Duce: The Contradictions of Power

The Political Leadership of Benito Mussolini

April 2023 9781787389533 400pp
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
EU Customers


Eighty years after the fall of Benito Mussolini, controversy remains about what his dictatorship represented. This reflects the different sides to the Duce’s leadership: while adept at nurturing and enforcing his personal political power, Mussolini’s lack of insight into the requirements of governance prevented him from converting this power into influence to achieve his goals. His efforts to maintain the support of Italy’s conservative eliteseconomic, social and politicalalso created tensions with his radical Fascist ambitions, diminishing the momentum behind his regime.

Mussolini is frequently portrayed as a charismatic leader, but his rule was secured principally by coercion, violence and a ‘spoils system’. Nonetheless, his personality cult had significant popular appeal, even if based upon a political myth. This enabled him to consolidate his position and to dominate his Fascist colleaguesbut at a price of over-centralised, dysfunctional decision-making.

In this book, the first comprehensive English-language study of Mussolini in nearly two decades, Peter J. Williamson brings to life the contradictions within the Duce’s leadership. Using a wide range of sources, Williamson reveals how these conflicts impeded the dictator’s ambitions, leaving him increasingly frustrated, all while most Italians endured the severe privations of both failure and Fascism.


Duce is a book of fascinating ambition and timeliness. Williamson weaves together snippets of important historical information into an engaging narrative, with a punchy and incisive style. A nuanced and well written argument.’ — Aristotle Kallis, Professor of Modern History, Keele University, and author of Fascist Ideology and The Third Rome

‘Weak or failed, mad or murderous, a dictator who was always right or always wrong—the debate on Italy’s Fascist leader continues. Williamson examines both Mussolini’s decision-making processes and his decisions. All those interested in the Italian dictatorship will benefit from his work.’ — Richard Bosworth, Emeritus Fellow, University of Oxford, and author of Mussolini and the Eclipse of Italian Fascism

‘A well-informed and highly up-to-date analysis of one of Europe’s more controversial dictatorships. Duce probes all aspects of the long-lasting regime, asks the right questions and comes up with considered and convincing answers. An excellent and very readable study.’ — Paul Corner, Professor of European History, University of Siena, and author of Mussolini in Myth and Memory


Peter J. Williamson is a former scholar of political science and public policy (1980-91). His previous book Varieties of Corporatism covered Mussolini's corporatist system, and he has retained an interest in Italy's dictator since. He has also worked in the NHS and government at board director level in Scotland (1991-2014).

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.