Mussolini was not the buffoonish clown he seems today. He was quite deadly and quite serious and was very much a dictator. In fact, the first dictator in the 20th Century in the West, a pioneer as it were. At first he was popular but after a few years the economy got worse and he grew deeply unpopular and would have been voted out of office.
“Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is the majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind,” said Mussolini in 1935. (As cited in Quotationary, p. 273.) A handy doctrine to have if one’s party couldn’t win an election. You can see where this is leading.
Many people watched as Mussolini cobbled together his theory of fascism which, in reality, was simply an authoritarian régime combined with state capitalism or a “Capitalist Dictatorship” as the English philosopher George Bernard Shaw characterized Fascism in 1928. (Quotationary, p. 273.) What this meant in practice were large private companies coming under the ownership of the state but still being run as profit-making corporations. This improved the management of some companies but as a rule they didn’t operate as efficiently. The Republic of Italy still has an ownership stake in many Italian corporations which it acquired during this period. As an aside, Mussolini did not make the trains run on time. (Nor do Italian trains run on time today.)
One of the people watching Mussolini was a young radical politician in Germany thought to be on the lunatic fringe, Adolf Hitler. He even wrote the Italian Embassy in Berlin and asked for a signed photograph of Mussolini although his request was denied. Nonetheless, much of what Hitler and the Nazis did aped Mussolini.
“The master of the technique of modern mass dictatorship, he had also inspired a new conception of rule, and Hitler regarded himself as his pupil.”
After Hitler came to power and became pals with Il Duce, he acknowledged this in conversations with his minions saying, “I have a deep friendship for this extraordinary man.” (Source: The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler and the Fall of Italian Fascism by F.W.D. Deakin)
This friendship did not stand the test of time. In the political testament Hitler dictated several days before he killed himself, he said, “Anything would have been better than having the Italians as comrades in arms.” (Source: Why the Allies Won by Richard Overy)
[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]