by Michael de la Bedoyere
THE manner of Mussolini's death Was wholly in keeping with his life. To be shot after an impromptu partisan court-martial ; to be dragged dead to the piazza of one's spiritual capital; to be reviled and spit upon by the fickle Italian people—the: very same people, no. cloisbt, who shouted themselves hoarse not so long ago with the cry of " Duce ! Duce ! " all this is very disgusting to AngloSaxon respectability and it is certainly hardly consonant with Christian
morality, but it fitly completes the story-book and romantic career of perhaps the most colourful figure of history since Napoleon. It is reported that the bloated,. certified Duce begged for mercy, I doubt it. Or if he did, he was a siels ;mei very changed man, In any case, I have little doubt that when our times come to be assessed, and when Italy recovers a balance and is able to see her history again in perspective, Mussolini will emerge an authentic popular hero. And in this his fate in the judgment of posterity will contrast very sharply with that of Hitler. Both, of course, will survive so long as man's historical memory lasts, but Hitler's image will he framed in dark and ugly (typically Teutonic* shadows as a kind of secularist Luther,. whereas there will always be light and colour and vivid contrasts playing round the memory of the latest Italian onndottiere.
An Intelligent Man
Mussolini, with all his faults and in spite of the cataclysmic failure of his life's adventure, was a very human personality—and outstandingly intelli gent. His autobiography is without any question the work of a man of insight and feeling—a far saner, far more balanced, far more sympathetic work than Hitler's Mein Kampf, even though a very much more superficial piece of writing. Hider, I think, never understood the causes of the modern world's sickness; he merely reacted against certain symptoms 01 that sickness in order to substitute his own nationalism and his own socialism, hbth of which were impregnated with every contemporary error. He was like an ill man. who resents others sleeting the illness: he wanted it all to himself and in a particularly virulent form, Mussolini %realised fax more thoroughly the failure of contemporary internationalism and the inadequacy of both socialist aspirations and the polite moralism of the bourgeois Powers. Writing of the beginning of the last war, he said :'• I walker' !tome to my farm& to my home, al night with pregnant questions in my mind with deepening determinations, with harr)ening resolutions. Above all, there WAS my own country. I saw that Internationalism was crumbling. The unit of loyalty was too large. I wrote an editorial in which 1 said how utterly foolish was the idea that even if a Socialist SHIM were created, the old barriers of race and historical contentions would not go rot causing wars.And this was his vision of the post-war world around him : " Politicians and philosophers; profiteers. and losers, for at least many had lost their illusions; sharks trying to save themselves; promoters of the war trying to be pardoned: demagogues seeking popularity; spie&and instigators of trouble wail.ng for the price of their treason; agents paid by foreign money; in a few months threw the nation into an awful spit-Filial crisis," But seeing so clearly the feebleness and hypocrisy of a godless tad traditionless world, and understanding very well the remaining sources of strength in the different cultures (there is a remarkable summing up of the strength of Ametica, Britain, France, Germany in the early pages of the Autobiography), Mussolini was never able to think out a constructive alternative more effective than patriotism, action, discipline. ad hoc social reform, Whereac the fanatical, bogus-mystical Hitler sought to harness in a new religion the deeper forces of his times. Mussolini could only hark hack to a dead past. He could not see beyond a revival of Benevolent Despotism within the oielotir and values of the small Italian Reitaiserince State on a modern technocratic scale.
He expressed his own ideals in the following terms: " My objective is simple : I want to make Italy great, respected and feared: I want to render my Nation worthy of her noble and ancient traditions. want to accelerate her evolution toward the highest forms of national cooperation, I want to make a greater prosperity always possible for the whole people. I want to create a political organisation to express, to guarantee and to safeguard our development. I am tireless in my wish to see newly born and newly reborn Italians. With all my strength, with all my energies, without pause, without interruptions I want to bring to them their
tulles' opportunities. I do not lose sight of the experience of other peoples, but I build with elements of our own and in harmony with our own possibilities, with our traditions, and with
the energy of the Italian people. I have made a profound study of the nieresee the aspirations and the tendencies of our masses 1 push on toward better forces of life and progress. I value them I launch them. I guide them." The vigour of the language and the sense of action cannot disguise the emptiness of the programme and the staleness of the ideal. Even so, he nearly pulled it off. His experiment failed of course because, as he grew older, he hadn't the patience and finesse necessary to appease Britain and America with the moralist, socialist and internationalist forces— the bourgeois religions—behind them. His growing personal vanity and the increasing corruption of power threw him into the arms of his worst enemy, Hitlerite Germany. Whereas before he had been a picturesque kind of political freelance, he found himself the second and despised partner of an ideology repugnant to the sanity of his people and quite ropugnent to his own natural condottiere temperament. But in any ease he was building on sand, for he never understood that in the modern, technocratic, idealist world aspiring to the temporal blessings of Christianity, while denying its roots, you either had to accept and make the beet of the bourgeois philosophy, or replace it by something better. Though nominally a Catholic. and brought up as one—and proud of it—there is little in his words and records to suggest that he had the faintest idea of Christian philosophy and Christian discipline. The Church was never more to him than a convenient instrument of State, and in the opmmonsonse, but superficial, solution of the Lateran Treaty the quality and the limits of his vision can be discerned.
At bottom he was a great and intelligent adventurer with unusual powers of discernment, a genuine gift for leadership, but lacking vision, subtlety, morals. His oharacter deteriorated steadily. and the speed and depth of his fall, ending in the theatrical degradation of his death, measure, not inaccurately, the value to the world of a career based on will and action unbalanced and untempered by vision, reflection and the understanding that there is more than tqatt to the human being: there is, for better or for worse, a soul.