Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Complicated Love

Written by: on February 8, 2021

Mussolini’s years in leadership found him to be an able diplomat. In 1923, some Greeks murdered an Italian general and three soldiers over Graeco-Albanian concerns. Italy gave Greece an ultimatum; war was imminent. Greece ultimately conceded to Italy’s terms and war was averted. But the nearness of the possibility of war alarmed Mussolini, causing him to take a more nuanced political posture in the years to follow.[1]

Mussolini spent his first ten years building his Fascist state, with little interest in Europe or Africa. Leaders in Europe and America lauded Mussolini’s Fascism as “a form of government of the very first order of excellence.”[2] They were captivated with Mussolini’s ability to “change the lives of human beings, (including) their minds…hearts…and spirits.”[3] In 1927, Churchill even remarked how charmed he was with Mussolini, finding him to be gentle, simple, and detached from all except the well-being of the Italian people.[4]

Mussolini’s passive political position changed in 1935 when, with the political support of both Britain and German, Italian forces quickly invaded and conquered Abyssinia, where ten months earlier, Abyssinian and Italian soldiers clashed on the border of Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland. The victory was swift, decisive, and brutal, causing the international community to take notice. The brutality of the conquest caused condemnation from other nations. Mussolini had a clear conscious though, noting Britain and France had conquered peoples in similar ways. Still, the League of Nations placed sanctions on Italy for the aggressive actions. As a consequence, Italian national unity strengthened and support for Mussolini became unwavering. Furthermore, Italy now captured the attention of Adolf Hitler, planting seeds in which the Italo-German alliance would grow.[5]

The relationship that developed between Mussolini and Hitler was unique. Hitler admired Mussolini and was deeply influenced by Fascist ideology. Mussolini was less impressed with Hitler. Confirmation of his dislike and mistrust was confirmed when he met Hitler for the first time in June of 1934.[6] Mussolini walked away from their meeting noting “(Hitler’s) quite mad.”[7] Still, Hitler worked diligently to gain and maintain Mussolini’s friendship. In 1936, Hitler showered Mussolini with recognition of the Italian Empire. Flattered, Mussolini took to the microphone, declaring to Italy and the world the creation of “a Rome-Berlin axis around which all European states that desire peace can revolve.”[8] Little did Mussolini know how these words would seal the fate of Italy in ways he could not have predicted.

Mussolini’s emotional connection to Hitler and Germany continued to strengthen. In September 1937, Mussolini visited Germany. His arrival was celebrated with a “calculated display of power, regimentation, and organization” by the German forces.[9] Upon witnessing such dedication and “militaristic industry,” Mussolini was smitten.[10] Where Hitler was once deemed a clown by Mussolini, now Mussolini could only sing Hitler’s praises. Together Italy and Germany would stand against the threat of Socialism.

The funny thing about political romances is that rarely do they end well. In the years to come, Hitler’s influence over Mussolini would prevail. Not only did Mussolini implement German military protocols in his Italian forces, but he also allowed anti-sematic sentiments to invade Italian life. Italians quick push-back on such sentiments only provoked Mussolini to condemn the weakness of Italians for Jews and reiterate reasons for his political alliance with Germany. This alliance was tested on a number of occasions as Hitler was not inclined to ask permission before making a military move, even ones with which his closest allies disagreed.[11] Still, Mussolini remained steadfast in his commitment to Hitler. Hitler in turn promised to support Italy, even if the world was against her.[12] Hitler knew Italy was a weak military presence, yet a strong ally, one he could not afford to lose.[13]

Mussolini bought into Hitler’s flattery and capitalized on Germany’s strong military presence to counter Italy’s weakening military forces and struggling economy. But the more he doubled down in his support for Germany, the closer Italy moved toward war, and the more precarious Italian support for Mussolini and Fascism became. In time, as with all complicated love affairs, everything would soon crumble, causing extensive damage and leaving nothing but a pile of rubble behind.

I continue to be amazed how easy it is to extrapolate realities from Mussolini’s life into the American church, and my own leadership experiences. I so wanted to make him out to be the bad guy. True, he was evil and ruthless, but he was also strategic, thoughtful, and reserved. He chose his alliances carefully and utilized the technology of the day to communicate his intentions. Are we really any different? Am I really any different? Maybe? Ministry leaders often utilize similar tactics and motives. The only difference is when they slap Jesus on it, all is considered well. But is it really? Who do we truly love if we’re willing to hand over our souls, our Jesus, in exchange for alliances with empire, capitalism, or contemporary Christian culture that promise platform, position, and power?


[1] Christopher Hibbett. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1962, 2008) 66.

[2] Ibid., 76.

[3] Ibid., 74.

[4] Ibid., 74.

[5] Ibid., 68-71.

[6] Ibid., 71-77.

[7] Ibid., 77.

[8] Ibid., 79-80.

[9] Ibid., 84.

[10] Ibid., 84.

[11] Ibid., 85-89.

[12] Ibid., 89.

[13] Ibid., 91.

About the Author

Darcy Hansen

11 responses to “Complicated Love”

  1. Greg Reich says:

    Fascinating read. As I read your blog I couldn’t help but think how the US over the years has helped remove leaders of a third world country. They then set a new one up in power only to find out they were worse then the first.
    I would agree we see questionable alliances built in the mega church world. Sadly they appear to get caught up in the glory and power of the position. I am amazed at how quickly they disown one another when a leader is exposed. The frailty of the human heart never seems to amaze me. And yet God uses us despite our brokenness. So amazing.

  2. Jer Swigart says:

    I’m also intrigued by how easily we are seduced by power. In your piece, you highlight how Mussolini believed Hitler to be mentally ill…and yet…and Hitler’s power and prominence increased, so did Mussolini’s selective amnesia. He was willing to forgo his diagnosis of and distance from Hitler in order to align with power. Is this not what we have seen occur in the U.S. with the “Moral Majority” and, in particular, with so many evangelical spokespeople in recent years? I want us to be having a more serious conversation on the principality of power and how it is moving “Christians” in the direction of anti-Christ behavior.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      There is something about how a corrupt spirit is attracted to other corrupt spirits. Like how Trump gravitated to all the bad-boy leaders on the international stage. As I consider your comment on the “moral majority” I wonder if that isn’t just a cover up for the deep corruption that lies within, as evidenced by the number of evangelical leaders that fall hard off their self-righteous podiums? There’s something about power that corrupts the soul. I remember so wanting a place at the table at my old church. I wanted the power and platform to lead and do “what God called me to do.” It took a considerable time in the wilderness before I realized how corrupt my heart was in that desire. God knew better of course, which is why I am where I am. I am now quite content to simply be small and care for those God brings my way. I wonder if extended wilderness experiences would mitigate that desire for power?

  3. Dylan Branson says:

    Selective hearing/vision/thoughts… It’s easy to support someone or something when it fits into our narrative and goals. We can easily turn a blind eye to the consequences when they aren’t glaring at us – but even then, maybe we can. Power is intoxicating and it numbs us to the needs and struggles of others.

    I do find it interesting that the more we read into the lives of people, the more complex they are. People are so complicated haha.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      We are so complex. We pull back layers only to discover more layers. Life shapes us in the best and worst of ways. Trusting God to make us fully human, like Christ, is a lifelong endeavor. As leaders, we must persist in this endeavor if we want to lead and love well.

  4. John McLarty says:

    Maybe the world would be a much simpler place if the “bad guys” were as one-dimensional as they are portrayed in the movies. The reality is that people are much more nuanced than can be captured in portrayals. Your deep-dive here is revealing what is true for all of us. So if Mousolini was not just “Dr. Evil” or some other villain character, what was the good he thought he was doing in the world? The end that he believed justified his means?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Nuance. Yes. A word that continues to surface in my learning journey.

      His goal was to prevent Bolshevism from spreading through Europe. His foundational fascist beliefs were separation of church and state, and the church’s supremacy’s of faith and morals; and rights of the laborers. While he thought his fascist regime would benefit the people, it would only do so via fear and violence. He had no interest in earning the love of his people. His arrogance would be his downfall. Deep inside, he knew his leadership would only last for a time. Still, he longed to be remembered for doing great things, for being a great leader, for leaving his mark on the world. That ultimately was his non-negotiable, driving force.

      • John McLarty says:

        You’ve exposed the reality that among even the worst human beings, there is often something driving them to a vision of some ideal (however delusional it may be.) I have a friend who frequently teaches her children that “there are no bad people, just people who make bad choices.” Honestly, I can’t say I completely agree, but for her, she says it reminds her to look for the divine spark of God in every person, especially those who cause harm.

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    I hear you. Appreciate the application and help with focusing the person and the subject into our contemporary ‘pop’ church culture.

    I see it, even in the NPO-NGO, charitable org. sector of NA church culture. Genuine article, how to find it? The charming leader who seems wonderful and speaks with such sweet eloquence (perfect) is most likely, in a lesser Big way, at least similar in attitude to a Mussolini.

    Real. The position can be used to fool and exploit so many. Genuine article, how to find it through all the plastic (all that brilliance and charm)?

  6. Shawn Cramer says:

    Your ease to draw parallels to today is disconcerting. You missed a good conservation today about being a part of subversive change from the inside. I’d love to hear your 2 cents on that topic.

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