Nietzsche’s thinking seems destined to be mangled and misunderstood

For Mussolini’s 60th birthday, Hitler gave him a de luxe edition of Friedrich Nietzsche’s complete works, bound in blue pigskin. After the war, writers vied to revile the philosopher. Then, in the 1960s, he suddenly became philosophy’s darling. How come? Enter two erotically entangled Italians: Georgio Colli, a philosophy teacher at Lucca from 1942, and his pupil Mazzino Montinari, who in 1943-4 was beaten, interrogated and imprisoned for anti-fascist activism. Both found Nietzsche’s philosophy irreconcilable with fascism. Rumours had been swirling that the Nazifying of Nietzsche emerged from the Nachlass, a mysterious hoard of Nietzsche’s manuscripts suspected to contain forgeries that were the work of his sister Elisabeth and her

From ‘divine Caesar’ to Hitler’s lapdog – the rise and fall of Benito Mussolini

In 1919, an obscure political agitator called Benito Mussolini assembled a ragbag of Blackshirt diehards in the Lombard capital of Milan and launched the movement that was to become, two years later, the National Fascist Party. The party took its name from the classical Roman symbol of authority — an axe bound in rods, or fasces. Once in power, Mussolini introduced the stiff-armed Roman salute after the handshake was considered fey and unhygienic. At times he wore a richly tasselled fez and thrust out his chin pugnaciously for the cameras. For all his posturing and demagoguery, Mussolini was widely admired in pre-war Britain, where Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail routinely carried

Four dangerous visionary writers

‘The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks… And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.’ The quote is usually attributed to Stalin, though the phrase ‘engineers of human souls’ most likely came from someone else. Who’s to argue? Purges, executions, deportations – what’s a little light plagiarism in comparison? Whoever coined the phrase, it certainly struck a chord and indeed continues to ring various alarm bells whenever one comes across writers who deliberately set out to influence politics and ideas – and not just the big beasts, the Nobel Prize winners, say, or the shopfront-filling non-fiction authors hawking

Was Mussolini’s wilful daughter his éminence grise?

In 1930, when she was 19 years old, Edda Mussolini married Galeazzo Ciano. His father was a loyal minister in her father’s government: it was a suitable match. Five hundred wedding invitations went out to the Roman nobility, to diplomats from more than 30 countries and to all the senior fascists, the gerarchi. After the ceremony the newlyweds left for Capri, Edda driving her own white Alfa Romeo, with servants and luggage following in another car and bodyguards in a third. They set off at top speed. Then Edda came to a sudden halt. She had noticed a fourth car behind them. She might have supposed that as a married

What does it mean when Giorgia Meloni quotes G.K. Chesterton?

For a UK audience, the most striking moment in the new Italian PM Giorgia Meloni’s victory speech will have been that she anchored its peroration to a quote from G.K. Chesterton. ‘Chesterton wrote, more than a century ago,’ she said, ‘“Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.” That time has arrived. We are ready.’ G.K. Chesterton? The creator of the excellently herbivorous Father Brown mysteries, the Isaac Newton of what we now call ‘cosy crime’? That G.K. Chesterton? The author of a poem, memorised by many a previous generation of English schoolboys, about

Pre-Mussolini, most Italians couldn’t understand each other

Towards the end of Dandelions, Thea Lenarduzzi’s imaginative and deeply affecting memoir, the author quotes her grandmother’s remark that there are tante Italie – many Italys. ‘Mine is different to hers, which is different to my mother’s, which is different to my father’s, and so on down the queue,’ she writes. These Italys – of fascismo, of Garibaldi, of emigrants living in Sheffield and Manchester, of 31 dialects – are not far-flung historical oddities confined to documentaries or textbooks but are, in Lenarduzzi’s account, the patchwork story of one family. Sitting at her Nonna’s (grandmother’s)table with ‘the blinds pulled down against the morning sun and the rest of the family

The rise of the neoclassical reactionaries

A strange new ideology has been growing over the last few years, you might have noticed — amid the day-to-day chaos — the slow, proto-planet-like formation. Currently, it has no name, nor an obvious leader. Its many thousands of proponents do not even seem, yet, to consider each other fellow-travellers. But to the onlooker, they’re clearly marching the same steps to the same tune. We might call it neoclassical reactionism. The central refrain is a familiar one: the modern world is ugly, decadent, sick. But rather than seeking refuge in religion or racial politics, neoclassical reactionaries hark back to Ancient Greece and Rome — in particular, to supposedly lost values like

Was the US involved in neo-fascist Italian terrorism?

Last month, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi promised to declassify government documents involving two organisations: Gladio, an anti-communist paramilitary group linked to Nato and the CIA, and a masonic lodge known as P2. These two groups are believed by some to have been involved in the darkest moments of post-war Italian history. For much of the latter half of the 20th century, Italy had the unenviable position of being the epicentre of European terrorism. The blast at the Bologna train station in 1980, which left 76 people dead and more than 200 wounded, was at the time the bloodiest terrorist attack ever suffered by a European country. The bombing was pinned on

Churchill did admire Mussolini

In his ruthless demolition of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s new Churchill biography in last week’s Spectator, the historian Andrew Roberts pours scorn on the ‘insinuation that Churchill had fascist leanings in the 1920s’ as it is not supported by ‘any actual evidence (for there is none)’. Well, however justified his hatchet job of Wheatcroft’s book is in general, Roberts is deeply mistaken about Churchill and fascism. Like so many in the 1920s and well into the 1930s, from all sides of the political divide, Churchill was a fervent admirer of the former revolutionary socialist Benito Mussolini and the fascist movement which he founded in 1919. Fascism was a nationalist rather than internationalist

Fascist, anti-Semite and dupe: the dark side of G.K. Chesterton

The Sins of G.K. Chesterton demands our attention because, as Richard Ingrams notes in his introduction, the literature on this author is (with a few notable exceptions) horribly flawed — littered with misconstruction, omissions of fact and interpretive errors designed to present him as ‘an innocent, uncomplicated man, blessed with almost permanent happiness and having no experience of suffering — hence an ideal candidate for canonisation’. That flourish, appearing in Ingrams’s third to last paragraph, was a bombshell to me, though I understand there exists a sizeable constituency pressing for Chesterton’s beatification, rebuffed in 2019 when Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton condemned his anti-Semitism. Ingrams’s predecessors are guilty of trying

Spain’s growing culture war over General Franco

There are hundreds of mass graves dotted around the Spanish countryside. In roadside ditches, down hillside gullies, dumped in pits and down disused wells lie thousands of bodies: civilians murdered in cold blood by Franco’s death squads during the civil war that convulsed Spain between 1936 and 1939. Over the nearly forty years of Franco’s dictatorship, few spoke of what had happened during the war; silence and selective amnesia were safer. And even when Franco died in 1975, the overriding priority was the transition to democracy. The old Francoist establishment indicated that it would make way for the new era — provided that there was no digging up of the

The forgotten victims of communism

I just read a piece by Scott McConnell in the American Conservative, a magazine we co-founded 18 years ago. He writes about how the victims of communism are less commemorated than those of fascism. The death toll under communism was 100 million (see the Black Book of Communism). And as the mass murders continued, your Cambridge Joseph Needhams and his fellow apologists insisted that Maoism represented mankind’s best hope. Maoism never received the moral obloquy that Nazism did. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which documents the horrific enormity of the Nazi project, has had 40 million visitors since 1993; the victims of communism are marked by a ten-foot statue

It’s still impossible for Horst Wächter to recognise his father as a Nazi war criminal

In 1926, while putting in place the repressive laws and decrees that would define his dictatorship, Mussolini appointed a new chief of police. Arturo Bocchini was 36, a lawyer and former prefect of Brescia, a cynical, vengeful, witty and corpulent Neapolitan. Under his 17-year tenure, fascist Italy became one of the most sinister and efficient police states of the years between the wars, with overlapping and rivalrous legal and illegal police bodies, fed by a vast army of informers and spies. Said to number around 10,000 at their peak, these men and women were to be found in every corner of Italian life, from the civil service to the Vatican,

Britain can be as prone to fascism as any other nation

It’s easy to dismiss the fascistic ideologues who populate Graham Macklin’s book as reactionary cranks of no significance. It’s also a mistake. Fascists have edged uncomfortably close to the mainstream of British politics ever since the British Union of Fascists was founded in 1932 by Oswald Mosley, who two years earlier had been a government minister. In 2009, two British National Party candidates were elected to the European Parliament. The seats were lost in 2014 because the BNP votes transferred en masse to Ukip. If you doubt that the spirit of the BNP infused Ukip, you have only to look at what has happened to it since Nigel Farage decamped.

Yellow Vests are copying the French left’s worst traditions

On Saturday, I visited Chartres and stood in awe inside its cathedral. I was as stunned by its splendour as I was by the knowledge that men once wanted to blow the cathedral sky high. The Revolutionary Committee was only prevented from carrying out its wish in 1793 by a local architect who warned that removing all the rubble would be a complicated task. So instead they stripped the cathedral of its metal and burned the peat wood sculpture of the black Madonna. The cultural sacrilege of the late-eighteenth century has returned to France in the shape of the Yellow Vest mob, many of whom share the Revolutionaries’ hatred of

Native wood-notes wild | 20 June 2019

With public life increasingly a din of personalised ringtones and phone chatter, we crave silence. Acoustic ecologists speak of ‘ear cleaning’ exercises that might attune us beatifically to a hushed environment. Silence itself can be quite noisy, of course. Even in the countryside the thoughts in one’s head and the sound of one’s breathing can disturb the peace. Music, at least, may help to restore a sense of quietude. Vaughan Williams’s 15-minute meditation ‘The Lark Ascending’ conjures a pastoral idyll untouched by the clamour and carnage attendant on the Great War. In 1921, when the music was premiered, the green fields of Europe had been psychologically altered by the bloodiest

The might of the far right

‘Why would anyone write a historical study of it?’ asks Gavriel Rosenfeld about the Fourth Reich at the start of this rather confusing, but at times entertaining, book. His answer is that the phrase has been used as a metaphor since the earliest days of the Third Reich to mean a wide variety of things. It has permeated politics and culture, and seems to be a term susceptible to any meaning a writer or speaker wishes to impose upon it. Some of us — and I plead guilty to this — have used the term simply to describe the present German state in its reunified, Europe-dominating form. While of course

The witching time

All Among the Barley, Melissa Harrison’s third ‘nature novel’, centres on Wych Farm in the autumn of 1933, where the corn fields are ‘acres of gold like bullion, strewn with the sapphires of cornflowers and the garnets of corn poppies and watched over from on high by larks’. Our narrator, 14-year-old Edie, has finished school and her older brother Frank tells her: ‘Something will happen next, and you should choose it.’ In Edie’s provincial life, her choices are limited. Essentially, she can stay at home and help on the farm, marry like her older sister and ‘push out a baby a year’, or become a teacher — she is sufficiently

High life | 26 April 2018

Benito lives! The Blackshirts are here. Fascism is on the march — at least according to Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under Bill Clinton and in my book, having allowed Albanian gangsters to win power in Kosovo, the worst American foreign minister ever. She attacks Hungary and Poland, the left’s newest whipping boys, for preferring their own kind to African migrants, but she’s not alone. The usual suspects are all piling in. Fascism is back, but this time, alas, without the beautiful uniforms. Damn! La Albright was taken to task a long time ago by Barbara Amiel for pretending she did not know she was Jewish — until Washington beckoned.

The ‘Pope’ must answer to God

Enrico Fermi may not be a name as familiar as Einstein, Feynman or Hawking, but he was one of the greatest figures of 20th-century physics, with a reputation for infallibility. In Rome, pioneering atomic science under Mussolini, he was nicknamed ‘the Pope’. Escaping to America where he created the world’s first nuclear reactor, he was dubbed ‘the last man who knew everything’. Yet he was no Renaissance man: he knew everything about physics, and didn’t care much about anything else. It is testimony to David N. Schwartz’s excellence as a biographer that he can reveal the workaholic Fermi to have been such a fascinatingly complex figure. He was, we are