“Believe! Obey! Fight!” loudspeakers blared and posters proclaimed. Men were urged to be ruthless, selfless warriors fighting for the glory of Italy. Women were pushed out of paying jobs. Instead, Mussolini called on women to “win the battle of motherhood.” Those who bore more than 14 children were given a medal by Il Duce himself.

Shaping the young was a major Fascist goal. Fascist youth groups toughened children and taught them to obey strict military discipline. Boys and girls learned about the glories of ancient Rome.

Young Fascists marched in torchlight parades, singing patriotic hymns and chanting, “Mussolini is always right.” By the 1930s, a generation of young soldiers stood ready to back Il Duce's drive to expand Italian power.

Building a Totalitarian State

Mussolini and the Fascist Party built the first modern totalitarian state. In this form of government, a one-party dictatorship regulates every aspect of the lives of its citizens. Fascist Italy served as a model for fascist rule in other European nations. Still, Fascist rule in Italy was never as absolute as those imposed by the communists in the Soviet Union or the Nazis in Germany.

Mussolini's rule was fascist in nature, as was Hitler's. However, totalitarian governments rise under other kinds of ideology as well, such as communism in Stalin's Soviet Union.

All of these totalitarian governments shared common features. They were single-party dictatorships in which the state controlled the economy. The party was led by a dictator, who used police spies and terrorism to control the people and demanded unquestioning obedience. The government controlled the media and enforced strict censorship. It used every means possible to indoctrinate, or mold, its citizens' ideas and thoughts.

Characteristics of Fascism

Historians still debate the real nature of Mussolini's fascist ideology. Mussolini coined the term, but fascists had no unifying theory as Marxists did. Today, we generally use the term fascism to describe any centralized, authoritarian government that is not communist whose policies glorify the state over the individual and are destructive to basic human rights. In the 1920s and 1930s, though, fascism meant different things in different countries.

Photo of children in soldier’s uniforms carrying flags, marching in lines under supervision.

Mussolini viewed children as the Fascists of the future and took great interest in education and the youth program. Boys were taught to be strong soldiers and girls were taught to be strong, nurturing mothers.

Features of Fascism

All forms of fascism, however, shared some basic features. They were rooted in extreme nationalism. Fascists glorified action, violence, discipline, and, above all, blind loyalty to the state.

Fascists also pursued aggressive foreign expansion. Echoing the idea of “survival of the fittest,” Fascist leaders glorified warfare as a noble struggle for survival. “War alone,” declared Mussolini, “brings to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon peoples who have the courage to face it.”

Fascists were also antidemocratic. They rejected the Enlightenment emphasis on reason and the concepts of equality and liberty. To them, democracy led to corruption and weakness. They claimed democracy put individual or class interests above national goals and destroyed feelings of community. Instead, fascists emphasized emotion and the need for individuals to serve the state.

The Appeal of Fascism

Given its restrictions on individual freedom, why did fascism appeal to many Italians? First, it promised a strong, stable government and an end to the political feuding that had paralyzed democracy in Italy.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments