View Page: Fascism and The Via Dei Fori Imperiali
University of Washington Honors Program in Rome

Fascism and The Via Dei Fori Imperiali
Section One 1 of 7

Benito Mussolini
An enimatic ex-journalist Benito Mussolini would become pratically synominous with Italian Fascicm. He led the Fascists to power in 1922 and controlled Italy until 1943.
Americans seem to easily confuse Fascism with Nazism, and though there are parallels between them they are actually quite separate phenomena. Fascism (with a capital F) is a wholly Italian phenomenoninvention that developed a decade before Nazism. As brutal and violent as Fascism was, it pales in comparison to Nazism. This however, doesn’t changethe fact that Fascism is easy to demonize, as it takes at its core a rejection of many of the values that are at the core of our modern understanding of moral governance. Yet the Italians embraced Fascism and proceeded to tolerate it for more than two decades. What would compel Italians to do this?

In an attempt to answer this question we look at one of the leftovers of the Fascist regime, the road that now bears the harmless name, via dei Fori Imperiali (Road of the Imperial Forum), but was christened the via dell’Impero(Empire Street) in 1932 during the height of Italian Fascism. By exploring the fascist use and intention of the via dell’Impero we will explore the pathos behind the appeal of the Fascist movement and Fascism’s relationship with history. However, first it is important to see the context in which Fascist Italy arose.

It is impossible to separate Fascism from Benito Mussolini, who brought Fascism from obscurity to dominance in just a few years. In 1919 Fascists received less than 5000 votes in a nationwide election, yet by 1922 Benito Mussolini was prime minister. This incredibly rapid rise suggests that Fascism filled a significant political void.

Indeed one thing that Fascism offered was a strong national identity. If Fascism was anything it was nationalistic and this was something that Italy, a relatively young country, was particularly susceptible to. The unification of Italy or Risorgimento, occurred from 1848-1870 and was the first time Italy had been unified since the days of the Roman Empire. Then came World War One. Despite fighting on the victorious side, Italy was denied many of the gains that other allied powers received, emerging deeply indebted to America and Britain. Italy also lacked the collection of colonies that England and France had. Simply put, Italy was weak and its citizens knew it. Fascism was able to exploit this, claiming that Italy was weak because it had been ruled by a weak constitutional monarchy and promised to restore the strength and honor they felt was Rome’s birthright.

Yet a Fascist revolution was perhaps more due to the perceived communist threat. After the First World War violent Bolsheviks began attacking capitalist and government building with increasing frequency. The fear that this communist threat created in the rest of Italy is hard to underestimate. It was in this context that the Fascist movement really found their foothold, as extremely violent anti-Bolsheviks. Fascists would target labor unions, worker rallies, newspapers and anything else that seemed vaguely communist. Operating under the theory that violence must be met with greater violence the country devolved into a state of semi-chaos. Scared of the Bolsheviks the liberal government sided with Mussolini, continually compromising to his ever-greater demands and threats.

This culminated in the “March on Rome” where the Fascists supposedly grasped power on October 28th 1922. This event would become the founding myth of the Fascist regime, and myth truly is the right word. Fascists would remember this date as the day when Mussolini led 40,000 brave Fascists black shirts in a violent and brutal battle for the capital. During the fighting no less than 3,000 martyrs died in the name of Fascism. The actual history of the March on Rome though was far more spectacle than battle. Mussolini had mustered around 40,000 black shirt Fascists and declared he was going to take Rome. However, before committing the March Mussolini actually received a telegram sent by the King Vittorio Emanuele III asking him to form a new government. Mussolini then rode into Rome from Milan in a sleeper train and paraded his forces to the center of Rome. The police and the army stood aside while this happened but photographers and journalists were out in full force. In essence the myth was created to assure the people that Fascism was in power because it had the power and initiative to take it. After all the bravado the Fascists preached anything less than a violent revolution might have seemed a copout.

Politically, Fascism tried to portray itself as a “third way” that was neither capitalist nor communist. To many capitalism had proven itself ineffective, but to the middle and upper classes communism certainly wasn’t an option. Ideally, under Fascism elements from both capitalism and socialism would be combined to create a system in which all classes strived and competed for the glory of the state. Yet the key to understand Fascism is to understand the main shift from an emphasis on the individual to an emphasis on the glory and strength of the state. Once this shift is understood it tends to lead to a type of “ends justify means” type thought process. From this perspective the Fascist use of violence, the focus on imperialism, the lack of consistent doctrine and the militarism all make sense.

In order to justify this philosophical foundation of Fascism the Fascists instituted huge reconstructions of Rome and several major building programs. One of the key remnants of this is the via dei Fori Imperiali.