Peter J. Williamson

Jan 9, 2024

Duce: The Contradictions of Power

The Political Leadership of Benito Mussolini

Oxford University Press 2023

Eighty years after the fall of Benito Mussolini, controversy remains about what his dictatorship represented. This reflects the different sides to the Duce's leadership: while adept at nurturing and enforcing his personal political power, Mussolini's lack of insight into the requirements of governance prevented him from converting this power into influence to achieve his goals. His efforts to maintain the support of Italy's conservative elites--economic, social and political--also created tensions with his radical Fascist ambitions, diminishing the momentum behind his regime.

Mussolini is frequently portrayed as a charismatic leader, but his rule was secured principally by coercion, violence and a 'spoils system'. Nonetheless, his personality cult had significant popular appeal, even if based upon a political myth. This enabled him to consolidate his position and to dominate his Fascist colleagues--but at a price of over-centralized, dysfunctional decision-making.

In Duce: The Contradictions of Power: The Political Leadership of Benito Mussolini (Oxford UP, 2023), the first comprehensive English-language study of Mussolini in nearly two decades, Peter J. Williamson brings to life the contradictions within the Duce's leadership. Using a wide range of sources, Williamson reveals how these conflicts impeded the dictator's ambitions, leaving him increasingly frustrated, all while most Italians endured the severe privations of both failure and Fascism.

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