Fascism was unique among the radical forces produced by the early twentieth
century, developing out of World War I without any clear predecessor in the nineteenth century. It first emerged in Italy in 1919, catapulting
its leader, Benito Mussolini, into the premiership three years later and then to the creation of a new political dictatorship
beginning in 1925. The term fascism, however, would later be applied to an entire cluster or genus of new revolutionary
nationalist movements in Europe between the world wars, of which the most important was German National Socialism,
or Nazism, for short, so that the Italian origins of the first fascism would often be overlooked, attention focusing
primarily on Germany. The initial, or "paradigmatic" fascism nonetheless had specifically Italian roots and characteristics.
The term comes from the Italian fascio, derived from the ancient Latin fasces, which referred to the
bundle of lictors, or axe-headed rods, that symbolized the sovereignty and authority of the Roman Republic. From
approximately the 1870s, the term fascio was used in Italy in the names of radical new social and political
organizations, normally of the left. Thus the revolutionary nationalists who sought to create a new left nationalist league
in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I, formed a Fascio di Combattimento, transformed two years later into the
new Fascist Party, and so a radical new "ism" was born.
Italian Fascism began on the left, seeking to combine strong nationalism with modern developmentalism and an
aggressive new style of activism that prized violence, idealism, and anti-materialism. While reenforcing Italian
colonialism, Fascism originally embraced national liberation and rejected extreme imperialism and racism. Mussolini did
not create the movement but skillfully guided himself to power as its Duce (Dux, or leader), at the same time
moving the party to the right and engaging in practical compromise with Italy's established institutions. Though Fascists
invented the term "totalitarian" for their new system, Mussolini was unable to complete a Fascist revolution and instead
presided over a somewhat limited, semi-pluralist political dictatorship.
Though Fascists were at first wary of and even hostile to Hitlerism, the Nazi leader sought Mussolini as his chief ally.
The Duce allowed himself to be convinced by the end of 1937, introducing Nazi-style racist and anti-semitic legislation in
Italy despite the membership of many Jews in the Fascist Party. Participation in World War II as Germany's ally produced
the downfall of Mussolini in 1943, but in German-occupied northern Italy the Duce was installed as leader of a new
puppet Fascist-based Italian Social Republic, which waged a savage civil war against Italian anti-Fascists in 1944-1945.
Though approximately thirteen thousand Fascists were executed by partisans at the end of the war, the official purge of
Fascists conducted by the new democratic system in Italy was limited and half-hearted. Thus the great majority of
Fascists survived, and for nearly forty years neo-Fascism would be stronger in Italy than anywhere else in Europe.
Italian Fascism has been studied much less than German Nazism, but interest in the topic is increasing among
American scholars, and thus the Fry Collection is being made available at a very opportune moment. It contains a wide
variety of both primary and secondary materials dealing with many aspects of Fascism. These extensively document the
character and range of Fascist propaganda and the special cult of the Duce that it fostered. Other materials illustrate
Fascist social and educational policies, efforts to channel women's activities and foster family life, and Fascist direction
of youth activities. Fascist racial policies are represented, while many items deal with Italian colonialism, the rise and
downfall of Fascism, and the anti-Fascist opposition.
The opening of this rich new collection will be welcomed by scholars throughout the country who are interested in the
history of Fascism and of contemporary Italian history more generally. One of the most extensive gatherings of materials
of its kind in North America, it adds appreciably to our knowledge of Fascism and greatly enhances the library's holdings
in modern European history.