What is Fascism?

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Benito Mussolini, Leader of the Nationalist Fascist Party who became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 until he decided Democracy was for squares and seized control of the nation as dictator.

People like to throw around words that hurt, words that no one wishes to be associated with because of the troubled history these definitions carry, regardless of their accuracy. Many of us are able to recall the stain from lived experience while others of us unknowingly feel discomfort upon hearing their whisper, ghosts of a time we were fortunate enough not to have witnessed. It’s not out of the ordinary to hear someone called a ‘Communist’ or a ‘Socialist’ for simply being disagreeable rather than because of any formal affiliation with a political faction, for example. These words used to mean something. Rather than an insult insinuating how “un-American” an individual may be, these words used to come with a benchmark of ideals and theories characterized by aggressive political leanings that have, in History, sparked revolutions. These words used to matter.

Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day. –Benito Mussolini in 1928 [1]

The sands of time are no kinder to concepts and words than they are to ruins, and so it is possible to forget or wave away its meaning as a figment of the past. Fascism, like many other features of World War II, has NOT been buried or vanquished like the Third Reich–It’s a symbiotic strain of Nationalist sentiment that still, to this day, rears its ugly head in every day discourse and goes on unnamed and, ultimately, undetected for what it truly is.

Fascism as a political theory falls on the spectrum of far-right radical leanings characterized by severe Nationalist sentiments and in opposition to Liberalism and Marxist beliefs. Fascism operates on the idea that Democracy is failing and that the true way to unite the state is under one party with a powerful, preferable, Dictator to solidify the stability necessary to combat military and economic crisis. To do this, Fascism encourages violence, war, and Imperialism, as a means to help jump start and heal the nation unilaterally and advocates an economic market with isolationist, aggressive restrictions on foreign trade to further the goal of self-sufficiency.

a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion –
Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism [2]

On social issues, Fascism attacked and categorized homosexuality as a deviant behavior, condemned forms of birth control utilized by women, [3] and relegated the roles of women as ‘reproducers’ and regarded their role in the work force as responsible for unemployment and incompatible with child bearing. [4]

Though not the creator of Fascism but certainly founder of the Italian movement, Benito Mussolini remains the world’s leading example of Fascism in action. Once a socialist, Mussolini grew despondent towards his party’s preference to remain uninvolved during World War I which he was eager to serve in and was later discharged after a wound sustained by an accidental mortar bomb explosion on the Italian Front. Upon his return, he denounced his former party and founded the National Fascist Party with an emphasis on renewed focus of Italian Nationalism. Mussolini came into power in the last week of October 1922 when, with his band of paramilitary supporters known as the ‘Blackshirts’, marched on Rome demanding the resignation of the current prime minister Luigi Facta and the right to rule–which was handed over by the king Victor Emmanuel III. Mussolini then subsequently became the youngest Prime Minister in Italy and used his authority to further his Fascist agenda by establishing, with the help of his secret police and sets of defining laws, a one-party dictatorship with himself at the helm.

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It was a long complicated road. When Mussolini took office, the Parliament was filled with many opposing political factions–leaders intent on curbing the Fascist enthusiasm Mussolini now brought with him (along with some muscled brutes for good measure). In an effort to garner support on the outset, Mussolini targeted new reforms toward the Working Class to reduce the work day which guaranteed 8 hours, ignored profiteering of the Industrial sector during WWI, catered to the wealthy by reducing death duties, and rubbed elbows with the Roman Catholic Church by mandating religious education as obligatory in all elementary schools. All in all, everyone was pleased.

Except, of course, his political enemies. To deal with them, Mussolini initiated a Grand Fascist Council which would decide upon policy reforms while shutting out any dissenters or opposing party factions. This group immediately brought forth a law known as Acerbo Law which sought to change the way members of parliament were elected into seats. Now if a political party, such as the National Fascist Party, received at least 25% of the vote in elections, they were now guaranteed at least 66% of the seats in Parliament ensuring them a solid majority.  Those brutes I mentioned before served as a useful tool in getting the law passed despite its obvious connotations for anyone not a member of the Fascist party. Once passed, the Fascist hold over Parliament was secured with more than 2/3rds of the available Parliamentary seats. Obviously, this did not go unnoticed by the concerned populace in Italy and a prominent Italian politician by the name of Giacomo Matteotti stood before the Parliament and publicly accused the Fascists of rigging the election in their favor and accused Mussolini of inviting those brutes, outside busy fiercely cracking their knuckles, to the party.

So it was no surprise when, 11 days after this declaration, Giacomo Matteotti turned up murdered and people maybe thought that Mussolini had something to do with it. Since no evidence was found in trial condemning Mussolini in the involvement of the murder, historians still debate the validity of this claim today. Regardless, the Italian public believed and upon numerous journalist outcries and calls for resignation, a number of the non-Fascist Parliament members staged a walkout in protest (Which…well, made things even more Fascist-y than before in Parliament) and begged the King, Victor Emmanuel III, to remove Mussolini from office. The King, for reasons that remain petty and politically mind boggling, didn’t much care for the protestors stance on the monarchy to begin with since they favored a republic and ‘Pah!’d them away allowing Mussolini to solidify his hold.

Swiftly, Mussolini shut down those trash talking newspapers and sent out his army of brutes to silence further dissenters. By 1926, all other political parties had been banned from Italy. A year later, a secret police was formed with the reintroduction of the death penalty to facilitate this ban. Mussolini was now free to exert full control and had no one standing in his way (unless Victor Emmanuel III ever decided to get off his duvet and do something about it). The precursory period before WWII saw the same dance of propaganda, cultural revere, and idolization of Mussolini (Apparently he could play a mean violin?)  as was usual for other growing dictatorships in Europe. This caught the esteem of Adolf Hitler. The two eventually formed an alliance with the instigation of WWII, despite Mussolini’s political allies discouraging him to do so. Mussolini was confident that Germany would soon be victorious, however, and that the war would be short lived.

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It wasn’t. Most of us know exactly how WWII plays out and I’m not going to recite it all here, though needless to say, Italy didn’t do so hot. By 1943, Italy had suffered major setbacks on all fronts, exposed itself to invasion by Allied forces, and resource output ground to a halt with factories lost in frequent bombings and food shortages starved out the population. The stress took a toll on Mussolini himself, being diagnosed with gastritis and duodenitis which both served together to bring on one helluva an IBS rager which forced him to stay home seated on the porcelain throne rather than in government.

Victor Emmanuel III was finally ready to do something. With the help of Count Dino Grandi (Member of the Fascist Grand Council and enemy of Mussolini after opposing Italy’s entry into WWII), they orchestrated the removal of Mussolini by calling for a vote of no confidence among the council which succeeded. Mussolini merely shrugged and showed up the next day viewing them mostly as advisors of which his ousting he did not care to follow. The King then invited Mussolini to his palace where he was ambushed with an arrest and was told that he was being replaced with a new Prime Minister. Mussolini was then imprisoned and moved around in order to hide his location from his best friend forever, Hitler, who was hell bent on re-inserting him to power. He was eventually ‘rescued’ by his pal and encouraged to spearhead a new regime intent on stealing back Italy. Now operating under the tutilage of German forces, Mussolini retired himself to Lake Garda where he ordered a few executions of his betrayers while sipping a bellini while Hitler ran the show on the front.

In April of 1945 (a few days before the suicide of Hitler), Mussolini was stopped along with his mistress on their way to escaping to Spain by communist partisans. The pair were captured and brought to Mezzegra where they survived their last night before being shot to death along with their entire convoy. It didn’t end there. After loading their bodies into a van and heading down to Milan, the bodies were dumped unceremoniously at the Piazzale Loreto. Civilians came out in droves to beat and abuse the corpses which were eventually strung up by the ankles and hung from a gas station so that they made for easier targets in stoning.

With the death of Mussolini and the conclusion of WWII, the National Fascist Party was outlawed in Italy. Many successor neo-Fascist parties arose instead, and some do exist in modern times around the world today though not to the same extent or level of power as Mussolini’s rise in Italy. However easy it is to kill a man or his party, remember that it is not as easy to kill an idea. Though the usage of the term Fascism is deadened by its limits in political relevance today, many policies and ideals characterized by its fervor are still very much alive and well. Fascism still means something and we would all do well never to forget it.

Footnotes:

1. Quote from Mussolini as told to Edwin L James of the New York Times. (1928)

2. Paxton, Robert. The Anatomy of Fascism. Vintage Books. ISBN 1-4000-4094-9.

3. Maria Sop Quine. Population Politics in Twentieth Century Europe: Fascist Dictatorships and Liberal Democracies. Routledge, 1995

4. Durham, Martin, Women and Fascism (Routledge, 1998) p. 15.

The Original Queen of Shade

There are many people at Versailles today.

-Marie Antoinette, to her grandfather in-law King Louis XV of France’s mistress Madame Du Barry.

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(On the left) Madame Du Barry, Maitresse-en-titre & Marie Antoinette, then Dauphine of France (on the right)

Context:

When 14-year old Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, arrived in France in 1770, it was to a whirlwind marriage to the heir apparent and (soon to be her ruin) Dauphin of France Louis XVI and an angered and resentful court over the now newly cemented alliance between France and Austria to which she was greeted.

One of her political foes was the current king and grandfather of her now husband Louis XV’s mistress Madame Du Barry who had been warming his bed and ear for some time. She was in large part responsible for kicking out the man who solidified the alliance and marriage of Marie Antoinette and was unpopular among the court for her vulgarity and well known history of “congressing“.

To innocent and as yet to be unflowered Marie Antoinette, Madame Du Barry was nothing short of appalling and certainly did not approve of her relationship with the King nor her opinions on Austria or shameless “your mamma” jokes. Encouraged by her husband’s sisters, Marie decided the best thing would be to stone cold shun Du Barry and ignore her in court.

Because the court protocol dictated that Du Barry, who was of lower rank than Marie, could not initiate conversation, she grew angry at the snub and the presumed lack of approval which, for political reasons, was important for Marie to give. Naturally, the King didn’t hear the end of it and Marie also received letters from her mother encouraging her to at least speak to Du Barry to please Louis XV since her position was a bit contentious since her husband had yet to consummate their marriage.

So, begrudgingly, on New Year’s day of 1772, two years after arriving to France and ignoring Du Barry, Marie Antoinette glided over to the Madame and uttered the choice words above, masterfully crafted to appease all concerned and yet needle Du Barry for her common (and illegitimate) birth and affinity for prostitution.

And what solidifies the shade, Du Barry didn’t pick up on the slight–happy to have been acknowledged at all. Marie strutted off never to speak another word to Du Barry, who in the next 2 years would be ousted from court and placed in a convent after the death of Louis XV.

Ironically, though Marie Antoinette was determined to distance herself from Madame Du Barry as much as possible–the two ultimately did share the same fate. They both became victims of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, sentenced to beheading by guillotine.

FINAL days in Italia! 🇮🇹

Alright, so I’ve been home for a few days already and I apologize for the late update. There are a few reasons for this, one being that obviously it’s hard to write the last one because this means it’s all over. Two, our last night included no sleep as we arrived and stayed at the airport for 9 hours before our layover flight to Amsterdam. Because of this and a now weakened immune system, I picked up a nasty chest cold during the flight and returned home with the inability to do much of anything aside from sleep and cuddle my puppies.

So now that I’ve recovered a bit, here’s the last bit of my Europe extravaganza trip!


Our last day in Cosenza was a bit more uneventful–our relatives were busy working as it was no longer a string of holidays in Italy (All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day) and so we spent our final night packing, shopping for last minute trinkets, and eating some really good pizza.

One thing I didn’t dedicate myself to, was a real try at accidentally stumbling across the tomb of Alaric I and his treasure. For those unaware of Alaric’s achievement of sacking Rome…that’s probably for the best. By the time Alaric hit Rome, it was already a crippling mass limping to collapse. What he served to do, however, was prove that Rome was vulnerable and not invincible–he opened the door to further turmoil and attacks until the Western seat of the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD. After sacking Rome, Alaric I, king of the Visigoths, sailed off with his spoils and headed south where he intended to bombard Africa because he was clearly on one helluva a winning streak. What happened instead was not an epic ransacking maneuver ala the game of Risk. On the way, his fleet was run aground by a storm forcing Alaric and what remained of his army to try and catch their breath in Cosenza. Alaric caught more than that, however, and died of a fever leaving the Visigoths to shrug themselves off to Spain. Legend has it, that Alaric and his treasures were buried somewhere in Cosenza with his gang temporarily diverting the Busento river to hide his burial. Obviously, I’m no Josh Gates of Expedition Unknown (Josh, if you miraculously receive a Google Alert and are reading this–TAKE ME WITH YOU!) but I certainly entertained a day dream or two where I stumbled across the find and jump started my career as Indiana Jones.

Once we left Cosenza without any Roman treasure to speak of, we headed up to the actual Rome where we’d eventually be flying out and returning home. We arrived late in the afternoon and were unfortunately unable to tour the Colosseum which was closing when we made it.

The Colosseum is about as marvelous as you can imagine. It’s massive–able to seat well over 50,000+ guests and certainly makes you gap in awe at it and not because of all of the weird Gladiatorial battles you can picture having caked the ground inside. I would love to come back and get a proper tour–mostly so I can be pointed out where our favorite jockstrap Emperor Commodus attempted to slumber nude during his reign of idiocy.

After walking around the amphitheater and waving at the Arch of Constantine as we passed, we ducked into a local restaurant to feast on our last Italian meal before walking about what we could of Rome before heading to the airport.


One thing I didn’t expect of Rome is how much of it is STILL in ruin. Everywhere we turned, there was an excavation or a reconstruction occurring and I can say with confidence that I hadn’t seen this in any other city we had visited in Italy. Rome’s history has a city is obviously extensive, and the amount of layers that exist under your feet as you walk is a bit overwhelming to imagine. I can’t wait to see what everything looks like once it’s completed (if ever though, honestly)


Night had quickly fallen and our rental car was due for return, so we quickly headed off to visit the Trevi Fountain before leaving. The fountain itself is a more modern marvel, having been completed in 1762. But sooooo worth it, even at night when it is all lit up. Unfortunately, pictures can’t do it justice.


All in all, my trip was a blast! If you’ve been following me since the beginning, then you know there was a lot of things missed in our travels but what we did get to see was 3 weeks of French and Italian country that is hard to get with an exclusive stay in a big city. We were exposed to all kinds of people and experiences, and I can now say I’ve been all across France and Italy. Our trip serves as a sampling snapshot of two wonderful and storied countries and when I return, I’ll know where and how to see the things I’ve missed on this particular trip.

The other main event of this trip was meeting our Italian relatives and that’s something I’ll never forget. They were warm and welcoming, taking it upon themselves to show us the sights of their home cities and making sure that our stay was fruitful and full of plenty of wine and pasta. They’ve empowered me to take up learning Italian here at home so that I can communicate with them better one day and join our local cultural center as well. One thing that will stick with me always was when I was embraced and told, “To use imagination is most beautiful. Write! Never stop writing!”

I promise to follow this advice for the rest of my life.

Thank you for following along with my adventures in Europe and I hope these have been informative and entertaining. If you enjoyed hearing from me, stick around and I’ll be updating this blog with history musings like before but with a special emphasis on some of the things I’ve experienced or seen on my travels now that I have a reliable internet connection and access to JSTOR.

Grazie e io scriverò presto! 🇮🇹

Day 16-17 in Italia! 🇮🇹


The perpetual chocolate croissants and coffee caught up with me on Day 16 and I was as sick as a dog. Moving on, Day 17 with the relatives brought us to Scalea, a coastal town in the Calabrian region about an hour and a half to two hours away from Cosenza. 

The ride up was amazing because for the first time, ruins were littered across the countryside on hills and entombed by modern buildings in a way we hadn’t witnessed before. Scalea was apparently a big port for the Byzantine Empire, and many of the structures and walls are still standing. So much so that I often wondered if some of the ruins we saw were even excavated, one in particular was sitting on top of a hill and looked to be shattered remains of a fortress of some kind but was completely alone with no protection or life of any kind nearby.

This is a different fortress and is possibly Turkish and there for Pirate Protections


And where there is water, there is most definitely piracy. I’ll have to do a more extensive search when I get home, but apparently there, naturally, was some medieval pirates gallivanting the high seas because heck yes there was. Most of the outposts and fortresses residing along the beach were there to help ward off the rum guzzlers looking to bank ashore.

Pirate cave if I ever saw one!


And why not? Because the beach is GORGEOUS!


After we toured Scalea for a bit, we headed over to another house owned by our relatives so we could feast and drink homemade wine and be merry! It’s going to be really hard to go back to America and not have fresh homemade sauces and pasta every day. 

They keep a stash of pomodoro sauce in the basement

Gelato cake! (I maybe had two slices of this…)


Wine cellar! They have over 350+ liters left for the year!


We have one more day in Cosenza before we head off to Rome and the end of our trip. GAH!