J. B. Bosworth’s excellent “Mussolini’s Italy” illustrates the vast differences between the two right-wing populists
Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945, R. J. B. Bosworth, Penguin Press, 736 pages, 2006, $25.00 paperback
By George Howland Jr.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump should not be compared to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Commentators ranging from The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey have compared the president to the Duce, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1945. While Trump is a very dangerous chief executive, Mussolini was a fascist who cleverly combined violence against the Italian population itself with deft manipulation of the existing political elites. Whatever his desires, Trump has not practiced the former and seems incapable of the latter.
A good jumping off point for examining the Duce in detail is Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945, by R. J. B. Bosworth, the renowned Australian scholar.
Fascism: from decentralization to dictatorship
After World War I, when the fascist movement began, its organization was highly decentralized. There was no single leader and no nationwide or regional coordination of activity. Instead, local strongmen attacked their enemies as they saw fit. Communists and socialists were the common enemies of these little Duces. The fascists used squads of thugs and former soldiers to beat, maim and kill their enemies. The squads also destroyed the leftists’ infrastructure: burning their offices and smashing their printing presses. During the rise of fascism, 3000 Italians were killed (425 were fascists).
While Trump has used the government to commit acts of horrible cruelty against immigrants and refugees—separation of families and detention in inhumane facilities—populist violence has not been in his toolbox. Gangs of Republicans are not physically attacking Democrats and setting fire to their offices. I do not see any signs of such “squadrism” emerging in our current political environment.
Barbara Pym’s funniest novel follows relations between two unlikely couples
By George Howland Jr.
In 1940, the English-novelist Barbara Pym intended to publish Crampton Hodnet, a comedy of manners set in North Oxford, England. Unfortunately, World War Two intervened and the novel had to wait to find its public. First, after the war, Pym experienced literary success with the publication of six novels between 1950-61, none of them “Crampton Hodnet.” For the next 16 years, no one would publish her new novels and she became a forgotten literary figure. Finally, in 1977, The Times Literary Supplement, an august London weekly, asked notables to name “the most underrated writer of the [20th] century”; Poet Philip Larkin and biographer Lord David Cecil both chose Pym. Pym’s work experienced a wonderful renaissance and she published four more novels. In 1981, she died. Four years later, after Hazel Holt, Pym’s literary executor, prepared the manuscript for publication, Crampton Hodnet was finally able to enter our lives.
Of Pym’s thirteen published novels, Crampton Hodnet is the funniest. It has the hallmark of Pym’s work: the close observation of ordinary lives of middle-class Englishmen and women. Some of her characters are confined by the cruelty of genteel poverty while others are swollen with arrogance by failing to appreciate their own good fortune. Crampton Hodnet, however, contains none of the heartbreak of The Sweet Dove Died or any of the pathos of Quartet in Autumn.
Smith shows her familiar punk contempt and lays bare her sweetness at her Seattle performance
For the first time in my experience, Patti Smith was sweet to an audience member at Sunday’s October 6th’s performance in Seattle.
Usually Smith delights in grousing at her fans. In Q&A sessions, Smith cuts off questioners, calls them out for asking about stupid things or mocks them for their interest in her personal life. She delights in insulting her admirers and making them the butt of her jokes. Since it’s in keeping with Smith’s punk persona, the audience loves it.
Last night, standing center stage at a packed Benaroya Hall, with her long white hair, black jacket, pants and boots and a white shirt, Smith alternated readings Year of the Monkey, her new book, and performing acoustic versions of songs from throughout her career. When Smith reads, the lenses of her reading glasses magnify her eyes so much that she looks like Emma Thompson playing Sybill Trelawney in a Harry Potter movie. Tony Shanahan, her band’s bassist and keyboard player, accompanied Smith on acoustic guitar and piano. Smith also played acoustic guitar on two songs.
Year of the Monkey, Smith said, swirls around the illnesses of two dear friends: Blue Oyster Cult’s Sandy Pearlman and playwright Sam Shepard.
She remembered Pearlman’s odd gifts. “Once he sent me the whole [Richard Wagner’s] Ring cycle on vinyl. It was like 11 pounds. I never really liked the Ring. I still have it. It’s under my bed. I like The Hobbit better.”
About halfway through the show, she said wryly, “Now we’re going to have a mandatory question-and-answer session.”