Antonio Scurati: “The damage to democracy is on the populist right, even if it is not violent” | Culture

Antonio Scurati, on April 25, in Milan.
Antonio Scurati, on April 25, in Milan.Maria Moratti / Getty Images

The world changes too many times in a decade to go around with political and editorial calculations. When his project is finished, Antonio Scurati (Naples, 51 years old) will have dedicated more than 10 years to building a monumental portrait of Italian fascism and of the man in which fear, imperial ambition and the propaganda dreams of a somewhat self-conscious nation crystallized. still in its infancy, waiting — and may still be — for the advent of a total leader. And even so, everything is too much like the noise that began to arrive through the window of his Milanese studio while he was building an extraordinary evolving creature of which he is now publishing his second volume in Spain and that is only at the equator of his route. A portrait about the wounds of 20th century Europe that will also have a series and, he has just decided, will go up to a fourth volume to make up one of the most ambitious literary cycles of our time.

Read a sneak peek of ‘M. The man of providence ‘

M. The man of providence (Alfaguara, 2021) combines the historical and literary method to dissect the consolidation of the fascist regime in Italy. And it starts right where it ended M. The son of the century (which in Italy won the prestigious Strega prize): with the assassination of the anti-fascist politician and journalist Giacomo Matteotti. That was the spark that transformed the viscera of fascism and the dictator himself, reconstructed through dialogues, thoughts and primary sources obtained from the State Archive. “When I began to study it, I was puzzled that, in February 1925, Mussolini was out of the political scene for about three weeks because of a duodenal ulcer that almost killed him. I realized that the most important studies, like the one by Renzo de Felice, settled that passage in two or three lines. But it is a disease of a psychosomatic nature! I delved deeper and it became completely evident to me that the pain that accompanied him all his life was closely linked to the unburied ghost of Matteotti. It is not scientifically demonstrable, but that is the truth of the novelist and it must be told ”, he explains on the other side of the video call screen.

Mussolini, in his office with his cat, around 1925
Mussolini, in his office with his cat, around 1925Time Life Pictures / The LIFE Picture Collection via

A corrupt state

The Mussolini of the consolidation of Scurati’s fascism, which lasts until October 1932, when the regime celebrates itself and reviews its trajectory 10 years after the March on Rome with a large sample, is a paradox. The regime enjoyed its greatest support and roots in Italy, but the dictator feels in his own body the emptiness of an experiment that, before anyone else, he perceives that it does not work. Utopia is just a corrupt state. Italy’s promises of transformation, like so many constructions of current populism, are just hollow tin. “Mussolini already knows, even when he harangues the crowd bare-chested, that he won’t be able to keep many of his promises. He knows that he has not succeeded in changing the Italians and that the fascist party is empty. He is aware that he will not create a new ruling class and that his hierarchs are worthless: they were thugs and now they are just corrupt thieves. Thus he enters a schizoid state: he becomes exalted, but also plunges into melancholy. He tends to talk about future generations because he knows that he will not achieve the fascist Italy he dreamed of ”.

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One of the most representative scenes in the book shows Mussolini in front of the bronze bust made for him by the sculptor Adolfo Wildt. The dictator was already 55 years old, in pain and in a foul mood. Waiting for the verdict is very tense. But Duce he ends up appreciating his own portrait: that of “a man within history.” “Great, that’s how I feel,” he proclaims to the artist’s relief. The moment underlines how the body constitutes the central axis of the dictator’s policy and also of Scurati’s vision of the period. “It became the starting point. On the one hand, because I knew that Mussolini was the first politician of the 20th century to put the body at the center of the scene. He understood that politics in the age of the masses, the communication between a leader and his people, is not intellectual. It is built through a physical vibration. And the body of the leader would become a fetish: to worship or slaughter him, as happened to him ”. But through the writer’s window, again, a familiar noise began to come. “It happened that a president of the United States unwittingly became an heir to that tradition started by Mussolini. Because Donald Trump also transformed his own body into a threat to democracy in the midst of a pandemic. The funny thing is that this is a novel about the history of history. But that, at the same time, lives in its own historical time ”.

Pier Paolo Pasolini coined the concept of post-history in his famous poem I am a force from the past. An idea that always illuminated Scurati’s work and that made him consider some limits recently. The pandemic already functions as a space-time gap between what happened and was written before, and what came after. “I thought I had to specify it in some essays that had been written before the pandemic. If not, it is almost a lack of respect for the reader ”. That sensation is similar to that manifested by a whole generation of writers, he explains, who have portrayed the wounds of the twentieth century without having suffered them.

Mussolini already knows, even when he harangues the dough bare-chested, that he will not be able to keep many of his promises

Scurati refers to works such as The benevolentby Jonathan Littell. But also to most of the Goncourt awards of the last 10 years, where writers of his generation, with no ties to those periods, count the First or Second World War, as well as the post-colonial conflicts. This is why, in part, the two volumes of M. they can now tell about fascism without being hostage to personal involvement. “This generation of writers, which has produced much of the most significant European literature of these years, can freely and arbitrarily read the political tragedy of the 20th century. Basically, because he can take possession of it through literary narration, because they do not belong to him in the way of a destiny. And that allows you to recognize it as your own. But if judging is responding to the world, its torture, violence or injustice with the faculty of discernment, then there is a judgment, of course ”.

Mussolini, in 1925 next to a bust made in his honor.
Mussolini, in 1925 next to a bust made in his honor.ullstein picture Dtl. / ullstein picture via Getty Images

A process of this type begins by laying down collective responsibilities. And perhaps from the title itself, an epithet (the man of providence) that Pius XI happily coined to refer to Mussolini, points to some sectors that, at the time, were little stained. “The clergy, the curia, as well as the monarchy, had a very great responsibility in the rise to power of the regime. The zenith of his political career is 1929. In that year Mussolini, still young and strong, in full swing, wins a huge popular plebiscite in strongly undemocratic elections: with a single list. You could only say yes or no, a sham. But a huge number of Italians, who were not obliged to do so, went there and supported him. Those elections, which are the denial of any democracy and which will be the last, come shortly after the Lateran Pacts: the agreement between State and Church that heals an open wound with the Resurgence: because Italian Catholics suffered it. The Pope, in short, contributes a lot to the heyday of Mussolini ”.

The return these days of the terms fascist or communist to polarize politics, as has happened in Spain, is not new. But the violence, the unequivocal step to reach the bullying of that time – “not the term counterproductively abused in recent years,” says Scurati – should not distract the analysis from the serious current situation. “The question about violence presupposes the conviction that that moment will come. But also that if it did not arrive, nothing serious would happen. However, it is not a necessary passage. The authoritarianism of this new populist right is also a serious threat to democratic life. No need to wait for the squadron Or the Falangist comes to hammer your door. Democracy, write it down please, the damage to democracy is already in the acts, in the right-wing populist authoritarian movements and parties. Even if they don’t rush towards fascist violence, ”he pointed out the day the elections were held in the Community of Madrid.

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