The New Romulus and the New Rome


Is Fascism a tyranny holding an unwilling people in thrall by brutal force, as its opponents allege, a tyranny whose only moral watchword and justification is the cry of ‘Might is right’? Are the foundations of its régime already cracking under the pressure of economic and moral laws, which it has presumptuously challenged? Or is it a national embodiment of all the virtues, material and spiritual, as its propagandists tell us and its press tells it? Has Fascism produced a system that has solved, as some claim, the age-old problems of human relationship and government? Further, if this régime be indeed good for Italy, is the atmosphere of this changed land one in which the foreign visitor can breathe freely and rest tranquilly? These were the questions which revolved in my mind before and during the course of a visit to Italy, just concluded.

As a preparation I took a strong dose of reading in the voluminous literature critical of or hostile to the Fascist experiment. On the other side there is no need to search for a corrective, for the Italian Government supplies a series of pamphlets on the many facets of its régime, translated into this and other languages. Of many of these pamphlets it can only be said that their English might be improved, and their seasoning to English taste still more. Fortunately the observer finds that Fascism shines more in its deeds than in its words. Its phrases are often unfair to itself. For its habit seems to be to announce new measures with intimidating language which jars on the Anglo-Saxon, sensitive to the rights of citizenship, and with an exuberant self-confidence which breeds distrust in his ‘matter-of-fact’ mind. And only when he is in the country does he discover that behind this verbal smoke cloud the measures are often carried out with a quiet effectiveness and a surprising courtesy which lead him to make favorable comparisons with the methods of his own bureaucracy.

The harm of such language is that it not only engenders a sense of insecurity among other nations, but tends to hinder their people from seeing the new Italy with their own eyes. I have met many English and Americans who hesitate to visit Italy because of a sense of personal insecurity, a belief that the country lies in the grip of an eavesdropping officialdom, and that unless they walk and talk with extreme and painful circumspection trouble may befall them. I confess that before I crossed the frontier some qualms of this nature disturbed me. But with every succeeding day in the country this bogey evaporated more and more, until, in retrospect, it was difficult to conjure up my original apprehension. Within a short time I came to feel a sense of being at home, with all the ease of spirit that phrase implies, such as I have rarely felt in any foreign country.

Aware of the newborn efficiency of public services, I expected, and was prepared to make reasonable allowance for, an accompanying increase in officiousness. My surprise, after I entered the country, was how small was the allowance that I had to make, and how well the Italians had assimilated efficiency without disturbance of their traditional courtesy. I had special reason to appreciate this, for I had chosen to travel through the country by car as a means to a closer acquaintance with the people and the life of the ordinary countryside than is possible with the ordinary traveler who passes in an express train from one cosmopolitan city hotel to another.

In a land of narrow streets and complex traffic regulations, many times must I have tried the patience of authority, and that where its representatives have power to levy fines on the spot; yet everywhere I met an astonishing degree of forbearance. Indeed, as there are few countries where authority of every grade is entrusted with such power as in Italy, so there are none in my experience where that power is exercised, save politically, with such consideration and restraint. This seemed to me true also of the authority behind authority, the members of the Fascist Militia, who are both the buttress and the guaranty of the State, who are to be seen everywhere, and who might understandably display an aggressive consciousness of their position and power; whereas in fact I saw none, but, instead, several instances of courteous helpfulness to humble compatriots. What is the explanation? For it would be natural for the heady wine of power to be all the more intoxicating in a land where six years ago powerlessness was the badge of all persons in authority. Partly, no doubt, the inbred courtesy of a race to whom from generation to generation a matchless legacy of civilization has been handed down. But also, I think, because nowhere is authority itself more strictly controlled by a higher authority. In Italy to-day the greater the power assigned, the more easily it may be forfeited. Whereas in ‘democratic’ countries bureaucracy is conscious of its security, conscious that it can only be brought to book by means and processes tardy and difficult in application, bureaucracy under Signor Mussolini holds power at the will of an individual chief, and is subject to a discipline more severe than that which it exercises.

This brings me to a further point, that of the general attitude of the Italian people toward the régime. I do not pretend to have had opportunity for an infallible judgment, but I at least traveled far and off the beaten track, talked widely, and with people of varied opinions and social grades. And as a result, if I should still hesitate to say whether Fascismo is popular with the mass, — although I believe that it is at least, on balance, acceptable to them, — I have no hesitation in saying that the hold of Signor Mussolini upon the imagination and faith of the people is not only unshaken, but deepening. In some ways the most civilized of peoples, the Italians are also less sophisticated — as well as more patient — than the Anglo-Saxons or the French. This has helped in bringing it about that to them as a whole the Duce has become almost more than man, demigod even. And their faith, as well as their patience to endure until the Promised Land is gained, is fortified not only by their belief in his inspiration, but by the comforting knowledge that above the bureaucrats is the autocrat. If local authorities are not always immaculate, — how could they be in any scheme of society? — and those under them have been sorely tried, it is much to feel that there is one above with the will and power to give instant, redress. To such inevitable trials has, of course, been added the far more generally severe trial caused by dear living, trade depression in a poor country, and the hard-won ‘ Battle of the Lira.’ These trials have caused much grumbling, but without a special target; and the traditional patience of the Italian, strengthened by the unquestioned evidence of miracles already achieved, seems to have carried him through the strain — now lessening, if only in degree — without serious damage to his new faith.


What shall I say of the atmosphere as it affects the minority who, politically or instinctively, are in opposition to Fascism? As regards the active opponent there is only one answer: that it is stifling! But for those who, because of intellectual disagreement or temperamental individualism, are critical of Fascism, while content with passive distaste for the régime and doctrine, the conditions, if trying, seem certainly far less oppressive than one is led to believe by critics outside the country.

While, in view of my mission, I met and was received by many of the leaders of the régime and the services, it was natural that I should also meet in literary and historical circles numerous people who were far from being adherents of Fascism. But to my surprise I found that they indulged both their wit and their critical faculties with a freedom, even in public places, which caused me a strong sense of embarrassment, particularly at first. It was certainly incompatible with the idea not uncommon abroad that Italy to-day is a land of suspicion and espionage. And it was a further significant feature that these criticisms were directed against the abstract ideals of Fascism, its suppression of the freedom of the press, and its severe treatment of opposition, but rarely against the probity of its administration or the personality of its chief. The man himself usually held the honest respect even of those who disagreed with his ideal and his action.

And what of this man? For to any returning traveler from Italy the first question seems inevitably to be, not as to the conditions, the people, or the system, but ‘Did you see Mussolini?’

No one can traverse Italy to-day without seeing the hand of ‘II Duce’ throughout. His face also, incidentally — for on town house and small farmsteads, far off the beaten track, in the endless plains of Lombardy or the towering battlements of the Apennines, his features are to be seen stenciled on the walls. But outside Italy, if all to the youngest know him by name, few know him as more than a symbol — of wonder-working changes or of iron tyranny, according to taste and prejudice. And with those who would know more the craving for fuller knowledge is rarely satisfied. For neither man nor his personality is made up merely of deeds and words. Yet these are traditionally the stuff that chroniclers and biographers, past or contemporary, serve up in indigestible lumps for our malnutrition. I shall not present Signor Mussolini in this form, and to do so would not aid the appetite. For his passing deeds are duly recorded in the foreign telegrams, and his past deeds enshrined already in several bulky biographies which anyone can obtain. And as for his words, the formal speeches of any statesman rarely throw a revealing light on the man himself or his inner thoughts; still less his utterances in an interview ‘for publication.’ Instead, as straws show the way of the wind, so do trifles the way of the mind.

So here I propose to give merely a few homely trifles, sprinkled with an impression or two, in the hope that, they may help to form a portrait of ‘ Mussolini Intime,’ so that for the transatlantic public which follows the devious currents of European politics he may no longer be merely a deedand wordproducing mechanism. Let me first fill in the background of his daily life before I treat the man. The greater part of his working hours are spent at the Chigi Palace, the Italian Foreign Office, in a room which overlooks the Corso, the principal, if narrow, artery of Rome’s daily life. The length of Mussolini’s working hours considerably exceeds trade-union standards — as do those of most of the Ministers and officials under Fascism, for the government offices are still humming with activity long after Whitehall has returned to its solitude and its caretakers. There is small reason to wonder at Mussolini’s hours, however, for besides being head of the Government he combines the charge of no less than six Ministries — Foreign, Home, War, Marine, Air, Corporations. The strain on his endurance is not lightened by the fact that since the successive attempts on his life he has been persuaded to forgo, save exceptionally, his former regular riding exercise in the public parks, — he is rarely seen at all now except on formal occasions, — and thus has to take his exercise within the narrower limits of private grounds. Not that he seemingly shows any ill effects; his appearance gives no support to the rumors that periodically float, or are floated, abroad of his imminent breakdown. Perhaps the strain is less intense also, for I gathered that with the machinery running well, and his assistants sifted, he is now able to delegate, and has learned the wisdom of delegating, the more routine functions of his many offices.

His sparse hours of leisure and repose are spent during the winter in a small, simple apartment in an old palace on one of Rome’s side streets. Here his equally simple wants are attended to by a single servant, a middle-aged housekeeper, and here also he snatches stray hours for his one recreation, other than riding — that of violin playing. On this instrument he is no mean performer. His wife and children still live in Milan, although they come to Rome for periodical visits. For all his cares as father of a greater family, Signor Mussolini makes opportunity to follow closely and keenly the development of his own offspring.

At the Chigi Palace itself the outward trappings of power are not in greater evidence. Entering from the Corso, the visitor meets a solitary doorkeeper in the gateway, sees a cluster of cars in the inner courtyard, and perhaps catches a glimpse of an unobtrusive but watchful plain-clothes man. Thence, unattended, he proceeds up a flight of marble stairs to a spacious anteroom, to be conducted through two more, with a dwindling number of people waiting in each, and finally, relieved of hat and coat, through an inner lobby into the Duce’s room. A vast tapestry-hung chamber, relatively bare of furniture, save for a statue of Victory in the centre. The door by which one enters is at a corner of the room, and diagonally across, at the far corner, is Signor Mussolini’s desk, a model of orderliness. Significantly, behind and above his chair is a bust of Julius Cæsar, and on the desk lies a heavy, finely wrought Egyptian chain, given him for luck by an admirer.


What of the man himself? When I had word that he would be receiving me, sundry acquaintances prepared me for an impression totally different from the reality. Certain ones conveyed the idea that the setting was arranged with a touch of dramatic art, and that I should be left to walk the length of the room, growing smaller and smaller, and then be kept in silence for an interval under the penetrating gaze of eyes that are mentioned with awe in Italy. Others, Italians, declared that Mussolini was never known to smile.

I found, instead, a most courteous advance to meet me, a complete naturalness both of pose and of manner, cordial yet not effusive, and in conversation a spontaneous and ready smile at anything that caught his humor or particular interest. In appearance he was shorter than I had expected, broad but muscular, and dressed in a conventional morning coat, well turned out, but not too dapper. The eyes, somewhat projecting, fulfill their reputation in expressiveness and penetration; a powerful jaw, yet a brow that dominates the jaw.

Unlike most men of Latin race, he does not use his hands to emphasize his words; but he uses his head, and by its sharp and often unusual angles of inclination conveys great expressiveness. His voice, soft-toned but firm, is at the same time the most musical I have ever heard. With him, almost alone of the Ministers and senior officers I met, I was able to speak in English, which he understands perfectly so long as one speaks distinctly and without haste. He is already fluent in French and German. His progress in English is the result of lessons he has been taking in the last year or two from an Englishwoman, correspondent for an American paper, Miss Gibson. By a strange coincidence the name is the same as that of the other Englishwoman who crazily shot him. I fancy it appeals to his sense of humor that, as one Miss Gibson impaired his nose, another should improve his tongue. And, although so busy a man, he has taken biweekly lessons with marked regularity, an assiduous if a somewhat difficult pupil, owing to his preference for reading Bernard Shaw rather than mastering grammatical points.

My meeting with him was not a formal interview, and I refrained from putting to him the customary inquiries as to the policy and condition of Fascism. To such trite inquiries the replies are long stereotyped; there can be nothing more boring to a much occupied head of a Government than such interviews. Here, fortunately, there was a more intimate conversational link in the fact that my life of Scipio Africanus was being translated by the Italian War Ministry and brought out under its auspices, as well as his interest in my impressions of the Italian forces in comparison with those of other countries. If most of the conversation was thus not of general interest, it yielded, and was perhaps more conducive to, occasional comments which appeared to me side lights on his mental trend. Thus I had the impression that he keeps a closer eye on the press and polemical literature of other countries than do most statesmen immersed in their own internal politics. This attention is evidently not confined to their views on his Government, but extends to their reaction to domestic questions and matters which may influence their policy or future — and thus, of course, have an indirect reaction on Italy. His opinion of democracy, and its inherent contradiction to human nature and the scheme of nature, he took no pains to conceal. In one vivid phrase he likened it to a candle snuffer.

When, in contrasting systems of government, I referred to him as ‘dictator,’ I wondered for a moment whether I had stepped out a little too far. I was soon reassured, by implication, that he had no distaste for the term. It was refreshing to meet a statesman with both the instinct and the latitude for uncloaked honesty of expression. And for him the exercise of authority by one man, in turn delegating local authority to other individual men, is quite clearly the one form of government which can govern at a time when and in a country where progress, and not merely the preservation of a relatively static society, is essential. That he enjoys the possession of this power he does not conceal, but to a student of human nature he gave the impression that he enjoys it basically for the power it gives him to improve and advance his country and his ideals for that country. These ideals may change and develop; they have changed and developed; for he is a man the reverse of static in his moods or in his conceptions. And he would not blush for this, or fear the charge of inconsistency, for he believes that change is the law of life, and that the static is contrary to nature and to truth. But the responsiveness and power of adaptation to the law of change are greater in one man than in many. Hence he is confident that a State directed by one man has the same advantage, and is equally confident that he is the one man to direct it. If this betokens and demands an immense self-confidence, such, in nature and in scale, could spring only from self-dedication, not self-advantage. And, as with all examples in history of supreme self-dedication, one senses in the man a spiritual loneliness — which evokes sympathy.


From the new Romulus I pass to the new Rome that he is striving to build. For the word ‘Rome’ holds the clue to the understanding of Fascism to-day. Fascism was launched on the banks of the Piave; it has cast anchor on the banks of Father Tiber. Arising as a patriotic revolt of the disillusioned soldiers of the war against the sorry pass to which Liberal politicians and Communists had brought the land, Fascism seized power and restored order. Then, however, came the problem, ‘What next?’ For mere restoration was a narrow aim, and reconstruction more worthy of their conscious power. To the question the answer came, ‘Rebuild Rome.’ And to-day Rome in her greatness, her discipline, and her State worship is the pattern and goal of Fascism — the ideal of a new Italy is swallowed up in the greater vision of a Roman State rebuilt and reborn.

No observer who has traveled through Italy recently can deny the reality of the material change and improvement that Fascism has wrought, whatever prejudice he may feel against its methods or doubts as to its spiritual results. It is true that at present the effect is most apparent in the growing efficiency of the public services of all kinds, and is not yet so marked in the economic condition of the people and their standard of living. But, apart from the fact that in the Fascist creed the welfare of the State takes precedence of that of the individual, it is obvious that, in a long-sighted view, the reconstruction of the State foundation is an essential preliminary to an expansion of the industrial superstructure.

Let me survey briefly a few of the activities and achievements of Signor Mussolini’s Government. Order and internal security are indispensable to a healthy state of industry, and the Government has certainly, if severely, ensured the removal of all causes of disturbance to the regular flow of the industrial and civic life of the community.

The Fascist Militia, styled the ‘Voluntary National Militia,’ represents Signor Mussolini’s solution of the problem, ever difficult in history, of converting the heterogeneous elements of the force that made the revolution into a homogeneous force for the preservation both of the régime and of good order. If its position vis-à-vis the other forces of the State remains inevitably anomalous, Signor Mussolini seems on the way to give another proof of his practical genius for turning surplus enthusiasm and energy into constructive and useful channels. For he has entrusted to the Militia the charge of the physical development and moral education — in the Fascist code — of the nation’s youth. The first fruits of the former are marked not so much by the erection of stadia, where throngs of spectators can watch the gladiatorial fray of the football field, as by the sight of fields and hillsides dotted with gymnastic appliances. To judge by the results seen among young men undergoing their military service, the system is producing a race of men agile as cats and of superlative physique and endurance. The second task is characteristic of its source, for Fascist policy is concentrated on the young, and their inculcation with the practical virtues of discipline, integrity, honest work, and subordination of self to the national interest. The attitude seems to be that the present generation can accept Fascism enthusiastically, accept it passively, or accept it under coercion, as they choose, but that the real hope and fulfillment of Fascism lie with the next generation, who will have grown up from birth saturated in its ideals and its code. Only the future can show whether this attitude is too optimistic or not. But its indirect interest is an illustration of how a system of government freed from the trouble of vote catching, with its waste of time and inherent halfmeasures, can take long views and plan for the future in a way impossible to an elected government.

This habit of working on a programme is now spreading downward, with obvious benefit to efficiency, from the national to the provincial and municipal activities. For the same system of government has also been adopted recently in local government — the one-man system. In each province the authority and responsibility of the prefect are almost absolute, under the Central Government, and below him the old elected municipal councils have been replaced by a nominated podesta, combining in himself all the powers of mayor and corporation. The Fascist system throughout, like the military system, provides for advice and assistance, but leaves the decision and executive power to a single head.

Signor Mussolini is clearly a believer in government by experts, for most of his Ministers have been chosen for expert qualifications in their several departments; and no choice was a greater inspiration than that of Gentile, the great philosopher and educational reformer, who first carried through the reorganization of the educational system and now gives himself to the more ultimately important task of training the teachers. If some may cavil at the reintroduction of religious instruction, and others cavil at utilitarian aim, Italy to-day is almost unique in reviving the pride of honest craftsmanship and discouraging the production of half-educated babus, fit only for office stools, while giving better scope than ever to the youths of more than average aptitude.

Better known to the outside world is, of course, the restoration of Italy’s finances, the recovery and final revalorization of the lira under Count Volpi’s immediate charge. If the strain for a time was great, and is not yet over, it seems to have been distributed skillfully between the various classes of the population, so that general grumbling has not focused into the more dangerous condition of sectional grievances. Now, with her foreign war debts most favorably funded, a heavy Treasury deficit turned since 1925 into surpluses, strict economy in the public services, the lira stabilized, prices slowly on the down grade, and production developing, Italy has gained a sound economic base for future advance. For this her greatest impulse comes from her apparent solution of the wasteful friction between capital and labor. Putting the national interest before all sectional interests and individual rights, Fascism is now trying a vast and ambitious scheme of coordinating and combining private initiative with public regulation. The capitalist system is recognized on condition that it serves the national interest, and to this end the employers and employed in each industry are to be welded together in corporations or guilds, under a joint council or syndic, with compulsory arbitration in case of disagreement. This corporative organization, in which all workers, professional included, are to be grouped, is ultimately to have political functions, through the formation of a Corporative Chamber, for which only producers will have the suffrage, but at present it is essentially economic. If its detailed establishment is still incomplete, a working arrangement exists, and its most vital purpose has already been long realized, for strikes have ceased for five years, being forbidden, and there is certainly no sign of ‘ca’ canny’ methods being practised.


In many other directions Italy is seeking to check the sources of waste and to augment production. The work of industrial welfare has been taken over by the State. Strenuous and organized efforts are being made, by draining the marshes and by a campaign against the mosquito, to stamp out the malaria which debilitates large sections of the population. Equally scientific and coördinated is the effort to increase the production and quality of the wheat — new machinery, new seed, new methods, even new roads, are factors in the campaign. Similar measures are being applied to other crops, and as Italy is already so closely cultivated that it is not easy to extend the area, the aim is, by intensive efforts, to increase the yield. The exploitation of the natural resources in water power is progressive and continuous. The effort is not to replace coal, for at present there are technical difficulties which check this ideal, but, by supplementing and economizing it, to develop a cheaper and greater output of power for industrial purposes.

These manifold campaigns are proclaimed and described in the metaphorical language of strategy and battle. Foreign critics are apt to regard these battles ‘for the Lira’ and ‘for Wheat’ as evidence of the essentially militaristic tendencies of Fascism — wherein, I think, they reveal the shallowness of their own understanding of psychology compared with that of Mussolini. He is too practical to attempt the suppression of age-old human instincts, and can be trusted to profit by the experience of Imperial Rome, to whom the establishment of universal peace within her borders was a fatal curse, because it closed the safety valve for the virile instincts. Many people talk of the problem and importance of turning these instincts into constructive channels. Mussolini, by one of his shrewdest psychological strokes, seems on the way to solve the problem. And he has done it by investing the prosaic struggles of national life with the glamour that modern war has lost, and with all the romantic trappings of war — even to the war correspondent.

These trappings, moreover, as in an army, are the necessary sugar to coat the severest pill of the new system —~ discipline, the most stressed note and most recurrent word in Fascist Italy to-day. As this is harder of attainment than any venture that Fascism has essayed, so it is perhaps greater than any concrete achievement — a miracle, indeed — that Fascism has accomplished. This discipline is a combination of two sharply contrasting types which would be curious to anyone not conversant with the conditions which have produced it. On the one hand it resembles what an Englishman would characterize as the discipline of Sir John Moore; on the other, that of Frederick the Great. The freely offered and even joyous subordination of self for the good of the cause, combined with a discipline of the reflexes — a rigorous repression, not merely of contrary opponents, but of contrary instincts in themselves. It is a commonplace, of course, that under Fascism neither an Opposition nor opposition is tolerated. For those convicted or suspect of it the result is as summary as, and less transient than, in the ‘castor oil’ days. They may be ‘admonished,’ which will involve the limitation of their movements and an enforced curfew at 9 P.M., or, if less fortunate, they will be removed to one of the smaller Italian islands, where they will receive ten lire a day for sustenance — provided that they work for it.

But if Fascists are drastic with their opponents, holding that the regeneration of a nation must take precedence of the rights of the individual, their self-imposed discipline is equally stern, emphasizing duties rather than rights. And it is my impression that Fascists high and low abstain scrupulously from claiming any privileged exemption from their own strict laws—wherein they are in marked contrast with most revolutionary and not a few ‘democratic’ régimes. ‘The same law for all’ seems here, for a wonder, translated into fact, and the only relaxation is with foreign visitors. Why, with a people so intelligent, should not the discipline be purely of the Moore pattern? The answer may perhaps best be illustrated by the words of a senior Italian officer, who remarked to me a year or two ago that even he, when receiving an order, had an instinctive impulse to revolt against it — an instinct that was the product of an age-old tradition of individualism. Buried under many strata Italy has the greatest tradition of discipline that the world has known, but she has to drive the girders deep and hard in order to obtain a foundation on which she can bridge the fifteen hundred years’ gap — to Rome. For Fascism knows that the source of the greatness of ancient Rome lay in her discipline.

And with this, perhaps from this, moral root has grown up another utilitarian virtue— honesty. Great as was the charm of the old Italy, few travelers would suggest that its people in general were distinguished for either quality. To-day even the trains keep their word!

Brief as has been the span of the new era, I know of no country where the visitor can feel more sure that his ignorance is not being taken advantage of, except in certain districts that are backward or relatively untouched by the Fascist spirit. It is certainly the only country where to any real degree the percentage for service has not become a mere addition to the usual tips, and where the dignity of service is actually emphasized by the refusal to accept tips.


I have indicated Italy’s assets for the future. What of her liabilities? I am inclined to think that her women are at present numbered among them. This may be a superficial impression and an injustice to the women of the countryside, but at least in the towns they hardly impress one as having the stability and practical ability of the Frenchwomen. Perhaps it is that their progress is dwarfed by the striking development of the Italian male in character and purpose. Yet, for Rome to be rebuilt, the Roman matron must be reborn, and in assessing Signor Mussolini’s own achievements it should never be overlooked that his mother was of this historic type.

A temporary liability is embodied in the question of how far self-confidence and self-subordination to the State have produced self-control equal to the strain of an emergency. I am reasonably sure that they have already forged an adequate power of endurance to strain, but less sure that they have yet acquired adequate resistance to a sudden shock.

Another liability, I am inclined to think, lies in the emasculation of the press. I use this word advisedly, for to-day there is no formal censorship, but on the other hand the organs of the press, being entirely in the hands of fervent Fascists, chant a never-ceasing hymn of praise. A diet composed entirely of honey would sicken the strongest palate. One may admit that Fascism is far too valuable an experiment to be rashly jeopardized by harmful exposure to the subversive influence of a hostile press working upon the minds of a simple people. But one may, nevertheless, be reluctant to endorse the Fascist alternative. For it is a profound truth that la critique est la vie de la science, and the very fact that Fascism is the nearest to science of all the systems of government makes criticism the more necessary to its well-being during its evolution.

I pass next to what is both the supreme moral asset and liability combined of Italy to-day — self-confidence. Lack of confidence in themselves was a characteristic defect of the Italians before and even during the war. This characteristic had undoubtedly a pleasing side in that it produced a nature free from bombast, and to some extent a useful side in that it encouraged a habit of self-examination and self-criticism. But for success as a nation self-confidence is as vital as it is with the individual, and it has unquestionably been the conscious purpose of Fascism to create this national self-confidence as the essential propulsive force behind the Fascist Revolution — in its deepest sense. For, as no revolution has aimed at so complete a rebirth, so none has set before it so hard and long a path. Only selfconfidence — confidence in its powers, its mission, and its progress — can carry it through. But, inevitably, in that very quality lies one of the most formidable dangers. It is a feature of the Fascist Revolution, as in some measure of all revolutions, that the very means on which it depends are the most capable of harm to itself.

Thus, for example, at the very outset Fascism was established in power largely by the efforts of the young-old veterans of the war, all of whom were ready, and many of whom made a second sacrifice of their blood, to save the land from a worse danger than ever Austria had offered. Many of them were Arditi, most formidable of Italy’s fighting men in 1915-1918. And as it was difficult to disentangle motives in those who, in 1914, rallied to Kitchener’s summons, so was it with the Black Shirts; patriotism, idealism, love of adventure, love of fighting — they are strangely interwoven in the individual, still more in the mass. Stranger still is the way the worst scalawag in peaceful days so often proves not merely the best fighting man in war, but the noblest, in sacrifice. Thus it was with the Black Shirts, in motive and in composition; and thus also it was that the hardest test came after the apparent goal had been reached. No government, far less one which has grasped power in a time of chaos, can afford to cast adrift those who have served it well — until they serve it ill. But it was this proportion of black sheep among the Black Shirts which, in the early years of the new era, caused serious functional disorder in the body politic by the moral harm of the actions which they committed, in an excess of enthusiasm as often as through a deficiency of ethics. But if Fascism was to survive as a new order, not merely a violent disruption of the old order, radical remedies were essential. And it is just to recognize that these have been applied within the body of Fascism with a stringency and by a purging, progressive and continuous, such as no other revolutionary régime in history has attempted with its own supporters.

In place of this danger, overconfidence is perhaps the most serious in the years immediately ahead. Internally, its tendency is to lead to efforts to cure social and economic ills more rapidly than the adaptability of the body can safely stand. Externally, self-confidence takes the form of a conviction of Italy’s destiny as a Great Power, and overconfidence that of a belief that she is already fully capable of upholding and regaining her rights vis-à-vis other nations.

In my travels I inevitably met more than a few examples of aggressive assertions of Italy’s power to enforce respect and a certain amount of bellicose talk. I recall with special amusement one ingenuous young man who, after declaring that one Italian was worth ten of a certain neighboring race of war-proved martial ability, related to me how last spring, at the time of the Riviera frontier incidents, he and a band of fellow spirits were assembled on the frontier for a ‘punitive raid,’ only to be stopped, much to their chagrin, by their own authorities. It is, of course, such incidents as this, and the knowledge of such an attitude, which cause the tension that is observable not merely behind the French and Jugoslav frontiers, but even in the Swiss Ticino.

Yet if it be essential to an understanding of Italy to understand these symptoms, it would be folly to exaggerate them. For if all the heads of Italy to-day are young, like the shoulders they rest on, they are shrewd, or they would not have created an organization which has already survived so many strains — and become more compact in the process. When Signor Mussolini speaks now of needing twenty years to fulfill his task, he means, if I may judge, that he wants not merely time to create his new State, but time to allow a complete new generation to grow up in its environment and atmosphere. He is too shrewd to expose, if he can possibly help it, his work to any severe external storms until not only are the foundations firmly laid, but the roof on. Only by generating a continuous current of self-confidence in the nation, and especially in its youth, can the stupendous purpose of Italian regeneration be effected; but his fingers are firmly on the controls, and never firmer than at present. Risky adventures are not on his horizon. If mishap befell him, I am less sanguine. The system is so far consolidated that others might assume control without discord — but also without his unique prestige. And thus perhaps an outward explosion might be a more immediate danger than an internal explosion. Of this I feel reasonably sure: that Signor Mussolini’s preservation is the strongest guaranty of the preservation of peace in this generation.

Finally comes the question whether the Fascist system and its discipline, vitally necessary as they are during the rebuilding of Rome, may not ultimately cramp her intellectual growth and the higher fruits of the human spirit and initiative. Critics, even friendly critics, frequently express the fear that in Fascism’s pursuit of concrete ideals, discipline, and material progress, the abstract moral qualities and their value to a nation may be overlooked.

On the other hand, the crop of these was becoming more and more impoverished, and the weeds so thick that the grain was almost lost to sight. If in one generation the habits of hard work, discipline, and honesty can be implanted widespread, — cultivated in the willing and enforced on the unwilling, — there is at least a good foundation for the next, its roots embedded in freshly fertilized soil, to yield a harvest both more plentiful and of finer quality than in the past. And that next generation, being more fit to use liberty well, can receive it more fully. It would be rash to prophesy, but the best promise of elasticity of system lies in the fact that both Fascism and the mind of Mussolini are essentially non-static. There are even symptoms which hint that the new Rome, having begun with and been created by Cæsar, may reverse the process of the ancients and evolve toward the Rome of Scipio and the Punic Wars, regaining the rugged strength and civic sense of that era, but in addition refined by two Renaissances.

Whatever the future may bring, it is at least certain that it will be different from the present, for Fascism, responsive to the law of life, is all the time changing its system, and adapting its ideals progressively to the fresh conditions. And the foreign critic, if he is to understand this and avoid the exposure of his own shallowness, must likewise change his spectacles — of electoral institutions and the paramount rights of the individual. Fascism is not merely an effort toward a new political system, but a new way of life. Thus it is the greatest human experiment of our time, perhaps of any time.