Duce: The Contradictions of Power

The Political Leadership of Benito Mussolini


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.


Peter J. Williamson is a former scholar of political science and public policy (1980-91). His 2005 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).

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