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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mussolini: An Introduction

Written by: on January 20, 2021

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.”[1] 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.”[2]

 

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.[3]

Born July 29, 1883, Benito Mussolini was named after socialist revolutionaries by his politically energized, blacksmith father, Alessandro, and schoolmistress mother, Rosa.[4] From an early age, Mussolini was a difficult child. Descriptors included: “disobedient, quarrelsome, self-willed and moody.”[5] 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.[6]

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.

 

 

[1] 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/.

[2] J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2005) 276.

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

[4] Ibid., 3-4.

[5] Ibid., 4.

[6] Ibid., 5-7.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

11 responses to “Mussolini: An Introduction”

  1. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Darcy, if you gave me 100 guesses as to what biography you would read this semester, I wouldn’t have guessed anywhere close! Perhaps just one thought as I engage with this introductory post… I love the questions you are intentionally bringing to the text. It is really important to both have some intentionality AND to be open to surprises and find questions you might have but haven’t articulated. May your journey be filled with insight and surprise.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Shawn,
      I so wanted a female voice, preferably a person of color, who was a trail blazer. As I prayed and waited, this is what came to pass. I wasn’t super excited. Actually, I’m still not super excited to examine this man’s life. But I have to believe God has something in these pages that I am to learn. I do hope there are some lovely surprises and new questions tucked in along the way.

  2. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Looking forward to following along, D. Thanks for choosing this book.

    I’m immediately struck by the arrogance of offering “simple solutions to complex problems.” That, matched with a skill at surfacing the worst and most vile parts of our shared humanity (racism, xenophobia, victimhood, etc.) seems to create a lethal cocktail for many.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Jer,
      Your post has me reflecting on Mussolini’s life and intellectualism. Like Bonhoffer, his father had a huge influence upon his early years of learning- though more toward the evil and vile. They would not have seen it that way, I’m sure. Which raises so many questions for me. I hope to unpack this a bit more in the weeks to come. But his arrogance began at such an early age. It has me wondering if evil leaders are born that way or formed- maybe its a bit of both. The lethality of his ideological positions and person are indeed real.

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy,
    Inspired by the boldness of your choice. I look forward to gleaning some insight in leadership from your future blogs. It is amazing how much we can learn about ourselves and about leadership through the lives of others even if their life is objectionable. There is a level of truth in the idea that there is learning in everything.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      God definitely has quite the sense of humor in placing this person on my heart to study. Maybe it’s an answer to my many prayers to better understand how a person like Trump can rise to the highest levels of power and influence.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    That tie-in to the Harry Potter conversation was powerful. And it opens up the old ethical question about if one could travel back in time and prevent Hitler or Mussolini or whoever from growing up or gaining power, would that act be enough to stop an atrocity? In a strange way, I think your reading and my reading will parallel as I explore some of the formative experiences that shaped future presidents and how they influenced their approaches to certain crises. But I’m also curious how some people, despite their oblivious flaws or thinly veiled ambitions, still manage to attract devoted followers and amass power.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      John,
      I do think the parallels will be interesting, and then seeing where the paths to leadership diverged or even went off the rails will be fascinating!

      • mm John McLarty says:

        And not just for the individual leader, but the circumstances that would cause massive groups of people to align behind the leader and believe their way was the right way forward.

  5. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Darcy, just thinking about the last couple of lines of your post and how when there’s a culture of instability around us, we look for something that stabilizes us. About how when there’s a vacuum, there’s always something that’s ready to fill it. Looking forward to seeing your reflections on the causes of Mussolini’s rise and its implications for us today.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Darcy, I’m curious. So curious about the journey you’re on drawing near to he life to an individual that many, including myself, would prefer to stay away from.

    I’m curious to know if there was True Love in him, any empathy. I’m curious about the possibility of connection with leaders like Donald Trump. How do people feel when they find out they’ve been duped, toyed with?

    Hannah Arendt has some interesting observations on Hitler, surrounding Totalitarianism, that can be accessed by audio on Philosophize This! So curious. Glad you took a chance with this 🙂 peace with you.

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