Nicolò Bettegazzi

Anchoring the Fascist Revolution: Latin and its audiences in fascist Italy (1922–1943)

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Anchoring the Fascist Revolution: Latin and its audiences in fascist Italy (1922–1943)


Anchoring the Fascist Revolution

This project focuses on the production of original Latin texts during the Italian Fascist regime (1922-1943). These texts, which are in most cases discovered only recently, provide us with an invaluable insight into the ways in which the cult of antiquity in general, and the use of Latin in particular, contributed to the regime’s ideological and cultural agenda. More specifically, this research will investigate the role of the Latin language as a medium for defining the relationship between the religious and the political sphere, i.e. between the Catholic establishment and the Fascist State. How did the study and the use of Latin contribute to the process of the sacralisation of politics and to the definition of the Fascists’ creed? In what ways did Latin help the Fascists to reconcile Catholicism with their own system of values and beliefs? By asking these questions, I aim to shed new light on the strategies employed by the classicists to anchor the Fascist ideology into the tradition of imperial and Christian Rome. My working hypothesis is that Latin became one of the essential instruments 1) for incorporating traditional religion into the Fascists’ ideology, and 2) for appropriating the educational role traditionally accorded to the Church.

Research subject

The fact that the study and cult of ancient Rome constitute an essential aspect of the Fascist phenomenon has long been noticed and explored. As a whole, researches on the subject have brought out the many ways in which the myth of Rome was used by fascist intellectuals to meet the ideological and political needs of Mussolini’s regime. Not only was Roman civilisation perceived as an exemplum to be renovated and elevated in contemporary history: it also provided the Fascists with a set of images and symbols through which to legitimise their creed and political conduct. The large group of scholars of antiquity who adhered to the regime played a dominant role in this process, in that their activity – which could count on a solid institutional backing – was meant to construct a sense of continuity between ancient and modern Rome: with Fascism, we witness the attempt to place classical studies not only at the centre of the regime’s all-pervasive cultural programme, but also at the very heart of Fascism’s cult and mass politics. The production of original Latin literature dealing with Fascist themes, which so far has been surprisingly underexplored, must be regarded as a fundamental aspect of the classicists’ engagement with Fascism. During the fascist rule, Latin was at once the voice of the revolutionary fascist ideology and the echo of the centuries-old civilization in which such ideology was embedded.

However, the revival of the Latin language was as well a source of tension between the different ideas of Rome that Fascism strove to incorporate within its own revolutionary worldview: on the one hand the pagan Rome of the Caesars, on the other the Christian Rome of the popes. It is the complex relationship between these two ideas, which occasioned contrasts and rapprochements between Fascism and the Church, that constitutes the core of this project. How did Fascist intellectuals, namely Latinists, envisage to reconcile the Fascists’ national religion with Italy’s Catholic roots? In what ways, in other words, did Latin contribute to solve the apparent contradiction and competition between the Lictoria fides (which presupposed a total devotion to the fascist State and the Duce) and the reverence due to the Catholic establishment? Was Latin used by the Fascists to appropriate the educative role traditionally attributed to the Church, or was it a mean to incorporate traditional religious images and practices within the fascist symbolic universe? These questions are relevant, since a great part of the classicists who adhered to the Fascist movement were close to clerical circles and were in favour of a coalition between Church and the Nation: this they considered the essential condition for the establishment of a ‘Third Rome’ (i.e. a Fascist Rome, imperialistic and Catholic at once) and for the accomplishment of the civilizing mission the Fascists had set up for themselves in the Mediterranean area. By focusing on the Latin texts composed during the ventennio fascista as well as on the historical circumstances which prompted their production, this project will seek to assess the cultural and political functions that the study and use of Latin played in Fascist society. More specifically, it is my aim to reveal the fundamental contribution of scholars of antiquity (mainly classicists) in providing a synthesis between Fascism and Catholicism, this being among the crucial factors that led to the years of the consensus in the 30’s.

Originality and expected contribution to the field

The relationship between Catholicism and Fascism is a field of research which has yet to be investigated. This project offers such an investigation by providing the first overarching study on the dynamic relationship between the Latin language, Fascism and Catholicism in the Fasicst ventennio. It aims at providing a new vision of:

  • The notion of romanità and the ways in which such notion changed during the fascist rule to meet the ideological and political needs of both Mussolini’s regime and the ecclesiastical establishment.
  • The impact of institutions and individual classicists on the initiatives directed toward the use of Latin as an educational, propagandistic and international tool.
  • The ways in which the Fascist use of Latin rivalled the Church’s monopoly over national education and consciousness.
  • The contribution of Latin to the ‘sacralisation of politics’ and to the ‘politicisation of religion’, these being two defining and inextricably linked aspects of the fascist revolution, which aimed at 1) syncretizing traditional religion within its own sphere of values and 2) using religion pragmatically, i.e. as an instrumentum regni.