Bellassai Sandro - The Masculine Mystique Anti Modernism and Virility in Fascist Italy

This article was downloaded by: [Royal Holloway University] On: 18 October 2010 Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 917863616] Publisher Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 3741 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Modern Italian Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713699215 The masc
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   PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE This article was downloaded by: [Royal Holloway University]  On: 18 October 2010  Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 917863616]  Publisher Routledge  Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Modern Italian Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713699215 The masculine mystique: antimodernism and virility in fascist Italy Sandro Bellassai To cite this Article Bellassai, Sandro(2005) 'The masculine mystique: antimodernism and virility in fascist Italy', Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 10: 3, 314 — 335 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13545710500188338 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13545710500188338 Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  The masculine mystique: antimodernism and virility infascist Italy Sandro Bellassai Abstract  This article examines the connections between the defense of a traditional concept of masculinity and the anti-modernist discourse which characterized the fascist regime.This nexus took shape in the campaign against urbanization and its concomitantexaltation of the peasant world, as well as in the critique of intellectuals and the anti-bourgeois campaign. Through a critique of the modern woman, fascism emphasizedthe hierarchical relationship between the sexes, which found its justification in thesupposed immutability of the subaltern feminine role. Keywords Fascism, masculinity, modernization, gender. The Fascist regime never produced a coherent theory of antimodernism – andindeed there was no lack of contradiction in fascist views of modernity – but anantimodernist stance was one of Fascism’s defining features. 1 Historiographyhas generally relegated fascist antimodernism to a secondary order of inquiry, aspart of studies of cultural and political movements or of established forms of artistic production in the broadest sense. Most scholarship has concentrated onartists, intellectuals and journals of the Fascist period that most clearlyarticulated either rejection or enthusiastic acceptance of the political, ethicaland cultural values connected to the idea of modernity (Luti 1972; Mangoni1974; Asor Rosa 1975). Scholars have often treated these debates as clashesamong intellectuals, in which the issues at stake were essentially theoretical or aesthetic. 2 On the whole, the historiography on fascism has dedicated littleattention, and almost none on the part of Italian writers, to questions of gender in antimodernism; yet the normative representations of masculinity andfemininity were essential ingredients of the rhetorical effectiveness of theantimodernist message. Reference, at times indirect and oblique but importantnonetheless, to the need to restore a sense of virility surfaced in countlessspeeches. Ruralist, pro-natalist, nationalistic and anti-bourgeois rhetoricdepicted a masculine identity that was firmly virile and dominant in the state,society and family, and launched apocalyptic appeals against the presumeddecay of virility caused by modern, liberal, bourgeois civilization. For these  Journal of Modern Italian Studies 10(3) 2005: 314–335  Journal of Modern Italian Studies ISSN 1354-571X print/ISSN 1469-9583 online ª 2005 Taylor & Francishttp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13545710500188338  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ R o y al  H oll o w a y  U ni v e r si t y]  A t : 21 :34 18  O c t ob e r 2010  reasons, the term ‘virility’ represents a key feature of the fascist vision of theworld. In short, one can agree with Barbara Spackman’s claim ‘that virility isnot simply one of many fascist qualities, but rather that the cults of youth, of duty, of sacrifice and heroic virtues, of strength and stamina, of obedience andauthority, and of physical strength and sexual potency that characterize fascismare all inflections of that master term, virility’ (Spackman 1996: xii; see FalascaZamponi 1997: 24–5). Fascist masculinity in a historical perspective Fascist antimodernism can be organized analytically into a series of preciseterms, in each of which it is possible to identify more or less clear references tomasculine identity and its critical condition in modern civilization. Schema-tically, the terms are as follows: ruralism, anti-urbanism, anti-intellectualism,antibourgeoisie, antifeminism – and therefore misogyny – and pronatalism. 3 Almost all these cultural stances were rooted in decades-old questions of publicdebate; these themes actually surfaced at the end of the nineteenth and earlytwentieth centuries and developed further in the succeeding decades. Theybecame interwoven with dramatic wartime events and finally became essentialelements of the national political agenda during Mussolini’s dictatorship. Hencesome elements of fascist masculinity can effectively be interpreted within awider chronological perspective than fascism itself, thus highlighting thepersistence and discontinuities of certain elements over time.Mussolini aimed in various aspects to make a clean break with the past(Gentile 1993: 100–3, 84–90, 146; Ben-Ghiat 2004: 183–5; Cavazza 2003:53–67). But, for certain questions that were particularly pertinent tomasculinity, fascism presented itself as the culminating moment in a battlethat had begun decades earlier. By explicitly establishing a continuity with thepast, the regime assumed the historic mission to eradicate once and for all those‘modern’ degenerations that, they argued, had carried the Italian and westernman to the brink of irreversible catastrophe.One of the most important threads of continuity regards antimodernism: thefear of the emasculating elements of modernity, which is the pivotal point of my argument, spread precisely in the last decades of the 1800s, a result of theprocesses of modernization sweeping western societies. In the first decades of the twentieth century, terms such as decadence, degeneration and feminizationwere common in the most varied political writing. Feminization was linkedlogically to the two other terms because current opinion – above all amongscientists – held that women were biologically inferior to men. Thus aprevalence of the feminine element in society corresponded necessarily to anactual regression of the human being on the evolutionary scale. Within thebroader argument about the degeneration of civilization (Pick 1989), amasculine ‘pessimism’ began to take shape linked to the development of cities,technological progress, democracy and mass society, and the growing sense of  Fascism and masculinity315  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ R o y al  H oll o w a y  U ni v e r si t y]  A t : 21 :34 18  O c t ob e r 2010  the weakening of virility, which was to be combatted through exercise andmodern sports activities. These symptoms of the ‘modern neurosis’, as thecelebrated Italian pathologist and anthropologist Paolo Mantegazza had alreadydefined it in 1887 (Mantegazza 1995: 47), appeared as so many signs of aterrible danger at the gates: the excess of ‘civilization’. This, it was thought,would distance men ever further from the conditions in which their fatherslived and would fatally weaken, corrupt or sever the cord that linkedmasculinity with tradition . The cure was implicit in the diagnosis. It consisted inpreserving and even energetically reviving traditional – and thereforepatriarchal – values on which public and private lives should be founded.Salutary immersions in ‘Nature’ and physical activities were required to purifyoneself of the scum of urbanism and sedentary life; the circle of the exclusivelymale community should be strengthened to defend it from baleful feminineinfluences; and the cult of a full and indisputable virility was to be collectivelyreaffirmed. 4 Initiatives regarding a virile reintegration of the male ‘character’ and bodywere particularly dear to political and cultural currents and movements of moreor less fervent nationalistic and antidemocratic inspiration in Giolitti’s pre-war Italy, even though they obliquely involved different political cultures. For thesesectors of public opinion above all, militarism and the war taking shape inEurope in the early 1910s (the war in Libya offered a magnificent occasion for militaristic and nationalist enthusiasm as early as 1911) represented an explicit therapy for masculinity. The exaltation of the warrior was also tied to a generalcultural climate in which problems such as the loss of the virile vigor of ‘lineage’, the demographic problem and therefore the quantitative weakeningof the ‘race’, and the exaltation of the thrilling and ‘dangerous life’ as opposedto the debilitating monotony of the petty bourgeois existence acquired newpolitical valence. In many respects the prospect of nationalism provided a sortof ideological container in which the various (and not always coherent) manly,misogynous and authoritative impulses could converge and sustain oneanother.In the reality of daily experience, the Great War did not produce the effectsdesired by those who hoped it would produce a return to the old gender hierarchy. Thus it seemed necessary in the postwar period to convince themasses of disillusioned veterans and men in general, frustrated as men by the far from triumphant economic and social scenario, that the only way out of theconfusion and insecurity was through the revival of the martial values that hadcharacterized those terrible years. The principle of hierarchy that representedthe very foundation of military life, together with the decisive value of violentaction, were thus transposed onto peacetime civilian life and political dynamics.The rise in social conflict eroded what moral scruples remained in conservativecircles about embracing violently repressive and liberticidal options. Thewidespread perception of the failure of the political liberal system, with whichthe notion of democracy had recently been generally identified, offered new Italian masculinities316  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ R o y al  H oll o w a y  U ni v e r si t y]  A t : 21 :34 18  O c t ob e r 2010
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