Mussolini and the Rise of Populism: Guarini Institute Welcomes Spencer Di Scala

On February 6, 2023, John Cabot University’s Guarini Institute for Public Affairs hosted a talk called “Mussolini’s Legacy and Contemporary Populism” by author Spencer Di Scala. During this event, Di Scala presented his latest book, L’uomo che fece il fascismo: Mussolini e l’ascesa del populismo (The Man Who Made Fascism: Mussolini and the Rise of Populism, Castelvecchi, 2022), which gives a historical analysis of the rise of Benito Mussolini’s fascist movement in the early twentieth century and how it has influenced current Italian and international politics.

Spencer Di Scala

Spencer Di Scala

Di Scala was a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston for 49 years, teaching and researching modern Italian and European history. He earned his B.A. from Queens College, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He received two Fulbright Research Grants: one to conduct research for his dissertation in Milan, which would become his first book; the other for a senior professorship in Rome for research on his second book, Renewing Italian Socialism (Oxford University Press, 1988). In 1995, Di Scala was named Commander in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for his scholarly work and research. In 2006 and 2007, he received regional and national awards for his teaching.

L’uomo che fece il fascismo: Mussolini e l’ascesa del populismo is Di Scala’s latest book on the development of Italian politics from the 20th century onward. His presentation analyzed the influence of the Italian fascist movement through the rise and fall of its leader Benito Mussolini. “Ever since Mussolini came to power, his ideological and political actions have influenced the world,” Di Scala stated. Through the decline of the Italian working and middle classes, and the economic devastation in the wake of World War I, Di Scala described how the specific social and economic environment that Italy faced led to the rise of the fascist movement, and how similar developments influence contemporary right-wing populism. Concepts such as radicalization, ultra-nationalism, and the so-called Third Way were introduced through fascism as an alternative to Bolshevism and capitalism.

Di Scala then discussed more recent events. In his book, he points to the social, economic, and political trends of the last two decades to analyze the surge of fascist-like movements. He called into question two specific examples involving the United States’ two last presidential elections, and the recent regional Italian elections. By focusing on the specific social and economic environments of each country, he drew a connection between the rise of fascism in the early twentieth century to the influences that contributed to rising right-wing populism in current politics.

Lastly, Di Scala pointed to the specifics of Mussolini himself, drawing into question his tactics of maintaining power, and how radical right-wing populists of today use similar strategies. Fear of increased immigration, revolt against elites, and distrust of the government were the key characteristics of Mussolini’s movement and favored the rise in populism today according to Di Scala. “Mussolini has to be re-interpreted in order to understand how he was so good at maintaining power.”

During the Q&A session, Di Scala was able to give detailed answers to all questions about his research, as well as contemporary politics.

(Grace Romano)