Anglophobia in Fascist Italy traces the roots of Fascist Anglophobia from the Great War and through the subsequent peace treaties and its development during the twenty years of Mussolini’s regime. Initially, Britain was seen by many Italians as a ‘false friend’ who was also the main obstacle to Italy’s foreign policy aspirations, a view embraced by Mussolini and his movement. While at times dormant, this Anglophobic sentiment did not disappear in the years that followed, and was later rekindled during the Ethiopian War. The peculiarly Fascist contribution to the assessment of Britain was ideological. From the mid-1920s, the regime’s intellectuals saw Fascism as the answer to a crisis in the Western world and as irredeemably opposed to Western civilisation of the sort exemplified by Britain. Britain was described as having failed the ‘problem of labour’, and Fascism framed as a salvation ideology, which nations would either embrace or face decay. The perception of Britain as a decaying and feeble nation increased after the Great Depression. The consequence of this was a consistent underrating of British power and resolve to resist Italian ambitions. An analysis of popular reception of the Fascist discourse shows that the tendency to underrate Britain had permeated large sectors of the Italian people, and that public opinion was more hostile to Britain than previously thought. Indeed, in some quarters hatred towards the British lasted until the end of the Second World War, in both occupied and liberated Italy.
After having maintained good relations since the Risorgimento (1815–1871), Italy and Britain fought on the same side during the Great War (1914–1918) only to find themselves in opposite camps in the Second World War (1939–1945). The events, struggles and intellectual currents that turned two traditional allies into enemies have been under historical scrutiny for several years, and this is the first book to be a more comprehensive study documenting the image of Britain in Italy during this two-decades-long period. The Introduction outlines the innovative approach this book takes, by providing a systematic and multilayered examination of various key themes of the Fascist depiction of Britain (including unstudied factors such as race, military analysis and economic appraisals), and also provides a full chapter overview.
Chapter 1 analyses how the Fascist regime and its intellectuals represented Britain as an imperial power and international player. Unlike in the case of Nazi Germany, the tropes public discourse used to describe Britain were far less positive and that admiration, since the earlier days of the Fascist movement, was often mixed with open dislike. Anglophobia had been present, if at times dormant, since the Great War. The chapter addresses the genesis of anti-British tropes during the Great War and their evolution during the immediate post-war years, especially during the days of tense negotiations at Versailles in 1919, and of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Fiume Free State (1920–1924). As the following period of less troubled Anglo-Italian relations between the Corfu crisis in 1923 and the Great Depression of 1929 proceeded, a more diverse (if still within the limits allowed in an authoritarian country) range of opinions concerning Britain as an international player emerged. The chapter investigates how various criteria, among which were white supremacy, anti-communism and domestic issues, influenced the Fascist perception of the British Empire during this period. The anti-British discourse in the media was not just the artificial product of government direction, but rather responded to deeply rooted prejudices and did not always abide by the regime’s changing needs. The chapter also examines the legacy of Romanità (Roman-ness), the persistent comparison of Britain with Ancient Rome’s arch- enemy, Carthage.
Chapter 2 focuses on social, economic and cultural issues, navigating the Fascist assessment of Britain’s social crisis during the interwar years and how this led to the construction of the image of a decrepit and decaying Britain in the Fascist imaginary. The main focus of the chapter is on the years between 1922 and 1935, a period during which the opinions of Fascist commentators on British political, social and economic systems dramatically evolved with the development of Fascist ideology and the regime at home. These perceptions and the regime’s representation created an ideologically based understanding of Britain as a political and economic system. The regime decided to act in accordance with this image, for example concerning the support given by the regime to Oswald Mosley’s British Fascist movement. Unlike British liberalism, Fascist ideology was perceived as revolutionary and capable of solving the problem of labour by restraining the egoisms of both workers and capitalists in the name of national prosperity. Fascist intellectuals used their image of Britain as a negative example, framing Fascism itself as a universal message of progress. Far from being a later development, this ideological tendency was present in Fascist public discourse long before the Ethiopian War (1935–1936) and even the Great Depression, drawing its roots in the mid-1920s. Chapter 2 also addresses the themes of family, feminism, religion and art, examining the Fascist representation of British culture and how the ties of the Fascist regime to the Catholic Church influenced the representation of the Anglican Church.
Chapter 3 challenges the notion that, despite some Anglophobic outbursts, Mussolini had a healthy respect for Britain’s global power, instead directing his contempt either towards France or onto some individual British leaders. In order to do so, the chapter utilises the reports compiled by Italian military attachés in Britain from the late 1920s to 1939, underlining how the perception of Britain in the eyes of military experts, who were not necessarily ideologues and had close contact with British reality changed as they absorbed fascist ideological biases. During the second half of the 1930s, military attachés had absorbed the equivalence that Fascist ideology sought to create between democracy and emasculated weakness and applied it to Britain. The chapter then examines the point of view of the military elites, as well as the war plans of the Chief of Staff. By doing so, and comparing it with the outlook of the attachés, it tries to determine whether the process of creating an ideological and unrealistic image of Britain as an emasculated, decaying power was a top-down, bottom-up or an osmotic process. The second half of the chapter addresses the subject of Fascist wartime propaganda, contesting the historiographic point of view that propaganda began as relatively moderate in its content, only shifting towards greater truculence as the conflict progressed.
Chapter 4 deals with the largely neglected issue of the racial image of the British people in the later years of the Fascist regime, as it adopted an openly racist ideology and legislation. The chapter looks at the development of Fascist racism and the establishment of various ‘factions’ or ‘schools’ within it. In particular it focuses on the ‘Mediterraneanists’, who supported the view of an Italian people belonging to a unified Mediterranean race, and the ‘Nordicists’, or biological racists who were close to German racist doctrines. The chapter examines the racist analysis of the British people in magazines like La Difesa della Razza within the context of the fierce ideological and ‘academic’ struggle among various racist schools of thought. in doing so, it follows the methodology of Aaron Gillette in his book Racial Theories in Fascist Italy. If the ‘spiritual’ Mediterraneanist racists tended to use Anglophobic racial rhetoric as a tool to attack the notion of a ‘nordic’ Italy, at times using Britain as a roundabout way to attack Germany, the Nazi-inspired, Nordicist biological racists found themselves in an embarrassing position, surprisingly being among the last Anglophiles in Fascist cultural discourse. The chapter also underlines the intersection of the racist debate with other themes like feminism, colonial rule, demography and sexuality.
Chapter 5 puts Fascist public discourse to the test. It draws on the relatively effective methods the regime used to check the pulse of public opinion in order to understand to what degree the representation of Britain during the two decades of the Fascist era had managed to inform Italian people’s opinions. In particular, it challenges the notion – sometimes sustained by historians of Italian public opinion – that the Italian people were generally immune from hatred of the enemy and that their support for the declaration of war in June 1940 was only due to the hope of winning an easy victory, rather than by any real hostility towards the enemy. The chapter also interrogates the degree to which the Italian people retained hostility for the British during the conflict and whether they considered victory feasible after it was clear that the immediate defeat of London was not likely. The chapter suggests a more nuanced view, according to which the Italian people had absorbed many of the anti-British tropes proposed by Fascist public discourse, being consistently hostile towards the British before the defeats suffered in winter 1940–41, and again as the aerial bombing campaign escalated during the last phases of the Fascist war.
Chapter 6 expands the analysis of the perception of the British by addressing the period stretching from 1943 to 1945. It makes use of official contemporary sources to demonstrate that, even after the fall of Fascism, and during the slow campaign leading to the Liberation in April 1945, large sections of the Italian people tended to regard the British with antipathy, especially if compared with the perception of their American allies.
The Conclusion reviews the key points explored throughout the book, drawing together the changing nature of Anglophobia through the period of Fascist Italy, as it was affected by wider events in the interwar years, including those in Ethiopia and Spain. The conclusion also suggests areas for further research.