italians as imposing a new, gross way of life upon them, one that tears the delicate web of their community, disrupting the natural rhythm of their culture, leaving them without, in Giulia's words, “the old quiet delight she once took from life.” Even more emphatically, Burns tried to expose a cruel contradiction between the rhetoric of American idealism and the reality of the American performance. “I remember the crimes we committed against the Italians,” he recalled, citing the Badoglio collaboration with ex-Fascists, the exploitation of women, the “making of money out of human misery,” and other evidence of “a deficient moral and humane sense in Americans as a people.” The Americans' moral indifference stemmed in part from the G.I.'s contempt for the Italians; their opposition in the war “was taken as a license for Americans to defecate all over them.” “They figured it this way: These Ginsoes have made war on us; so it doesn't matter what we do to them, boost their prices, shatter their economy, and shack up with their women.” Burns' realization of the emptiness of American values (“[Americans'] ideals were something to make dollars on”) was all the more agonizing because of the “tragic spectacle” of Italians initially putting so much faith and trust in their American “emancipators.” Seeing no “collective and social decency” in Naples, he could find solace only in occasional acts of “individual goodness and loveliness” on the part of a few Americans. But Burns' hope in an “individuality consecrated and unselfish” could not sustain his vision. The “vulturism” of most Americans' behavior in Italy was too grotesque: “I saw that we could mouth democratic catchwords and yet give the Neapolitans a huge black market. I saw that we could prate of the evils of Fascism, yet be just as ruthless as Fascists with people who'd already been pushed into the ground. That was why my heart broke in Naples in August, 1944.”

In one respect The Gallery brings this brief study of Italo-American literary relations full circle. The activities and writings of the pro-Fascist Ezra Pound and the anti-Fascist John Horne Burns share in context. Burns' contrast between a meretricious America and an Arcadian Italy recalls Pound's contrast between a defiled America, “an old bitch gone in the teeth,” and a Medieval Italy where “Beauty alone” prevails. Whatever their ideological differences, both the Fascist poet and the liberal novelist were measuring the seamy vices of the new world against the supposedly noble virtues of the old. If Pound himself reflected personal alienation from a mendacious America, his Cantos refracted an exalted vision of Fascist idealism: if Burns revealed a painful disillusionment with the vacuity of American ideals, his Gallery refracted an Italophilic conception of the experience of liberation. In both cases the traditional Edenic motif of American literature has been reversed dramatically. Viewed in this light, Burns' novel thus restated in the forties a literary theme of the twenties that became pronounced not only in the poetry of Pound but in the writings of Van Wyck Brooks and others: the realization of America's cultural failure. By depicting his own culture as devoid of moral order and by projecting an idyllic portrait of Italy, Burns' The Gallery gave to the generation of the forties what Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms gave to the generation of the twenties: a literary statement of the loss of innocence.

Scarcely less important than the literary and historical context are the political implications of The Gallery. D. H. Lawrence, for one, recognized that “you have go to pull the democratic and idealist clothes off American utterance, and see what you can of the dusky body of it underneath.”39 It would not be too far from the mark to assert that such an exposure was the central function of The Gallery. Of all the American novelists who wrote of America's wartime involvement in foreign countries, Burns must be regarded as among the most important, not merely because of his poetic descriptions of the suspended emotions of the Neapolitans, but because of his profound ability to see the liberation from the Italian point of view, thereby peeling rhetoric away from reality and providing an incisive critique of American “ideals” in action. Louis Hartz has suggested that America's exposure to the outside world will provide the best hope for a fresh perspective on our own unquestioned political values, that “America must look to its contact with other nations to provide that spark of philosophy, that grain of relative insight that its own history had denied it.”40 World War II provided the first massive contact between Americans and Europeans, but the experience suggests the shortcomings of Hartz's essentially correct advice. “Can a people ‘born equal’ ever understand peoples elsewhere that have to become so? Can it ever understand itself?” asks Professor Hartz.41 Another way of stating this question is whether a people who have never experienced totalitarianism can understand those whom they are liberating from totalitarianism. Although the answer is far from certain, one thing is clear: Americans as a whole cannot possibly acquire knowledge of themselves and of the world as conquering soldiers. Above all, Americans cannot effectively achieve a deeper self-understanding of their identity and of the uniqueness of their institutions unless they can transcend their own political and cultural values. John Horne Burns' The Gallery, perhaps the one literary document of World War II that succeeds in rising above a narcissistic nationalism, should remain a sobering reminder of the Americans' limitations for such transcendence.


  1. Daniel Aaron, Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism (New York, 1961); Allen Guttmann, The Wound in the Heart: America and the Spanish Civil War (New York, 1962).

  2. George Orwell, Dickens, Dali and Others (New York, 1946), p. 169.

  3. See the series of articles by Stark Young, “Notes on Fascism in Italy Today,” New Republic, LXVII (July 15-Aug. 5, 1931), 235-36, 281-83, 312-14.

  4. Irving Babbitt, Democracy and Leadership, (New York, 1924), p. 313.

  5. George Santayana, “Apologia Pro Mente Sua,” in The Philosophy of George Santayana, ed. Paul A. Schilpp (Chicago, 1940), pp. 497-605.

  6. The Letters of George Santayana, ed. Daniel Cory (New York, 1955), p. 405.

  7. E.g., Harold Goad, “The Corporate State,” American Review, I (Apr. 1933), 80-93.

  8. Albert E. Stone, “Seward Collins and the American Review: Experiment in Pro-Fascism,” American Quarterly, XII (Spring 1960), 3-19.

  9. Kenneth Roberts, “Salvage of a Nation,” Saturday Evening Post, CXCVI (Sept. 22, 1923), 20, 132-42; “The Ambush of Italy,” CXCVI (Aug. 25, 1923), 6-7; see also his Black Magic (Indianapolis, 1922), the subtitle of which reads, “An Account of Its Beneficial Use in Italy, of Its Perversion in Bavaria, and of Certain Tendencies Which Might Necessitate Its Study in America.”

  10. Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller, A Private Correspondence (New York, 1963), pp. 107-8.

  11. Ezra Pound, Jefferson And/Or Mussolini (London, 1935); Money Pamphlets: An Introduction to the Economic Nature of the United States; America, Roosevelt and the Causes of the Present War; Selected Radio Speeches, trans. Carmine Amore (London, 1950); on Pound's propaganda broadcasts, see Bruno Foa, “The Structure of Rome Short-Wave Broadcasts To North America,” in Propaganda by Short Wave, eds. Harold L. Childs and John B. Whitton (Princeton, 1951), pp. 153-80.

  12. T. S. Eliot, “The Literature of Fascism,” Criterion, VII (Dec. 1928), 280-90.

  13. Mencken's support of Tresca is mentioned in Max Eastman, “Profile: Trouble-maker,” New Yorker, X (Sept. 15-Sept. 22, 1934), 26-29, 31-36.

  14. Quoted in Mark Schorer, Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (New York, 1961), p. 386.

  15. Quoted in Andrew Turnball, Scott Fitzgerald (New York, 1962), p. 148.

  16. Quoted in Aldo Garosci, Gli intellecttuali ella guerra di Spagna (Torino, 1959), p. 352; see also Hemingway's short story “Italy, 1927,” New Republic, L (May 18, 1927), 350-53, which later appeared in various anthologies as “Che Ti Dice La Patria.”

  17. Aaron, chaps. vi, viii.

  18. Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men (New York, 1953), vi, and “All the King's Men: Matrix of Experience,” Yale Review, LIII (Winter 1964), 161-67.

  19. Schorer, pp. 608-9; Shortly after the appearance of It Can't Happen Here, Seldes published his scathing biography of Mussolini, Sawdust Caesar (London, 1935).

  20. Ernest Hemingway, “Notes on the Next War,” Esquire, IV (Sept. 1935), 19, 156; “Wings Always Over Africa,” V (Jan. 1936), 31, 174-75.

  21. The Ethiopian War generated bitter animosity between the Negro and the Italian-American, made all the more tense by the heavyweight prize fight between the Italian Primo Carnera and the young Joe Louis. The Negroes organized several groups to aid Ethiopia, one of which was the “American-Ethiopian Air Force,” first headed by Hubert Julien, the “Black Eagle of Harlem.” See John P. Diggins, “Mussolini's Italy: The View From America,” unpublished dissertation (University of Southern California, 1964), pp. 278-84.

  22. Quoted in Guttmann, p. 100.

  23. Ibid., chap. v, passim; e.g. Archibald MacLeish, “Liberalism and the Anti-Fascist Front,” Survey Graphic, XXVIII (May 1939), 321-23.

  24. Writers Take Sides (League of American Writers, New York, 1938), p. 3.

  25. Ibid., pp. 64-65.

  26. Hamilton Basso, “Italian Notebook, 1938,” New Republic, XCV (June 15, 1938), 147-49.

  27. See, first, Mario Michele, “Fontamara Revisited,” New Republic, XCI (May 26, 1937), 69-71; and Young's criticism of Michele in New Republic, XCIII (Jan. 12, 1938), 283-84.

  28. Josephine Herbst, letter to editor, New Republic, CVIV (Feb. 9, 1938), 20-21.

  29. Alfred Kazin, Starting Out in the Thirties (New York, 1965), p. 25.

  30. John P. Diggins, “Mussolini and America: Hero-Worship, Charisma, and the ‘Vulgar Talent.’” Historian, XXVIII (Aug. 1966).

  31. On the cultural propaganda campaign, Diggins, “Mussolini's Italy,” pp. 222-24.

  32. Massimo Salvadori, Resistenza ed azione: Ricordi di un liberale (Bari, 1955), pp. 158-59; see also Theodore Hornberger, “The Enlightenment and the American Dream,” in The American Writers and the European Tradition, eds. Margaret Denny and William Gilman (New York, 1964), p. 27; and Harry Levin, “Some European Views of Contemporary American Literature,” ibid., p. 182.

  33. Mario Praz, “Hemingway in Italy,” Partisan Review, XV (Oct. 1948), 1092.

  34. “Italian Criticism of American Literature,” ed. Agostino Lombardo, Sewanee Review, LXVIII (Summer 1960), esp. 361-62, 367.

  35. Due in part to the American soldier's lack of respect for the Italian as a fighting man. One character in a war novel reflected: “Tyne did not hate Italy, nor did he hate the Italians. He merely ignored them. Some of the men, he knew, hated them—not necessarily because they had killed their share of Americans, but because they were cowards. They ran. They always ran. A soldier could hate the Germans, but he could respect them at the same time. He would respect the stubborn bravery and their cunning and their battle wisdom. But the Italians had none of these negative virtues. The Italians had nothing.” (Harry Brown, A Walk in the Sun, New York, 1944, p. 73).

  36. Carretta, vice-director of the Regina Coeli prison during the Nazi occupation, had actually helped many political prisoners escape, including the current President of the Italian Republic, Giuseppe Saragat. See Herbert L. Matthews, The Education of a Correspondent (New York, 1946), pp. 473-77, and Charles F. Delzell, Mussolini's Enemies: The Italian Anti-Fascist Resistance (Princeton, 1961), p. 398. It should be noted that Hayes' account in the novel leaves no suggestion that the mob had killed an innocent bystander.

  37. New York Times, Sept. 19, 1944.

  38. Ibid., Sept. 28, 1944.

  39. D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (Anchor Ed., New York, 1959), p. 18.

  40. Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York, 1955), p. 287.

  41. Ibid., p. 309.

John P. Diggins (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: “Mussolini as American Hero,” in Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America, Princeton University Press, 1972, pp. 58-73.

[In the following essay, Diggins explores Mussolini's appeal to Americans as a signifier of heroic redemption.]


To conclude a study of the Mussolini vogue [in Mussolini and Facism: The View from America] by maintaining that in America he was nothing more than a press-manufactured celebrity is only half the story. Dismissing him as the product of a news-hungry media and a public given to dramatic “pseudo-events” ignores two salient facts: that neither publicity nor propaganda can by itself create a popular “symbolic hero,” and that Mussolini enjoyed the acclaim of many prominent contemporaries who were uninfluenced by the press. It would be tedious to quote here the lavish accolades heaped upon him by such astute admirers as Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps it suffices to mention that Mussolini was deemed worthy of a book by Emil Ludwig, author of studies on Napoleon, Lincoln, Bismarck, Frederick the Great, Masaryk, Freud, Wagner, Goethe, Byron, Wilson, Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt. Whatever Mussolini's reputation is today, from the time of the March on Rome to the beginning of the Ethiopian War he was an esteemed figure. Americans in particular saw in Mussolini certain enduring qualities which enabled him to qualify as a “great man” not only of his time but of the ages. Many of the images with which he was depicted in the press were of an heroic character, and the qualities projected by those images were distinctly peculiar to the American value system.1

Mussolini's dominant image was, of course, that of the redeemer. He and his men represented all that was healthy and redemptive in Italian life. Fascism was the righteous answer of the responsible middle class to the treachery of Communism. As such, Mussolini readily appealed to anxious Americans as a new leader who reaffirmed the old solid values and virtues: “duty,” “obedience,” “loyalty,” and “patriotism.” Reinforcing this conservative political conceptualization was the theme of spiritual savior. Il Duce was the wise and mature leader who discarded the foolish atheism of his youth and rescued his country from the malaise of materialism. Thus one writer likened his March on Rome to Christ driving the money changers out of the temple, another apologist spoke of the “monkish ascetism” of the Blackshirts, and Catholic writers sang hosannas to the convert who returned the crucifix to the classroom. Where history ended and hagiography began only the discerning could say.2

Mussolini's personal appeal can be explained by numerous other images. In 1926 the Washington Post, no great supporter of Fascism, stated the case in simple terms. “Mussolini's dictatorship evidently appeals to the Italian people. They needed a leader, and having found him they gladly confer power upon him. If he continues his policy of ‘order, discipline and work,’ while avoiding imperialistic adventures, Italy doubtless will find full and profitable employment within its proper field.” The slogan “order, discipline and work” was repeated again and again, not merely because it redounded to the honor of America's Protestant ethic but also because Mussolini's career symbolized these virtues. In the American mind Mussolini was nothing less than the self-made man. Benito Mussolini was “the son of a blacksmith,” readers were reminded repeatedly. The Italian statesman, said Otto Kahn, was “a great man, beloved and revered in his country and much misunderstood abroad, a self-made man, if there ever was one, setting out with nothing but the force of his brain and the character and ardor of his patriotism.” The drama of the success story has always had special appeal in America; Italy's Horatio Alger was no exception.3

Still another image was that of the “pragmatic” statesman. Il Duce was the “practical” leader who rejected the unusable democratic dogmas of the past and the unworkable moral principles of the present. Ironically it was this “realistic, pragmatic temper” that appealed to conservatives and liberals alike, to nativist reactionaries like Lothrop Stoddard and to cosmopolitan progressives like Lincoln Steffens. Indeed the conservative Commerce and Finance and the liberal New Republic could justify Fascism on the same grounds—that Mussolini gets things done and that Fascism works and works well. Seeing in modernization a source of political liberation and moral uplift, conservative businessmen and not a few liberal intellectuals admired the rationalization of Italy's economy under Fascism. Here the intellectual's critique of parliamentary government was matched by the businessman's cult of efficiency. Business editor Merle Thorpe regretfully summed up the fascination of the latter:

I can understand why a businessman would admire Mussolini and his methods. They are essentially those of successful business. Executive actions, not conferences and talk. Mistakes, yes, but action. … The business executive despises the tortuous ways of government. The impression you get of him is that he is a fine type of business executive. He cuts through. No idle words. Not too few, not too many, just enough. Quietly spoken, but leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that he carried a big stick. … Accomplishment! Not fine-spoken theories; not plans; not speeches he is going to make. Things done! And this is your successful American executive.4

In an age hungry for heroes, Mussolini was also written up as a hero of sport. Because of his daring feats and bold adventures he could gratify the vicarious need for excitement, and journalists did not hesitate to place him besides aviators like Lindbergh, actors like Barrymore, and athletes like Dempsey. Writers may have contradicted one another in describing his quixotic temperament, but one characteristic that stood out was his blinding quickness of body and mind. As John Gunther observed: “Mussolini is built like a steel spring (Stalin is a rock of granite, by comparison, and Hitler a blob of ectoplasm).” Clarance Streit summed up the essence of Il Duce in one word—“Punch.” “There is punch in his eyes, the darting thrust of a rapier. There is punch in the light, springing step with which he carries his well-built body—the punch of a pugilist.” Translated into politics, these qualities were reflected in Il Duce's instinct for “direct action.” “Direct action is intelligible in any language,” declared Anne O'Hare McCormick. “A nation that thrilled to the Vigilantes and the Rough Riders rises to Mussolini and his Black Shirt army.” This activistic ideal became pervasive (despite disclaimers by anti-Fascists like Angelica Balabanoff, who wrote of his timidity and indecisiveness), and Mussolini's much publicized March on Rome, however distorted, contrasted nicely with the allegedly pusillanimous parliament he swiftly threw out.5

As the man of action Mussolini also became a masculine hero of both muscle and mind. Accordingly, apologists characterized him as courageous, resolute, and bold and the opposition as weak, feeble, and decadent. Ambassador Child used such phrases as “sickly liberalism” and “sentimental jelly” to contrast the Roman manliness of Mussolini with the fuzzy femininity of Giovanni Giolitti, that “nice, easy, benevolent weakling.” Similarly Kenneth Roberts, while extolling the Spartan austerity of the fascisti, called Italian liberals “starry-eyed,” “pampered,” “mental perverts,” a clever juxtaposition of imagery that made Mussolini seem all the more masterful. Much was also made of the dictator's mental prowess. He has “a luminous and powerful intellect [which] is his genius,” exclaimed Edward Price Bell. Alice Rohe stressed his self-educated wisdom; others marveled at his multi-lingual abilities. Thus in 1936 John Gunther could sincerely conclude that Mussolini was “the only modern ruler who can genuinely be termed an intellectual.” But Mussolini was a unique intellectual. He was not a tender, “word-froth” ideologue, as one writer in the Wall Street Journal put it, but a tough, direct luminary who pierced the soft crust of sentiment. He was a practical thinker who, as Giovanni Gentile pointed out to Americans, scorned the “literato” (man of ideas). A masculine mind unfettered by the cobwebs of pure thought, Mussolini was, in essence, an anti-intellectual intellectual.6

The masculine temperament brings us to yet another image: the great lover. Perhaps one of the more curious responses to Mussolini was the manner in which so many women reporters were taken in by the swashbuckling glamor of the Italian dictator. It is, at first glance, rather ironical that women would respond to a man who had contempt (albeit political, not physical) for the female sex. As he candidly told Emil Ludwig, women must always be the underlings, lest their trivial hearts of milk unman the will to power and produce a “matriarchy.” Yet the Italian maestro was shrewd enough to wear a different mask when confronting the opposite sex. In 1923, whether by coincidence or design, the International Suffrage Alliance convened in Rome. Mussolini's hypocritical support for the feminist cause did much to endear the “amazons of the press” to his regime. His appearance at the convention hall was described rapturously (“graceful, extremely quick … great charm and radiance”) by the novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes, who was brought to tears of joy upon his entrance. When he told the convention that he would grant the vote to Italian women (within a short time he was to make Italy's franchise worthless) the audience was ecstatic. Fascist supporters made much of the rising status of women in Italy, and Italian officials made life easier for women journalists, all of which paid handsome news dividends. Women reporters, generally concentrated on Mussolini's personality and physical features, and those who met him personally showed a tendency to melt under his charm. “I was entirely disarmed by his personality,” said the wife of one correspondent. “Expecting to meet a cold, dispassionate, overbearing person, I was arrested by a certain wistful quality in his expression—the expression of a man who is very human.” The Byronic magnetism of Mussolini was as irresistible as the pagentry of the marching fascisti. The response of Ida Tarbell, who called Mussolini “a despot with a dimple” and described how he “kissed my hand in the gallant Italian fashion,” was typical of the many female writers who were graced by a personal interview with the Blackshirt Valentino. Perhaps Alice Rohe had the last word when one of his sex scandals made the papers: “Il Duce knows how to get what he wants from women, whether it is a grand passion or a grand propaganda.”7

Mussolini's amorous escapades titillated the generation of the 1920s, weaned, as it was, on Freud and gin. But Americans eventually got around to discussing the historic significance of the “new Italy,” and when they did these discussions invariably compared Mussolini with other “great men” who shaped the course of history. Comparisons abounded. Caesar, Napoleon, Cromwell, Bismarck, and, of course, Garbialdi were but a few of the names cited. Significantly, one of the most frequent references was to Theodore Roosevelt (which recalls to mind Henry Adams' remark that Roosevelt was “pure act”). Journalists saw the similarity and were eager to emphasize it. Irving S. Cobb, for example, reported a conversation with Il Duce as follows:

“Do you know, your excellency, what a great many Americans call you? They call you the Italian Roosevelt.”

By this he was obviously gratified.

“For that,” he said, “I am very glad and proud. Roosevelt I greatly admired.” He clenched his fists. “Roosevelt had strength—had the will to do what he thought should be done. He had greatness.”8

As the above dialogue indicates, Il Duce could readily be treated as the man of sheer will power. Benito's career, the editor of McCall's stated excitedly, was the spectacular story of “the strong man of Italy who has … bent a nation to his will.” And the élan vital of Mussolini's individual will could animate the collective will of the Italians themselves. For this “new Columbus,” a writer in the Wall Street Journal declared, transformed a “languorous Italy” into a “New World of will and work.” It is not surprising that American admirers saw Mussolini as a hero of iron will, for the notion that individual success and failure is simply a matter of resolution and character is a cherished homily rooted deep in American history and in the American value system.9


The simple description of a dictator who controlled events solely by bringing to bear the impulsive force of his will is antithetical to the whole meaning of democracy. If carried too far, such a disturbing picture would leave the impression that Mussolini was an insensitive despot who assumed infallibility and acted with total disregard for popular feelings. Could Americans respond favorably to such a chilling image? In his study of American hero worship the historian Dixon Wector gave a negative answer: “The sort of man whom Americans admire, trust, and are willing to follow … must be self-respecting, decent, honorable, with a sense of fair play; no Machiavelli nor Mussolini need apply.” Professor Wector may have shut the door too hastily on Mussolini as a popular hero.10

In the first place, it is questionable that Americans admire leaders only because of genteel virtues like honesty and fair play. The unpleasant truth is, as the sociologist Orin Klapp has observed, that “Americans are not squeamish about accepting some pretty tough customers as heroes.” Americans have been fascinated by unsavory creatures: Western bad men with their pornoviolent gun play; “self-made men” of the underworld like Arnold Rothstein and Al Capone; and the ruthless captain of industry, Veblen's “pecuniary personage,” who stands as the symbol of the “civic virtues … in democratic America.” Foreign dictators, too, are not beyond the pale of American esteem. In 1959, for example, the Gallup poll discovered that the American image of Khrushchev was not that of a cruel tyrant but of a hard-driving executive; few Americans, it was found, objected to his autocratic powers, while many showed a begrudging respect for the Premier as a “shrewd businessman” and a “pretty hard egg.” This democratic paganism may have reached its sublimest expression in 1964 when the San Francisco Chronicle, marveling at Nikita's peasant-to-Premier success story, exclaimed: “Many Americans have admitted their preference for a viable Khrushchev, and we are among them, having always believed that had fate guided his life otherwise, it might easily have led such a man to the presidency of General Motors or even of Harvard.”11

The point is Americans as a whole are not indifferent to the dramatic appeal of foreign dictators. Americans admire the two-fisted statesman as much as the rugged individualist. Prince Ludovico Pentenziani, the Governor of Rome, noted this when he remarked in 1928: “Mussolini's character and personality carry a strange fascination to Americans. … It is my opinion that whatever Italy might ask today of American financiers would be conceded without question, for Americans like strong people.” This “strange fascination” for autocratic rulers stems from at least two sources which have little to do with Wector's faith in America's moral wisdom. First, Americans have respect for power, especially for individuals who possess and wield it deftly. Obviously the power must be used for ends that do not threaten America's interests but instead appear to advance them. Witness, for example, the widespread deification of Stalin during World War II. Moreover, to observe a foreign leader reach success through strong-armed methods is gratifying to America's nativist instincts. For his achievements can be attributed not only to his talents but to the corrupt political milieu in which he must operate, a decadent milieu which is bound to render his own behavior somewhat immoral. Even in democratic America the successful politician is not above moral suspicion. Over a century ago de Tocqueville noted that in a democracy “what is to be feared is not so much the immorality of the great as the fact that immorality may lead to greatness.” As de Tocqueville observed, when judging a political leader, democratic citizens, impelled by “envy” as well as respect, are led “to impute his success mainly to some of his vices; and an odious connection is thus formed between the ideas of turpitude and power, unworthiness and success, utility and dishonor.” If this insight be true for American democracy, how much more true must it be when Americans judge a foreign dictator? Contrary to Professor Wector's pronouncements about the democratic rewards of ethical virtues, Americans are not always outraged by the Machiavellian. Wector may have been right in stating that Americans would not be “willing to follow” Mussolini. But one can hardly infer from this reluctance that Americans did not “admire” Mussolini and “trust” him to rule the Italians well. In truth, America's admiration for Mussolini was also marked by“an odious connection” between his remarkable achievements and his repugnant methods. Watching Il Duce striving to realize what they believed were proper ends through improper means, Americans could congratulate themselves on the presumed moral superiority of their own country where such means need not be used. Americans realized that Mussolini was not a completely moral man. But they were hardly so naïve as not to sense that in Italy, even more than in America, “immorality may lead to greatness.” “An Italian proverb,” wrote Emerson, “declares that ‘if you would succeed, you must not be too good.’”12

What also must be stressed is that Mussolini's American image was not as sinister as anti-Fascists later tried to make it by equating him with Hitler. True, Mussolini was often depicted in the popular press as a forceful leader of almost superhuman qualities, but this characterization was balanced by the touching portrayal of Mussolini as the “average man” responsive to human emotion and capable of warm affection. All the fuss made about his fondness for children and pets, his delight in music and sports, his common origins and sympathy for the peasants served, either intentionally or otherwise, to soften his tough image. Rather than a raw and ruthless despot, Mussolini was just a “Regular Guy,” Will Rogers assured Americans; he was no different from an American senator in his boastfulness and he was merely doing for Italy what Henry Ford did for the United States. “I shall think of him as one of the most human human beings I ever saw—and one of the greatest,” said Irving Cobb, who regarded the Premier as something of a Cincinnatus figure, a humble warrior who rescued his country but remained uncorrupted by power. So beneath his brusque willfulness Americans found a human heart. The leader of superlative abilities was also the man of general, homely impulses, a plain man of the people. Paradoxical as it may seem, the balance of all this polymorphous imagery enabled the dictator to strike the pose of a “democratic” hero, what Walter Bagehot called a common man of uncommon abilities.13

Finally, there was one saving touch in Mussolini and in Italian Fascism that caused them both to be taken lightly: the comical image. The impression was created by a fundamentally incongruous view of Fascism and the Italians. An easy-going people, skeptics with a capacity for humorous self-criticism; occasionally exuberant and explosive, more often melancholic and resigned; passionate individualists with a rich heritage of humanism and a realistic sense of power and the absence of such power—such was the material that Fascism claimed to be whipping into a totally regimented, monolithic state. Many American writers, comparing the reality with the mystique, could only chuckle. What emerged instead was something of an opéra bouffe conducted by a quasi-farceur whose jut-jawed posture and sacro egoismo only betrayed the absence of real national power. Given the irony in Mussolini's compulsion to overdramatize, he soon became the delight of cartoonists, who, with hyperbole and brushstroke, could easily transform a serious statesman into a buffoon and showman. Because of this comical image, Americans often found it difficult to take his utterances seriously, and with the fiasco of Caporetto in mind, even his aggressive speeches were often dismissed as diatribes for domestic consumption. In contrast to the Draconian militancy emanating from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, Mussolini appeared as amusing as he was amazing, the Falstaff of the fascisti. Even today the mention of his name can provoke laughter from those who recall his image in the press—or from those of a later generation who have viewed his balcony gyrations in film documentaries. “Asked to name a clumsy fool,” Orin Klapp writes, “Americans think of Jerry Lewis, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Lou Costello; Humpty Dumpty, Gargantua, Don Quixote, Ichabod Crane, and near-sighted Mr. Magoo, Goofy (Disney), Joe Palooka; Warren G. Harding, and Benito Mussolini.”14

One could go on discussing the many-sided and admittedly contradictory images of Mussolini in the American mind. But ultimately to comprehend his popular reception one must confront the nature of hero worship. Theorists of classical democracy tried to eliminate the role of personalized leadership in politics, yet the craving for the image of the peerless leader runs deep even in democratic society. Indeed in our own time the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., could sense the hopelessness of the dilemma. Observing that the indispensable man was anathema to Locke and suspect to the Founding Fathers, and warning that the cult of the heroic leader poses a continual threat to democracy, Schlesinger nevertheless laments the passing of “the epic style of those mighty figures of our recent past who seized history with both hands.” Now admiration for heroic leaders is in itself no sign of latent Fascism—even today's “New Left” rises romantically to the well-armed caudillo. Since the attraction to leadership mystique is characteristic of all sides of the political spectrum it would be hazardous to draw any ideological lessons from this common visceral behavior. But one lesson seems clear enough: the story of Mussolini's reception in America is a lesson in how to make a dictator democratically respectable. Perhaps Il Duce knew all along what James Fenimore Cooper came to fear—that “the true theatre of a demagogue is a democracy.”15


Most Americans, then, admired not so much Fascism as “Mussolinianism,” not the reactionary ideology but the cult of personality. How is this mass hero worship to be explained? One answer was offered by Oswald G. Villard, anti-Fascist editor of the Nation. Villard believed that Mussolini was “serving an extraordinarily useful purpose. You can measure a man's devotion to the democratic ideal by the attitude that he takes toward Mussolini. If with some knowledge of what is actually happening in Italy an American still prefers the Mussolini type of government, he is actually disloyal to our political principles.” This finger of “disloyalty” pointed at Mussolini's supporters in the twenties resembles nothing so much as the finger of “treason” pointed at the Stalinist sympathizers of the thirties—which is to say that the charge tells us more about the accuser's behavior than that of the accused. Surely a more fruitful approach is to understand America's fascination with Mussolini not as conscious ideology but as a reflection of the social and cultural context of the period and the psychic needs of the American people.16

An age of hero worship is an age of instability. As Max Weber noted years ago, it is a period in which the traditional social order appears to be disintegrating that the phenomenon of “charismatic authority” occurs. The charismatic figure ascends to power in a time of trouble and crisis and is accepted by the masses, not on the basis of historical legitimacy, but by virtue of his “extraordinary quality,” his “personal strength,” and the claim to spiritual sanction bestowed on him by supporters. Deriving his authority from his spectacular display of power and ability, the rule of the charismatic leader is born of “distress” and carried forward by “enthusiasm.” Now strictly speaking, most Americans did not perceive Mussolini as a classic charismatic personality. Instead of attributing his success to mysterious and “magical” powers, they believed he was merely governing Italy with good American common sense. Nevertheless, it was the “distress” of the times that created his favorable reception. Il Duce's rise to fame in America cannot be understood apart from the temper of the twenties.17

“The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts,” observed Willa Cather. Although Miss Cather may not have had in mind the March on Rome, the emotional tensions she sensed go far toward explaining America's response to the event. Socially and intellectually the twenties was a decade anxious with contradiction. It was a period of industrial progress and agrarian nostalgia, of escape from the village and the encounter with “homelessness,” of tenacious nativism by patriots and adventures abroad by expatriates, of religious fundamentalism and moral revolution, of prohibition and liberation, of hero worship and idol smashing. Above all, in this dramatic period of rapid cultural change Americans hung suspended between the future and the past, rushing out to absorb the new, retreating to uphold the old. It was an untenable situation, and as society became fragmented and dislocated the traditional values began to dissolve. Although the process had actually begun much earlier, what “broke apart” in 1922 was the moral order of the world. No longer could many Americans believe in the genteel idealism of the past. Gone were the common beliefs in moral absolutism, inevitable progress, and rational man. The words “honor,” “truth,” and “sacred” no longer had meaning for writers like Hemingway, and for historians like Carl Becker “reason and aspiration and emotion—what we call principles, faith, ideals—[were] without their knowing it at the service of complex and subtle instinctive reactions and impulses.” With the demise of traditional idealism much of the moral impulse of American progressivism collapsed as well. Americans as a whole may not have gone so far as to dispose of liberalism like “an empty whiskey flask” (Parrington), but a generation in which the best people lacked conviction about politics was hardly a generation to rebuke Mussolini, who himself was only trying to disenthrone the “goddess of liberty.”18

Paradoxically, while some Americans could not rebuke Il Duce because he seemed to be the harbinger of a new political realism, many others welcomed him as the defender of the older idealism. To the middle class and especially to the business community, Mussolini seemed to stand for two traditional American values: rational intelligence and human willpower. Whatever Americans may have thought of Fascism as an ideology, they viewed Mussolini as an outstanding leader whose achievements were the result of exceptional capacities of reason and will. Perhaps it is a measure of the desperate needs of Americans that they chose to see a dictator who brazenly attacked the whole rationalist tradition as a defender of reason. For at no other time was the nostalgic ideal of the rational individual under greater strain than in the twenties. The increasing regimentation of industrial life, exemplified in Frederick Taylor's efficiency treatises and realized in Henry Ford's assembly lines, seemed to be making man into a mechanomorphic mutant; while Freudian analysis and Watsonian behaviorism, each starting from different premises, appeared to reduce man to a bundle of irrational drives or a package of conditioned reflexes. At the same time the dreadful memories of World War I and the subsequent “contagiousness” of Bolshevism went far toward creating the impression that man had all but lost control of history. Amid this pervasive moral uncertainty and world insecurity, the sight of a Carlylean leader changing the course of history through sheer willpower and reason was cause for celebration. “The picture of Mussolini rallying the citizenship of Italy to the restoration of their threatened government,” James Emery announced in a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, “ought to encourage every man who believes that reason will ultimately dominate in the social and political affairs of Europe.”19

It is true to say that Mussolini was America's answer to Communism; it is trite to say nothing more. For Il Duce was the American answer to many other things that were “wrong” with the modern world. Faced with frantic excitement and uncertainty, what the 1920s lacked was a genuine political hero. Toward the close of World War I there had been two towering figures: Woodrow Wilson and Vladimir Lenin, the former stirring the imagination of millions with his program of political liberation through war, the latter arousing the expectations of the masses with his program of social liberation through revolution. When both died in 1924 the world seemed to be left with pallid mediocrities who served only as ludicrous targets for Mencken's deft barbs. In America particularly the absence of “a single great leader” and of “individuals of the leader type” was noted by such disparate minds as Nicholas Murray Butler and Sigmund Freud. Thus, in 1927 the Literary Digest, responding to the growing sense of a leadership vacuum in the world, conducted an editorial survey entitled “Is There a Dearth of Great Men?” The magazine discovered that newspapers, in challenging the allegation, mentioned Mussolini more frequently than any other figure, with Lenin, Edison, Marconi, Orville Wright following in that order, and Henry Ford and George Bernard Shaw tying for sixth place.20

Mussolini was mentioned most frequently because, more than any other man, he seemed to give expression to certain ideals rendered precarious by the sudden changes of the twenties. It was not merely that his dynamic idealism and articulate verbosity provided an antidote to the country's materialism and Coolidge's sour and laconic style. It was also because his achievements seemed to symbolize the triumph of old virtues while at the same time evoking the adventures of a new age. Shortly after the editorial poll, for example, Charles Lindbergh made his famous trans-Atlantic solo flight. Immediately Mussolini rushed a telegram to Ambassador Fletcher congratulating America on this momentous achievement. “A Superhuman will has taken space by assault and has subjugated it,” exclaimed Il Duce. “Matter once more has yielded to spirit and the prodigy is one that will live forever in the memory of men.” Significantly, Mussolini's description of Lindbergh's conquest succinctly captures the American public's emotional reaction to the historic event. Symbolically, Lindbergh's flight meant to Mussolini as well as to Americans the triumph of “spirit” over “matter” through the sheer assertion of “Superhuman will.” In effect, Mussolini's description was actually an exercise in self-conception which mirrored the dictator's own image in America. If Lindbergh showed that man was the master of nature, Mussolini demonstrated that man was still in control of events. The aviator disciplined an uncertain machine and the dictator an unknown movement. Mythically, Il Duce was man's answer to fatalism—a political symbol of the deep resources of will and reason for an American society weary of the rush of history.21

In the American “popular mind” Il Duce emerged as something more than a crude dictator. A complex figure, his ambiguous image appealed to the contradictory emotions of a country undergoing the stress of change: a restorer of conservative tradition, a genius of innovation and experiment; an impulsive romantic of the senses, a redeemer of religion and spiritual vision; a self-made man of almost superhuman willpower, a common man of practical idealism and homely virtue. Embracing opposite tensions, Mussolini's image combined the adventurous dash of charisma with a sober call to native folk values. If the twenties can be labeled “The Aspirin Age,” he was both its stimulant and its tranquilizer.


  1. Orin Klapp, Symbolic Leaders: Public Dramas and Public Men (Chicago, 1964), pp. 55-56.

  2. NYT, Dec. 27, 1925; Roberts, “Salvage of a Nation,” p. 132. For Catholic opinion see [Mussolini and Fascism,] Chapter VIII, pp. 182-97.

  3. Washington Post, Aug. 18, 1926; NYT, Nov. 16, 1923.

  4. Nation's Business, XV (Dec. 1927), 20-22.

  5. John Gunther, Inside Europe (New York, 1938), p. 194; New York Evening Post, Nov. 22, 1922; NYT, July 15, 1923.

  6. Child, “The Making of Mussolini,” pp. 3-4; Roberts, “The Ambush of Italy,” pp. 67, 34-38; Bell, Italy's Rebirth, p. 5; Gunther, Inside Europe, p. 197; Wall Street Journal, Jan. 23, 1923; Giovanni Gentile, “The Philosophical Basis of Fascism,” Foreign Affairs, VI (Jan. 1928), 300.

  7. Ludwig, pp. 170-71; Good Housekeeping, LXXVII (Aug. 1923), 35; NYT, May 15, 1923, July 27, 1928; Irene di Robilant, “The Role of Woman Under Fascism,” Survey, LVII (March 1, 1927), 708; Tarbell, pp. 380-84; Marjorie Sheeler, “Mussolini at Close Range,” Review of Reviews, LXVIII (Oct. 1923), 395-97; Rohe is quoted in “Mussolini, Lady Killer,” LD, CXXIV (July 31, 1937), 37.

  8. Irving S. Cobb, “A Big Little Man,” Cosmopolitan, LXXXII (Jan. 1927), 145-46.

  9. McCall's, LIV (Dec. 1926), 16; Wall Street Journal, Jan. 23, 1923.

  10. Dixon Wector, The Hero in America (New York, 1941), p. 482.

  11. Orin Klapp, Heroes, Villains, and Fools: The Changing American Character (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1962), pp. 29, 56; Fred Palsey, Al Capone, The Biography of a Self-Made Man (LaSalle, Ill., 1931); Daniel Bell, “Crime as an American Way of Life,” in The End of Ideology (Collier edn., New York, 1961), pp. 127-50; Thorstein Veblen, “The Captain of Industry,” The Portable Veblen, ed. Max Lerner (New York, 1948), p. 394; San Francisco Chronicle, April 19, 1964.

  12. Pentenziani is quoted in Time, XI (June 11, 1928), 16; Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Vintage edn., New York, 1943), I, 235; Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men: Nature, Addresses, and Lectures (Cambridge, 1855), p. 218.

  13. Rogers, “Letters,” p. 82; Cobb, “A Big Little Man,” p. 146. Despite Mussolini's clamorous inveighing against Western democracy, some Americans still saw him as “always a man obsessed with one idea—attaining effective democracy in Italy.” See the anonymous “Mussolini the Democrat: By an American Observer,” American Review of Reviews, LXXVII (June 1928), 600-606.

  14. Klapp, Heroes, p. 70.

  15. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Hope (Boston, 1963), pp. 23-24; James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat (New York, 1931), p. 92.

  16. Oswald G. Villard, “What Cost Mussolini?” Nation, CXXIII (Nov. 17, 1926), 504.

  17. “The Sociology of Charismatic Authority,” Chap. IX in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York, 1958); see also, Klapp, “The Creation of Popular Heroes,” American Journal of Sociology, LIV (Sept. 1948), 135-41; id., “Hero-Worship in America,” American Sociological Review, XIV (Feb. 1949), 53-62.

  18. Willa Cather is quoted in William E. Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity (Chicago, 1958), p. 273; Becker in Burleigh Wilkins Taylor, Carl Becker: A Biographical Study in American Intellectual History (Cambridge, 1961), pp. 132-33; Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (Bantam edn., New York, 1949), p. 137; Vernon L. Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. III: The Beginnings of Critical Realism in America, 1860-1920 (Harbinger edn., New York, 1958), p. 412.

  19. Proceedings of the 28th Annual Convention of the National Association of Manufacturers of the United States of America, 1923 (New York), p. 289.

  20. LD, XCIV (Aug. 6, 1927), 12-13; Butler's lament is quoted in the LD Poll; Freud's charge that America failed to produce super-ego “leader type” men is in Civilization and Its Discontents (New York, 1961), pp. 62-63.

  21. Mussolini to Fletcher, May 22, 1927, scrapbooks, FP; John William Ward, “The Meaning of Lindbergh's Flight,” American Quarterly, X (Spring 1958), 3-16.

Luigi Barzini (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: “The Not-So-Great Dictator,” in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXI, No. 16, October 17, 1974, pp. 22-4.

[In the following review of Mussolini: An Intimate Biography by His Widow, Barzini describes conditions in Italy that led to Mussolini's rise to power and many personal and character traits that may have led to his fall.]

Perhaps the ruin of Benito Mussolini was Giuseppe Garibaldi, the legendary hero of the Risorgimento. Like Mussolini, Garibaldi was a rough, self-taught, and credulous man of the people; in his youth he had had utopian and confused revolutionary ideas, but, in the end, he rallied to the king and, perhaps unwittingly, became a prop of the establishment. His ardent patriotism inflamed Italian radical nationalists, with pernicious consequences. His charm was magic, scores of women fell in love with him and men died for him in his presence and smiled. Garibaldi was always or almost always victorious (in reality he fought brilliant guerrilla skirmishes which piety later turned into vast and tidy battles); he was the first to be called Il Duce, a pompous nineteenth-century opera libretto title, by antonomasia (Mussolini had been called Il Duce by his socialist followers before 1914 and took the title with him to the Fascist party).

Garibaldi was also the first to dress his followers in colored shirts. His luck (or his self-knowledge) however spared him from being saddled with the sober responsibilities of government, the tedious administration of provinces, the solution of serious problems, and the making of policy. He was usually in charge of little more than a brigade, for a few months at a time, never the supreme commander of vast armies in conflict among nations. His solid reputation as a magnetic Pied Piper of Italian youth, founder of the left and a military miracle worker rests on the fact that he retired early to an obscure private life, practically to exile, on the Sardinian island of Caprera. The government of the time saw to it he did not leave this refuge without permission.

What ruined Mussolini, above all, was the idea that Garibaldi's career seemed to demonstrate to Italians, the idea that, if only the right superman could be found, there always was an easy way out of the most arduous crisis. Garibaldi's life seemed to prove that Italy could be spared the necessary uphill struggle to improve its lot (and the opinion others had of it) if it trusted its destiny to a demiurge generally resembling him, who would lead the people to glory and prosperity without “blood, sweat, and tears.” (The words are Garibaldi's. He used them in an 1849 proclamation.) This belief in the national hero, to be sure, is not an Italian delusion alone. Many nations have been its victims (or beneficiaries), some of them several times—France, for instance, three times in little more than a century and a half. Incidentally, to fire men's imaginations in a sleepy and archaic country such a hero must proclaim outlandish revolutionary ideals, that is, inspire the hope of escaping the present by dreaming of a radiant future, and remind his countrymen of their glorious history, thus giving them the hope to escape the present by finding refuge in a partly imaginary past.

One hundred or so years ago, Italy's fundamental problem was substantially what it has been since the sack of Rome in 1527, and what it would be in 1922 and 1974. It is the common problem of a glorious, ancient, civilized, but technically backward and feeble people, the problem, at one time or another, of the Greeks, the Chinese, the Spanish, the Turks, the Arabs, to mention a few: how to organize and govern themselves efficiently enough to transform their country rapidly into a modern, powerful, and respected middle-class nation, one that richer, more advanced, and ruthless powers would not dare threaten, exploit, invade, or humiliate easily.

This meant, in nineteenth-century Italy, the unification of the country under one parliamentary government and one law, the improvement of its prehistoric agriculture, the development of some basic industries, the building of railroads, the invention of a spoken language, and the education of a modern elite. Only such a nation would be “respected” (in the Mafia's use of the word) because it could afford an awe-inspiring fleet, a redoubtable army, a colonial empire, and a forceful foreign policy. The Italian problem today, now that armed might and colonies are out of fashion, is that of acquiring the contemporary status symbols of wealthier and older industrialized powers, the high standard of living and the expensive security arrangements of the welfare state, without wholly accepting the dull and dreary disciplines of industry.

To reach those goals was and is a wearying and almost impossible job for any people whose traditional way of life, to which they are understandably attached, prevented them from joining the Industrial Revolution at the outset. It is costly and tiresome to develop omniscient bureaucracies, vast industries, severe technical schools, and formidable armed forces when one's heart is not in them. Only Japan really tried it. Others looked for short cuts. Some pretended they had reached their goals by investing all their scarce resources in the appearance of a great power; some were inflamed by fanatic radical movements (it is always a relief for an impotent people to kill a great number of “enemies,” presumably responsible for all the nation's ills); or, at one time or another, followed a demiurge or the nearest thing to one they could find. (In some countries the historian finds all these tendencies combined in various proportions.)

Such men of destiny are not hard to find. History seems to keep several up its sleeve at all times. If they are not exactly what the crisis really requires, popular imagination manages anyway to make them into the legendary figures it needs, magnifies their talents and successes, and obliterates their failures. The hero's job is then mainly that of representing the personage he is believed to be. He should be an actor, wear gaudy uniforms, ride horses, deliver stirring speeches, create and disseminate suitable anecdotes, coin slogans, and lead his people in the general direction in which they are traveling anyway. A few of these leaders died without anybody discovering how really inept, vacillating, and dim-witted they were. They are still revered by their countrymen. Their monuments adorn public squares. Others had the misfortune of believing they really were what the people imagined them to be and were destroyed by calamities evoked by their own folly.

This, of course, is the case of Mussolini, and nothing proves once and for all the inadequacy of the man so much as the recently published memoirs by his fiercely loyal and loving, eighty-three-year-old widow Rachele. Rachele is a practically illiterate peasant woman, as intelligent and perceptive as such people often are. She has a good memory and managed to record many revealing intimate anecdotes. In spite of her socialist past (socialist movements among Italian peasants at the end of the last century were little more than jacqueries), she (as well as her husband) had no conception of the modern world, no idea about economics, no respect for the weak or for liberty, and a pessimistic view of human nature. She admires her husband immoderately and still believes everything the Fascist press printed about him a generation or two ago.

Why did Mussolini fail? What made him get into a war he could not win? Rachele [Mussolini, in Mussolini: An Intimate Biography by His Widow] offers easy and consoling explanations. The British, the French, and the Americans forced him to enter the war on the wrong side, almost against his will, by their unreasonable obstinacy. He then lost the war because he had been betrayed. To be sure, in the end, when the Allies pulled themselves together and occupied North Africa, everybody, from the brave anti-Fascists to the frightened Fascists, tried to get him out of the way in order to salvare il salvabile. He was, however, stubbornly difficult to move. It took a lot of secret plotting (some of it involving contact with the enemy) to drag him away from power. But he was not betrayed by others. He was only betrayed by himself.

He had none of the qualities of a great leader in times of trouble. He was no Churchill and no de Gaulle. He had the shallow and brilliant mind of a yellow journalist. He took snap decisions, day by day, as the editor who makes up the front page only to startle, scare, or excite his readers. He also had an uncanny talent for publicity. He tirelessly launched campaigns (to kill flies, eat more rice, grow more wheat, produce more children, abolish shaking hands, make people address each other with the “voi,” to mention only a few). This came easy to him as he was fascinated mainly by unimportant details, the cut of a uniform, the title of a dignitary, the design of a stamp, the gestures of the traffic cops under his window, the color of buses and taxis. His main work, it turned out, was receiving visitors, including thousands of more or less illustrious tourists.

He was a good popular speaker for outdoor meetings, capable of stirring the crowd's simpler emotions. Like most brilliant journalists and rabble rousers, he lacked the capacity to concentrate, to recognize the fact that most problems were complex and boring, and could not be solved overnight or exorcised with a slogan, a speech, a ceremony, or a communiqué. He never took prudent and mature decisions. Rachele admits: “The last speaker he heard usually left the most indelible impression on him.” As a result, his waiting room was always crowded with people trying to see him at the end of the day or one minute before he had to make up his mind.

He was an inefficient dictator, as dictators go. He did not make a fortune, as some Popes and many dictators did. He refused his pay as prime minister and lived on his earnings as the owner of a daily newspaper. Rachele, in her penury, had to sue the Italian state for the regular pension of a prime minister's widow. He contradicted himself time and again, often took pity on some of the victims of his own tyranny, and sometimes hated to be reminded of the suffering he had brought about to his people. He saved some Jews from his own laws. In fact he despised the very word “dictator,” which, to my recollection, he used only once in a public speech, during the war, not to define himself or any of his colleagues but to brand F. D. Roosevelt with a shameful label. Rachele says that Hitler reproached him, after his liberation, in September, 1943: “Duce, you're too kindhearted. You'll never make a dictator.” Besides being occasionally capable of compassion (his wife recalls he supported many of his old socialist comrades who had become his enemies, and defended some of them from his own police), he was easily deceived. His telephone was tapped all the time.

He did not know men. “Men are like apples,” he is quoted by Rachele as saying contemptuously. “I buy them by the box. There may be several good ones and one rotten. I always hope his new duties, the rotten one's, will give him a chance to make amends and clear his reputation.” He never knew when a man lied to him. When he received a dignitary in his country place, Rocca delle Caminate, during a holiday, Rachele says he occasionally asked her to sit in his study and listen. A shrewd woman, with an instinctive sense for people's hidden feelings, she crouched on one of the wooden seats which stood under the medieval windows, said nothing but read the visitors' faces, studied the delivery of their lines, and reached unerring conclusions about character that wholly escaped Benito.

To all these native handicaps one must add the inevitable corrupting influence of power. Men who have a very high opinion of themselves, like famous tenors, some writers, millionaires, or successful politicians, are notoriously easy prey to flatterers, because flattery sounds to them like the sober description of reality. From the beginning, the first few weeks in power, in November, 1922, Mussolini dismissed collaborators who told him an occasional unpleasant truth. He considered them disloyal.

Nineteen years later, in 1941, during his catastrophic attempt to command the Italian army in battle, on the Greek front (he lost the day and destroyed some of his best and irreplaceable divisions), he asked one honest veteran general with many ribbons from World War I: “What do you think of this campaign, general?” The general answered: “The infantry has no shoes; the artillery, when they have ammunition, shell the infantry; our airforce appears seldom, but when it does, it drops bombs both on the infantry and the artillery. …” Mussolini cut him short and said: “Such language is surprising in the mouth of an old soldier who I see has fought well. It sounds like sabotage. …” (This anecdote is not in Rachele's memoirs but in a delightful book of memoirs by Gian Carlo Fusco, Le rose del ventennio, Rizzoli, Milan, 1974.)

Dismissing all the collaborators who tried to tell him unpalatable truths, he lived mostly on deceptions and wishful thinking. Rachele says: “At the end the whole truth never reached him. Some people in whom he placed trust were definitely misleading him, assuring him that there were no problems when the contrary was the case. Under normal peacetime conditions, the situation had no serious consequences, but I wondered what these people would do if Italy were beset by crisis or involved in war.” The situation, of course, had the gravest consequences also in times of peace.

From the beginning, Mussolini was surrounded either by astute courtiers who told him anything to please him, or by earnest and honest men who had to behave like astute courtiers in order to survive and get anything done. Most diplomats' reports and newspaper articles were written merely to comfort him. All unpleasant details were hidden from him. He was always assured the problem, any problem, did not exist, or that, if it still existed, it would be miraculously solved by means of one of his resounding slogans within a matter of days or weeks.

As a result he did not face the centuries-old problems of Italy, the sort of problems that democracies have natural difficulties in solving. He should have worried about illiteracy, poverty, the Mezzogiorno, the inefficiency of the bureaucracy, the archaic agriculture, the asphyctic industries, the rapacity of the upper class. He tried to defeat the Mafia and the Communist party but merely managed to drive them underground. Both emerged infinitely more numerous, richer, and more powerful after his fall. Perhaps the only useful thing he contributed to Italian life (as Napoleon left us the Code Napoleon and beet sugar) is the much respected Enciclopedia Italiana, in many ways the best (and most costly in human suffering and degradation) of all encyclopedias.

Most dictators fail if they live long enough. In Mussolini's case, Rachele's book confirms what historians have already discovered: more than anybody else he helped to destroy himself. He was his own foreign minister, tenaciously furthering that aggressive foreign policy which, after all, was what Fascism was all about. He “made Italy respected.” But unlike a good Godfather, he forgot to provide himself with what would be necessary for the day of the showdown. His ministers of war, navy, air force, and industry let him down. These ministers were no other (at one time or another) than Mussolini himself. Who else had hamstrung him with the wrong alliance with a demented Wagnerian fanatic at the wrong moment?

When the war came, at a moment Mussolini could not choose, that very war he had been talking about for twenty years, there were no guns, no food, no fuel, no raw materials, no planes. The army made do mostly with Skoda guns captured from the Austrians in 1918. The navy, lacking radar and carriers, was a collection of sitting ducks. Industry, atrophied and drugged by autarchy, could not provide him with the necessary equipment. The morale of the armed forces was inevitably very low. Some fought well and died “so that Italy might lose as honorably as possible.” Many of these were anti-Fascists or Fascists who had understood where their movement had brought their country.

In his defense it must be admitted that his failure was aided mightily by the Italian people, the Italian elite, and the Garibaldi myth. The liberal governments after the First World War helped, being too feeble to lead Italy on her way to reconstruction. So did the Versailles treaty, which gave nationalists the feeling they had been betrayed by their Allies; Socialists who were able to keep the country on the verge of revolution but had not the men, will, or intelligence necessary to conquer power; Catholics who refused to forget the Risorgimento and join with the Liberals in a supreme effort to save common liberty. The elite (and the king) were the victims of a perennial Italian temptation, that of enrolling pyromaniacs among the firemen. Finally, Garibaldi's ghost helped, raising the demented hope of finding a man who would carry everyone's burden. (Pius XI called Mussolini “l'uomo della Provvidenza,” the man sent by Divine Providence.)

Mussolini was deposed on July 24, 1943, by the Grand Council he had created. Like Caesar before him, he had been told about the conspiracy against him, and had been beseeched by his wife not to go. Like Caesar, he went unarmed. “Il Duce himself decided,” Rachele remembers, “to give leave to the Fascist Militia on that day and not to reinforce the guard at Palazzo Venezia.” To be sure, Mussolini was far from being Caesar. He was not as intelligent, as corrupt, as good a politician, writer, warrior, or conqueror. But, like Caesar and other dictators, he knew the day had come when he had to allow his enemies to destroy him.

Two years later, at the end of the war, a few days before he was killed (together with his mistress) he had refused a plane which would have carried him alive to Spain. Rachele says:

Years after the war, [my son] Vittorio told me that he'd worked out a plan that was complete save for one detail—his father's consent. … Benito listened, not reacting at all until Vittorio had finished. Then … he asked: “You think that's the right solution? Fine. And have you a plane for all those Fascists outside and the Fascists in the North?”

Rachele adds: “He considered his attitude not heroic but simply logical.”

Reed Way Dasenbrock (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: ELH, Vol. 55, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 505-26.

[In the following essay, Dasenbrock chooses the middle section of Ezra Pound's Cantos as the basis to understanding Pound's changing views on Mussolini and Italian fascism during the 1930s. Dasenbrock argues that while Pound believed that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were to be equated politically with Mussolini, he also recognized the polarity of the two early American politicians, and his shift from Jeffersonian ideology to that of Adams, as seen in the Cantos, represents his changing thoughts regarding Mussolini's political doctrine.]

Certainly one of the difficulties faced by criticism of Ezra Pound's Cantos has been the sheer difficulty of coming to terms with the constantly changing nature and design of the poem. The initial attempts to define that design proceeded largely in spatial and atemporal terms, describing an unchanging plan Pound presumably began the poem with and then proceeded to execute.1 But after the work of Stanley Fish and other reader-response critics, contemporary criticism is far more comfortable with poems being dynamic entities, and both because of this shift and because none of the static designs has proven generally persuasive, recent criticism has moved away from thinking in terms of a grand structure towards a more dynamic and historical sense of the poem.2 Pound always had a sense of the poem's design, but that sense kept changing and the task of the critic should be to map those changes rather than opt for one of the designs held by Pound at some point as being the right one. So we now speak of the early Cantos, the middle Cantos, the later Cantos, with an awareness that there are some very real and palpable differences among these various sections.

But we should be careful not to be too complacent about our superiority to the earlier, more spatial and holistic critics. For there remains a tendency to make the poem static in a subtler way, which is that—consciously or unconsciously—we assume that though differences exist between the early, middle and later Cantos, each section of the poem is a relatively coherent and unchanging entity. Our very terms, early, middle, and later, have that assumption built into them. In my own earlier work on the Cantos, for instance, I argued for a dynamic or historical conception of the poem and its design. My argument was that the concerns and conceptions of the middle Cantos were fundamentally different from those of the early Cantos and that Pound had radically reconceived the poem around Canto 30.3 I still believe that to be the case. But in my discussion, I referred to the middle Cantos as if they formed a distinct and unchanging entity, a smaller static poem in the middle of a larger, more dynamic one. This is particularly disturbing in retrospect because the focus of my discussion was the political implications of the middle Cantos, and these Cantos were written across the 1930s, years when the world's political landscape was changing very quickly. Even if Pound continued to be pro-fascist in this period, what it meant to be a Fascist changed radically between 1922 and 1942, or even between 1942 and 1944. Continuity in terminology can lead us to ignore real differences beneath the surface.

In this essay, I want to show—by focusing on one central current of the middle Cantos—how Pound's interests and plans kept changing throughout these cantos. The American Revolution is a major concern of the middle Cantos, but here as elsewhere, it is easy to assume a greater degree of continuity than actually obtains. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are the two figures of the American Revolution Pound portrays at length, and this selectivity might lead us to assume that Pound saw similar virtues in the two men. But arguing against this is the historical fact that at important moments Adams and Jefferson were antagonists. Though they worked together at the time of the Declaration of Independence and reconciled their differences in the correspondence of their final years, in between, at the time of their respective presidencies, they were bitter political enemies and held radically different political philosophies. There is no reason to assume that Pound was unaware of this tension and divergence.4 It is true that at times Pound minimized this conflict, emphasizing Jefferson's and Adams's areas of agreement more than their areas of disagreement.5 But he was clearly aware of those disagreements, clearly aware that Jefferson and Adams stood for quite different aspects of the American Revolution. Initially, Jefferson was the figure who captured Pound's attention, but by the time of Guide to Kulchur (1938), his interest had shifted and he had begun to see Adams as the more profound figure: “The tragedy of the U.S.A. over 160 years is the decline of Adamses. More and more we cd., if we examined events, see that John Adams had the corrective for Jefferson.”6

So Pound was aware of the differences between these men, and his shift in attention from one to the other is not accidental. What I hope to show here is that the Cantos' shift in focus from Jefferson to Adams represents a crucial shift in Pound's values across the 1930s. This shift does not mean we can interpret Pound's political commitment to Italian Fascism in the 1930s as wavering or uncertain. Pound unfortunately remained dedicated to Mussolini across the decade, and both Jefferson and Adams, in Pound's view, are to be equated with Mussolini. But this means that the shift in Pound's emphasis on the American revolution also corresponds to a shift in his vision of Mussolini and Italian Fascism. The content of Pound's political commitment kept changing in ways we need to trace and understand if we wish to understand the poem that is the most complex expression of that commitment.

Pound's interest in Thomas Jefferson has received considerably less attention than many of his more recondite interests. This might seem surprising and a confirmation of Pound's point about the sad neglect of the writings of the founding fathers if it did not have a simpler explanation. Pound's interest in Jefferson is inextricably bound up with the scandal of Pound's politics, and by Pound himself, whose central work on Jefferson (aside from the Jefferson Cantos) he titled Jefferson and/or Mussolini. And one index of the scandal represented by this book is the difficulty it has had getting (and staying) published: written in 1933, it was turned down—in Pound's account—by forty publishers and published only in 1935.7 Pound himself then tried to suppress it later in life when Horace Liveright put it back into print in 1970. The reprinted volume states on the back: “This book is being reissued under a contract which was executed in 1935 and does not necessarily reflect Ezra Pound's later views.” And it is easy enough to see why this comparison of the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, the architect of Monticello, and the founder of the University of Virginia and the Library of Congress to the Italian Fascist dictator Mussolini would provoke its share of outrage. It is possible to depoliticize Pound's interest in Confucius or Dante and focus on the aesthetic or cultural aspect of his interest in their work. But faced with Jefferson and/or Mussolini, one can do no such thing with Pound's interest in Jefferson. As a result, Pound's portrait of Jefferson (and his portrait of Revolutionary America) has received little serious attention.8

But Jefferson makes his way into the Cantos before the writing of Jefferson and/or Mussolini, and we need to distinguish between the Jefferson of the early Cantos and the Jefferson of Jefferson and/or Mussolini and the middle Cantos. Jefferson first appears in Canto 21, in the middle of a canto devoted to the Medici family, and then is the subject of Cantos 31-34, a series of cantos focusing on the American Revolution.9 Jefferson's first appearance in the Cantos is unforgettable: “‘Could you,’ wrote Mr. Jefferson, / ‘find me a gardener / who can play the french horn?’”10 Thus begins the portion of a letter to Giovanni Fabroni Pound quotes (and rearranges) in Canto 21, and this is a “luminous detail” for Pound, showing Jefferson's dedication to culture and pragmatic approach to obtaining it. He hopes eventually to have a full band of musicians among his domestic servants, and this miraculous combination of gardener and french horn player would presumably be the first step in this direction. Meaning in the Cantos is always created by juxtaposition, so Pound's juxtaposition of Jefferson and the Medici in Canto 21 is hardly accidental. The effect of the juxtaposition is to relate Jefferson's particular dedication to the arts to that of the Medici. They are all statesmen dedicated to art, a combination celebrated at length by Pound throughout the early Cantos. The Italian Renaissance is, of course, a good place to find and celebrate such a combination, and the Medici are conventional figures for this.

Pound's central figure for the Italian Renaissance prince and patron of the arts, however, is not a Medici. It is the notorious condottiere Sigismundo Malatesta, hero of the Malatesta Cantos (Cantos 8-11), and Pound links Malatesta and Jefferson in a number of ways that strengthen the overall presentation of Jefferson as a “Renaissance man.” In the middle of the passage quoting from Jefferson's letter in Canto 21, the Italian words “affatigandose per suo piacere o non” are included parenthetically (21/97). The alert reader of the Cantos will realize that these words have appeared before: they are a repetition of Canto 8, the first Malatesta Canto, from another letter, this one written by Sigismundo Malatesta to Giovanni de' Medici. In Canto 8, the letter is rendered by Pound in idiomatic English, and this phrase is rendered as:

So that he can work as he likes,
Or waste his time as he likes


The original Italian then follows parenthetically, just as in Canto 21. Malatesta is describing his practice of hiring artists on subsidy, not paying them just for completed work. The letter from which this phrase comes is mostly about a painter Malatesta would like to hire from Florence, and the subject rhyme between this letter and Jefferson's, underscored by the Medicean context of both letters (one historical, the other created by Pound), is clear enough.11

Malatesta and Jefferson, then, no lazy dilettantes, do not merely appreciate culture. They directly call it into being by their own activity, activity that is here represented by their correspondence. Pound—one of the century's most voluminous letter writers—would have particularly appreciated their correspondence, of course, but that is not the only reason for his focus here on letters. Another link between the two men is that their cultural creativity is ultimately best represented by works of architecture, in Malatesta's Tempio and in Jefferson's Monticello and University of Virginia, all of which share a classicizing impulse. But Pound is being true to his own aesthetic of presentation by presenting their words, which he can do directly, rather than their architecture, which cannot really be represented appropriately through the medium of language. Yet it is noted in Canto 21 that Jefferson's letter was penned at Monticello, and this is Pound's way of indicating the existence of that which he cannot adequately represent.

So Jefferson's first appearance in the Cantos has nothing to do with Mussolini. He is presented as an Italian Renaissance prince in the context of revolutionary America, concerned above all with creating art and culture. The relation of power to culture was an—perhaps the—important theme in the early Cantos, and the central theme of Pound's nascent politics at this point was simply that power has an imperative to create art, or, more precisely, to be art. This is a familiar way of looking at the Renaissance; the first part of Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is entitled “The State as a Work of Art.”12 For Pound as well as for Burckhardt, this merging of two domains now kept sharply separate was an important reason for the Renaissance's exemplary status. And though Burckhardt of course does not mention him, Pound's paradigmatic eye sees—correctly, I think—the same idea operative in Jefferson.

The relation between Malatesta and Jefferson, made clear enough by Pound himself, has been widely—if not thoroughly—discussed in the criticism of the Cantos.13 Yet the terms in which that parallel has been considered have been largely those of the early Cantos, of the statesman as artist. But only in the early Cantos does Pound rest content with praising statesmen for their relation to art. In the middle Cantos, what they do as statesmen begins to occupy him: here Pound lines Jefferson up not just with Malatesta but also with Mussolini. We have made better sense of the Malatesta/Jefferson parallel in the early Cantos than of the Jefferson/Mussolini parallel in Pound's prose and the middle Cantos.

But Pound does not abandon the Italian Renaissance frame already established for Jefferson in the middle Cantos. Malatesta is perhaps the central figure of the first enduring block of cantos, A Draft of XXX Cantos (1930), and the central setting of these cantos is surely the Italian Renaissance. The cantos on Jefferson and the American Revolution, Cantos 31-34, are the opening block of the next section, Eleven New Cantos (1934), and they begin:

Tempus loquendi,
Tempus tacendi.
Said Mr Jefferson:


Then follows another of Jefferson's letters. The first two lines, “There is a time to speak, there is a time to be silent,” were Sigismundo Malatesta's motto, words he put on his wife Isotta's tomb in the Tempio Malatestiana. They are also, of course, the Latin Vulgate rendering of Ecclesiastes 3:7, but with a difference: the Vulgate reads “Tempus tacendi, tempus loquendi,” with an emphasis on that time to be silent. Malatesta's emphasis, characteristically for him as for Pound, was on speaking.14

So the Italian Renaissance frame remains relevant to Pound's Jeffersonianism as it becomes less a matter of cultural politics and more a matter of political theory. To put it another way, the Jefferson/Mussolini parallel is really a Malatesta/Jefferson/Mussolini parallel. And if we seriously examine how Malatesta and Jefferson could be connected in Pound's political thinking, we find that Pound's thinking anticipates much contemporary scholarship, particularly the work of J. G. A. Pocock. There are ways in which the political thinking of Jefferson can be related to figures like Malatesta, and understanding that allows us to make better sense of the further Jefferson/Mussolini equation and connect Pound's interest in Jefferson with some themes of his economics.

What made Pound's portrait of Thomas Jefferson seem so bizarre and anomalous when he advanced it in the 1930s was its radical departure from what Pocock calls the “Lockean paradigm,” the notion that the Declaration of Independence in particular and the American Revolution in general were essentially products of the political thought of Lockean liberalism.15 That paradigm, having come under attack from a number of directions, no longer holds the unquestioned sway it did fifty years ago, and in this respect Pound's portrait of Jefferson anticipated the direction of contemporary scholarship. There are a number of competing paradigms vying to supplant Locke: for example, Garry Wills's Inventing America presents the Scottish moral and common sense philosophers as the central source of Jefferson's ideas.16 But Wills's work is less relevant to my concerns here than Pocock's, particularly The Machiavellian Moment, for Pocock's central contention that the Italian Renaissance concern with virtue (or virtù) and corruption becomes the enduring concern of Anglo-American political thought in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is remarkably parallel to Pound's presentation of Jefferson. Pocock's study furthermore argues that this dialectic of virtue and corruption remains central to American political thinking. I would argue not only that Pocock's and Pound's Jeffersons are remarkably akin, but also that Pocock's work goes a long way towards explaining Pound's own Jeffersonianism, his particular version of the larger “dialectic of virtue and corruption” we in America have inherited from the Italian Renaissance.17 It thus not only provides a richer context for Pound's comparison of Jefferson to Malatesta; in the way it relates Jefferson to the Renaissance, it goes a long way towards explaining Pound's subsequent comparison of Jefferson to Mussolini.

Pocock's study is enormously complex and wide ranging, and what follows will just touch on what is relevant to my purpose here. The major thrust of his study is to argue that there is a line of influence running from the political theoreticians of the Florentine Renaissance, preeminently Machiavelli and Guicciardini, through seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England to the thought of the American Revolution and beyond. This inheritance persists at least partially because the problems to which the Italian thinkers were responding persist. There is a recurring Machiavellian moment because there is a recurring dilemma or problematic: thus, in Pocock's presentation as well as in Pound's, there is a parallel between the Italian Renaissance and the American Revolution as well as a line of influence from the former to the latter.

The central dilemma that any republic must face is the fact that republics have across history been intermittent anomalies, often destroyed from within rather than from without. Unlike monarchism, republicanism as an ideology is faced with the problem of time: how can a republic survive its enemies and last across time? In the Renaissance, the essential enemy is named corruption: republics fail because they grow corrupt. And, to simplify, there are two lines on how to stave off corruption. The first, linked closely to what Pocock calls the Venetian myth and expressed in the work of Guicciardini, argues that one staves off corruption by perfecting the machinery of government and by balancing conflicting forces. This line of thought, largely alien to Jefferson (and originally to Pound), nonetheless runs down to the American Revolution and persists in the thinking of John Adams and in the doctrine of “checks and balances” implicit in the Constitution. The second, associated especially with Machiavelli, argues that virtù or virtue alone counteracts corruption; no given set of machinery is incorruptible.

Virtue of course means different things to different people, and Machiavelli uses the word in rather a specialized or technical sense.18 For Machiavelli, virtù is above all activity and innovation: one must avoid depending upon any set of preconceptions and face the newness of any situation newly. And here we find the common thread that connects Mussolini to Jefferson and Jefferson to Malatesta.

How does Machiavellian virtù connect Jefferson and Mussolini for Pound? He admits that differences between Jefferson's and Mussolini's particular actions exist, but he nonetheless insists that, faced with Mussolini's situation, Jefferson would have found the same means:

I don't propose to limit my analysis to what Tom Jefferson recommended in a particular time and place. I am concerned with what he actually did, with the way his mind worked both when faced with a particular problem in a particular geography and when faced with the unending problem of CHANGE.

If Mussolini had tried to fool himself into finding or into trying to find the identical solution for Italy 1922-1932 that Jefferson found for America 1776-1820, there would have been no fascist decennio.

(JM, 11)

This is pure Machiavelli: as the world changes, so too must the means of a ruler. And this view enables Pound to argue that much of what has been taken as the political legacy of Jefferson was rather his particular response to a particular situation. The cast of mind revealed by that adaptiveness and quality of innovation is for Pound the true Jeffersonian legacy:

The truth is that Jefferson used verbal formulations as tools. He was not afflicted by fixations. Neither he nor Mussolini has been really interested in governmental machinery. That is not paradox, they have both invented it and used it, but they have both been much more deeply interested in something else.

Jefferson found himself in a condition of things that had no precedent in any remembered world. He saw like a shot that a new system and new mechanisms MUST come into being to meet it.

He was agrarian IN the colonies and in the U.S.A of HIS TIME, that is to say a time when, and a place where, there was abundance and superabundance of land.

(JM, 62)

Clearly, what Pound is praising in Jefferson in these passages is the spirit of innovation that according to Machiavelli is the only thing that can stave off a republic's decline.19 And the connection between this view and Pound's support of Mussolini is not hard to find; according to Pound, those who came after Jefferson lost the animating spirit of virtue that alone made the machinery work:

Jefferson thought the formal features of the American system would work, and they did work till the time of General Grant but the condition of their working was that inside them there should be a de facto government composed of sincere men willing the national good.

(JM, 94-95)

The subsequent absence of this “de facto government” led to such corruption that in Pound's day only radically different means—or so he thought—could restore health to the body politic: “Hence my attention to the NEXT social construction. Next in point of time, next SYSTEM of government set up in the AIM that ours was, namely of providing a BETTER system of government than had BEEN BEFORE put in motion anywhere on earth in the occident.”20 Thus what is essential to good government is having the right aim and then acting upon it, and the similarity Pound perceives in this respect between Jefferson and Mussolini is more important than the obvious differences between their methods. Thus for Pound as well as for Machiavelli, virtù in the sense of activity—getting something done—is the key element in the survival of a republic, in good government. And virtù in very close to this sense is a key word in Cavalcanti's “Donna Mi Pregha,” a word that Pound leaves untranslated in his rendering of the Cavalcanti poem in Canto 36 (36/177).21 The value Pound places on activity here links up with other aspects of his thought, for instance his endorsement in Canto 13 of Confucius taking a cane to the contemplative philosopher Yuan Jang, “You old fool, come out of it, / Get up and do something useful” (13/59).

This focus on action is not what most of us mean by virtue, and indeed it has been this kind of Machiavellian functionalism or operationalism that has given the Florentine such a bad name.22 But in Pocock's analysis, the more common meaning of virtue nonetheless adheres to the Machiavellian tradition as it finds its way to England and America. (Perhaps one way of locating Pound's originality in this tradition is that he doesn't inherit the tradition as mediated in Anglo-American culture; rather, he takes it from the Renaissance and then applies it to the American Revolution.) The familiar conception of America is that as the New World it reacted against the traditionalism of the Old, specifically against monarchy, religious despotism, and feudal land tenure. But Pocock also presents the ideologues of the American revolution as reacting strongly against a kind of modernity as well, against the complex and often corrupt commercial and financial machinery that ran the British Empire. (Hamilton is, of course, the conspicuous exception and as such, earns Pound's utmost opprobrium as “the Prime snot in ALL American history” [67/350]). In this they were inheriting the rhetoric of the eighteenth-century Old Whig or Country party, and behind that rhetoric—in Pocock's analysis—is Florentine republican thought. Thus Jefferson's famous celebration of the virtue of the freehold farmer in Notes on the State of Virginia and elsewhere involves a critique of the corruption of modern finance as well as a critique of the oppression of feudal patterns of land ownership. In this view, individuals as well as states must stay free of entangling foreign alliances. Virtue and independence are concomitant terms just as corruption and dependence are. To cite Pocock's most succinct formulation of this theme, “The ideal of the patriot or citizen entailed the image of a personality free and virtuous because unspecialized. The function of his property was to give him independence and autonomy as well as the leisure and liberty to engage in public affairs; but his capacity to bear arms in the public cause was an end of his property and the test of his virtue.”23

This antimodern strata of eighteenth-century thought delineated by Pocock sounds again and again remarkably like Pound. Pound's radio speeches repeatedly invoked the related ideal of a free yeomanry, each family with its own homestead, free of debt. And this is the key respect in which Pound's Jeffersonianism links up with his economics. The primary enemy of country ideologue and Pound alike was finance and international banking, and for both the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 is a key moment. Pocock explains the significance of the founding of the Bank in terms similar to Pound's, as the decisive moment in which real property was replaced by credit as the basis of the economy,

that is to say, by men's expectations of one another's capacity for future action and performance. Since a credit mechanism was an expansive and dynamic social device, the beliefs men had to form and maintain concerning one another were more than simple expectations of another's capacity to pay what he had borrowed, to perform what he had promised; they were boom-time beliefs, obliging men to credit one another with capacity to expand and grow and become what they were not. Far more than the practice of trade and profit, even at their most speculative, the growth of public credit obliged capitalist society to develop as an ideology something society had never possessed before, the image of a secular and historical future.24

This political tradition certainly succeeds in making virtue sound more attractive than commerce, but its anticommercial and antimodern rhetoric of virtue had a disabling flaw, one inherited by both Jefferson and Pound. Commerce and mercantilism seemed to generate corruption, but Jefferson (and America as a whole) wanted to reject the corruption without returning to a precommercial, feudal economy. They never developed a basis on which to sort out the good aspects of modernity from the bad. Jefferson unrealistically hoped that we could simply leave the bad aspects on the other side of the Atlantic: he wanted us to import our manufactured goods precisely so that we could retain our virtue and not be corrupted by the machinations of commerce. But he still wanted those modern goods. This is less a useful defense against or critique of corruption than an attempt to run away and hide from it. Comparably, Pound accepts every aspect of the technologically advanced capitalist method of production except the means used to finance it, as if finance were a diseased tumor one could easily cut out.

One connection between Pound and the eighteenth century is that, as Pocock points out, this dialectic of virtue and corruption runs throughout American culture and history. It certainly informed the settling of the West and the mystique of the frontier: virtue lay in getting outside of known and settled ground. Yet, like Jefferson's nation of virtuous importers, the myth of the West carried the seeds of its own destruction: moving away from settlements led in turn to the West filling up with settlements, just as surely as our importing manufactured goods led to our manufacturing them here. But in Pound's time as well as in our own, the populist critique of corruption remained an important part of American culture, particularly in the West, fueling William Jennings Bryan's “cross of gold” rhetoric in Pound's youth and, in the very years under study, carrying the Social Credit movement to victory just across the border from Idaho in Alberta.

Paradoxically, though these populist expressions of the Machiavellian moment tend towards antistatist positions, Pound's Jeffersonian concern with corruption quickly led him in the opposite direction. Pound argued that in the years since Jefferson's death the forces of corruption had grown enormously, and this growth required an enormous growth in power by the state to preserve the freedom of the individual:

The demarcation between public and private affairs shifts with the change in the bases of production. A thousand peasants each growing food on his own fields can exist without trust laws.

(JM, 45)

But today we cannot exist without trust laws; we need the virtuously exercised power of the state to protect us against the unvirtuous and corrupt forces of finance. As Pound quoted Adams in Canto 62,

republican jealously which seeks to cut off all power
from fear of abuses does
quite as much harm as a despotism


And this is the paradox of Pound's Jeffersonianism: Pound came to embrace despotism precisely to free us from what he perceived to be a greater despotism.

But the Machiavellian context Pocock's work provides for us gives us a way to understand, if not to accept, that paradox. And I think we should be able to see by now that Pound's portrait of Jefferson was deeply Machiavellian, in precisely the senses Pocock finds the American Revolution in general to be Machiavellian. Malatesta, though unmentioned in The Prince, is the perfect Machiavellian innovator, and Pound's portrait of Jefferson as the Malatesta of his era is deeply Machiavellian in its stress on action and innovation. The early Cantos are more concerned than Machiavelli with art as a duty of the prince; but that theme progressively disappears in the middle Cantos, and Cantos 31-34 are far more concerned with Jefferson governing than with Jefferson calling art into being.

Jefferson is more concerned than Malatesta or Machiavelli with virtue as well as virtù, and in this respect Pound's portrait of Jefferson is in harmony with the Machiavellian tradition in Anglo-American political thought as portrayed by Pocock, with its emphasis on virtuous opposition to financial corruption. Pound's Jefferson is the man opposed to the national debt, opposed to domestic industries, and committed to the freehold or yeoman tradition of liberty and independence. In all these respects, Pound's Jefferson is a man far closer to our contemporary portrait of Jefferson than was the conventional Jefferson of 1935, measured against which Pound's Jefferson seems so bizarre.

Moreover, this context for Jefferson established by Pocock makes more sense of both Pound's comparison of Jefferson to Mussolini and his subsequent shift in interest from Jefferson to Adams. At this point, Jefferson represented for Pound the possibility of radical transformation, the Machiavellian energy inherent in revolution. This particularly fascinated Pound in the early 1930s, as he was looking for a radical alternative to the status quo that he condemned as static and incapable of renovation. (And this is of course a shift from his initial interest in Thomas Jefferson as a ruler interested in culture, the Jefferson of Canto 21.) He was prepared to look anywhere for this alternative, to Social Credit, to Gesellian economics, to Mussolini, to Marx, later briefly to Roosevelt, to anyone who offered a radical alternative.25 And it was this free-floating, ideologically eclectic nature of Pound's political thinking that led him to be attracted by the Machiavellian tradition of political thought, with its emphasis on doing something. Mussolini, thus, was Jeffersonian and preferable to the other alternatives for Pound in the early 1930s less because of the specific content of his ideas than because of his bias towards action. This was precisely what Wyndham Lewis criticized about Fascism in Time and Western Man, that with its bias towards action it was simply “Futurism in practice.”26 Unlike Lewis, Pound praised Mussolini's bias towards action in many different ways in these years, through references to Mussolini clearing the Pontine Marshes, increasing the amount of land under cultivation (see Canto 41/202), and so on.

Across the 1930s, however, the plasticity or free wheeling nature of Pound's politics disappeared. He became committed to Mussolini as the alternative, the possibility for a just society, and not just as a stick to beat the status quo over the head with. Pound moved, in short, from seeing Mussolini as a figure to oppose to the existing malign order to seeing him as the promulgator of a new, desirable order that needed defense.27 And as his interest in Mussolini became more firmly linked to what Mussolini was for, not just what he was against, or even who was against him, Pound needed a new figure to serve as Mussolini's parallel in the Cantos. Jefferson's philosophy of energy and innovation would no longer do. But now that Pound had a governmental order he wanted to defend, Adams, given his political philosophy of order and balance, served perfectly. And there is a parallel or subject rhyme, of course, between Adams's politics and the Confucian thought that so interested Pound at this point, indicated by the appearance of the ideogram chung (see p. 520), or balance, at various points in the Adams Cantos.

This is the context in which we need to understand Pound's shift in attention from Jefferson to Adams and his statement that Adams provided the “corrective” for Jefferson. If the figures of Jefferson and Adams do not completely explain Pound's shifting politics across the 1930s, they serve as a good index of that shift. The middle Cantos begin as if Thomas Jefferson is to be the central figure, the Malatesta of the American Revolution in a way that would point forward to Mussolini as the Malatesta/Jefferson of our time. But after Canto 35, Jefferson largely disappears from the Cantos, and Pound's interest shifts to Martin Van Buren, to periods and realms other than the American Revolution, and finally, when he returns to the Revolution in Cantos 62-71, to John Adams. Comparably, Jefferson and/or Mussolini was written in 1933 and published in 1935; after a brief period of balanced interest in the two men, particularly in their correspondence, the subject of Pound's 1937 essay “The Jefferson/Adams Letters as a Shrine and a Monument,” Pound's interest in his prose shifts to Adams as well. By the time of Guide to Kulchur (1938), the Adams Cantos (1940), and Pound's broadcasts over Rome Radio during the war, Adams has clearly taken the central position that Jefferson once occupied. In Jefferson and/or Mussolini, Adams is usually mentioned simply as one name in a list of major American thinkers and is only once referred to independently; in the radio broadcasts, Jefferson is usually mentioned only in similar lists of names and is almost never examined or discussed separately.

One reason why Adams takes the place that once belonged to Jefferson is that Pound has become concerned with the machinery of government. Earlier, in Jefferson and/or Mussolini, he argued that governmental machinery did not matter; what mattered was the will to change and the economic arrangements behind the machinery. But in his radio talks and in the Adams Cantos, he keeps coming back to the need to study systems of government: “I would remind Prof. Beard that Adams studied republics” (EPS, 393). This returns us to the Machiavellian moment, but to a different aspect of that traditional problematic. To save republics from decline into degeneracy and corruption, Machiavelli had argued that virtù was essential; Gucciardini's emphasis had instead been on getting the machinery right. And the myth of Venice is a myth of a governmental system so perfectly balanced that degeneracy never set in. Adams, fascinated by constitutions and author of a substantial if widely criticized contribution to constitutional theory, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America against the attack of M. Turgot, in his Letter to Dr. Price, Dated the Twenty-Second Day of March, 1778 (1786-1787), is clearly in the Gucciardinian—not the Machiavellian—tradition, and by the late 1930s Pound inclined to that side as well, as the cento of quotations from Adams's Defence in Cantos 67 and 68 (67-68/393-395) clearly shows. “Johnnie wanted to know what really was the best form of government. And more than any other man, not excludin' Jim Madison and Thomas Jefferson, he got on the trail” (EPS, 390).

For Pound, American history showed that the Machiavellian emphasis on virtù is flawed because it proved incapable of establishing stability. The American Revolution failed to sustain its originating virtù past the Civil War, and Pound's sense was that more attention to the “best form of government” might have staved off that failure. The problem with emphasizing men with virtù is this: what happens when they die out or are shoved out? For Pound the history of the Adams family showed that in America they were shoved out, replaced by less capable and less virtuous men. And the consequent need to focus on governmental machinery is a recurrent theme in the Adams Cantos:

and mankind dare not yet think upon


                                                                      how small in
any nation the number who comprehend ANY
system of constitution or administration
                              and these few do not unite


I am for balance
and know not how it is but mankind have an aversion
                    to any study of government


                              No people in Europe cares anything
about constitutions, 1815, whatsoever
not one of 'em understands or is capable of understanding
                              any consti-damn-tution whatever


So the Adams concerned with constitutional machinery proved more congenial to Pound than he had earlier. Just as important, the specifics of his constitutional theory proved congenial as well. The traditional problem republics failed to resolve, according to Aristotle, was how to reconcile the conflicting powers and desires of the many, the few, and the one—that is, of the forces of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy.28 For Aristotle, each form of government tended to degenerate into its negative mirror image: democracy into anarchy, aristocracy into oligarchy, monarchy into tyranny. Polybius felt that this could be avoided by a mixed form of government which blended elements of all three, and a tradition of English thought praised the English system of the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons as achieving the Polybian ideal of a mixed and balanced system. And Adams's constitutional thinking, “classical to the point of archaism,” as Pocock has described it, stays almost entirely within that classical, Aristotelian-Polybian frame of reference.29 When Pound opens Canto 68 with:

The philosophers say: one, the few, the many
Regis                     optimatum                     populique


he is quoting a passage in Adams's Defence in which Adams is quoting Polybius. Adams's concern was always to find a Polybian balance of the one, the few, and the many: “‘You fear the one, I the few,’” we read in Canto 69 (69/407), Pound's condensation of a letter Adams wrote to Jefferson in 1787, and Adams here encapsulates his and Jefferson's differing positions within this tradition. The entire passage reads: “You are afraid of the one, I, of the few. We agree perfectly that the many should have a full, fair, and perfect representation. You are apprehensive of monarchy, I, of aristocracy.”30 Adams felt that not having a “one,” a single leader, would lead to the few dominating the many, and on these grounds he criticized the radically democratic constitutional thinking of the French Revolution (see Canto 70/412).

Pound felt that events had proven Adams, not Jefferson, correct. He thought that the democratic representation of the many was today controlled by the few, not so much a traditional and responsive aristocracy as the monied few.31 In Aristotelian terms, aristocracy had degenerated into oligarchy: “Rhetoric about ‘our representatives in Parliament’ is NOT the point. The point is that your Parliament does NOT represent you” (EPS, 134).32 And Pound felt, with Adams, that a powerful “one” was necessary to enable the many to have that “full, fair, and perfect representation.” Adams's position was already conservative within eighteenth-century political thought, and his emphasis on the “one” led to his being criticized in his lifetime for his supposed monarchical tendencies. And although Adams was no monarchist (“I am a mortal and irreconciliable enemy to monarchy”), Pound—turning that criticism into grounds for commendation—approvingly presents an Adams convinced that one must tilt towards the “one” rather than towards the few to achieve order and balance: “I am for a balance between the legislative and executive powers, and I am for enabling the executive to be at all times capable of maintaining the balance between the Senate and the House, or in other words, between the aristocratical and democratical interests.”33

This general theme is related to another reason why Adams fascinated Pound: the Adams family. Pound presents “the decline of the Adamses” as the American tragedy. Pound's obvious preference here is for the Adamses to have become in effect an American ruling family, for Charles Francis and his sons to have followed John and John Quincy as president. The Chinese History Cantos that precede the Adams Cantos similarly stress the importance both of dynastic continuity and of having a single strong ruler, and the juxtaposition of the two sets of cantos works to suggest that Adams was (or perhaps should have been) a strong ruler founding a dynasty in the Chinese sense. Pound presents the Adams family as the possible counterweight to the decline of the American revolution that did not work. They were the men with virtù who should have arrested the decline of virtù, and their failure shows that virtù alone without a proper form of government is not enough. So the failure of the Adamses paradoxically proves for Pound that Adams was right in his insistence on constitutions and the study of government.

Thus both in his prose and in the Cantos, Pound notes real differences between Adams and Jefferson and strongly endorses the position of Adams. As he put it in one of his wartime radio broadcasts, “If Jefferson had stuck by John Adams, instead of making it up when they were both on the retired list, things would have been different” (EPS, 121). Here Pound presents the differences between Adams and Jefferson as the tragic flaw of the American Revolution. Where they differed, Adams was right, and Adams is therefore the crucial figure of the American Revolution, the one whose wisdom can set us straight today: “Johnnie Adams, the first, the real father of his country” (EPS, 390).

It should be clear from everything I have said so far that Pound's portrayal of the American Revolution in the middle Cantos takes on meaning less in itself than in the complex relations Pound sets up between it and other moments in history. In the Cantos, Jefferson takes on meaning in relation to the Italian Renaissance, most notably in relation to Sigismundo Malatesta. Adams takes on meaning in relation to Chinese history, as he is the American equivalent of a Chinese Great Emperor. These comparisons have their negative side: Adams in particular is subtly reproached for being unable to found a ruling dynasty on the Chinese model; I'm not sure Pound thought Monticello quite up to the Tempio Malatestiana, either. But it should be understood that this web of relations points forwards as well as backwards: Jefferson and Adams are also to be compared to Mussolini, the Sigismundo Malatesta and Chinese Great Emperor of our time. The past gives us not information for its own sake, but points of reference for the present, and Pound's portrait of the American Revolution is intended as one crucial point of reference for Italian Fascism. But the thrust of everything I have tried to show here is that the American Revolution does not provide a stable point of reference even though it provides a continuous one. Pound's portrait of the American Revolution changed, more in response to contemporary politics than in response to new knowledge or new information. And though his argument was that Mussolini mirrored the American revolutionaries, it is easy to see the extent to which it worked the other way around. Pound's portrait of the American Revolution serves as one mirror in which we can see his image of Mussolini changing, from the Renaissance man of action to the Confucian Emperor concerned with order and stability, in short, from Jefferson to Adams.


  1. See especially Daniel D. Pearlman, The Barb of Time: On the Unity of Ezra Pound's Cantos (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969).

  2. For the best examples of Fish's redefinition of poems as dynamic entities, see two essays, “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics” (1970) and “Interpreting the Variorum” (1976), which are collected in Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980), 21-67 and 147-73, and also in Jane P. Tompkins, ed., Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980), 70-100 and 164-84. Tompkins's anthology offers a good introduction to reader-response criticism. For the recent move in Pound criticism away from a grand structure, see my summary in Reed Way Dasenbrock, The Literary Vorticism of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis: Towards the Condition of Painting (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1985), 191-95.

  3. Dasenbrock, 202-13.

  4. Pound's knowledge of the American Revolution comes almost entirely from primary sources, above all from the Memorial edition of Jefferson's works given him by Eliot in the early 1920s (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb [Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905]) and The Works of John Adams (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1850), which he began to work through later. (For Eliot's gift, see Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound [New York: Pantheon, 1970], 294; and William M. Chace, The Political Identities of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot [Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1973], 49.) Pound's “The Jefferson-Adams Letters as a Shrine and a Monument” (originally published in the North American Review [Winter 1937-1938]; reprinted in Selected Prose, 1909-1965 [New York: New Directions, 1973], 147-58) contains his clearest statement of the importance he ascribed to the correspondence of these two men. The only secondary work on the American revolution Pound refers to in Jefferson and/or Mussolini is W. E. Woodward's George Washington, The Image and the Man (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1926), which he mentions twice, and Woodward's rather breezy study seems only to have reinforced Pound's perception of Washington as rather a lightweight in contrast to Jefferson and Adams, who for him are the only figures of importance in the American Revolution. (Garry Wills's Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment [Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1984] makes Washington altogether more interesting and much closer to Pound's concerns about virtue and independence.) Pound corresponded with Woodward, and three letters of Pound's to Woodward have recently been published (“Letters to Woodward,” Paideuma 15 [Spring 1986]: 105-120). In the collection of Pound's library now at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the only other secondary studies of the American Revolutionary period are two books by Charles A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1935; first published, 1913) and Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy (New York: Macmillan, 1936; first published, 1915), with notations by Pound throughout. Woodward refers admiringly to Beard's work and may have directed Pound's attention to him. Beard's general stress on the economic basis of the politics surrounding the debates over the Constitution and his focus on the key role played by debt in the period would certainly have been grist for Pound's mill, though Beard's defense of the necessity of Hamilton's prodebt politics and his discussion of the opposition between Adams and Jefferson would not have been congenial to Pound. As Pound's copies are 1935 and 1936 editions, however, they could not have played a formative role in Pound's portrait of Jefferson; he does refer to Beard in some of his World War II radio speeches and in Canto 84. Neither his editions of Adams or Jefferson are in the Texas collection, only a single volume of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1825). His edition of Jefferson is in Pound's daughter's collection in Italy (see Tim Redman, “Pound's Library: A Preliminary Catalog,” Paideuma 15 [Fall & Winter 1986]: 226); The University of Toledo has just announced its acquisition of “EP's own 10-volume set of The Works of John Adams” (Paideuma 16 [Spring & Fall 1987]: 286).

  5. See “The Jefferson-Adams Letters.” One can also see this process at work in his annotations of Beard's volumes at the Ransom Center. The chapter in Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy dealing with “The Great Battle of 1800” between Adams and Jefferson (353-414) is almost completely unmarked in Pound's copy, except for a few references to banks, whereas the previous chapter on “The Politics of Agrarianism” (322-52), with its emphasis on the Jeffersonian critique of the banking interests, is heavily marked and annotated.

  6. Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (1938; reprint, New York: New Directions, 1970), 254.

  7. Ezra Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935; reprint, New York: Liveright, 1970), iv; hereafter cited as JM. References will be given parenthetically by page number.

  8. Nothing comparable to Frederick K. Sanders's John Adams Speaking: Pound's Sources for the Adams Cantos (Orono: Univ. of Maine Press, 1975), which collects Pound's sources for the Adams Cantos in one place, has been done for Jefferson, though Philip Furia discusses the documents that make their way into this section of the Cantos (Pound's Cantos Declassified [University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1984], 51-63).

  9. Jefferson and/or Mussolini was written in 1933 and published in 1935. Canto 21 was first published as part of A Draft of the Cantos 17-27 in 1928, and these were then incorporated in A Draft of XXX Cantos in 1930. Cantos 31-33 were published in Pagany in 1931, and then were published as part of Eleven New Cantos in 1934.

  10. Ezra Pound, The Cantos (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), Canto 21, page 97. Further quotations from the Cantos refer to this edition and will be cited parenthetically by canto number and page number: 21/97.

  11. This parallel has already been noted by Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1971), 376, 423-24.

  12. Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, trans. S. G. C. Middlemore (1929; reprint, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 21-142.

  13. See, as well as the pages in Kenner cited above (note 11), Clark Emery, Ideas into Action: A Study of Pound's Cantos (Coral Gables: Univ. of Miami Press, 1958), 34-35, and Pearlman (note 1), 142.

  14. Pearlman builds an interpretation of the whole of this section of the Cantos on Malatesta's motto, 142-51.

  15. J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1975), 539. For the central statement of the Lockean paradigm, see Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (1922; reprint, New York: Vintage, 1958), 24-79. Pocock implicitly criticizes this view throughout The Machiavellian Moment; for an explicit critique, see Garry Wills, Inventing America (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1978), 168-75, passim.

  16. Wills, Inventing America, 182-292.

  17. Though Pocock spends very little time actually discussing Jefferson, his portrait of Revolutionary America establishes a context for Jefferson.

  18. How to translate virtù is a major dilemma for English translators of Machiavelli. Mark Musa devotes a third of his introduction to the problem, listing the fifty-nine times the word appears in The Prince. He uses twelve different words to translate virtù, using virtue only three times. See Mark Musa, trans. and ed., Machiavelli's The Prince: A Bilingual Edition (New York: St. Martin's, 1964), x-xv. For Hanna Pitkin's sense of the meaning of virtù, see note 21 below.

  19. I should specify here that I am not so much arguing for the direct influence of Machiavelli on Pound as suggesting that Machiavelli theorizes about a political practice Pound already knew directly through his knowledge of the Italian Renaissance. It is not that Pound saw Malatesta through Machiavelli's eyes as much as that Machiavelli usefully summarizes for us what Pound saw in a figure like Malatesta. We do know, however, that Pound owned and used Machiavelli's Istorie fiorentine, as it was his source for Canto 21 and a copy of it (Torino: G. B. Paravia, 1924) annotated by Pound is in the Pound library at the University of Texas. It is also relevant that Pound's two closest literary friends and allies in the 1920s, Wyndham Lewis and T. S. Eliot, were both writing about Machiavelli at this time. See T. S. Eliot, “Niccolò Machiavelli,” in For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928), 49-66, and “Niccolò Machiavelli,” Times Literary Supplement (June 16, 1927): 413-14; and Wyndham Lewis, The Lion and the Fox: The role of the hero in the plays of Shakespeare (1927; reprint, London: Methuen, 1966). Pound would have known his Machiavelli.

  20. Ezra Pound Speaking”: Radio Speeches of World War II, ed. Leonard W. Doob (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978), 112; hereafter cited as EPS. Further references will be given parenthetically by page number.

  21. See also Ezra Pound, “Cavalcanti,” originally published in Make it New (1934); reprinted in Literary Essays, ed. T. S. Eliot (New York: New Directions, 1968), 152, 155-56. Hanna Pitkin's contention that the fundamental meaning of virtù is manliness is relevant here, as Pound's conception of energy was always, as one says today, phallocentric, and his appreciation of the “manly” energy in the Italian Renaissance from Cavalcanti to Malatesta was an important part of his cult of the Italian Renaissance. See Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, Fortune is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolò Machiavelli (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984), 25.

  22. It should be noted, however, that the original meaning of virtue in English was fairly close to Pound's usage. The first definition in the OED is “the power or operative influence inherent in a supernatural or divine being.” Secularized, this sounds much like Machiavelli's virtù, though the English word derives more from the French than from the Italian. And the second “vertu” in Canto 36 may be spelled this way to bring out this Renaissance sense of the word. Virtue or virtù was a key word for Pound for many years: for a rather different, earlier Poundian use of the word, see “On Virtue,” in “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris,” originally published in The New Age, 1911-1912; reprinted in Ezra Pound, Selected Prose 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson (New York: New Directions, 1973), 28-31; and James Longenbach's discussion in Modernist Poetics of History: Pound, Eliot, and the Sense of the Past (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), 55-61.

  23. J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), 109.

  24. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History, 98.

  25. Peter Nicholls has a good discussion of Pound's brief dialogue with Marxism in the 1920s; see his Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing: A Study of The Cantos (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1984), 47-59. The various prefaces to Jefferson and/or Mussolini record Pound's brief interest in and subsequent disillusionment with Roosevelt.

  26. Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man (1927; reprint, Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), 40.

  27. This is where Pound's and Lewis's politics diverge, for Lewis never went past the stage of provocative pro-Fascist remarks made on the principle (later understood by Lewis to be false) that Fascism couldn't be worse—and might well be better—than the status quo.

  28. It would take another essay to discuss Aristotle's considerable influence on Pound's political thinking in these years (a subject I hope to treat elsewhere). Briefly, Aristotle lines up with Confucius and Dante as theoreticians of order, of chung. For Aristotle on the one, the few and the many, see the Politics 3.5.1. ff. Pound's copy of Aristotle's Politics (with an English translation by H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library [London: Heinemann, 1932]) is at Texas. See also Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, 66-80 and passim.

  29. The Machiavellian Moment, 531.

  30. Sanders (note 8), 426.

  31. In an interesting contemporary parallel, Irving Babbitt begins his Democracy and Leadership (1924; reprint, Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside, 1962), which is committed to arguing essentially the same proposition, with a quotation from an Adams letter to Jefferson of 1815 warning about the possibility of a despotism of the majority in a popular assembly.

  32. This comes from a speech broadcast to England, not to the United States, which accounts for the reference to Parliament.

  33. Sanders, 456. This passage is the source for a passage on 70/413. The declaration quoted above is also on 456.

Stephen Sicari (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: “Reading Pound's Politics: Ulysses as Fascist Hero,” in Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, Vol. 17, Nos. 2 & 3, Fall & Winter, 1988, pp. 145-68.

[In the following essay, Sicari examines Ezra Pound's Cantos written before the fall of Mussolini and Italian fascism to find evidence of Pound's conception of the prototypical fascist hero.]

To understand Ezra Pound's admiration for Italian Fascism in general and Mussolini in particular, we can examine the poet's conception of heroic action in those of The Cantos written before the fall of the Fascist State.1 In 1938 Pound described “the Malatesta cantos” as “openly volitionist, establishing, I think clearly, the effect of the factive personality” (Guide to Kulchur 194). Sigismundo Malatesta is a hero for this poet because he manages to create something beautiful and good despite the obstacles inherent in a corrupt culture: “All that a single man could, Malatesta manages against the current of power” (GK 159). I shall argue that the poet's early work on The Cantos prepares him to embrace a “fascist” conception of the hero whose strong and directed will can transcend historical determinism and alter humanity's course through history. His enthusiasm for Mussolini springs from decisions made first in his poetry.2

Pound develops and deploys a version of the Ulysses figure3 as the paradigm for heroic action that the other “real” heroes of the epic—Malatesta, Ferdinando III, Jefferson, Van Buren, and Mussolini himself—follow. Pound's Ulysses seeks to break free from the conditions of a corrupt present and return to purity of human origins, where he can begin work toward a healthy order. We shall follow his periplum away from the present until, in Canto XLIX, the poet credits “no man” with writing a visionary poem of “Confucian social order” as the wandering Ulysses at last becomes the center of a new order, a new home.

One ought to be struck by the absence of any mention of The Cantos in W. B. Stanford's classic account of The Ulysses Theme. In his final chapter, “The Re-Integrated Hero,” Stanford credits James Joyce with successfully solving “a radical antinomy in the [Ulysses] tradition—the conflict between the conceptions of Ulysses as a home-deserter and as a home-seeker” (Stanford 215). Pound too seeks to reconcile these contrary motions, and he does so by reading Dante.


Ulysses is central to the Commedia. In Inferno XXVI, Dante hears the story of Ulysses, a voyager who disdains a return to Ithaca, his literal home, and who instead seeks the intensity of new and forbidden experience. Employing Joyce's terminology, Stanford calls this Ulysses the “centrifugal” wanderer (Stanford 181), one whose thirst for new experience is so compelling that no obligation—“not fondness for a son, nor duty for an aged father, nor the love I owed Penelope”—could conquer it. He has been consigned to hell as a “false counseller,” for he in turn incites his companions to abandon in like manner the bonds of affection and duty that support civilized life. Ulysses and his companions break free from “home” and all its “centripetal” obligations and travel beyond the Pillars of Hercules, beyond the assigned limits of our allotted experience. At last Ulysses sights a mountain, at which point a storm arises and sinks his ship. This journey, away from the familiar and toward experience as yet undifferentiated by human categories, ends in a violent storm of chaos that overwhelms the centrifugal wanderer.

While briefly noting that Dante might be “condemning a tendency to over-adventurous speculation and research in his own mind” (Stanford 182), Stanford does not appreciate the central role Ulysses plays in Dante's epic. As Giuseppe Mazzotta remarks, “Ulysses will appear, even in Paradiso, as a constant reminder to the poet of the possible treachery of his own language and the madness of his own journey” (Mazzotta 105). Dante recognizes that his poetic language leads us on a quest that nearly duplicates Ulysses'—after all, what is the Commedia about if not what Ulysses seeks, “experience of the world and of the vice and worth of men”? Pound responds to Dante's treatment of Ulysses as he deploys that figure in The Cantos.

Inferno I opens as the pilgrim awakens “within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” He is stricken with fear, but soon he takes hope at the sight of a hilltop clothed with the sun's light. The pilgrim decides to climb this hill to reach the comforting light, but three wild beasts block his easy ascent and send him scurrying back. John Freccero demonstrates that in Inferno I Dante is taking issue with the Platonic conception of transcendence, that one can achieve a transcendent experience by means of a direct ascent to the light (Freccero 6-11). The opening Canto insists that the path to God's light is no easy and direct ascent.

Freccero argues that Ulysses' voyage recounted in Inferno XXVI recalls the pilgrim's own aborted journey that the three beasts cut short: “In Dante's reading, as in the reading of the [medieval] neoplatonists, the voyage [of Ulysses] was an allegory for the flight of the soul to transcendent truth” (Freccero 15). He then demonstrates how Inferno I, Inferno XXVI, and Purgatorio I are all connected by the image of shipwreck (Freccero 23). “[I]n the first canto of the poem,” he notes, “the pilgrim seems to have survived, by pure accident, a metaphorical shipwreck of his own”:

And as he who with labouring breath has escaped from the deep to the shore turns to the perilous waters and gazes, so my mind, which was still in flight, turned back to look again at the pass which never yet let any go alive. (Inferno I, 22-27)

While Ulysses' fate is to die at sea, “as One willed,” the pilgrim is spared. At the end of Purgatorio I, having just completed the descent to hell that becomes the ascent up Mount Purgatory, he recalls both his own earlier survival and Ulysses' death by water:

We came then on to the desert shore that never saw man sail its waters who after has experience of return. (Purgatorio I, 130-2)

We are meant to recall that Ulysses drowns just as he sights a mountain that no one ever saw before, a mountain that in the medieval geography Dante follows can only be Mount Purgatory. As the pilgrim embarks on his own purgatorial experience up this mountain, the poet recalls Ulysses who failed to see the need for purgation before he set sail for ultimate experience. Unlike Ulysses, Dante undergoes purification as preparation for the experience of transcendence.

As Dante climbs Mount Purgatory, he purges sin after sin until he is free of all contamination. At the top of this mountain he enters Eden. Wandering in the earthly paradise, he recalls the experience of Inferno I:

Already my slow steps had brought me so far within the
ancient wood that I could not see the place where I had entered … 

(Purgatorio XXVIII, 22-24)

The “ancient wood” here recalls the “dark wood” of Inferno I. There, Dante was in a wood darkened by his own sin; here, he wanders in an ancient wood that is the place of humanity's pure origins. The difference between Dante and his Ulysses is not in their ambitions, for both seek transcendence of the human condition bound by space and time; but in their methods, for Dante sees the need to purify himself of the stain and contamination that being in space and time has placed on him before he can ascend to transcendent union with God. Both seek to move away from the conditions of the present, but Ulysses' voyage is a reckless attempt at escape while Dante's is a more deliberate effort at purification.

So like Ulysses, Dante may forsake his present home, his present culture that is contaminated by sin; but in his movement away from that home, he manages to reach his original home, Eden, whence he can ascend to his true home, union with God. The centrifugal impulse away from home has been reconciled with the centripetal impulse to find home. In precisely this pattern Pound deploys his Ulysses.


As Ronald Bush has noted (Bush 133), the very first of The Cantos begins precisely where Dante's Ulysses begins his personal narrative: “When I parted from Circe, who held me more than a year … I put forth on the open deep with but one ship and the company which had not deserted me.” But the fact that the poet has been translating Andreas Divus' Renaissance translation of Book XI of the Odyssey may be evidence enough that Pound's Ulysses is a centripetal, and not a centrifugal, voyager. Moreover, Pound finds a “crime and punishment motif in the Odyssey” (Literary Essays 212-13), and the descent to the underworld, which he read as a ritual of purification (Bush 132), might indicate that he follows Homer's and not Dante's wanderer. As if to foreclose the possibility of such a misreading, he abruptly halts his translation of the Latin text: “Lie quiet Divus” (1/3). The reader cannot fail to notice that a sharp break has occurred in the narrative, a break designed to cause the reader to take special note of the way the poet has chosen to continue Ulysses' wandering. The ritualistic solemnity of Pound's translation is suddenly broken by an agitated voice that pedantically cites his source:

Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.

Pound shifts for a moment to an editorial voice unnerved by the prospect before him: a Ulysses who ignores Ithaca and Penelope's arms and who travels instead toward unknown experience, uncharted seas. Rather than look upon and follow the centrifugal movement that is about to take place, this editor retreats to the shelter of scholarly pursuits. But the poet resumes his narration, again in a solemn voice but no longer following Homer's hero:

And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
In the Cretan's phrase, with the golden crown,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichachi,
          with golden
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that:

(1/3, my italics)

This Ulysses sails “outward and away,” a distinct centrifugal movement away from all known and familiar bonds. Pound's wanderer, however, does not drown but attains instead a vision of the divine. By breaking free of all constraints and structures that “home” may come to stand for, he can return to humanity's first home, its original consciousness that can see “gods float in the azure air” (III/11). Forsaking Penelope, he finds “Aphrodite,” a visionary experience of love and delight that is his true home.

In 1917, when Pound was working on this Canto, Rudolf Otto was advancing a similar conception of the human mind. For Otto, the holy “is a purely a priori category,” “an original and underivable capacity of the mind implanted in the ‘pure reason’ independently of all perception” (Otto 112).4 Canto I suggests that the original and natural human consciousness is one that sees the presence of the holy in the world. The “home” Pound's Ulysses seeks is not a place but a way of being, not the familiar world of civilized duties but the lost and recoverable consciousness we originally enjoyed. The vision of Aphrodite that ends Canto I signals the return to this consciousness that once was ours but that the passage of humanity from the state of nature to civilization, a passage increasingly marked by the desensitizing effects of usura, has obscured but not destroyed. If in history we have been so corrupted that we no longer see the holy, then we must follow Pound's centrifugal movement outward and away from the present set of conditions that determine human consciousness, away from and before all history, if we can ever reach our proper home, a holy consciousness. In his investment in a myth of healthy and pure origins subsequently contaminated by “history,” Pound's fascism takes root.5

In Canto VII Pound relies explicitly on Dante's text to continue his meditations about the way to return home. Here the poet depicts humanity as hollow and deficient, and ends that portrayal with a quotation from Dante that is central to his reading of the Commedia:

                    Thin husks I had known as men,
Dry casques of departed locusts
                    speaking a shell of speech … 
Propped between chairs and table … 
Words like locust-shells, moved by no inner being;
                    A dryness calling for death … 
O voi che siete in piccioletta barca … 


These husks function as Pound's image for the present state of humanity, hollow and desiccated. The words these hollow men speak are only the “shell of speech”; fallen men speak a fallen language. It is the poet who can speak full words, words with substance and “inner being.” As he calls our attention to this partial humanity, he quotes the opening line of Paradiso II, in which Dante distinguishes his voyage from Ulysses':

O ye who in a little bark, eager to listen, have followed behind
my ship
that singing makes her way, turn back to see your shores again; do not
forth on the deep, for, perhaps, losing me, you would be left bewildered.
The waters I take were never sailed before … 
Ye other few that reached out early for the angels' bread by which
here live but never come from it satisfied, you may indeed put forth
your vessel on the salt depths, holding my furrow before the water
turns smooth again.

(Paradiso II, 1-15)

Like Ulysses, Dante claims to sail waters “never sailed before,” and like Ulysses he promises wonderful experience. But unlike Ulysses, who is consigned to hell as a false counsellor for inciting others to follow his dangerous quest, Dante does not seek to seduce so much as to warn. And unlike Ulysses, who drowns in sight of Mount Purgatory, Dante has already undergone purification on that mountain and has begun his ascent to Paradise. Dante calls those few who, like himself, “reached out early for angels' bread,” to follow his “ship that singing makes her way”; the poet's true song, and not Ulysses' false counsel, can lead fellow voyagers safely back to purity and then forward again to blessedness.

Pound marks a crucial distinction between Dante's Ulysses and Dante: where the former's wandering is a reckless escape from the oppressive conditions of a corrupt civilization, Dante's journey is a more deliberate leading of those who are brave enough to follow a dangerous path toward a new way of being. Pound's Ulysses is not like Homer's, who simply wants to return to the home he was forced to leave; nor like Dante's Ulysses, who recklessly leads others from home to their destruction; but like Dante himself, who wants to leave the present state of civilization and find a new one, who is willing to leave one home in the effort to find our true and satisfying home.

In Canto XX, the poet presents Ulysses through the complaint of the Lotophagoi, the lotus-eaters who refuse to continue the journey home:

What gain with Odysseus
They that died in the whirlpool
And after many vain labors,
Living by stolen meat, chained to the rowing bench,
That he should have great fame
And lie by night with the goddess? … 
Give? What were they given?
Poison and ear-wax … 


Pound makes the lotus-eaters speak the “shell of speech” of the “hollow men” who do not have the strength to follow Ulysses on his way back home. Hugh Kenner describes this speech as “the drone of blighted voices without being, betrayed not by personal accident or heroic necessity but by an inner saplessness of the will” (Kenner, Poetry 278). Because their will is deficient, these “husks of men” refuse to follow the strong-willed Ulysses and choose instead to remain in lotus-land, forever cut off from home.

Donald Davie challenges Kenner's negative assessment of the lotophagoi: “one can only be astonished at the impression the passage gives, which Pound's letter to his father confirms, that the lotus-eaters are offered naively to be admired by the reader as having attained one stage toward an all-important illumination” (Davie 134). The letter Davie cites is Pound's description of “the main subject of the Canto, the loto-phagoi: lotus-eaters, or respectable dope smokers; and general paradiso” (Selected Letters 285). While Pound seldom has kind words for “dope smokers,” these are “respectable.” The letter suggests that these lotus-eaters are on the way to a “general paradiso,” and the Canto does proceed immediately from their complaint to a lovely scene that might merit that label. But we do not have to choose between these two eminent Poundians: Kenner is correct in that these lotus-eaters are not exerting their will properly; and Davie is correct in that they have attained “one stage” on the way to transcendence. For the situation of these “dope-smokers” strongly resembles one Dante faces in Purgatorio II.

Having just emerged from hell, Dante meets a friend of his, the musician Casella, and asks:

‘If a new law does not take from thee memory or practice
of the
songs of love which used to quiet all my longings, may it please
thee to refresh my soul with them for a while, which is so
spent coming here with my body.’

(Purgatorio II, 107-111)

Like the lotus-eaters, Dante and the other penitents are weary and wish rest from labor. But Cato, who functions as the guardian of Purgatory, sharply rebukes their sloth and rouses them to continue their journey up the mountain and toward Eden:

‘What is this, laggard spirits? What negligence, what delay
this? Haste to the mountain to strip you of the slough that
allows not God to be manifest to you.’

(Purgatorio II, 120-123)

“A new law” does render this rest an offense. The penitents are not allowed to rest yet but are encouraged to continue their journey that will result in the manifestation of God. Similarly, Pound's lotus-eaters enjoy a false rest, a dangerous ease: for their comfort prevents them from reaching a purity that would let gods and goddesses be manifest to them. As Kenner suggests, they need their wills strengthened so they can continue their journey; and as Davie suggests, they have reached the shores of Mount Purgatory and are on the way towards Edenic purity. Following Dante, Pound knows that to find rest anywhere in the present state of human being is to lose opportunity for a new way of being.

Observing that the erotic aspects of Ulysses' career did not become a dominant theme until late in the nineteenth century, Stanford claims that “Joyce makes as much of this erotic element as any writer before or after him” (Stanford 217). Once again, Stanford ignores Pound, who makes sexuality central, even pivotal, to Ulysses' quest for home. While Homer regards sexual relations (with Circe and Calypso) as temptations that impede his return to Ithaca and Penelope's arms, Pound comes to regard sexuality as the way back to our original home. At the end of Canto I, Ulysses returns to Circe, who becomes, as if by magic, the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Canto XXXIX resumes the Circe theme. The Canto opens with a description of vulgar sexuality:

Fat panther lay by me
Girls talked there of fucking, beasts talked there of eating,
All heavy with sleep, fucked girls and fat leopards,
Lions loggy with Circe's tisane,
Girls leery with Circe's tisane. … 


Circe's charms transform Ulysses' men into beasts, but the hero is able to enjoy Circe's beauty and remain fully human. Indeed, at the end of this Canto in which Circe takes Ulysses to her bed, the couple engage in what can only be called “holy sexuality”:

Beaten from flesh into light
Hath swallowed the fire-ball
A traverso le foglie
His rod hath made god in my belly
                              Sic loquitur nupta
                              Cantat sic nupta
Dark shoulders have stirred the lightning
A girl's arms have nested the fire,
Not I but the handmaid kindled
                              Cantat sic nupta
I have eaten the flame.


The sexual act is not, as it was in Homer's story, a temptation to avoid but a risk to be taken: it can turn us into beasts or bring us to a perception of holy light that marks our original consciousness.

By including in the center of this erotic Canto three moments from Paradiso, Pound places Ulysses in an explicitly Dantesque context:

When Hathor was bound in that box
afloat on the sea wave
Came Mava swimming with light hand lifted in overstroke
sea blossom wreathed in her locks,
“What are you box?”
                              “I am Hathor.”
Che mai da me non si parte il diletto
Fulvida di folgore
Came here with Glaucus unnoticed, nec ivi in harum
Nec in harum ignessus sum.
                              Discuss this in bed said the lady. … 


Dante's heaven flashes forth in the middle of Ulysses' sexual adventures. “Che mai da me non si parte il diletto”—“so that never will the delight pass from me”—records Dante's joyous response in Paradiso XXII to a hymn in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Fulivida di folgore”—“I saw light in the form of a river pouring its splendour”—is just one of the many beautiful moments in Paradiso (here, from Paradiso XXX, 62) in which the divine light pours through the universe. And the speaker has arrived in Dante's heaven “with Glaucus unnoticed”; Pound recalls how Dante compares his entry to heaven with Glaucus' metamorphosis into a sea-god: “I was changed within, as was Glaucus when he tasted of the herb that made him one among the gods of the sea” (Paradiso I, 67-69). Sandwiched between the story of the Egyptian fertility goddess Hathor and the Circe episode from The Odyssey, these three moments from Dante, each an image of divine sensual delight, serve to extend the significance of Ulysses' sexual encounter with Circe. The god the couple makes (“‘Fac deum’ ‘Est factus’”) is aligned with Dante's divine consciousness. Once again, Ulysses' voyage, which is now distinctly a sexual voyage, is given a Dantesque destination.

The very next Canto explicitly defines the centrifugal journey as the attempt to escape the confines of a corrupt culture, to transcend the limitations of history. The first half of Canto XL focuses on the economic factors that have contributed to the corruption of western civilization: Adam Smith's observation about the tendency of groups to conspire against the general public; Mr. D'Arcy's permit “for 50 years to dig up the subsoil of Persia” to find oil; and most especially, Mr. Morgan's “‘Taking advantage of emergency’ (that is war)” to make huge profits from the sale of arms. This half of the Canto ends with a description of a corrupt civilization:

          With our eyes on the new gothic residence,
with our
eyes on Palladio, with a desire for seignieurial splendours
(AGALMA, haberdashery, clocks, ormoulu, brocatelli,
tapestries, unreadable volumes bound in tree-calf,
half-morocco, morocco, tooled edges, green ribbons,
flaps, farthingales, fichus, cuties, shorties, pinkies
et cetera
Out of which things seeking an exit


According to Kenner, this passage depicts a “pseudo-civilization” whose “tokens are things, ‘clutter, the bane of men moving’; its touchstone is the multiplication of things” (Kenner, Gnomon, 275). It is “out of these things seeking an exit,” away “from a Victorian suburbia Pound has … imagined for him” (Makin 57) that another centrifugal wanderer, Hanno the Carthagenian general, undertakes his periplum:

that he ply beyond the pillars of Herakles
60 ships of armada to lay out Phoenician cities
to each ship 50 cars, in all
30 thousand aboard them with water, wheat in provision.
Two days beyond Gibel Tara [Gibraltar] layed in the wide plain
Thumiatehyon, went westward to Solois … 


Like Dante's Ulysses, Hanno sails westward “beyond the pillars of Herakles.” In Pound's hands, the Carthagenian's motive for exploration is the desire to find an exit from the things of a decadent suburban civilization. The second half of Canto XL is another translation of a text that recounts a wanderer's journeys; and, as in Canto I, Pound is a faithful translator until the final six lines:

Went no further that voyage,
                              as were at the end of provisions.
[The translation ends here, without a break]
Out of which things seeking an exit
To the high air, to the stratosphere, to the imperial
calm, to the empyrean, to the baily of the four towers
the NOUS, the ineffable crystal. … 


What we discover in Pound's addendum to the translation is that Hanno really seeks a way “to the empyrean,” “to the imperial calm” where Dante climaxes his journey out of corruption. Hanno's periplum, his careful navigation around coastlines, suddenly seeks to go up “to the stratosphere.” While Makin argues that Pound chooses Hanno's example over and against Dante's (Makin 58-59), it seems rather that he subordinates Hanno's method to Dante's goal. Going westward, “beyond the pillars of Herakles,” is an attempt to reach blessedness, a state that cannot be reached by remaining within the confines of the present civilization. Again, Pound takes pains to rewrite the centrifugal voyage so that its ultimate destination is the attainment of a divine consciousness.

In Canto XLVII, Pound's Ulysses finally reaches origins by means of an arcane sexual encounter. As this Canto opens, Ulysses is back with Circe. But whereas in Canto I Ulysses descends to the solemn Homeric underworld of ghostly shades, in Canto XLVII he journeys “to the bower of Ceres' daughter Proserpine”; his descent this time entails participation in the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter and Persephone that this Canto obliquely presents (Sicari 311-12). Pound's version of Eleusis is decidedly sexual, as the “wiles” of the female “call” this male wanderer to her “cave”:

Two span, two span to a woman,
Beyond that she believes not. Nothing is of any importance.
To that is she bent, her intention
To that art thou called ever turning intention
Whether by night the owl-call, whether by sap in shoot,
Never idle, by no means by no wiles intermittent
Moth is called over mountain
The bull runs blind on the sword, naturans
To the cave art thou called, Odysseus,
By Molü hast thou respite for a little,
By Molü art thou freed from the one bed
                              that thou may'st return to another. … 


Like the moth and the bull, Ulysses is drawn to the darkness of these mysteries wherein lies the woman whose only “intention” is to lure and couple with the man. Molü, which in Homer is a plant that protects Ulysses from Circe's transformative power, here offers respite to the wandering hero; it frees him from “the one bed” so he can “return to another.” One may suppose that he is freed from Circe's bed so that he can return to the bed he has been long absent from, Penelope's. If so, Pound has drastically rethought the nature of Ulysses and has transformed the centrifugal wanderer back into the Homeric home-seeker.

But as the Canto continues we note that the bed he returns to is certainly not Penelope's:

So light is thy weight on Tellus
Thy notch no deeper indented
Thy weight less than a shadow
Yet hast thou gnawed through the mountain,
                              Scylla's white teeth less sharp.
Hast thou found a nest softer than cunnus
Or hast thou found better rest
Hast 'ou a deeper planting, doth thy death year
Bring swifter shoot?
Hast thou entered more deeply the mountain?


The weight of his body is hardly felt by Tellus, for she is both a woman who has become a goddess and the earth itself. With images of plowing and planting so dominant here and elsewhere in the Canto, we begin to suspect that the sexual partner of this wanderer is not Circe nor Penelope, but the mother goddess of the earth. Molü has freed him from the bed of the “woman” so that he can return to the bed of the “mother.”6 “Scylla's white teeth” threaten Ulysses with the castration that is the promised punishment for the one who dares to lie with the mother. Pound's wanderer dares to break the primary law of his civilization that prohibits union with the mother, a law massively protected by taboo, guilt, and punishment. The only way to move fully “outward and away” from the present civilization is to challenge the law upon which the entire culture rests. Breaking this first and fundamental law is Pound's version of passing beyond the Pillars of Hercules, passing beyond the assigned limits of human experience.

Only this law-breaker, only this out-law, can achieve the return to the original human consciousness:

The light has entered the cave. Io! Io!
The light has gone down into the cave,
Splendour on splendour!
By prong have I entered these hills:
That the grass grow from my body,
That I hear the roots speaking together,
The air is new on my leaf,
The forked boughs shake with the wind.
Is Zephyrus more light on the bough, A peliota
more light on the almond branch?
By this door have I entered the hill.


Ulysses manages a return to our original consciousness in which we are one with the world. He is not castrated but rather “enters the hills,” enters his true home by achieving a consciousness that feels union with the world. When confronted by a consciousness that sees the holy, the world becomes our home. Though he resembles Dante in the attainment of an original consciousness, Pound's wanderer also resembles Dante's Ulysses strongly in his thirst for forbidden experience and in his risk-taking. The centrifugal is absolutely essential if we are ever to reach a new and satisfying home.

It is a thirst for the new that leads Ulysses “outward and away” from the present culture that limits the possible relations of the self to the world. He achieves an experience—seeing Aphrodite, entering the hill—that seems new because the current state of human being no longer remembers it. To “make it new” (which is, after all, his central “imagiste” lesson) is also to renew what has been forgotten. Original purity seems new but is really the ground for a lost way of being to which Pound hopes we can return. The centrifugal thirst for new experience has led the wanderer to an original experience that can become the center of a renewed order. The centrifugal gives way to the centripetal.


This Ulysses provides the paradigm for the poet's understanding of Italian Fascism. Pound cares little for the specific details of Italian Fascism as ideology or party platform; for him, they are the merely local “accidents” of a more fundamental reality, “the cupolas and gables of fascism” (Jefferson and/or Mussolini, v). What interests him is the “essence” of Italian Fascism, the role of the human will in shaping the course of events towards definite visionary goals. Pound approaches Mussolini through Ulysses; he examines the present historical figure as a possible embodiment of the prototypical fascist hero.

Stanford notes the potential for Ulysses to become a fascist leader: “When [the centrifugal aspect of the Ulysses theme] was applied to Ulysses as a politician it tended to produce either an overbearing Duce or an insatiable anarchist” (Stanford 223). Although he ignores Pound in his treatment, Stanford has defined the poles of Pound's politics: the hero works to create a new order by taking advantage of the opportunities provided by anarchic conditions. Ulysses breaks away from the conditions that have created the present version of humanity and then seeks to create a new order. The poet is impressed by Jefferson “and/or” Mussolini because they both were “opportunists,” the one seizing the advantages to be gained by “trying to set up civilization in the wilderness” (J/M 66) and the other taking control of the mechanisms of power in the anarchy of post-World War I Italy:

There is opportunism and opportunism. The word has a bad meaning in a world of Metternich and Talleyrands; it means doing the other guy the minute you get the chance.

There is also the opportunism of the artist, who has a definite aim, and creates out of the materials present. The greater the artist the more permanent his creation. And this is a matter of WILL. (J/M 15-16)

The fascist hero is the artist who directs his will toward a visionary goal and uses whatever materials he finds at hand to drive a new set of conditions through a firmly entrenched present. In his discussion of Jefferson and Mussolini, Pound emphasizes the thing done, the course of action taken. About Jefferson: “No man in history had ever done more and done it with less violence or with less needless expenditure of energy” (J/M 15). “I am concerned with what he actually did, with what his mind did when faced with a particular problem in a particular geography” (J/M 11). The local details are important because they reveal how the hero's mind works, how he wills and aims at a better order in a particular place and time. He seeks not an escape from the conditions of history but the opportunity that permits him to move the world closer to the earthly paradise he has envisioned.

Pound's analysis indicates that Mussolini deserves even greater praise than Jefferson, who at least “found himself in a condition of things that had no precedent in the remembered world. He saw it like a shot that a new system and new mechanisms MUST come into being to meet it” (J/M 62). Mussolini finds himself in a more entrenched and tradition-laden culture, in an Italy “with a crusted conservatism that no untravelled American can even suspect of existing” (J/M 23), in an Italy with various traditions “milleniar, forgotten, stuck anywhere from the time of Odysseus to the time of St. Dominic (J/M 25). “All of 'em carved in stone, carpentered and varnished into shape, built in stucco, or organic in the mind of the people” (J/M 32). How can change be implemented in a world of such powerful cultural traditions that they have been forgotten as parts of tradition, that they seem “organic in the mind of the people”? “It takes a genius charged with some form of dynamite, mental or material, to blast [the people] out of [their] preconceptions” (J/M 26). What Pound admires in Mussolini is his capacity to effect sweeping change toward justice in a country deeply conditioned by centuries of conservatism.

Pound is careful to indicate that his examination of Mussolini as an example of the fascist hero is based on his reading of Dante's study of the hero's will: “It is … a matter of the DIRECTION OF THE WILL. And if the reader will blow the fog off his brain and think for a few minutes he will find this phrase brings us ultimately both to Confucius and Dante. … The whole of the Divina Commedia is a study of the ‘directio voluntatis' (direction of the will)” (J/M 16-17). Dante descends through hell observing the fate of those who failed to direct their will; climbs Mount Purgatory joining those who seek the purity of their Edenic state; and ascends through heaven witnessing those whose purified will directed their virtuous behavior, until his “desire and will, like a wheel that spins with even motion, were revolved by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Even in his prose Pound acknowledges that he approaches Mussolini through his study of Dante, that the historical figure is seen as an active and present example of a model hero envisioned by poets.

As we have seen, the hero for this poet is a Ulysses who breaks free from the present and reaches the health of an original consciousness. What distinguishes Pound's attitude towards origins from previous myths of purity that abound in our literary tradition is that for this poet origins are entirely recoverable. But this recovery is only the “beginning” of the fascist hero's work. As Michael Bernstein argues, it is “admiration for the potential accomplishments of human will” that “must dominate the epic” (51-52). Now purified, the wandering hero becomes aware of new goals toward which to direct his will, of the potential for a renewed humanity. As he listens to John Maynard Keynes' inept if not immoral response to a question about economics, the poet imagines himself in the earthly paradise thinking of very different goals than the “orthodox economist”:

                              Jesu Christo!
Standu nel paradiso terrestre
Pensando come si fesse com pagna d'A damo!
                              [Jesus Christ!
Standing in the earthly paradise
thinking how to make a companion for Adam!]


Unlike Keynes, who, perhaps unwittingly, serves to defend and advance the corrupt economic conditions of the present, the poet has broken free from these conditions and stands on Edenic ground, where he wonders how to begin the work of making companions for Adam. His examination of economics starts from the premise that a renewal of Edenic humanity is possible and dependent upon monetary justice.

The purified hero is inspired by his vision that “humanity” is constructed in time, that it is a product of historical activity:

If a man has not instincts, he ought to be in the way of making them. He has numerous instincts, and makes more everyday: a part of his consciousness is constantly crystallizing itself into instincts. (The Natural Philosophy of Love 21)

Instincts are the product of human effort; tendencies that seem “natural” and “necessary” are really constructed over time; new instincts, and thus a new version of humanity, are possible. Pound recalls Gourmont's insight often in the 1930s, as he becomes increasingly an admirer of and advocate for Mussolini:

Gourmont then got round to defining intellect as the fumbling about in the attempt to create instinct, or at any rate on the road towards instinct. And his word instinct came to mean merely PERFECT and complete intelligence within a limited scope applied to recurrent conditions. … (J/M 18)

Gourmont's instinct is the result of countless acts of intellection, something after and not before reason. … (GK 195)

Pound believes that a “perfect and complete” human nature is possible if the scope and conditions of human being are so efficiently controlled that new forms of behavior become “instinctive.” The political implications of these views become even sharper as he translates Confucius:

When right conduct between father and son, between brother and younger brother, has become sufficiently instinctive, the people will follow the course as ruled. (Confucius 65)

Ulysses' goal, to make companions for Adam, is the Confucian goal, to make “right conduct” instinctive, to create a new humanity that follows the course laid out by the leader. The purified wanderer becomes the Confucian moralist. The centrifugal movement away from corruption leads to the purity and health that become the center for a renewal of an ancient tradition once realized in Confucian China.

The recovery of origins enables the fascist hero to extend the field of the possible as he “dissociate[s] necessity from habit” (J/M 86). Pound's antipathy to Freud stems from the poet's perception that psychoanalysis argues for the necessity of human pathology: Freud “elevates pathology into a principle” (Selected Prose 154; see Sicari 316). Freud's work may accurately describe a corrupt culture, but other possibilities for humanity still exist:

‘Freud's writings may not shed much light on human psychology but they tell one a good deal about the private life of the Viennese.’

They are the flower of a deliquescent society going to pot. The average human head is less in need of having something removed from it, than of having something inserted. (J/M 100)

Written in 1933, some three years before Canto XLVII, this passage posits that Freudian psychoanalysis takes something out of the human head, that it takes energy from humanity, that it castrates the individual. Freudian theory, as Pound sees it, makes the husks and shells of Canto VII seem necessary and natural. But if these weakened humans would dare follow the wanderer through Canto XLVII, they can hope for “the gift of healing, that hath the power over wild beasts” (XLVII/239). Castration is a threat that seems so dangerous that few of us dare the return to origins, but if we follow Pound's wanderer, we are promised a healing from the disease of the present culture and a renewal of our original power.

Canto XXVII, written early in Pound's years in Italy, presents historical examples of human groups that did achieve such renewed strength. It begins with a quotation from Guido Cavalcanti, “Formando di disio nuova persona”—Forming from desire a new person. A. J. Gregor argues that Italian Fascism aims first at energizing and mobilizing the indifferent and inert masses (Gregor 159). As Pound sees it, a weakened people first must be energized with desire. This Canto records a moment that has actually occurred when a “new people” acted with an instinct toward beauty and order.

Sed et universus quoque ecclesie populus,
[And all the people of the church,]
All rushed out and built the duomo,
Went out as one man without leaders
And the perfect measure took form. … 

The people are energized to “rush out” and start building; they are organized to seem “one man without leaders”; they all will the same end and act spontaneously, naturally. But the “perfect measure” does not take form without leadership, for the Canto suddenly shifts to a lengthy depiction of an energized people who do act “without leaders”:

These are the labours of tovarisch,
That tovarisch wrecked the house of the tyrants,
And rose, and talked folly on folly,
And walked forth and lay in the earth
And the Xarites bent over tovarisch.
                                        And that tovarisch cursed and blessed without aim. … 

The “tovarisch” (Russian for “comrade,” suggesting revolutionary man) has the power to destroy the house of the tyrant but lacks the aim to know whom to curse and whom to bless. Unlike the shells and husks of men depicted in Canto VII, “tovarisch” has been energized; but his energy, when released, is purely destructive: “Laid never stone upon stone.” Pound sees both the need to give humanity back its original power of desire and the need to organize an energized humanity so that a new order is constructed. Canto XXVII demonstrates the place of the leader, to energize and to organize.

Pound makes central to his poem the transfer from the centrifugal movement “outward and away” to the centripetal ordering around a new center. For the purified wanderer of Canto XLVII becomes the visionary poet who writes Canto XLIX. This Canto opens: “For the seven lakes, and by no man these verses” (244). Daniel Pearlman argues that Pound's Ulysses is “no man” now because he has been “chastened” by his insights from Canto XLVII and here records his “vision of Confucian social order” (Pearlman 193). The wandering hero becomes the fascist leader as he writes the verses that set what seems a new goal, “a people of leisure” whose ease allows them to delight in the world:

Wild geese swoop to the sand-bar,
Clouds gather about the hole of the window
Broad water; geese line out with the autumn
Rooks clatter over the fishermen's lanthorns,
A light moves on the north sky line;
where the young boys prod stones for shrimp.


Such lines “evoke something one can only call a sense of timeless depth” (Makin 208); they are meant to suggest the joy and comfort of an ancient tradition unchanged in centuries that seems new because forgotten. This Canto records the wandering hero's vision of a perfect order to be renewed, a vision of utopia still possible. “No man” writes the verses that direct an energized humanity toward the goal of social harmony. The centrifugal Ulysses gives way to the centripetal Confucius. The anarchist becomes the fascist.

The “people of leisure” in the earthly paradise of Canto XLIX have been made harmonious, but they do not know how:

Sun up; work
sundown; to rest
dig well and drink of the water
dig field and eat of the grain
Imperial power is? and to us what is it?
The fourth; the dimension of stillness.
And the power over wild beasts.


Such is the Confucian principle, that “the benevolence of the administration should be unnoticeable, or like wind on grass” (Makin 210). Those who labored to form this healthy version of humanity did not seek to dominate the people but to organize their energy toward fulfillment. Pound's fascism does not harm individuals but organizes a revitalized people toward harmony:

A thousand candles together blaze with intense brightness. No one candle's light damages another's. So is the liberty of the individual in the ideal and fascist state. (Agenda 17 & 18, p. 7)

No one's flame is threatened with reduction but encouraged to blaze and then joined to others until the ideal state shines brilliantly throughout Europe. Pound's “ideal and fascist state” values the individual because each person's flame adds to the beauty of the harmonious group. Unlike Stalin's regime that “considers humanity NOTHING save raw material” and “treats man as matter” (Doob 49), Mussolini's fascism hopes to renew each person's original strength and then arrange the movements of the various individuals into the “perfect measure” that reaches “the dimension of stillness.” As in Dante's cosmology the stillness of the Empyrean is both cause and effect of the perfect motion of the various heavenly spheres, so the stillness of the earthly paradise is created by the perfect ordering of the revitalized energy of the people.7

Pound's understanding of fascism avoids the opposite errors made by liberal democracies and Stalinist tyrannies. The one regards the individual as anterior to and independent of the state, and so does not aim to direct the wills of its people. Instead, the liberal state allows each person the liberty to pursue his own private desires and goals. For the fascist, a liberal state can only be a chaotic arena in which individual wills compete and conflict (Gregor 211). Its goal is not harmony. But the other makes the opposite error, in that it desires harmony to the point that it crushes its people into banal uniformity. Pound distinguishes between “domination” and “organization”:

The last state of degradation whether of a democratized or of a non-democratized people is that in which they begin to wail to be dominated. DISTINGUISH between fascism which is organization, with the organizer at its head, to whom the power has not been GIVEN, but who has organized the power, and the state of America, where the Press howls that we should GIVE power to Roosevelt, i.e., to a weak man. … (J/M 108)

In Pound's estimation, fascism is not the “Muscovite tyrranous man-crushing variety of collectivism” (Agenda 17 & 18, p. 74) but the organization of the energy that is the people toward a visionary goal of beauty and order. The hero does not have a Nietzschean “will to power”; he does not “thirst … for power.” “The great man is filled with a very different passion, the will to order” (J/M 99). John Espey explains that Pound understands the word “order” as the synthesis of the forces that make Beauty possible (Espey 328). The poet understands the fascist call for order, then, as an aesthetic program for the creation of beauty. He approaches Mussolini as an artist working towards the beauty of a new order, willing a new set of conditions that leads to the construction of a renewed humanity: “I don't believe any estimate of Mussolini will be valid unless it starts from his passion for construction. Treat him as artifex and all the details fall into place” (J/M 33-34). The poet asks us to “[t]ranspose [a] sense of plasticity … to ten years of fascismo in Italy. And to the artifex” (J/M 92). As a sculptor works on stone to fashion a perfect form, so the artifex carves different instincts in the people and provides a social framework that allows the people to move spontaneously toward harmony. Mussolini can be properly understood only by a lover of beauty:

[T]he Duce will stand not with despots and the lovers
of power but with the lovers of
                              to kalon.

(J/M 128)

To kalon—the Greek for beauty—is used to describe Mussolini's ambition, to create a perfect order that allows beauty to flourish.

The writer of an epic faces the challenge posed by modern historical analyses, especially Marx's, that one man cannot rise above determining factors and effectively will a new order. As in the classical epic, where an Achilles changes the fortunes of war simply by showing himself to the enemy, or where an Aeneas carries the entire destiny of the Roman Empire in his person, so in The Cantos one man's will can change the course of events we call history: “Italy had a risorgimento, a shaking from lethargy, a partial unification, then a forty-year sleep, from which the next heave has been the work of one man, pre-eminently” (J/M 89). Much of the poet's hostility to Marx can be attributed to his vehement rejection of “Necessity” as a force that explains historical events.8 His epigram to Jefferson and/or Mussolini—“NOTHING IS WITHOUT EFFICIENT CAUSE”—marks his understanding of historical causality, that all events are brought about by an “agent whereby a change or state of rest is first produced.”9

Once the fascist hero sees the potential for renewal, what does he actually do? This poet advocates a “volitionist economics” which holds that economic justice can be achieved only by some rare individual who is strong enough to take control of the mechanisms of exchange. Pound is famous for his interests in various “devices” that he hopes can procure justice (perhaps his advocacy for Gesell's “stamp scrip” is the most striking example of these “tricks,” and his entire attitude toward money rests on his belief that money is merely a device to facilitate exchange). But before analyzing the various devices Pound would like to try, we should note first and foremost that a belief in such devices indicates his politics. For government is simply a machine that can run toward justice or toward inequal distribution, depending only upon who is running the machine. The strong man takes the machine at his disposal and makes it work toward justice:

Mussolini may at any moment find out that some laboured and ingenious device for securing a fair amount of justice in some anterior period and under earlier states of society NO LONGER works, or is no longer capable of giving as much justice as some new rule made to fit the facts of the year ELEVEN, facts, i.e. that have been facts for a short time only. (J/M 77)

The leader dismantles old devices and invents new ones in his work toward “economic justice, which latter is no more impossible or inconceivable than the just functioning of machines in a power-house” (J/M 123). Peter Nicholls considers Pound naive in conceiving of economic change “not in terms of the dialectical movement of history but as a moment of rupture within it” (Nicholls 53). But Pound's position derives not from analyses of economic forces but from a poet's examination of the hero. A poet's history, then, seeks to understand the role of the human will in history, and all other matters of economic causality are regarded as devices used or abused by strong men.10 Pound follows a centrifugal wanderer until he becomes the visionary of a renewed order which he works to achieve largely by tinkering with the machine of government, the various mechanisms of exchange. For by working toward economic justice he begins work toward “a people of leisure” who are not “driven from the norm by economic pressures” (Sicari 315) but who instead enjoy their life in the world that has become a truly satisfying home.


  1. By limiting my examination to the first fifty-one Cantos, I do not mean to imply that Pound renounces his advocacy of Italian Fascism or his fascist understanding of history any time thereafter. I do mean to suggest that the poet “solves” a prominent problem in these early Cantos when he becomes satisfied with his understanding of the role of human will in history. Canto XLIX signals a shift in the epic from a movement “outward and away” from the present to an ordering around what appears a new center for a new civilization. After the fall of Mussolini, Pound labors to maintain his faith in the ideal fascist state in The Pisan Cantos and to develop a way to continue work for this state in Rock-Drill and Thrones.

  2. While Alan Durant (Ezra Pound: Identiry in Crisis) and Peter Nicholls (Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing) both provide significant readings of Pound's politics, they privilege modes of analysis developed outside the poetry (Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxist economics). I hope instead to argue from within The Cantos, from within the decisions the poet makes about Ulysses, decisions that provide the form of the epic and shape Pound's fascism.

  3. Though Pound persistently uses the form Odysseus, and not Ulysses, I choose to call Pound's wanderer Ulysses to indicate that the poet is not responding solely to Homer but to the broader tradition of “the Ulysses theme,” a tradition that Dante contributes to and alters dramatically (Stanford 176).

  4. Like Ernst Cassirer, who proposes that humanity's original consciousness is a “mythic consciousness” that sees divine creatures animating the universe, Rudolf Otto (The Idea of the Holy) can be considered a NeoKantian thinker who believes that he has found a natural and original category of the human mind. I do not mean to suggest that Pound read their tracts, but that the notion of an original “holy consciousness” is one that the 1920s would see often. Pound is in some serious company in this hypothesis about the human mind.

  5. A “fascist” view of history posits that humanity has other healthier possibilities and that real individuals acting in the world, not some mysterious and mystical force called “Necessity,” prevent a return to health and beauty. Pound's attitude toward “the possible” informs the final section of this paper.

  6. See “The Secret of Eleusis” (Sicari, Paideuma 14, 2 & 3). I argue there that Canto XLVII is Pound's attempt to formulate a new consciousness by changing the basic familial structure of the human mind: instead of a father who forbids the mother and enforces separation and loss, Pound's family assumes the existence of a benevolent father who permits the child to remain one with the mother. This new configuration brings the self back into intimate contact with the world.

  7. Peter Makin quotes a letter wherein Pound explains that his concept of “stillness” in this Canto derives from Dante's “im mobile, the [heaven] which does not turn” (208-9). As Pound manages the transfer from centrifugal dispersal to centripetal reordering, he gives his “noman” a Dantesque direction and identity.

  8. Perhaps Pound has simplified the Marxist attitude toward “necessity,” for this statement of Jameson's reflects a wariness about the term as acute as Pound's: “History is … the experience of Necessity, and it is this alone which can forestall its thematization or reification as a mere object of representation or as one master code among many others” (Jameson 102). “Necessity” is, in Althusser's words, “an absent cause”; it is not some mysterious force but a term that expresses our sense of an ultimately untranscendable horizon of causality. But all the same, there is in Marxist thinking an antipathy to the “great man” theory of history, and Pound opposes Marxism along these lines.

  9. Aristotle, Physics, Book II, section three. I feel certain that Pound is thinking of Aristotle's “four causes”—the material, the formal, the efficient, and the final explanations of change. He emphasizes in his study of Mussolini the role of the efficient cause, the agent that sets new events in motion. Pound makes an heroic act of the efficient cause, a triumph of the will to create a new form on given material toward a visionary end.

  10. In Eleven New Cantos (XXXI-XLI), Pound includes the “war against the Bank” waged by a series of American presidents, a war eventually won by the forces of usury. The National Bank is a device that these presidents, and Pound, recognize as one that works against the general welfare of the American states. Jackson and Van Buren are examples of the hero who aims at economic justice by taking control of the mechanisms of exchange from the forces of usury.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Physics. Translated by Richard Hope. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961.

Bernstein, Michael. The Tale of the Tribe: Ezra Pound and the Modern Verse Epic. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Bush, Ronald. The Genesis of The Cantos. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Dante. The Divine Comedy. Translated by John D. Sinclair. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Davie, Donald. Ezra Pound: The Poet as Sculptor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Doob, Leonard W., editor. “Ezra Pound Speaking”: Radio Speeches of World War II. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978.

Durant, Alan. Ezra Pound: Identity in Crisis. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble Press, 1981.

Espey, John. “The Inheritance of Ta Kalon.” In New Approaches to Ezra Pound. Edited by Eva Hesse. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Freccero, John. Dante: The Poetics of Conversion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Gourmont, Rémy de. The Natural Philosophy of Love. Translated by Ezra Pound. New York: Liveright, Inc., 1922.

Gregor, A. James. The Ideology of Fascism. New York: The Free Press, 1969.

Kenner, Hugh. “Ezra Pound and the Light of France,” in Gnomon. New York: McDowell, Obolensky Inc., 1958.

———. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1985.

Jameson, Frederic. The Political Unconscious. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Makin, Peter. Pound's Cantos. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985.

Mazzotta, Giuseppe. Dante, Poet of the Desert. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Nicholls, Peter. Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1984.

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy. London: Oxford University Press, 1923.

Pearlman, Daniel D. The Barb of Time: On the Unity of Ezra Pound's Cantos. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1983.

———. Confucius. New York: New Directions, 1969.

———. Guide to Kulchur. New York: New Directions, 1970.

———. Jefferson and/or Mussolini. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 1935.

———. “Letter to William Cookson” and “Gists from Uncollected Prose,” in Agenda 17 & 18.

———.Selected Letters of Ezra Pound. Edited by D. D. Paige. New York: New Directions, 1971.

———. Selected Prose. Edited by William Cookson. New York: New Directions, 1973.

Sicari, Stephen. “The Secret of Eleusis, or How Pound Grounds His Epic of Judgment,” in Paideuma 14, 2 & 3.

Stanford, W. B. The Ulysses Theme. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1964.

Thomas Cody (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: “Adams, Mussolini, and the Personality of Genius,” in Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, Vol. 18, No. 3, Winter, 1989, pp. 77-103.

[In the following essay, Cody suggests that the attraction of Mussolini was related to the notion of “personality” advanced by the German Romantics, which sought to distinguish itself from both the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy by its tenet of inborn—rather than inherited or gained—superiority.]

In his book Fables of Aggression, Fredric Jameson suggests that both Wyndham Lewis' narratives and his fascist sympathies reveal efforts to defend the integrity of the subject against the threat posed to it by industrial capitalism, socialism, and communism. Jameson notes that Lewis' writing before World War I displayed a certain degree of fascination with the way machines and businesses manipulate workers' actions, and Jameson writes that “the exploration of this narrative option would by its own inner logic and momentum have ended up positioning Lewis squarely on the Left.”1 But after the war which seemed to send men automatically to their deaths, Lewis' writing changed. Lewis and other modernists (Jameson quotes The Waste Land) describe men as “indistinct ideas” and as shades in Dante's Inferno. In opposition to these men stripped of their personalities, Lewis offers the “strong personality,” the ideal. Jameson writes: “Now the attention of the characters and the reader alike is directed to the pursuit of this ideal, and the dead are ultimately judged on the degree of individual reality or ‘personality,’ they have managed to acquire in life.”2 Jameson tells us that the idea of the “strong personality” is the “central organizational category of Lewis' mature ideology.”3 Specifically, the strong personality fights against the increasing appropriation of the subject by industrial capitalism. In general, the artist is caught up in the struggle, working to force society to recognize its own depersonalization.

While Jameson's analysis helps us understand some of Pound's own political and aesthetic sympathies, Hannah Arendt's more general description of the rise of totalitarianism and racism helps explain the context in which modernists such as Pound and Lewis found themselves. Arendt writes that German Romantics began to endorse the strong “personality” to establish their own status in German society around the turn of the century: “German intellectuals, though they hardly promoted a political fight for the middle classes to which they belonged, fought an embittered and, unfortunately, highly successful battle for social status. … In order to enter competition with rights and qualities of birth, they formulated the new concept of the ‘innate personality’ which was to win general approval within bourgeois society. Like the title of the heir of an old family, the‘innate personality’ was given by birth and not acquired by merit … nature itself was supposed to supply a title when political reality refused it.”4 Personality-worship, Arendt tells us, is an effort to compete with the nobility for status. And precisely because the personality is a natural donnée, as opposed to a merely social aristocracy, the man with personality deserves a privileged position. Further, the intellectual considers himself the most able to recognize those with personality. In fact, the intellectual who recognizes personality attests to his own authority—his own natural gift, so that recognition of personality may be considered a sign of personality. Finally, as Arendt points out, the intellectual provided the bourgeoisie with the point of view from which they were able to condemn both the Jew and the philistine. Arendt emphasizes that the bourgeoisie embraced the concept, identifying Englishmen, Frenchmen, and always Jews as those people with, ironically, “all the qualities which the nobility despised as typically bourgeois.”5 The bourgeoisie adopted the idea in order to identify the class of people it would exclude.

Pound's own worship of Mussolini and other men whom he offers as models in The Cantos requires a particular point of view, one similar to that of the German intellectuals who identify the strong personality. Pound's famous statement “Poets are the antennae of the race” locates the poet's “natural” status in society. Slightly ahead of the rest of us, the poet feels the ills and injustices of society before and perhaps more severely than we do. In this sense Pound reacts against the Arnoldian separation of the artist and his work from the practical events of everyday life. Secondly, Pound revises Wordsworth's definition that the poet is more self-conscious than other men, suggesting that the poet is more conscious than other men of the effects of political and economic injustice. In “Murder by Capital” (1933) Pound writes that “Artists are the race's antennae. The effects of social evil show first in the arts. … The unemployment problem that I have been faced with, for a quarter of a century, is not or has not been the unemployment of nine million or five million, or whatever I might be supposed to contemplate as a problem for those in authority or those responsible, etc., it has been the problem of the unemployment of Gaudier-Brzeska, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis the painter, E. P. the present writer, and of twenty or thirty musicians, and fifty or more other makers in stone, in paint, in verbal composition.”6 Importantly, the poet feels immediately what the rest of us feel later; he is not predicting the future as much as clearly intuiting the present. Further, the artist has no real choice but to feel this effect. He cannot escape the political and social circumstances in which he works. In this sense we are to understand Pound's often repeated statement that “finer and future critics of art will be able to tell from the quality of a painting the degree of tolerance or intolerance of usury extant in the age and milieu that produced it.”7 For example, in The Cantos, Pound emphasizes that the work of art reveals the social and political forces of the time when he refers to the column signed “Adamo me fecit” (45/230) and when he quotes William Carlos Williams' brother Edgar, who exclaimed after seeing the knotted columns in the church in San Zeno: “how the hell can we get any architecture / when we order our columns by the gross” (78/480). The artist is in a position of tension. He is naturally a member of an elite, ahead of the rest of society; nonetheless, he has no escape from the political and economic ill effects of his day. This tension finds expression in his work. In short, Pound claims that any good work of art reveals the economic practices and social conditions of its time.

Jameson's observations apply not only to Pound's “hero-worshiping” of Mussolini but also to Pound's selection of heroes in The Cantos as a whole. Pound offers us a series of men, from Maletesta to Confucius, whose integrity, personality and insight manifest themselves in works of art, such as the Tempio, or the establishment of orderly governments that preserve the culture. In this sense Pound tells us in “Rock-Drill” that the state “may depend on one man” (85/563). Clearly Pound wants to preserve the status of the subject as an inviolate, principal force in history precisely because the subject is our connection with natural order—particularly in the sense that the artist and the man of personality attest to a kind of natural aristocracy. In fact, Pound's heroes are the most consistent thematic strain running throughout The Cantos, and critics find that Pound's reaffirmation of Kung, Odysseus, and Adams holds The Cantos together. Mussolini, then, is another in a series of strong men, and his contemporaneity ought to serve to validate the entire series, not merely because the men in the series share certain traits, nor because they belong to one series which extends from antiquity to Mussolini's time; rather, Mussolini ought to validate the notion that the strong personality can succeed in ordering the state and the culture despite the threat of the modern age. So it might seem that Mussolini's failure would seriously undermine both this thematic continuity and Pound's apparently unshakable belief in the power of men like Mussolini.

Yet Mussolini's fall seems to have no effect on the assurance with which Pound offers him and others as models. When Pound writes about Mussolini's son-in-law, Conte Galeazzo Ciano di Cortelazzo (77/470, 77/473, 78/477), who “in the Fascist Grand Council meeting held during the night of July 24-25 divested Mussolini of his power,”8 he plays on Ciano's name, calling him “Janus bifronte / the two faced bastard” (78/477) and saying “the dog-damn wop is not, save by exception, honest in administration any more than the briton is truthful” (77/470). Pound identifies and blames this traitor rather than attributing any fault to Mussolini, who remains as strong a personality in defeat as in victory. And the famous opening of Canto 74: “Thus Ben and la Clara a Milano / by the heels at Milano / That maggots shd/ eat the dead bullock” (74/425) does not question the power of men such as Mussolini, who is not invalidated by his failure to maintain power and order in Italy. In fact, Pound blames the “maggots,” the partisans opposed to Mussolini who eat the “dead bullock,” the castrated, betrayed, and defeated Mussolini. Precisely because Mussolini was a contemporary example of the kind of man Pound had already cited in The Cantos, and because Mussolini did not succeed in maintaining power and order in Italy, his example should undermine the entire “monumental” series of extraordinary men who are able to control society. But the line of heroes is not threatened. Instead, Mussolini fits more perfectly into the series because he becomes another in a series of textual effects. Pound “rhymes” Mussolini with Dionysius, with Cunizza, with Farinata, and with other more important figures such as Adams, who was defeated because of Hamilton's machinations. Mussolini's real failure never poses a threat because “failure” is so easily incorporated into the series of heroes Pound has already presented; consequently, the contemporaneity and reality of Mussolini is lost among the other figures and exemplars.

If The Cantos' emphasis on the integrity of great men in history is a kind of defense against industrial capitalism's depersonalization of modern man, the effect of this strategy is to emphasize the textuality of the exemplars in The Cantos. Thus Kung is merely a collection of texts: “The Analects,” “The Great Digest.” Mussolini himself is the contrast against which we see the corruption of modern man (the “wop” and the “briton” who are both untrustworthy) and he is a kind of repetition of Dionysius the twice-born, as if Mussolini were now another mythical character himself. In short, if we read the heroes in The Cantos springing from the same source as Pound's sympathies with fascism, we nonetheless see that The Cantos do not preserve a sense of the subject as much as suggest that the subject is a collection of texts. In this sense, the “subject” shares a certain structural similarity with the ideogram. Just as “Adams” organizes a number of texts in the Adams Cantos—texts which extend from his grandson's biography to his own writings and the writings of other authors—so Pound suggests the ideogram is organized by a specific principle, one which, like the heroic subjects in The Cantos, is not a mere collection of texts, but a principle or an energy which organizes the texts. The principle, nonetheless, may be communicated precisely because of the texts. As Alan Durant says in his book Ezra Pound, Identity in Crisis, “The attachment of language to pre-existing thought is further considered in Imagist poetics to be reversible, such that given a linguistic unit, an anterior concept may be ineluctably deduced. … From the minimal linguistic unit the reader is to constitute the sensation once more by a reversal of the reduction process, and so recover the nexus of impression which the selection of the image seeks to express. The efficacy of the ‘hokku’ image can be seen to rely upon a presumed logic which governs both the reduction and the extrapolation processes so that they are as far as possible identical.”9 In other words, Pound offers the ideogrammic poem as specific linguistic units organized by a principle which we discover by a kind of induction.

Because Pound suggests that the units of the ideogram are organized by a principle which is distinct from the mere collection of texts and which controls those texts which reveal it, Pound's concept of the ideogram contradicts the readings of those critics who take as their starting point Derrida's judgment that Pound's “irreducibly graphic poetics was, with that of Mallarmé, the first break in the most entrenched Western tradition.”10 For example, Joseph Riddel is one such critic who follows Derrida's lead when he suggests that Pound is a kind of Nietzschean poet who questions distinctions between language and meaning:

When Pound accepts Fenollosa's view of poetic language as a weave of verbal and nominal, the one irreducible to the other in the ‘abstraction’ of ideogrammatic writing—and a writing, moreover, which like nature can have no strict grammar—he promotes a ‘method’ which at the same time suspends and undoes method. The reinscription of the verbal in the nominal undoes the grammatico-logical order and suggests the priority of the figural, which also the trope.11

Riddel is correct to suggest that Fenollosa finds in Chinese ideograms an emphasis on verbal rather than nominal elements, but in order for Riddel to find a method which “undoes method,” and in order for him to suggest that the ideogrammic method subverts the distinction between language and meaning, he must ignore Fenollosa's often repeated assertion that Chinese is a more natural language precisely because metaphor is natural. In fact, Fenollosa suggests “the priority of the figural” because this kind of language is primitive, original: “Yet the Chinese language with its peculiar materials has passed over from the seen to the unseen by exactly the same process which all ancient races employed. This process is metaphor, the use of material images to suggest immaterial relations. … But the primitive metaphors do not spring from arbitrary subjective processes. They are possible only because they follow objective lines of relations in nature herself.”12 Consequently, when Riddel finds in Pound's “Luminous Detail” an “interpreting detail,” he quite clearly avoids Fenollosa's and Pound's main emphasis that metaphor is both “the revealer of nature” and “the very substance of poetry,” an equation which suggests that the substance of poetry is “natural.” Riddel writes:

Pound … defines ‘Luminous Detail’ as ‘interpreting detail’; and in the Fenollosa essay, at a point where its author is arguing that ‘Metaphor, [poetry's] chief device, is at once the substance of nature and language,’ Pound adds his own footnote, distinguishing true from false metaphor: ‘true metaphor’ is ‘interpretative metaphor or image.’ And its function, in contrast to ‘untrue, or ornamental metaphor,’ is transformative. Poetry and nature, then, can only be thought on the model of language, and language is a transformational (or translational) field of energies … 13

In the hopes of aligning Pound with Nietzsche, Riddel does not question Pound's distinction between “true” and “ornamental” metaphor, a distinction which asserts that proper poetic language is “true” precisely because it is rooted in nature. The point is not that both nature and poetry must be thought “on the model of language,” but that proper poetry employs “true metaphor,” a “natural” language. Thus Riddel omits the two sentences from Fenollosa's essay which immediately precede and follow the one he quotes: “Poetry is finer than prose because it gives us more concrete truth in the same compass of words. … Poetry only does consciously what the primitive races did unconsciously.” Fenollosa and Pound are identifying not only a lost origin, but also the falling away from that origin, the “ornamental,” or dead metaphor. In other words, that which makes the Chinese language both primitive and “true” in the sense that it follows “objective lines of relation in nature herself” is the same “true” “objective” and “repeatable” principle which organizes Pound's ideogrammic poetry. According to Fenollosa and Pound, the principle which organizes the ideogram is “true,” because it is a natural principle, whether the ideogram be a part of the Chinese language or a poem. Thus Pound's method does not“undo method,” but provides access to “vital” and“true” poetic language, escaping the merely “ornamental,” or the merely “textual.”

Finally, Pound suggests that the principle which organizes the texts, once understood, is present in the mind of the reader. Once the reader apprehends the principle which organizes the parts of the ideogram, the reader understands a dynamic principle which remains active in the reader's mind. In Guide to Kulchur, Pound describes the distinction between the kind of understanding one receives from an ideogram and the kind of knowledge one gains from a “list,” a simple collection of texts:

May I suggest … that I have a certain real knowledge which wd. enable me to tell a Goya from a Velasquez, a Velasquez from an Ambrogio Praedis, a Praedis from an Ingres or a Moreau and that this differs from the knowledge you or I wd. have if I went into the room back of the next one, copied a list of names and maxims from good Giorentino's History of Philosophy and committed the names, maxims, and possibly dates to my memory.

Knowledge is or may be necessary to understanding, but it weighs as nothing against understanding, and there is not the least use or need of retaining it in the form of dead catalogues once you understand the process.

The ideogrammic method consists of presenting one facet and then another until at some point one gets off the dead and desensitized surface of the reader's mind onto a part that will register.14

The fundamental distinction between knowledge and understanding (“real” knowledge, in the first passage) is one of presence. Knowledge, as Pound explains it, refers to a kind of rote memory which is associated with lists of names or maxims. I have been calling these lists “mere textuality” or a “mere collection of texts” because these “texts,” in Pound's terms, are not organized by a “natural” or “vital” principle. In other words, such a collection of signs is not organized by a “true” signified. On the other hand, those collections of texts which are so organized reveal that the “understanding” of the “vital” principle as opposed to simple “knowledge” of “names and maxims” is a presence which can never be lost. If we consider the paintings of a certain artist the units which make up an ideogram, the principle which organizes the paintings—once apprehended—not only never leaves the viewer, but is in some sense always organizing the paintings; it is an ever active principle of organization. In this sense the ideogram is also a method, a way of getting off “the dead and desensitized surface of the reader's mind” to communicate the kind of understanding which is an active principle functioning in the reader's mind. Just as “Goya” is a principle which organizes a number of paintings which make up a particular ideogram, so Pound offers “John Adams” as a principle which organizes various texts in the Adams Cantos. “Adams,” then, is a “vital” and specific ordering principle. In short, Pound's ideogrammic method is his effort at securing a presence which is both communicated by and exceeds language.

However, “Adams,” the principle which organizes the “texts” associated with that name, is in no way distinguishable from the texts themselves. The reader who would believe that “Adams” is an organizational principle must take Pound's word for it [“(my authority, ego scriptor cantilenae)”] if only because the principle itself is by definition neither locatable nor translatable. In fact, one communicates it only by means of the ideogrammic method which prevents its reduction to prosaic translation; consequently, the reader who would “translate” or paraphrase the principle “Adams” can only refer to and translate the “texts” which “define a periphery,” which outline and are organized by “Adams.”

In The Cantos, Pound's heroes share qualities which mark them as stable men of certain insight. Just as Kung spots the imposter, Yuan Jang who “sat by the roadside pretending to / be receiving wisdom … And Kung said / ‘You old fool, come out of it, / Get up and do something useful’” (13/59), so John Adams and Mussolini read the signs of a man's character, determining the principle which motivates them. Thus they are men of great insight, able to tell the sincere man from the insincere exploiter. Further, these men of state bring to their positions of power the ability to organize the state justly. Finally, the heroes' own honesty and sincerity reveal themselves in opposition to imposters (often working for some banking or business interest) whom they recognize but cannot always overcome. Thus Adams loses his reelection bid because of the maneuvering of Hamilton, who opposes Adams politically and morally in The Cantos. Hamilton serves, as does the French foreign minster Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, to demonstrate both Adams' ability to “read” men's characters and his own moral integrity. By establishing the fact of Adams' integrity, Pound aims to correct American history and to write a “moral analysis.” Adams' integrity, Pound suggests, qualified Adams for the difficult job of securing foreign aid from France and from Holland during the Revolution:

          we want one man of integrity in that embassy
Bordeaux, and passed on to Paris
                              the ethics, so called, of Franklin
                                                  IF moral analysis
be not the purpose of historical writing … 


Pound emphasizes that the country needs a man of integrity to negotiate the loans which support the war effort. As it is, Adams suspects that the ministers already in France, including Franklin, but especially Silas Deane and Jonathan Williams, are doing a bad job of negotiating loans and arms from France. Adams did not think highly of Franklin's ethics, and in defense of his expressed opinion, Adams wrote that “moral analysis” is essential to historical writing. In The Cantos Adams' comment works not only to justify his opinion of Franklin, but also to justify Pound's own moral analysis of American history. Thus at least two aims are accomplished: First, Pound emphasizes Adams' character as a man of integrity and perception. Unlike the imposter or fraud, whose “signs” of sincerity have no basis in reality, no true or actual signified which they refer, Adams' signs of sincerity do refer to a vital principle. Adams' signs of sincerity have a specific referent. Second, Pound begins to re-write “correctly” American history, including an appropriate moral emphasis, one which points out this distinction between the “fraudulent” and “legitimate” statesman. Finally, if we are convinced of Pound's judgment of Adams, we recognize Pound, too, as a man of insight, one able to “read” and promote the leader whose “signs” of sincerity and genius refer to a “true” signified.

Adams' ability to read accurately other men's characters is a quality he shares not only with Kung, but also with Mussolini. In Jefferson and/or Mussolini Pound writes, “The DUCE sits in Rome calling five hundred bluffs (or thereabouts) every morning. Some bright lad might present him to our glorious fatherland under the title of MUSSOLINI DEBUNKER.”15 As head of state, Mussolini's insight preserves the people from those who would deceive and exploit them. And in the fascist state, Mussolini's ability to read the signs of a man's character seems to permeate the system itself so that on a local level the people are protected: “Now in Italy industry is not controlled (February 8, anno XI). The state is willing to supervise. Out of twenty-one applications for company charters made under the new laws, up till Monday last week, fourteen had been accepted, and the other seven had been found to proceed from ‘gente non serii.’ That is to say from farceurs, or people who don't know enough to come out of the wet.”16 Pound suggests that Mussolini's government itself shares his quality of accurately reading signs of the charlatan and of the incompetent; Mussolini's perception finds its way into the bureaucracy. Finally, the citizens of the state who lack the leader's perception need to be protected from exploitation. “Not only do frontiers need watching but man in a mechanical age, you me'n'th'other fellow, need help against Kreugers and Hatrys.”17 Those of us not possessed with insight into a man's character need leaders like Mussolini and Adams to protect the nation.

Pound's explanation in Jefferson and/or Mussolini shares a number of stylistic and thematic qualities with his treatment of Adams in The Cantos. In fact, The Cantos take no more “poetic” liberties than does Jefferson and/or Mussolini, another “moral history.” Like The Cantos, Jefferson and/or Mussolini provides both the approving judgment of the two men and the specific date for reference “(February 8, anno XI)”—1933. Further, in order to persuade us of the importance of Mussolini's swift perception of fraud, Pound needs also specific exploiters, “Kreuger and Hatrys.” Kreuger, for example, was a Swedish engineer and financial tycoon in America. In other words, Pound reveals Mussolini's and Adams' abilities to correctly read a man's character only when one of them exposes a fraud, a sign without a referent, or in ideogrammic terms, a group of signs not organized by a “true,” vital principle. In the Adams Cantos, Vergennes, the French foreign minister with whom Adams negotiates, serves to reveal Adams' native perception. When Vergennes gives the relatively inexperienced foreign negotiator some advice, telling Adams to negotiate with England and Spain before the latter have recognized the United States' independence, Adams identifies it as foolish advice, which if followed would weaken his diplomatic position: “vergennes certainly knows this or not even an / European statesman” (69/405). And Adams recognizes that Vergennes wants to be privy to Adams' instructions from the new Congress in order to keep the United States dependent on France. Adams keeps his counsel to himself: “I was not clear that I suspected his motives … they intended to keep us in stew with England / for as long as possible after the peace … (leaving no doubt Vergennes was a twister)” (65/375). Pound's editorial comment clearly identifies Vergennes as the opposition to the direct and honest Adams. And Adams himself clearly recognizes Vergennes' deception, perceiving that Vergennes' signs of aid and encouragement are not organized by any “true” principle of helpfulness. Adams demonstrates his insight most clearly when he remarks to Richard Oswald, the British statesman negotiating peace, that Vergennes and France would rather keep the United States and England at war. Oswald reacts:

sez he (Oswald) ‘Now I see it.
I will write home at once on this subject’


The less perceptive Oswald suggests that Adams' ability to read Vergennes' character and motives is unique to him; Adams recognizes with certainty a truth which other men see only after it has been pointed out to them. As opposed to Oswald, Adams is a self-sufficient reader. Like Mussolini, he “debunks” the fraudulent. Finally, just as the common man in Italy needs Mussolini's insight and protection, so do the citizens of the young nation. Pound quotes Adams after he has retired from public life: “Always have been and still are spies in America (1804)” (65/368). The continuous threat of spies and men like Vergennes and Hamilton make leaders like Adams always necessary to the health of the country.

Pound suggests that the great leader's integrity and perceptions are qualities he brings to the office in which he serves. Extending the comparison between Mussolini and Adams, we see that according to Pound, great men rise to political power because of the abilities they bring with them. In his chapter “Of Being Ruled,” Pound writes of Mussolini:

DISTINGUISH between fascism which is organization, with the organizer at its head, to whom the power has not been GIVEN, but who has organized the power, and the state of America, where the Press howls that we should GIVE power to Roosevelt, i.e., to a weak man. … And in any case you can't GIVE power. Give authority to a nincom poop and you merely step into chaos. … The extent to which you can even DELEGATE power is probably limited by laws as definite as those which govern the strength of the current you can send through an electric wire of given thickness and texture.18

Pound indicates that the ability to organize power is something which inheres in men to varying degrees. This observation includes a view of history as well, because Pound suggests not that specific circumstances endow great men with power, but that men who possess insight and intellectual acumen take advantage of historical circumstances to order the state. Pound's metaphor of the electrical current suggests not only that power is something which can be measured and to some degree passed on (as the Italian bureaucracy seems to share some of Mussolini's ability to debunk the fraudulent), but also that different men have different capacities for power. Just as certain metals have a natural capacity for channeling electricity, a man like Mussolini or Adams has a great “natural” capacity for channeling political power for productive uses. A man like Roosevelt, on the other hand, cannot effectively make use of power to order the state. Thus Pound writes in a slanderous revision of Nietzsche:

The ‘will to power’ (admired and touted by the generation before my own) was literatureifyed by an ill-balanced hysterical teuto-pollack. Nothing more vulgar, in the worst sense of the word, has ever been sprung upon a dallying intelligentsia … The great man is filled with a very different passion, the will toward order.19

Pound distinguishes between those incompetents or frauds such as Roosevelt and Wilson (“The power lust of Wilson was that of a diseased and unbalanced man …”20), who simply lust for power itself, and those great men such as Confucius, Adams, and Mussolini, who will to order. While Nietzsche's formula tends to erase the distinctions of moral absolutes, Pound's revision distinguishes the “naturally” able and sincere political ruler from the “incompetent” and “fraudulent” one. Responding to American challenges to the credit Pound gives Mussolini's “will to order,” Pound responds contentiously: “All right, bo', you come along with a card-deck, set a card for each clot of theories, demoliberal, boshevik, anti-clerical, etc., and make that junk-shop into a nation, a live nation on its toes like a young bull in the Cordova ring.”21 The image of the young bull about to be killed is an eerie foreshadowing of the later image of a hanged Mussolini—a castrated bull eaten by the (Partisan) maggots: “Thus Ben and la Clara a Milano / by the heels at Milano / That maggots shd/ eat the dead bullock” (74/425). Mussolini and Adams will both fulfill the role of the betrayed heads of state, but at this point Pound points to Mussolini as a heroic statesman whose strong will to order is channeled to a specific and beneficial use. He has organized into a vital nation a country splintered by various political parties, each of which was vying for power after World War I and the Italian government's embarrassment of Versailles.

Similarly, Pound often emphasizes Adams' success in organizing the early government of the United States, as well as his ability to organize and negotiate loans from foreign governments, despite efforts both at home and abroad to undermine his aims. Not only did Adams have to contend with the untrustworthy Vergennes, but the negotiators whom Congress had already sent to France for military supplies and loans seemed to keep no records of their agreements or purchases, a procedure which aroused Adams' suspicion. Adams quickly ordered those conducting business to stop and wrote home that the commissioners' conflicts of interest were too great:

Wrong in having three commissioners one is enough
in leaving salaries at uncertainty
in mingling public minister and commercial agent


Pound makes it clear that Adams had no such conflict of interest by quoting a letter from Samuel Huntington, President of the Continental Congress, telling Adams his salary (68/398). And Pound gives the impression that Adams single-handedly organized the negotiations and business contracts: “Never was before I came here / a letter book / a minute book / an account book” (65/372). Along with the disorganization of the accounts in Europe, Adams had to combat even his own congress which, Pound suggests, was manipulated by French interests lobbying at home (68/399). Adams exclaims, “BLUSH, oh ye records! / congress has double XX'd me” (65/378-79) when he receives instructions to follow the advice of France, instructions which Adams perceptively disobeyed. Adams' success in maintaining financial independence of France while continuing to do business with them demonstrates his ability to honestly and deftly organize business affairs to America's advantage.

Besides Adams' resourcefulness in foreign affairs, Pound emphasizes that Adams shares characteristics of valor and physical ability which seem to accompany almost all the heroes of The Cantos. Pound rewrites Charles Francis Adams' account of his grandfather's trip across the Atlantic to France, a trip taken in Captain Samuel Tucker's ship, the Boston. Describing a chase and then a battle between the Boston and an enemy ship, Pound takes on first Tucker's then Adams' voice, in a manner reminiscent of Canto II and the beginning of Dionysius' sea voyage:

                                        Log book, Sl. Tucker 19 Feb
                              after running 3 hours to westward
                              I then hove in the stays
                              she continued to chase us
                              all day, but I rather gain on her.
Smoke, smell of sea coal, of stagnant and putrid water
increase the qualminess but do not occasion it
                              in calm with our guns out
Tucker said his orders were to take me to France
                              and any prizes that might fall his way. … 
inexpressible inconvenience of having so little
space between decks nothing but
dread of pistol to keep men in quarters in action
ship not properly furnished with glasses
                              which wd/ save their expense in a thousand ways
INattention in navy as in the army
INattention to health of the sailors … 
                                        So that
the ball passed directly over my head. Tucker in old age said
that J. A. was out with a musket like any damn common marine
‘Ordered him; but there he wuz out agin
I sez: Me orders, sir, are to git yew to EUrope’


This sustained narrative of a sea voyage connects Adams to the figure of Odysseus, indicating Adams' resourcefulness and his eagerness to fight despite his being ordered below by Tucker. And this manly valor conforms to Pound's somewhat romantic judgment that “The frontier aristocracy was, of necessity, a physical aristocracy. The others either died or weakened.”22 Adams was not, Pound makes clear, merely an aesthete. Further, the narrative voice of this sea journey joins Pound to Adams in a way similar to the composite figure Pound/Odysseus, and Adams has concerns of state which identify him as the heroic statesman. Specifically, Pound joins Adams to Odysseus by means of the Greek hymn to Zeus at the end of Canto 71. Pound's own translation of these lines in his table of contents to Cantos 52-71 suggests that Adams is a natural leader or “pilot”: “Note the final lines in Greek, Canto 71, are from Hymn of Cleanthes, a part of Adams' paideuma: Glorious, deathless of many names, Zeus aye ruling all things, founder of the inborn qualities of nature, by laws piloting all things” (256). Like Odysseus, favored by the gods, Adams is a leader whose authority derives from Zeus, the “pilot” of nature. Yet if Adams' authority is rooted in nature, his concerns are nonetheless pragmatic. Adams takes note of the condition of the ship and the crew in order that he might send recommendations back to the United States. He had long lobbied for a navy, and his experience here reinforced his conviction that the United States needed a well-equipped one. Adams' resourcefulness is directed entirely to the service of the new government and the war effort, and while his manly valor and natural authority align Adams with other heroes in The Cantos, his vigilant concern for the welfare of the state marks Adams as the man of ever-attentive concern for the nation.

Although Adams is concerned principally with the new government and the war effort, Pound suggests that the same insight which allows Adams to read the real character of men like Vergennes also allows him to judge correctly works and men outside of government and politics. In characteristic fashion, Pound quotes Adams selectively, running together Pound's own most important literary and political concerns in order to show Adams' perception:

to say that some parts of Plato and Sir Thos More
                    are as wild as the ravings of Bedlam
(found Milton a dithering idiot, tho' said this with
                    more circumspection)
Lowered the interest without annulling the debt … 
in this transaction. … There is nothing like it in the original
Mr Pope has conformed it to the notions
                    of Englishmen and Americans


Pound culls from Adams' writings these telling judgments partly because, as we can see, they agree with Pound's own judgments (and consequently confirm Adams' insight), and because they demonstrate that a man who can perceptively “read” signs in one discipline can also do so in others. Thus Pound writes that Adams' letters “stand for a life not split into bits,”23 suggesting that Adams' political acumen is part of an integrated and active personality which includes physical valor and intellectual insight in various disciplines. Adams here criticizes Milton's political tracts, and his analysis of Pope's translation of the Odyssey confirms Pound's conclusion that there are no good English translations of Homer.24 As with other qualities in Adams, Pound finds this same kind of penetrating perception in Mussolini. Pound supplies Mussolini's reaction after having taken a brief glance at Pound's A Draft of XXX Cantos: “‘Ma questo,’ said the Boss, ‘e divertente.’ / catching the point before the aesthetes had got there” (41/202). These leaders pay attention to the arts, and they are perceptive readers (of literature and men) not only because the arts are closely related to the “life of the nation,” but also because the lives and interests of the men themselves are integrated wholes. Thus, as this passage suggests, Adams' insight allows him to admire the economic reforms of Solon, the Athenian statesman who took power away from creditors by lowering interests rates and bringing the rich and the poor nearer to parity.25 Finally, Pound demonstrates his own ability to “read” accurately when he recognizes Adams' judgment of Milton, “(found Milton a dithering idiot …” despite the fact that Adams said this with “more circumspection.” Like Adams and Mussolini, Pound is a perceptive enough reader to identify correctly the signified of Adams' more polite criticism of Milton. Of course “Pound's reading” and “Adams' reading” are similar throughout the Adams Cantos, not only because both make similar judgments about the issues at hand, but also because part of Pound's perception is his recognition that Adams is an exemplar in the first place. In this sense, Pound, like the German intellectuals whom Hannah Arendt discusses, possesses the same quality that he identifies in the men he cites as exemplars.

This kind of “totalitarian” perception of “true” signifieds in different discourses identifies men like Mussolini and Adams as great leaders, and Pound suggests that precisely this kind of perception is lacking in other national leaders. Discussing modern Europe as it went into the first World War, Pound writes: “Europe went blind into that war because mankind had not digested Jefferson's knowledge. They went into that war because the canon law had been buried, because all general knowledge had been split up into useless or incompetent fragments. Because literature no longer bothered about the language ‘of law and of the state’ because the state and plutocracy cared less than a damn about letters.”26 In contrast, Pound offers the Adams-Jefferson letters. “Neither of these two men would have thought of literature as something having nothing to do with life, the nation, the organization of government. … You find in their letters a varied culture, and an omnivorous (or apparently so) curiosity.”27 In general terms, Pound suggests that Mussolini and Adams are men whose will to order encompasses a range of disciplines. And as late as 1951 Pound defended his belief that the man possessed of literary insight possesses political acumen as well. He wrote to Wyndham Lewis, “Dunno as political ideas are so dif / from canons of writing. Ez saw the Georgians were NOT the cream of the cream / same kind of perception we / show Ooozenstink [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] an ASS. as now several admit.”28 In Canto 68, then, Adams' ability to read the signs of a number of different disciplines unites these fragments from his letters and writings, so that the fragments constitute an ideogram which refers not so much to particular judgments about Milton or Pope, but to the more important theme of Adams' ability to “read” men and texts, revealing a life which is integrated, whole, not “split into bits.”

According to Pound, Adams' abilities obligated him, and men like him, to take charge of the state. In fact, Pound's secure belief in Adams' ability as a statesman leads him to consider the age of Adams and Jefferson the golden age of America during which ruled a kind of intellectual and moral aristocracy: “From 1760 to 1826 two civilised men lived and to a considerable extent reigned in America.”29 Pound develops this idea to analyze the assumptions of the early democracy:

The preconception of democracy, let us say at its best, democracy as it existed in the minds of Jefferson and Van Buren, is that the best men, kaloikagathoi, etc., WILL TAKE THE TROUBLE to place their ideas and policies before the majority with such clarity and persuasiveness that the majority will accept their guidence, i.e. ‘be right.’

The preconception of let us say the Adamses, or aristodemocratic parties is that privilege, a little of it, will breed a sense of responsibility.30

Pound emphasizes that Jefferson and Adams without question accepted their responsibility, and he suggests that Adams and Jefferson belonged to a kind of natural intellectual aristocracy which quite clearly deserved to rule. In fact, Pound suggests that the burden of responsibility rather than desire for personal gain motivates these men. Yet in the Adams Cantos, Pound includes Adams' overriding concern to prevent any kind of hereditary aristocracy from taking power in the United States. Adams is particularly concerned with establishing a balance of power among the three branches of the government, and Pound repeatedly quotes letters from Adams to Jefferson regarding their respective fears of monarchy and of aristocracy: “To T. Jefferson: / ‘You fear the one, I the few’” (69/407). After reciting a list of atrocities taken from various historical texts, Adams warns: “take away armies, the nobles will overturn every monarch in Europe / and set up aristocracies” (67/393). Further, Adams cites a history of Geneva:

     Whole history of Geneva:
          the people have given up all balances
betraying their own rights and those of the magistrates
into the hands of a few prominent families … 
aristocracy always more cunning
than an assembly of the people collectively


While Pound presents Adams as a kind of natural aristocrat worthy of ruling because he comes to the office with a will to order, Pound also cites Adams' great fear of possible corruption by those with the “right” to rule. And Pound cites Adams when he directly opposes Pound's own distinction between leaders of insight and those who are merely “given power.” Adams says that there are only offices in the new government, no leaders who have power by any hereditary or “natural” right: “orders of officers, not of men in America” (67/394). Out of office, all men are alike. Adams felt the “assembly of the people collectively” would prevent the abuse of power by an elite group. In short, while Pound endorses men of genius who felt the responsibility to lead their country, Adams fears those imposters of genius who present themselves as an elite in order to attain power for their own gain. Partly because of Adams' fear of the abuse of power, of course, Pound offers Adams as the genius. But Adams' fear of an abuse of power points out the central weakness in Pound's affirmation of Adams—such a faith in genius allows an imposter to control an entire nation.

Just as Pound suggests that Adams is a figure of authority because he accurately reads other men's characters, Pound also emphasizes Adams' particular ability to manipulate legal texts in order to win judgments for the colonies. In a sense, Adams functions as does the ideogrammic principle, organizing the power of texts. Adams wins a number of cases on behalf of the colonies before the Revolutionary War, and in a number of newspaper articles and debates, he convincingly argues against the injustice of British laws. In these instances Adams' authority comes from his ability to organize the power of the specific texts of legal precedent. In fact, Adams has one weapon which the British colonial government fears greatly:

that I had imported from London the
only complete set of British Statutes
          then in Boston or, I think, in the whole
of the Colonies, and in that work a statute
whose publication they feared, an
express prohibition of empressment
expressly IN America which statute they intend to
                              get repealed


In this case, Adams defended four seamen who killed a British lieutenant when he attempted to force them into service as sailors. Pound returns to this incident later, citing Adams' explanation that parliament had enacted in Queen Anne's day a law which prohibited impressment “in any part of America” (66/383). Adams won the case because he had the only text in America containing the statutes. In fact, when the governor of Massachusetts saw that Adams had the book, he stopped the trial and the sailors were acquitted with a verdict of self-defense.31 Pound cites many legal cases and written debates in which Adams overpowers his opponents by quoting the statutes or Coke's Institutes (a text which informs cantos 107-109). For example, Adams cites Coke in order to condemn the new courts of Admiralty, courts which eliminated trial by jury in America. Coke in turn cites the case of “Empson and Dudley,” two men who helped King Henry VII oppress noblemen by convicting them in trials without juries. Later Empson and Dudley were convicted of treason and executed, and the law was repealed because it violated the Magna Carta. In articles Adams wrote for the Boston Gazette, Adams refers to The Institutes:

Whereon said Lord Coke, speaking of Empson and Dudley,
the end of these two oppressors
shd/deter others from committing the like
that they bring not in absolute and parital trials by direction


In this layering of citation, Pound cites Charles Francis Adams' collection of John Adams' writings; Charles Adams reprints his grandfather's essay, “Boston Instruction”; John Adams cites Coke; and Coke cites a previous case in English law, one which violates (and so refers to) the Magna Carta. Thus Adams' power and authority in these legal debates comes from a number of texts, case histories contained within The Institutes. The authority of these texts is successive; each case cites or refers to a previous one, using the previous case in service of its own argument. Thus Adams' authority does not depend on merely the previous texts appropriate to the question at hand, but, as Pound's own use of his sources suggests, on Adams' ability to use the previous text in the service of his own argument. In other words, Adams organizes the power of previous texts to achieve some specific purpose. Pound does not forget Adams' native ability, his insight which enables him to use the appropriate texts in service of his own argument.

To emphasize Adams' specific use of the power of texts, Pound opposes Adams' legitimate argument to William Brattle's merely formal argument, which reveals that Brattle lacks Adams' ability to put the power of the text to use (just as Roosevelt lacks Mussolini's ability to organize political power). Brattle, says Adams, merely quotes previous cases of law, previous texts, but does no more than that. In 1773, Adams and Brattle conducted a debate in Boston newspapers concerning the question of judicial appointments. Brattle argued that judges need not be appointed by the King himself, suggesting that a nomination and an appointment by local authorities should be enough. Adams responded by quoting a statute from the time of Henry VII which says that the judges must derive their authority from the King and be commissioned within the jurisdiction of the law (66/386).32 And Adams adds a kind of personal attack on Brattle, criticizing the latter's method of merely citing past authorities:

and I must add that it appears to me extraordinary that a
gentleman educated under the great Gamaliel, Mr Read, shd/
adduce the single dictum of a counsel at bar uttered arguendo,
as an ornament to his discourse, not pertinent to his argument,
as if this settled something
‘by the great sages of law formerly and more latterly’;
having behind it no colour or pretence of other authority.


Adams accuses Brattle of citing past authorities and considering his argument proved, even though he has offered no argument himself. In other words, Adams suggests that it is not enough merely to cite texts, offering the quotation as proof—such a citation is merely “ornamental.”

According to Adams and Pound, an author or lawyer must demonstrate his own insight, offer his own argument which not only unites various citations, but also uses various texts in support of a thesis slightly different from the ones the citations in themselves support. In this sense, Adams makes a distinction similar to Pound's distinction between the “true” and the “ornamental” metaphor in his note to Fenollosa's essay. Brattle's citation is merely ornamental because it is not organized by any vital principle, any “truth.” Adams' citations, on the other hand, are organized by his valid insight, an active principle which, Pound suggests, continues to organize the citations today. Furthermore, the difference between Brattle's citations and Adams' is crucial for Adams' point: he insists that British law does not apply in the same way in America as it does in England because “AMERICAN governments never were erected by parliament” (67/390). In other words, Adams says that Parliament did not legally establish the colonial government and that laws of England do not simply and straightforwardly apply to America (unlike laws which were made to apply to Ireland, for example—Ireland receiving some parliamentary representation). The colonial government, then, has no proper legal and textual authority: the laws which would give it authority are not written. Thus Brattle must do more than merely cite previous cases in order to demonstrate his argument. He must consider the colony's specific and unique circumstance with regard to British law. Without the debator's insight, without his ability to unite the text he cites in the service of some goal, the mere collection of textual fragments remains fragmented. In short, Pound suggests that Adams' authority does not consist simply in the fact that he owns the only copy of the statutes in the colonies. Rather, his authority comes from both the texts and his ability to organize the texts by means of a vital, true principle.

Some of the texts which Pound himself cites in the Adams Cantos are letters Adams wrote in response to men who were interested in writing histories of the revolution and the early government. Adams was particularly concerned with establishing an accurate and fair history of the colonies, and he believed this task required specific texts. In response to a letter from Skelton Jones, a man who sent Adams a number of questions about the revolution, Adams writes: “No history of the past 20 years without documents / especially the circular letters to / members of congress, without these libels, / no history of these decades '89 to '90” (61/415). Adams responds to Jones' question about Adams' retirement, referring to the letters of a number of Congressmen who meant to discredit Adams. And Adams suggests that only by exposing the letters as libelous will a history accurately explain why he retired from public life. In the same way, Pound suggests that only by citing the letters of Adams and other documents can we have a true history of the United States.33 Furthermore, both “Adams” in The Cantos and Pound in his prose maintain a common belief that most histories are inaccurate, that various business and political interests withhold certain documents, manipulating historical texts to serve their own ends. And both Pound and “Adams” attempt to correct this fraudulent use of the texts by providing accurate documentation and proper interpretation. Thus Adams emphasizes to William Tudor that the circular letters are libelous. In another example, Pound cites Adams complaining about the lack of accurate ancient history:

Laws of Charondas, destroyed I presume by spirit of party.
Civic polity ecclesiastical bigotry
destroy everything that cd/give true light or clear insight
into antiquity … 
                    aristocratical and democratical fury … 


Adams complains that various political and religious parties have destroyed the works of Charondas, a Greek jurist and student of Pythagoras, suggesting that the philosopher's laws must have posed a threat to the interests of the party which destroyed them. And Adams indicates that all political parties, whether aristocratic or democratic, tend to rewrite history to their own advantage. In the same way, Pound often suggests that specific business interests withhold historical texts, from Van Buren's autobiography to Aristotle's Politics, because the texts reveal usury as unfair and immoral: “Will you wake up to the fact that the gradual elimination of the classics had a purpose, a damn dirty purpose?”34 Quite clearly, then, Pound uses the letters and writings of John Adams to rewrite history correctly, which is not to say “objectively” but “ethically” or “morally.” The integrity of Pound and Adams oppose the “fraudulent” and “corrupt” use of the power of the text by business or corrupt political interests.

While Pound and Adams share the desire to “correct” history (or establish a “correct” history), the juxtaposition of what the Adams Cantos themselves identify as “history” and “poetry” serves to remind us that every history is a “moral” history, and that the ethical historian puts the documented facts to a productive use. For example, in another letter responding to a request for information, Adams names the men most important to the revolution: “Joseph Hawley, Otis, Sam Adams, Hancock / add Jay, without knowing their actions / you know not what made us our revolution / magis decora poeticis fabulis” (71/420). Adams tells William Tudor that James Otis, Samuel Adams and John Hancock were the three most important men to the Revolution, and he adds that England knew this but America in 1817 still does not.35 The Latin sentence, parts of which Adams quotes in the letter, reads: “more suitable to poetic myth,” and the opposition between England's understanding and America's ignorance of the key men in the revolution suggests that America is satisfied with myth rather than accurate history. Both Adams to Tudor and Pound to the reader point out America's ignorance partly in order to correct the error, but Pound's addition and correction is itself poetic myth, not only because he adds two names of his own choosing to Adams' list, but also because he incorporates Adams' concern for an accurate history as one of the recurring themes of the Adams Cantos. Honest, ethical history—as opposed to the corrupt histories controlled by particular business or political interests—itself becomes a theme of this “moral” history. And Pound of course suggests that the objective of the theme is realized by the poem itself. Thus in Pound's own project, the various texts do not simply correct American history or establish certain facts. Instead, Pound puts the texts to productive use:

A signed letter proves what the writer wanted the recipient to believe on such and such a day. But the clarity of an idea remains among the ASCERTAINED facts. The definition of an idea, as observed by someone who understands the events of the day, may shed more light on the historical process than many volumes.36

Adams' letters are important not because they provide certain facts or an objective view of events of the day. Rather, they are important because they define a number of the concerns of a perceptive man. In other words, Pound thematizes Adams' concern for corrupt histories not only because Pound wants to write a correct one, but also because Adams' concern in itself is important, revealing Adams' perception, his recognition of a threat to the people who even today would naively “read” the histories given to them by those who wish to oppress them. In this sense, Pound “preserves” Adams' ability to “read” texts accurately, and “Adams” functions as a vital principle, active in our day.

In the Adams Cantos, Pound's inclusion of John Adams' concern for accurate histories and proper documentation, his emphasis of Adams' ability to unite various texts in the service of arguments with very real political importance, and his own method of offering his reader not merely Adams' letters, but an insight into the character and ideas of Adams, suggest Pound's desire to work against the force of “mere” textuality. Pound presents Adams as a man whose insight not only allows him to order the state almost single-handedly (considering Adams' litany of achievements in the first Adams Canto), but also provides coherence for the very fragments Pound cites. In other words, Pound suggests that “Adams' insight,” by which I mean both his ability to read the true signified and his own integrity, is a theme and a principle of structure in the Adams Cantos, an active principle uniting fragments of Adams' own writings. In this sense, Pound struggles to surpass the mere collection of textual fragments by providing an organizing principle which is itself distinct from and in command of the texts. However, the effect of reading the Adams Cantos forces our recognition that the principle, “Adams,” is itself a quality of the text. We cannot isolate “Adams” from the text to say that it is a principle of organization rather than an effect of the text. In the end, we may take Pound's word that Adams' insight is an organizing principle, “ego scriptor cantilenae”; or we identify it as a theme, as a referent which is as historically dated as the Stamp Act or the courts of Admiralty. But in either case we can never be confident that the citations are organized by a vital principle as opposed to no principle at all, no signified organizing the sign, in which case the texts are merely a collection of fragments.

For his part, Pound offers simply the citations that demonstrate Adams' controlling insight, offering neither a psychological view of Adams, nor the narrative illusion of a united and whole subjectivity (even though Pound had James and Browning as precedents to imitate had he wanted). Instead, Pound seems to work deliberately and energetically against the very print and ink of The Cantos. Thus when Pound asserts Adams' straight thinking despite the fact that Congress foolishly advised him to follow the instructions of the French ambassadors in his negotiations, Pound takes on Adams' voice: “BLUSH, o ye records! / congress has double XX'd me” (65/378-79). Of course, “voice” is hardly an accurate description of Pound's typographical shorthand: Pound re-writes two clichés by simply retyping them, and the effect is not that “Adams' insight” organizes these textual units, these clichés, but that “Adams' insight,” against which the “double cross” is to be understood, is itself the product of two X's. Just as he retypes “BLUSH,” capitalizing the word while ironizing and making use of the literary cliché of the messenger blushing for shame of the deeds he reports, so Pound does the same with the more common phrase “double cross,” the very familiarity of which allows us to recognize it despite the type. Precisely these easily identifiable revisions of literary and cultural clichés prompt critics to remind us of Pound's famous phrase “make it new,” suggesting that Pound revitalizes and so escapes the modernist dilemma of a tired and dead language. Such an observation focuses on the modernist poet's continual struggle to make new the citation of language by ironizing it, and such an observation tends to suggest that Pound's method of citation indicates a kind of post-structuralist acceptance of the play of language, hinting that Pound recognizes there is really no true author of the language he uses. But such a reading also ignores Pound's insistence concerning the use to which citation is put. Thus, such a reading must put aside for a moment Pound's insistence that “double XX'd” is important not because it refers to a particular incident which Pound wants to establish in the history books. Rather, “double XX'd” demonstrates Adams' ability to perceive the straight, honorable course of action when other men would have blindly followed the advice of Congress. In other words, the phrase is part of a larger structure, a larger ideogram which refers both to Adams' character, and, Pound suggests, an insight which commands this particular citation. If Pound is revitalizing a tired language by quoting it, he is nevertheless quoting it in service of an argument which asserts a principle of structure that is to regulate the play of language. The principle itself is a fiction; it is an effect of the text, but that it is a fiction is not the argument of The Cantos.

In this sense, Pound's “irreducibly graphic poetics” is an anticipation of postmodernism only insofar as Pound employs what seem to be discrete texts, discrete bits of graphic information. But contrary to what Joseph Riddel and other critics suggest, Pound does not cite these bits of information to suggest the free play of textuality as such, nor does he suggest that the “history” to which they refer is forever lost to the textuality of the poem. Rather, Pound suggests that specific principles serve to organize and unite various citations. According to Pound, “Adams” is a man whose insight still functions in the letters and diaries he left behind. Pound's contribution to the principle which organizes the citations of the Adams cantos is precisely to remain outside of the texts, as if he were merely an editor who allows the “author” to display his power. Only when Pound himself becomes a figure of contemporary “history,” particularly in the Pisan Cantos, do we see that the poet can no longer exclude himself from the “texts” of his own day. And at this point Pound will characteristically refigure himself in terms of a text of primary importance to The Cantos, Homer's Odyssey: “ac ego in harum,” I too in the pig-sty.


  1. Fredric Jameson, Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) 108.

  2. Jameson 109.

  3. Jameson 110.

  4. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Cleveland: Meridian, 1966) 169.

  5. Arendt 169.

  6. Ezra Pound, Selected Prose, ed. William Cookson (New York: New Directions, 1973) 229-230.

  7. Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (1938; New York: New Directions, 1970) 27.

  8. Carroll F. Terrell, A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) 412.

  9. Allan Durant, Ezra Pound, Identity in Crisis: A Fundamental Reassessment of the Poet and His Work (New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1981) 22.

  10. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1976) 92.

  11. Joseph Riddel, “‘Neo-Nietzschean Clatter’—Speculation and the Modernist Poetic Image,” Boundary 2 9-10 (1982): 216.

  12. Ernest Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, ed. Ezra Pound (1936; San Francisco: City Lights, 1932) 22.

  13. Riddel 217.

  14. Pound, Guide to Kulchur 28 and 51.

  15. Ezra Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935; New York: Liveright, 1970) 35.

  16. Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini 44-45.

  17. Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini 45.

  18. Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini 108-09.

  19. Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini 99.

  20. Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini 103.

  21. Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini 66.

  22. Pound, Selected Prose 175.

  23. Pound, Selected Prose 178.

  24. In 1958 Pound complains that there are still no good English translations of Homer. Confucius to Cummings, eds. Ezra Pound and Marcella Spann (New York: New Directions, 1964) ix.

  25. Terrell 323.

  26. Pound, Selected Prose 153.

  27. Pound, Selected Prose 152 and 154.

  28. Pound/Lewis: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, ed. Timothy Materer, (New York: New Directions, 1985) 265.

  29. Pound, Selected Prose 147.

  30. Pound, Selected Prose 247.

  31. Terrell 283.

  32. Terrell 311.

  33. See Pound, Selected Prose 170: “The true history of the economy of the United States, as I see it, is to be found in the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson, in the writings of Van Buren, and in quotations from the intimate letters of the Fathers of the Republic.”

  34. “Ezra Pound Speaking”: Radio Speeches of World War II, ed. Leonard W. Doob (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978) 76.

  35. Terrell 358.

  36. Pound, Selected Prose 169-170.

Reed Way Dasenbrock (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: “Ezra Pound, the Last Ghibelline,” in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 16, No. 4, Spring, 1990, pp. 511-32.

[In the following essay, Dasenbrock argues that Ezra Pound's devotion to Mussolini must be understood within the context of Pound's reading and understanding of the political writings of the late-medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri, particularly in light of Dante's idealization of King Henry VII as a God figure, which may have influenced Pound's perception of Mussolini.]

No one can justly complain any longer, as once one could, that Pound's politics are a neglected topic. Everyone writing on Pound now has something to say about “the case of Ezra Pound,” and the work of many younger critics—quick to condemn where an earlier generation was quick to excuse—argues for a direct relation between Pound's life and work and his economics, support of Fascism, and anti-Semitism: between the poetry and the politics.1 But a central piece of the puzzle still escapes us. It is clear enough that Pound's admiration for Mussolini was a—perhaps the—key catalyst in his evolution towards a pro-Fascist position. Jefferson and/or Mussolini is evidence enough that Pound's admiration was for Mussolini himself, and his idealization of the man always far outstripped his idealization of his regime. This attitude culminates in the opening passage of Canto 74, in which the dead Mussolini is represented as a crucified savior whom the world has perversely refused to follow. But this simply raises a new question in turn. There were many other strong leaders whom Pound could have idealized, from Lenin to Roosevelt; there were even many other Fascist leaders, from Eliot's preferred model, Charles Maurras, to Roy Campbell's Franco. The question has been asked often enough: why Mussolini?

What needs to be shown is that Pound's fixation on Mussolini cannot be understood outside Pound's life-long admiration for Italian culture, particularly for Italy's greatest poet, Dante. Pound's saturation in Dante begins with his college education, and we know, both from the many references to Dante in his works and from his copies of Dante's works now at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, that he read all of Dante carefully and at many different times in his life.2 But what has not been sufficiently understood is that this interest in Dante was also an interest in Dante's political thinking.3 From Pound's copies of Dante we can reconstruct at least four separate times when Pound made a detailed reading of Dante's key text of political theory, De Monarchia, annotating the text as he read; two of these readings can be placed in the late 1930s or early 1940s and one other in the 1920s or 1930s.4 Many themes of Pound's politics, particularly his enthusiasm for the figure of Mussolini, can be made explicable by reference to the ideas of De Monarchia. Indeed, it is not too much to call Pound the last Ghibelline and to see in his idealization of Mussolini one final belated echo of Dante's perception of Henry VII as the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world.

This becomes evident when we examine the argument of De Monarchia and of Dante's other political works alongside Pound's annotations, showing how he received and at times modified Dante's argument. The compact and well-organized De Monarchia devotes each of its three books to proving one major point. The first is that one world requires one government and one ruler; the second, that Rome was divinely appointed as the seat of this ruler's government; and the third, that it is the Empire, not the Church, that was so divinely appointed. Of the three points, only the third establishes Dante's extreme partisanship in the political struggles of the early fourteenth century. The first two could be (and were) used by the Guelfs, those who asserted Papal Supremacy over all governments.5 Only the third marked Dante as a supporter of the Imperial cause, as a Ghibelline.6De Monarchia is largely without explicit references to the contemporary political situation, and this has made it a difficult text to date, but implicitly in De Monarchia and explicitly in his political letters, Dante made his stand on the struggles of his time absolutely clear.

The central point of Book I of De Monarchia is that the world needs a single, unified government ruled by one ruler. Dante argues quite straightforwardly for the necessity of hierarchy, of there being a division between the ruler and the ruled. Marked in both copies is a passage in which Dante cites Aristotle's Politics: “From all this one begins to appreciate what is meant in the Politics by the sentence: ‘Men of superior intellect naturally rule over others'” (Monarchy 8).7 This is not as powerful an argument in favor of a single ruler as are the workings of human cupiditas. None of us can desire the good of the whole because we are betrayed by our own cupidity to desire what brings us gain. We therefore need someone above us, free from this cupidity, who can adjudicate the disputes in which the body politic is necessarily embroiled as all of us follow our own self-interest. Anyone responsive to the democratic and egalitarian heritage of the West might wonder: what guarantees this ruler's freedom from cupiditas? For Dante, it is the fact that the ruler possesses everything already which guarantees this. Virtually every appearance of the word cupiditas in De Monarchia was marked by Pound in one or another of his readings, and Pound seems to have accepted this argument of Dante's in favor of absolute rule.

I feel all the more confident in arguing that Pound endorsed Dante's argument in this matter because when Pound did not agree with Dante, he expressed this freely. The central idea of Book II is that Rome is providentially intended to be the seat of the World Government, and Pound had little sympathy for this hankering on Dante's part for the Roman Empire. In Chapter 3 of Book II, Dante argues that “the Roman people were the noblest; therefore it was right for them to be head of all the others” (33). Pound simply puts a question mark on the side (in the Barbi edition) to register his dissent. In Chapter 9, when Dante argues that it was God who granted victory to the Romans, Pound writes, “crude prag[matism]” on the side (in Moore), suggesting, I think, that Dante has it backwards; the victories came first, and then the responsibility was assigned retroactively to God. Pound tended to leave blank the chapters extolling the Romans for whom he had no particular sympathy, but one final dissent from Dante is worth recording. In Chapter 5, Dante offers a long discussion of various Roman heroes from the time of the Republic, and Pound writes on top (in Barbi), “no bearing on monarchy.” He is right; here and elsewhere, Dante's focus to a large extent is simply on what makes for good government, not necessarily on monarchy. For Dante, there are two key elements in good government: a sense of the common good and the existence of hierarchy or subjection. Pound heavily marks Chapter 5 of Book II, in which Dante argues that “It is impossible for right not to be directed towards the common good” (38). But Pound also marks this passage in Chapter 7 (in Moore):

Thus we notice that not only individual men but also certain whole peoples are born to rule, whilst others are born to be ruled and serve, as the Philosopher argues in his Politics; not only is it expedient for the latter to be ruled, it is actually just, even although they are forced to it. (45)8

These dual emphases may seem contradictory to us, but for Pound, as for Dante, a leader is necessary to delineate the common good. For our own good, we need to be led.

Book III of De Monarchia seems the least interesting of all to a modern reader, concerned as it is with establishing that the Emperor's right to rule proceeds directly from God and not through the Church. But this was a crucial matter in the Middle Ages, when advocates of Papal supremacy argued just the opposite, and Pound was surprisingly interested in the minutiae of Dante's argument to this effect. In both copies Book III is marked more heavily and consistently than Book II, although less so than the most general and abstract book of De Monarchia, Book I. Dante devotes a good deal of the book to arguing against the Donation of Constantine, the document by which the Emperor Constantine was supposed to have granted supremacy over the West to the Pope. Lorenzo Valla in the fifteenth century revealed the document to be a forgery, an act celebrated by Pound in Canto 89. Dante, writing a century and a half before Valla, believed the document to be genuine but denied its validity, and Pound endorsed Dante's Ghibelline position with real fervor. During the discussion in Chapter 10 on the Donation, Pound writes in the margin (in Barbi), “Constantine didn't have the power to give it away!” And he marks in both copies the passage in Chapter 11 in which Dante argues that the “usurpation of a right does not establish a right” (83). So I think it fair to say that Pound accepts both Dante's assessment of the ideal relation between Church and Empire and his account of how the currently debased relation of the two developed.

But we may wonder why this matters to Pound. To understand that, we have to understand first why it mattered so much for Dante. It is not simply a question of the relative power of Church and State, although one of Dante's concerns in De Monarchia and the Commedia was to redress the balance of power between Church and State and to redirect the Church's attention away from temporal and worldly things. But what is really at stake in the question of whether the Empire possesses its mandate directly from God or through the Papacy is whether the Empire partakes in the sacred or not.9 The old joke was that the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire, but for Dante it was essential that it be all three, holy most of all. As Dante states his ideal in the last chapter of De Monarchia, providence has designated two goals, “the first is happiness in this life;” “the second is the happiness of eternal life” (92). From this it follows that:

Two guides have been appointed for man to lead him to his twofold goal: there is the Supreme Pontiff who is to lead mankind to eternal life in accordance with revelation; and there is the Emperor who, in accordance with philosophical teaching, is to lead mankind to temporal happiness (93).

As these two tasks are equally sacred, equally important, so also are the two guides, Pope and Emperor: “If this is so, then God alone elects and confirms the Emperor” (93).

This was heresy for the Church in the fourteenth century, as the Church had a very different sense of these issues. De Monarchia was publicly condemned and burnt as heretical by the Papal Legate Cardinal Beltrand a few years after Dante's death,10 and it was put on the Papal Index of prohibited books from the time of its first publication in 1554 until 1881. (It did not help, of course, that the first publication was by a Protestant publisher in Basle, who would have been sympathetic to Dante's attacks on the Papacy.) The Church was so agitated by De Monarchia because Dante had struck at the heart of the argument for Papal supremacy, which was that the Pope is the mediator between God and all men. Kantorowicz summarizes the claims to this effect by Innocent III:

Innocent's point of departure was that the Pope—although the successor of the prince of the apostles—was not his representative on earth, not the representative of any man, but the representative of Christ himself, and through him the representative of God. Direct from God himself he held the plenitudo potestatis, the sum total of all power, from which derive all earthly powers: the priest's, the judge's and the king's.11

Kantorowicz makes the further point that it was the extreme and absolute form of these claims made by the Papacy that caused supporters of the Empire such as Dante to make their counterclaims so absolute in turn. There is a sense, however, in which both sides to this battle unknowingly were shadowboxing. Although the political landscape in Dante's time was still dominated by these quarrels between Guelf and Ghibelline, pro-papal and pro-imperial forces, these quarrels were increasingly irrelevant. The underlying tendency in all of this period was for the major Italian city-states and the national kingdoms outside Italy to become increasingly powerful and independent of Pope and Emperor alike. Thus, De Monarchia was written in support of a lost cause and, in hindsight, one has to be glad that both the Guelf and Ghibelline causes failed, for it was the failure of either side to achieve a clear victory that preserved the independence of city-states such as Florence. As Hans Baron has shown, there is a close connection between the Florentine resistance (both physical and intellectual) to Ghibelline Imperialism (including Dante's) and the subsequent rise of civic humanism and the achievements of quattrocento Florence.12

However, although Dante's imperialism was a lost cause historically, this insistence on the holiness of Empire was, as both Frances Yates and Ernst Kantorowicz have shown, to have a lasting influence upon monarchical thinking through the Renaissance.13 Any king—whether Holy Roman Emperor or not—would want to appropriate the argument of De Monarchia because, once translated from Dante's Ghibelline frame of reference, it becomes an argument for the sacredness of any form of power. Dante obviously would have objected to such a translation. As his portrayal of the French kings in the Commedia and elsewhere shows, he thought that the Empire alone was sacred and objected to the rising nationalist kings who would later find his ideas so congenial. Yet an even more radical translation is necessary to explain Ezra Pound's interest in De Monarchia—a man who never expressed interest in any European monarchy, Holy Roman, French, or any other. In that key passage from Chapter 16 (92) of Book III, Pound underlined (in Barbi) the passage about happiness in this life but ignored the part about the life everlasting. This and the comment about “no bearing on monarchy” are the keys to Pound's particular appropriation of De Monarchia. Underscoring Dante's attacks on the Church but ignoring his desire for a purified Church, Pound reads De Monarchia as a treatise on good government, arguing that a ruler is essential for good government and that the sacred duty of a ruler is to define and will the common good, to lead his people towards that good.14 There is no moral authority external to the state which can judge it, except perhaps for the poet who can articulate in treatises such as De Monarchia and poems such as the Commedia the common good towards which the ruler should strive.

But it is also important for Pound's identification with Dante to situate De Monarchia back into the immediate context in which it was written. For De Monarchia is no abstract piece of theorizing, just as Dante was no abstract political philosopher. Dante followed his own advice about politics being an art in which “speculation is for the sake of action” (5), just as surely—and as disastrously—as Pound did. The immediate occasion for De Monarchia was the (for Dante, tragically) short-lived revival of Imperialist hopes under Henry VII (1308-1313). For all practical purposes, the dream of the Holy Roman Empire had ended with the death in 1250 of Frederick II, the last emperor with an effective base in Italy as well as in Germany. Although Dante put Frederick in Hell, his references to him in De Vulgari Eloquentio and Il Convivio are positive; in an early sketch in Il Convivio of the imperialist ideas developed at length in De Monarchia, Frederick is called the “last Emperor of the Romans,” indicating that Dante—writing just before Henry's coronation—does not recognize the emperors who followed as true Roman Emperors.15 Pound shared Dante's enthusiasm, even revising his final judgment on Frederick, as he appears as one of the just rulers in the section of The Cantos called Thrones after Dante's portraits of the just rulers in the Paradiso.16 Following Frederick's death, his Ghibelline supporters transferred their support to Manfred, Frederick's illegitimate son and successor to the Sicilian—although not the Imperial—throne, and Manfred, unlike his father, makes it into Dante's purgatory.17

Manfred has an important place in Pound's works as well; Pound took the title of his first book of poetry, A Lume Spento, from Manfred's speech in Purgatorio 3.110-145.18 But Manfred was killed in the battle of Benevento in 1266, the year after Dante's birth. In the period of confusion that followed the death of Manfred, the municipal independence of many of the cities that would give birth to the Renaissance was more firmly established. Dante only deplored this trend—the fundamental one of his age—and hailed the crowning of the new Emperor Henry VII as the salvation of Italy. Henry had no Italian possessions of his own as Frederick had Sicily, but he invaded Italy, and for a moment it seemed to his supporters that he was poised to take command of the Italian peninsula. Dante surely thought so, as he was an eager supporter of Henry's, writing the famous letters in praise of Henry.19 But these apocalyptic hopes (or fears) that Henry would be successful were short-lived. In 1312 he beseiged Florence, probably the chief obstacle to his plans, but failed to take it, and he died the next year in 1313 near Siena, effectively ending Dante's political dreams.

De Monarchia stands in close relation to this series of events, but scholars disagree about its precise relation, dividing on whether it dates from Henry's reign or from immediately afterward.20 More important than the date of De Monarchia for Pound was the fact that Dante acted on his own advice, intervening directly in support of his political ideals by means of his writings. The aftermath is also relevant. Dante, doubly enraged over the Florentine resistance to Henry, wrote a letter to the Florentines in 1311 (Epistola VI in Moore's numbering)—addressed to “the arrant scoundrels within the city” (103) and describing them as “the most empty-headed of all the Tuscans, crazy by nature and crazy by corruption” (107)—that predicts and delights in the prediction that Henry will utterly destroy Florence:

To your sorrow you will see your palaces, which you have not raised with prudence to meet your needs but have thoughtlessly enlarged for your pleasures, fallen, since no walls of a revived Troy encircle them, fallen under the battering-ram or consumed by fire. You will see your populace, now a raging mob, disorganized and divided against itself, part for, part against you, soon united against you in howls of fury, since a starving mob can know no fear (106).

His mother city, equally outraged that Dante would throw in his lot with foreign invaders, again sentenced him to death. Dante had, of course, been an exile before those events, but his active support for the Imperial cause put him in a different category from those who had simply chosen the losing side in Florence's internecine strife. In 1311 and again in 1316, amnesties for Florentine political exiles were proclaimed, but in each case Dante was expressly excluded.21

After Henry's failure, Dante—with all concrete political hopes extinguished—concentrated on finishing the Commedia. But it is important to understand that the Commedia in all important respects is true to the political vision expressed in De Monarchia.22 Just as all of the attacks on corrupt popes reinforce Dante's attacks on the papacy, the figure of the poet Virgil brings with him all of Dante's sense of the importance and providential role of Rome and of Empire. Virgil is also “lo duca mio,” Dante's guide, and everything in De Monarchia about the importance of hierarchy and leadership finds concrete embodiment in the vision of the Commedia.

There is a six-hundred year gap between Dante's praise of “duca mio” and Pound's cult of il duce, between Henry VII and Mussolini, but perhaps this summary of De Monarchia and Pound's reading of it has lessened the gap.23 Pound's economics have long been criticized as an importation of medieval preoccupations about usury, debasement of coinage, and the just price (also found prominently in the Commedia) into the modern age, and his support of Mussolini resembles his economics in this respect. The modern world for Pound is as driven by cupiditas as Dante's world was for him, and both poets incarnate this cupiditas in a given city, Florence for Dante and London for Pound. (And they picked well enough, for the two cities were key economic centers of their times.) But both cities came to represent not just centers of corruption but Hell for the poets,24 and both poets represented themselves as exiled from these cities because of their opposition to this cupiditas. In this view, corrupt man cannot save himself because he follows his own narrow interest, not the good of the whole, and to be saved from this corruption he needs to be ruled, to find a leader. In his poem Dante finds Virgil, the representative of Empire, but in his life he finds Henry VII, the Emperor who is going to set the fractious Italians to order. Pound presents Mussolini in exactly the same terms, as the ruler above cupidity who can see and will the common good. He is the “Boss,” the man who by virtue of his superior intellect and virtue is fit to rule:

Mussolini has steadily refused to be called anything save “Leader” (Duce) or “Head of the Government,” the term dictator has been applied by foreign envy, as the Tories were called cattle-stealers. It does not represent the Duce's fundamental conception of his role.

His authority comes, as Eirugina [sic] proclaimed authority comes, “from right reason” and from the general fascist conviction that he is more likely to be right than anyone else is.25

But, as the Humanist tradition always insisted, the role of the poet is to advise as well as to praise the ruler.26 Just as only Dante could fully articulate the mission of Henry VII, so too Pound believed that no one could understand Mussolini's great task so well as Pound. Hence Pound needs to speak on Rome Radio, to speak for Mussolini; but he also needs to speak to Mussolini, to help articulate Mussolini's mission to Mussolini himself. Mussolini himself is therefore a crucial intended audience of the poem, and this is one reason why Pound kept giving copies of his books, including The Cantos, to Mussolini.27 The beginning of Canto 41 dramatizes Pound's belief in his poem's proper reception by Mussolini by depicting Pound's presentation of a copy of A Draft of XXX Cantos to Mussolini in Rome in 1933:

“Ma qvesto,”
          said the Boss, “è divertente.”
catching the point before the aesthetes had got

Pound presents Mussolini's offhand comment (“this is amusing”—one quality no one else has ever claimed for The Cantos) as if it were a perceptive reading of the poem.

So Pound, like Dante, found his ideal ruler and spoke for him, in fact sacrificed a good deal for him. But this parallel involves several ironies.29 The first is how utterly ineffectual each poet was. Pound's ranting over the radio had no discernible effect on the war; it had no discernible effect on anything except Pound's reputation. Dante's monarchism had its influence over the long term, but in the immediate situation Dante had no effect at all, as Dante's final political epistle (Epistola VII), criticizing Henry's slowness in moving against Florence, shows clearly enough. We have no record of what Henry VII or his supporters thought of Dante and his efforts on behalf of the Imperial cause, but the Fascists entertained serious suspicions about Pound and his pro-fascist efforts. As early as 1935, Mussolini's officials, commenting on a letter of Pound's, described him as “una mente nebbiosa, sprovvista di ogni senso della realtà” (“a cloudy mind, lacking any sense of reality”).30 Pound had to struggle for permission to broadcast on Rome Radio, and “the Ministry of War advised against accepting Pound's offer of collaboration.”31 According to Camillo Pellizzi, the Italians even thought that Pound might be a double agent, an allied spy broadcasting in code, so widely divergent were Pound's broadcasts from anything else the Italians had encountered.32 There is no evidence that Mussolini appreciated his Dante; Henry VII probably thought that he had a crazy Ezra Pound on his hands. And there is a certain inevitability in this, for in a sense both Dante and Pound had much more invested in their respective great rulers than did the rulers. Henry VII assuredly did not think of himself as “the Lamb of God, him who taketh away the sins of the world” (Epistola VII; p. 110); he was simply trying to pacify Italy and control an unruly empire. In an exactly parallel way, although Mussolini undoubtedly thought highly of himself, he would not have been able to recognize himself in Pound's idealization of him as the Great Ruler informed by Dantescan and Confucian wisdom, worthy of comparison to the great Chinese Emperors of the past, as well as to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.33 Moreover, although Henry VII and Mussolini were prepared to have poets speak for them, to help popularize their cause, neither was likely to appreciate having the poets speak to them as counselors. Italian rulers from Frederick II to Mussolini tried to enlist writers as supporters of their cause, but they rarely encouraged those writers' frequent attempts to become counselors as well. Pound wrote many letters full of praise and advice to Mussolini, but Mussolini neither responded nor paid any attention to Pound's suggestions.

So all Dante and Pound managed to do by casting their lots with their idealized rulers was to make themselves outcasts. The causes they supported were failures and from our perspective, deservedly so. They won no supporters by identifying with these lost causes, and in the process they turned on their own native countries, laying themselves open to charges of treason, although in each case they felt that the treason lay elsewhere. And I wonder—and here we can only wonder—how large an influence Dante was on Pound's dual choice to stay in Italy after the outbreak of war with the United States in 1941 and to resume broadcasting over Rome Radio in early 1942. The stance he adopts—lecturing the Americans and the British for their failure to realize Mussolini's greatness and the justice of the Axis cause; arguing that Mussolini is the true leader whom everyone should follow; arguing that the cause of the war was the machinations of London financiers—is quite reminiscent of Dante's in his letter to the “arrant scoundrels” of Florence. Both poets chose the path of apparent treason in the service of what they felt to be the higher ideals incarnated by their political heroes. It could be said that Pound had a choice whereas Dante did not, as Dante was already an exile and had nothing to lose by supporting the Henrician cause. But our perception of differences may be less important than Pound's perception of the parallel, and his self-dramatization of his own exile status was always influenced by the parallel to Dante.34

And even if Pound's casting of caution (or sense) to the winds was not modelled on Dante, it put him in exactly the same place, the place of the outcast, the exile. Dante was the one whom the Florentines would not forgive, Pound the one we would not let out of the “bughouse.” And although Wyndham Lewis chided Pound in a letter of 1952, “To take up a strategic position in a lunatic asylum is idiotic,”35 Pound in his later years at St. Elizabeth's derived a certain enabling energy from his incarceration: he was the one they had to lock up to keep the truth from getting out, just as Dante had suffered exile and condemnation. But when he was finally let out, what comment there was on his release tended to be favorable. He immediately returned to his beloved Italy, dying in an exile that had stopped seeming like exile, only a few miles from the Verona and Ravenna that had become new homes for Dante in his exile.

Various critics have found in Dante's Commedia a pattern for The Cantos and, influenced by remarks of Pound's to this effect, have argued that the two poems have a similar shape.36 But the real similarity is in the shape of the two poets' political commitments, commitments that can be seen explicitly in occasional works such as Dante's letters and Pound's radio speeches and in more abstract or theoretical works such as De Monarchia and Guide to Kulchur, but which also inform the poets' epics, the Commedia and The Cantos. Dante is the poet of Ghibellinism, singing of the Empire that he hopes will be restored; Pound is the last Ghibelline, singing less of Empire than of Emperors and thinking that in Mussolini he has found the Great Ruler who would set the world aright.

These connections between Dante's and Pound's politics can be seen most clearly in Canto 72, one of two cantos written in Italian during World War II.37 Canto 72 is a Dantescan vision in which Pound meets the dead spirits of F. T. Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, who fought on the Russian Front in his sixties before dying in 1944, and Ezzelino da Romano, whom Dante encountered in Canto 12 of the Inferno. Marinetti, who knew Pound, asks to borrow his body so that he can go on fighting:

          “Be', sono morto,
Ma non voglio andar in Paradiso, voglio combatter' ancora.
Voglio il tuo corpo, con cui potrei ancora combattere”


          (Well, I am dead,
But I do not wish to go to Paradise, I wish to go on fighting.
I want [to borrow] your body, with which I could fight some more.)

Pound tells him to borrow a younger body more suited for fighting, but then tells him that he will put him in his poem instead. And this is an indirect way of identifying Pound's poem with Marinetti's fight. Later in the canto, Pound encounters Ezzelino, the son-in-law of Frederick II and leader of the Ghibelline cause in northern Italy. Ezzelino wants to go on fighting too, and his enemies are still the Guelfs, his cause still the Ghibelline:

“Calunnia Guelfa, e sempre la loro arma
Fu la calunnia”


“E 'l caso ghibellin ben seppe il fiorentino.”


(Guelf calumny, and always their weapon was
calumny; and the Florentine [Dante] knew well the
Ghibelline cause.)(38)

Through juxtaposition here, Pound links the representatives of Italian Fascism and Italian Ghibellinism, links Mussolini's Italy and Dante's Italy, and links his political cause to Dante's. For Pound, although for almost no one else, these two Italies were one.

But to perceive this parallel and the importance of the parallel for Pound's oeuvre is to raise new questions in turn. Dante's totalizing political system was not at all forward-looking in its time, but it was not six centuries out of date as it is in ours. We still may wonder why Pound admired Dante's system and attempted to judge the contemporary world through this medieval instrument. And why, given Pound's acceptance of this system, he placed Mussolini in the role of the Great Ruler. Even if Pound needed a modern counterpart to Henry VII, we may question why he did not understand that Mussolini was not a great ruler in any sense of the word.

Appreciating the central place of Dante and Italy in Pound's view of the world helps us begin to answer these broader questions as well. Italy was the center of civilization for Pound as it was for Dante, but a civilization weakened then and now—as Dante had argued in De Monarchia and most eloquently in Canto VI of the Purgatorio—by its lack of unity and a strong effective ruler. There was a literary tradition that Pound knew well, descending from Dante through Petrarch, Machiavelli, and Leopardi, lamenting the fallen greatness of Italy and calling for the rebirth and reunification of fallen Italy.39 In the century between Leopardi and Pound, Italy had been unified, but the consensus was that reunification had not led to redemption and renewed greatness. This was precisely what Mussolini claimed to be restoring. So the Ezra Pound predisposed to find his “duca mio” in Italy thought that he had found him in the Duce who read Dante as avidly as Pound and who cast himself as the regenerator of Italy in answer to Dante's and Petrarch's and Machiavelli's and Leopardi's call. If Mussolini succeeded, moreover, Pound could move beyond Dante, presenting the actual redemption of the fallen world portayed by Dante. Pound's great ruler would not be a deferred hope, an absence in Pound's epic, as he was in the Commedia. But of course Pound's attempt led to just the opposite result: his great ruler's regime collapsed in ignominious failure, and Pound's epic of articulating the great ruler's mission was rendered historically irrelevant and drastically incoherent, a fate that never befell the Commedia, as its power over Pound should serve to illustrate.

The misperception on Pound's part was disastrous. James Longenbach has recently argued that Pound was the most romantic poet of his generation, the most romantic in his commitment to the social role of the poet.40 But this makes him the most Dantean as well, for both Dante and Pound would have agreed with Shelley's claim that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. The lesson I take away from the life and work of Ezra Pound (and of Dante, for that matter) is that Shelley was wrong. Even the greatest poets do not have any special insight into the way the world ought to work; in fact, their political judgments are no sounder than anyone else's. Although that is not what Pound set out to teach the world, it is perhaps one of the lessons we should learn from him.

Yet one also wants to insist that bad politics can make for great poetry. Every major epic poem written in the West from the time of Homer has been a political epic, and epics by Virgil, Spenser, and Milton that Pound ignored or deplored are relevant here as well as Dante's. The ideal which each poet paints sounds good enough in the abstract, but the actual politics embraced by each poet as a means of realizing his ideal seem considerably less attractive. Cantos 13 and 45 are compelling, the radio speeches appalling; and Book V of The Faerie Queene is as hard to take as parts of The Pisan Cantos, or would be, if we were not four hundred years removed from it. I would not have wanted to have lived under Spenser's justice any more than under Pound's or Dante's. Yet in each case a great poem emerged. Perhaps the enabling condition of being an epic poet is a totalizing view of the world, a view that deserves defeat in this world, but only after the defeat is expressed at a more abstract level in the creation of an epic. This is perhaps simply to say that we cannot neatly divide Pound's greatness and his poetry from his politics: the deplorable politics somehow enabled the poetry, and this is something our current theories about the relation between literature and the social world cannot absorb.


  1. See Peter Nicholls, Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing: A Study of The Cantos (Humanities Press, 1984) and Robert Casillo, The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism and the Myths of Ezra Pound (Northwestern University Press, 1988) for the most recent full-length studies of this issue.

  2. Pound's admiration for Dante can be seen in his published works in the chapter on Dante in The Spirit of Romance (1910 rpt., New Directions, n.d.), pp. 118-165; in “Hell,” a 1934 review of Laurence Binyon's translation of the Inferno collected in Literary Essays, ed. T. S. Eliot (New Directions, 1968), pp. 201-13; in the numerous quotations from Dante in The Cantos, and throughout his prose works and letters. The one book-length study of Pound's relation to Dante is James J. Wilhelm, Dante and Pound: The Epic of Judgment (University of Maine Press, 1974); Daniel D. Pearlman argues at length for the structural indebtedness of The Cantos to the Commedia in The Barb of Time: On the Unity of Ezra Pound's Cantos (Oxford University Press, 1969). Pound began to read Dante at Hamilton College in 1903 or 1904 under the tutelage of William Pierce Shepherd (John Tytell, Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano [Doubleday, 1987], p. 22), and in 1905 he wrote to his mother: “Find me a phenomenon of any importance in the lives of men and nations that you cannot measure with the rod of Dante's allegory … I shall continue to study Dante and the Hebrew prophets” (quoted in Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound [1970 rpt., Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974], p. 26). This is a somewhat ironic conjunction in view of Pound's later anti-Semitism, but also a sign that his interest in Dante was an interest in his content. His first copy of Dante was probably the three volumes of the Temple Classics Commedia, compact bilingual, facing page editions; his copies of these, now at Texas, are dated and signed March 1904. But he quickly supplemented this edition with the Oxford Dante, Tutte Le Opere di Dante Alighieri, ed. Edward Moore (Oxford, 1897); Pound probably bought this while in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, at any rate before leaving the U.S. for Venice in 1908, for he wrote his father in 1909 asking that it be sent to him in England (Stock, p. 89). Although published in England, this presents the works only in their original languages, Italian and Latin; even the prefatory material is in Italian. Finally, probably in Italy in the 1920s, he purchased the critical edition of the Società Dantesca Italiana, Le Opere di Dante: testo critico della Società Dantesca Italiana (Firenze: R. Bemporad, 1921), edited by a team led by Michele Barbi. Both of these Opere di Dante are at Texas. Thus, after buying an accessible bilingual edition, Pound successively bought the best contemporary scholarly editions available to him. In “Pound's Library: A Preliminary Catalogue” (Paideuma, 15:2/3 [1986] 219), Tim Redman also lists an 1869 edition of La Divina Commedia (Firenze: G. Barbera) as being in Pound's possession, but this is in the collection of Pound's daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, not at Texas.

  3. Various scholars who might have been expected to touch on this do not; as neither Pearlman studying the relevance of Dante to The Cantos nor Nicholls studying Pound's politics connects the two. Wilhelm's Dante and Pound contains just two pages on De Monarchia (pp. 87-89). It draws parallels between Dante's monarchical theories and Pound's support of Mussolini but does not argue for direct influence. Wilhelm's treatment of Pound's politics is in any case vitiated by his explicit assumption that Pound was not anti-democratic:

    Even when Ezra was most caught up in the Mussolini movement, he always followed the lead of Aristotle in keeping open the options for democracy: Jefferson and/or Mussolini. The real political hero of the Cantos is John Adams, not the Boss, and the real center of Pound's blazing interest is America, even if most of his mature years in this country were spent in an asylum. Pound is more liberal than his detractors make him. (158)

    Even the most cursory reading of Jefferson and/or Mussolini and the Adams Cantos shows the flaws in Wilhelm's argument that Pound's depiction of Jefferson and Adams indicates his democratic and liberal spirit and can be separated from his support of Italian fascism, “the Mussolini movement” as Wilhelm oddly labels it (see my “Jefferson and/or Adams: A Shifting Mirror for Mussolini in the Middle Cantos,” ELH LV:2 [1988] 505-526). Finally and most recently, Robert Casillo spends only a sentence on the topic:

    His notions of political authority owe something to Dante's De Monarchia, which envisions European unification under a benevolent Catholic king. But by the late 1930s and early 1940s Pound's medievalism has more sinister implications. (50)

    Casillo heavily criticizes those (such as Wilhelm) who aestheticize Pound by separating his poetry from the more unpleasant aspects of his thought, but we can see here a similar sanitizing of Dante, who is firmly—and incorrectly, I think—separated from the “more sinister” aspects of Pound's thought.

  4. De Monarchia is the only work aside from the Paradiso that is annotated in both of Pound's complete Dantes, and each copy shows evidence of having been read and annotated twice. Moore's edition of De Monarchia was gone through twice, once in pencil and then again in red pencil. The first reading dates from the 1910s most probably, as “Fenollosa” is marked once on the side; the second in red pencil has to date from the 1930s or 1940s, as some of Pound's marginalia include Chinese ideograms. The Barbi edition has also been read and marked twice, and obviously given the date of publication, both readings are after 1921. The first is in ink, and if I had to venture a date, it would be the 1920s, the most logical time for Pound to have bought the book. The second reading is in pencil and includes ideograms, therfore must be from the 1930s or 1940s.

  5. The terms “Guelf” and “Ghibelline” are, of course, a translation of the German terms, Welf and Weiblingen. See Ernst H. Kantorowicz, Frederick the Second, trans. E. O. Lorimer (1931 rpt., Frederick Ungar, 1957), pp. 67-68 passim, for the derivation of the term and the historical background. For a good survey of these events that Pound knew early on, see Paget Toynbee, Dante Alighieri: His Life and Works, 4th ed., ed. Charles Singleton (Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 1-35, which is cited in The Spirit of Romance, pp. 118-19. Toynbee begins his life of Dante with three chapters on this political background, grouped together as “Part I Guelfs and Ghibellines,” one index of how important this political background was to Dante scholars prominent during the time of Pound's education.

  6. Dante, it must be remembered, began his political involvements in Florence as a White Guelf, but his political ideology as it developed after his exile in 1302 was clearly Ghibelline. Moreover, the actions that led to his exile could be called proto-Ghibelline, as they involved opposition to Florentine support for the Pope and Charles of Valois (see Toynbee, pp. 82-85).

  7. All my quotations from Dante's De Monarchia and the Epistolae are from the translation of Donald Nichol and Colin Hardie, Monarchy and Three Political Letters (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1954) and will be cited parenthetically. Both of Pound's editions printed these works in the original Latin without Italian or English translation. The reference to the Politics here is to I, 2. The many citations from the Politics in De Monarchia may have directed Pound's attention to the Politics; in any case, a well marked copy of Aristotle's Politics (with an English translation by H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library [London: Heinemann, 1932]) was in Pound's library and is now at Texas.

  8. The “Philosopher” is, of course, Aristotle, “il maestro di color che sanno,” and the reference here is to his Politics, I, 5.

  9. These questions are not original with Dante, of course; in a 1931 book that was in Pound's library and is now at Texas, Kantorowicz treats in great detail Frederick II's Imperial theory, presenting him as the initiator of political themes inherited and carried forward by Dante (Frederick the Second, pp. 228-261, 668). My only reservation about Kantorowicz's study is that he seems altogether too enthusiastic about Frederick's all-embracing, sacred state, but this may well have been what recommended the book to Pound. His later, more famous study, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Thinking (Princeton University Press, 1957), has a chapter (pp. 451-95) on Dante focusing on his political thought and De Monarchia that is also relevant, although it comes too late to influence Pound.

  10. Boccaccio, “Vita di Dante,” trans. James Robinson Smith, in Aids to the Study of Dante, ed. Charles Allen Dinsmore (Houghton Mifflin, 1903), p. 109.

  11. Kantorowicz, Frederick the Great, p. 41.

  12. In The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny, rev. ed. (Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 48-54, Hans Baron also indicates that the later civic humanism led to a reinterpretation of Roman history at odds with Dante's. To later Florentines, “Dante appeared to be wrong in his appraisal of Caesar and his enemies; the view of the ancient and mediaeval Empire enshrined in the Divina Commedia became alien to Florentine readers” (p. 445).

  13. See Frances A. Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Idea in the Sixteenth Century (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 1-18; also, Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies.

  14. There are obviously parallels here to the Confucian Classics, and one of the problems in delineating any one influence on Pound is that his syncretic cast of mind never restricts itself to just one influence. As mentioned in n. 3 above, Pound's marginalia to De Monarchia (and other works of Dante) included Chinese characters at places where he found a resemblance between Dante and Chinese ideas, in much the way The Cantos juxtapose ideograms and text in Western languages. (This is more startling in Pound's marginalia, however, as one realizes that this habit and syncretic cast of mind were perfectly natural to Pound, not at all worked up for poetic effects in The Cantos.) One passage in the radio speeches should show the close resemblance between what Pound drew out of Dante and his reading of the Confucian Classics:

    When Mencius went to see King Huei of Liang, the King said, have you got something that will bring PROFIT? Profit motive, already known, two thousand five hundred years before Blast; 2,400 years before Marx half swallowed Hegel. And Mencius said, why use that word, what I got is my sense of EQUITY. If you can't use that in your Kingdom, good morning, I have mistaken the address.

    The sense of EQUITY, sense of justice, was what England had lost or mislaid. Ben dell' intelletto Dante called it, or something not very far from it. Homely English would translate it as “use of your wits,” but I believe that Dante meant something nearer to Mencius's meaning.

    (“Ezra Pound Speaking”: Radio Speeches of World War II, ed. Leonard W. Doob [Greenwood Press, 1978], p. 109.)

  15. Moore, Tutte Le Opere di Dante Alighieri, p. 298. For Dante's discussions of Frederick, see Il Convivio, Book IV, 3-6 (Moore, Opere, pp. 298-303), De Vulgari Eloquentia I, 12 (A Translation of the Latin Works of Dante Alighieri, trans. A.G.F.H. [1904 rpt., Greenwood Press, 1969], pp. 37-41) and Inferno 10.119; a good discussion of Dante's attitude towards Frederick is found in Charles T. Davis, Dante's Italy and Other Essays (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), pp. 11-14. Kantorowicz claims a strong influence of Frederick on Dante (Frederick the Second, pp. 247-261 passim).

  16. Pound had earlier praised Frederick in Guide to Kulchur: “The attempt of Frederic II of Sicily to enlighten Europe both culturally and economically was a MAJOR event” ([1938 rpt., New Directions, 1970], p. 261). Frederick is mentioned in Cantos 97, 98 and 105, and Pound in his 1962 Paris Review interview with Donald Hall specifically linked this section of The Cantos to Dante:

    The thrones in Dante's Paradiso are the spirits of the people who have been responsible for good government. The thrones in the Cantos are an attempt to move out from egoism and to establish some definition of an order possible or at any rate conceivable on earth (quoted by George Kearns, Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Cantos [Rutgers University Press, 1980], p. 225).

    Dante's Convivio was also a potent influence on the late Cantos, as Canto 93 in Rock Drill is a virtual cento of passages from it; see James J. Wilhelm, The Later Cantos of Ezra Pound (Walker, 1977), pp. 46-63; Dante and Pound, p. 145; Nicholls, pp. 206-11; and Steve Ellis, Dante and English Poetry: Shelley to T. S. Eliot (Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 204-206.

  17. Manfred is praised along with his father in De Vulgari Eloquentia I, 12 (Latin Works, pp. 37-41); see Joan M. Ferrante, The Political Vision of the Divine Comedy (Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 209-212, for a discussion of why Manfred—unlike his father—is in Purgatory.

  18. It seems improbable that Pound would have had Manfred's politics in mind when naming A Lume Spento in 1908. According to Wilhelm's interpretation: “The dedication suggests that, like Manfred, [William Brooke] Smith [to whom A Lume Spento was posthumously dedicated] (as well as Pound) was an artist who was considered an outcast by the rest of society.” (James J. Wilhelm, The American Roots of Ezra Pound [Garland, 1985], p. 100). And this use of Dante to suggest the theme of exile and alienation continues throughout Pound's life and work.

  19. Pound did not go through the Epistolae as carefully as he did De Monarchia, but they are marked throughout in Barbi, the edition he bought later (only the “Letter to Can Grande” about the Commedia is marked in Moore). Interestingly, the sixth letter chastising the Florentines is generally marked more heavily than the fifth and seventh, which are in praise of Henry.

  20. Boccaccio dates De Monarchia during Henry's reign (p. 108). Some scholars have interpreted the absence of specific references as indicating either an earlier or a later date, but I think that shows a misunderstanding of the genre of De Monarchia, which is abstract and not concrete. The strongest argument for a late date is the reference to the Paradiso in Chapter 12 of Book I (see Donna Mancusi-Ungaro, Dante and the Empire [Peter Lang, 1987], pp. 14-15).

  21. Toynbee, pp. 94-98.

  22. Thomas G. Bergin puts it well when he says that “the Comedy contains, broadly speaking, everything we find in the De Monarchia and the Convivio” (Perspectives on the Divine Comedy [Rutgers University Press, 1967], p. 96). Ferrante echoes Bergin, arguing that the views of Church and State in the Commedia “are quite consistent with Dante's positions in the Monarchy” (p. 126). Kantorowicz also stresses the continuity between Dante's political writings and the Commedia (Frederick the Second, p. 259). Others have disagreed, however; see Ferrante (3-9) for a summary of the opposing views. Mancusi-Ungaro summarizes the debate (pp. 13-17) before arguing that “the only difference between the Monarchia and the Commedia is one of genre” (p. 23).

  23. Dante's duca and Mussolini's duce are two different words, guide and leader, although with a common Latin root in dux, so my collocation of them here is somewhat adventitious. Nonetheless, the verbal echo is not unimportant, I think, for Pound, who as a non-native speaker of Italian would have been more alive to the resemblance between the words than to the difference.

  24. Pound's Hell in Cantos 14-15 is closely modelled on—although vastly inferior in power to—Dante's (see Wilhelm, Dante and Pound, pp. 108-109). Canto 14 begins: “Io venni in luogo d'ogni luce muto” (see Inferno 5.28, “Io venni in loco d'ogne luce muto”). And what Ferrante says about Dante's reasons for using Florence also apply to Pound and London: “There are also personal reasons for Dante to model Hell on Florence; what better way to avenge himself on the city that exiled him than to cast it as Hell” (p. 61).

  25. Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini: L'Idea Statale Fascism as I have seen it (1935 rpt., Liveright, 1970), p. 110.

  26. Petrarch's “How a Ruler Ought to Govern His State” (trans. Benjamin G. Kohl, in The Earthly Republic: Italian Humanists on Government and Society, eds. Benjamin G. Kohl & Ronald G. Witt [University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978], pp. 35-78) is a good, early statement of this Humanist position.

  27. According to references in Pound's extensive correspondence with (or rather to) Mussolini at the Beinecke Library at Yale, Pound sent Mussolini copies of Eleven New Cantos, Cantos 52-71, ABC of Economics, and Make It New, in addition to A Draft of XXX Cantos and the manuscript of Jefferson and/or Mussolini before its publication.

  28. All citations from The Cantos (New Directions, 1986) will be parenthetical by canto number and page number, in this form: 41/202. For discussions of this visit by Pound to Mussolini, see Stock, pp. 389-390; also C. David Heymann, Ezra Pound: The Last Rower (Viking, 1976), pp. 58-59.

  29. Wilhelm has briefly linked Henry VII and Mussolini but in a way that distances the poets from their rulers: “Dante had undoubtedly lost a great deal of faith in the Swabian [Henry VII] even before that time [his death], just as Pound foresaw the end of Mussolini long before he was hanging by the heels in the square at Milan” (Dante and Pound, p. 9). But this seems quite misleading to me. Wilhelm goes on to quote the opening line of The Pisan Cantos, “The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant's bent shoulders,” but this line expresses no distance from Mussolini even after his death.

  30. Quoted in Niccolò Zapponi, L'Italia di Ezra Pound (Roma: Bulzoni, 1976), p. 51.

  31. Heymann, p. 100.

  32. Heymann, p. 99.

  33. This raises the question of whether Pound's application of De Monarchia to Mussolini and the situation of contemporary Italy was at all influenced by Fascist thinking or whether it was his own idiosyncratic reading. I have found no evidence of any contemporary official use of De Monarchia to bolster Mussolini's regime; Mussolini, of course, made many references to the Roman Empire, as did Dante, but this is the aspect of Dante's thought and the Fascist regime that least interested the author of the “Homage to Sextus Propertius.”

  34. Massimo Bacigalupo has a good discussion of Pound's life-long sense of exile (The Formed Trace: The Later Poetry of Ezra Pound [Columbia University Press, 1980], pp. 53-58); Wilhelm compares Pound to Dante in this respect (Dante and Pound, p. 24). The lives of other poets are relevant here as well: Hugh Kenner relates that Pound after his release in 1958 “told the press that Ovid had had it worse, in the long years at Pontus, a statement the press was unprepared to evaluate” (The Pound Era [University of California Press, 1971], p. 536).

  35. Timothy Materer, ed., Pound/Lewis: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis (New Directions, 1985), p. 273.

  36. Pearlman has argued quite straightforwardly that the Early, Middle, and Pisan Cantos represent an Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Wilhelm tends to make similar claims but retracts them at the same time. Two representative instances from Dante and Pound:

    The rhythm of the Cantos is, in other words, genuinely the rhythm of the Comedy, but we still cannot approach the two works as if they showed a complete resemblance (p. 96).

    I will not say that the Later Cantos form an exact parallel with Dante's Paradiso, but I will frankly admit that there is a strong heavenly cast to much of the rhetoric (p. 136).

  37. These two cantos were published in part in Italy in 1945 but were not included in English-language editions of The Cantos until the tenth New Directions printing of 1986. For a good summary and discussion of these cantos with some translations, see Massimo Bacigalupo, “The Poet at War: Ezra Pound's Suppressed Italian Cantos” (South Atlantic Quarterly LXXXIII:1 [1984] 69-79).

  38. Despite Pound's attempt to link his cause with Dante's here, we must realize that this identification with Dante is also a revision of him. Marinetti is explicitly said to be in Paradise, so Ezzelino must be there as well. In contrast, Dante put his political allies in Hell (Ezzelino, Frederick and others) when he felt they deserved it. Pound's refusal of a moral or ethical code apart from the political needs to be sharply distinguished from Dante here. Pound's political reading of Dante, in short, is an overly politicized reading of him.

  39. The key text of Petrarch for this tradition is the canzone “Italia mia,” Canzoniere 128 (Robert M. Durling, trans. and ed., Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics [Harvard University Press, 1976], pp. 256-63), which Machiavelli quotes in the last chapter of The Prince which urges Italian independence and unification. The closing words of The Prince are in fact the quotation from “Italia mia.” The key text of Leopardi is “All'Italia,” Canti I (Geoffrey L. Bickersteth, ed. and trans., The Poems of Leopardi [Cambridge University Press, 1923], pp. 136-43), which is clearly based on Petrarch's canzone. Pound's negative comments on Petrarch throughout his works are customarily taken to indicate his anti-Petrarchism, but those comments also indicate his awareness of Petrarch. He had more favorable comments to make about Leopardi, translated one of his poems, took the title of his early group of essays on America, “Patria Mia,” in (1911-1912 rpt., Selected Prose 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson [New Directions, 1973], pp. 99-141) from the first line of “All'Italia,” “O patria mia, vedo le mura e gli archi” (O my country, I see the walls and the arches), and quoted this line elsewhere in his prose and correspondence.

  40. James Longenbach, “Ezra Pound and the Vicissitudes of Post-Romantic Ambition,” Southern Review, XXIV (1988) 481-501.


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