Over the winter break, I clicked upon Rick Steves’ “The Story of Fascism in Europe,” on PBS. Having never had much interest in history, I knew little of fascism. But in recent months, the term had been tossed around enough through various mediums that my interest was piqued. Ten minutes into the episode, Steves’ shares film footage of the fascists’ March on Rome, followed by images of Mussolini, Italy’s new leader, standing on a balcony speaking to a massive crowd. Steves’ remarks on Mussolini, who “offering big promises and simple solutions to complex problems, he whipped his followers into a mass frenzy.” The images and words made the hair on my neck stand on end, as similar images have been shared here in America during Trump’s presidency and reelection campaign. It was then I decided I needed to know more about fascism and one of its most prominent leaders, Benito Mussolini.
“Did you know – then?” asked Harry.
“Did I know that I had just met the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time?” said Dumbledore. “No, I had no idea that he was to grow up to be what he is.”
These words from J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, tumbled through my mind as I read the account of Benito Mussolini’s early years, as written by Christopher Hibbert. In 1960, Hibbett traveled to Italy to read documents, interview individuals, and discover all he could so as to compose a historical narrative, in an attempt to understand Mussolini, a most complicated man.
Born July 29, 1883, Benito Mussolini was named after socialist revolutionaries by his politically energized, blacksmith father, Alessandro, and schoolmistress mother, Rosa. From an early age, Mussolini was a difficult child. Descriptors included: “disobedient, quarrelsome, self-willed and moody.” He was also experienced as short tempered and aggressive, loyal and deeply feeling. By the age of nine, unable to be controlled by his parents and current schooling environment, Mussolini was sent away to a Catholic boarding school. Mussolini hated the school, the Fathers, other students, and especially the ‘rich’ boys. His violent disposition wreaked havoc on the students, stabbing those with whom he disagreed. After only one year at that school, Mussolini was expelled. It was noted they had never had a more difficult student. I wondered… did they know- then- that they had just met one of the world’s most ruthless leaders? In his next school, the story was the same, again, concluding in expulsion. In his teen years, he managed to settle a bit and graduate with a teaching diploma. During these formative years, he developed a passion for learning and elocution, which he carried into his writing and political career.
What is it about this man that caused people to flock to his speeches, condone his violence, and concede to his leadership? How does understanding the rise of fascism in the past help us navigate the present and shape the future? In the weeks ahead, by reading Hibbett’s detailed account of Mussolini, I’ll examine character and leadership attributes of this most complex man who, though a violently ruthless human being, was embraced by a people, indeed, a nation, for his seemingly stabilizing fascist ideology.
 Rick Steves. 2018. “Rick Steves’ Eurpoe: The Story of Fascism in Europe.” PBS.org. September 4. Accessed January 19, 2021. https://www.pbs.org/video/the-story-of-fascism-in-europe-pthanf/.
 J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2005) 276.
 Christopher Hibbett. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1962, 2008) xv.
 Ibid., 3-4.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 5-7.