Fascist Modernism in Italy. Arts and Regimes.

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Drawing on a wide-ranging set of modernist journals and artefacts - spanning public building, newsreels, artworks and novels -, this book explores how the Italian Fascist regime’s participation in an aesthetic movement (modernism) and in its transformation into a social phenomenon (modernization) created a distinctive system of the arts, which, in the 1930s, also had a profound influence across the whole of Europe. During the Ventennio, the Italian Fascist regime created totalitarian aesthetic apparatuses together with new forms of social and cultural patronage for the control of the individual/citizen in the social sphere, seeking mass consensus and the constitution of the ‘new man/woman’ as the foundation of a modern collective social identity. In its claims, the regime adopted modernist aesthetics, albeit not unproblematically, as the privileged paradigm for the modernization of the public sphere, while understanding modernity as a progressive as well as reactionary force. If on the one hand, the specific value of Fascist arts consisted in their capacity to shape the collective, social identity of the new individual; on the other hand, Italian modernist literary and cultural reviews engendered productive aesthetic and cultural debates questioning primarily but not exclusively the role of the arts in relation to the political and cultural doctrine of the totalitarian state. Despite their different ideological orientations, the official debate on state art as well as that on liberal arts shared a similar concern: the imperative of using the arts as a platform for fostering social modernisation in the civic sphere to accommodate the new Fascist man/woman. Realism in particular was the key aesthetic principle for such a construction and for creating a new national novel embedded within the international field. Contrary to many existing studies, this one does not treat modernism exclusively as either a literary or a strictly cultural endeavour. Rather, it is understood as sets of aesthetic activities and artefacts, which are largely, but not exclusively, based on rationalist principles. Such principles
are shaped in the total work of art, which was designed to represent modern forms of total power and technologies different from those championed by the avant-gardes. In the 1920s and 1930s, the total work of art found its implementation in: 1) the new theorization of the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity; 2) the sacralisation of the new man’s total politics though the arts; 3) the construction of the new man’s urban reality; 4) the new man’s/citizen’s media manipulation; and 5) the legitimization of the artist/intellectual participation in the civic sphere.In the theory and the practice of the modernist/Fascist dialectics of modernity and
modernization, architecture, the novel, the visual arts, realism, newsreels, and the futurist avant-gardes functioned for the regime and for Italian writers, artists and intellectuals, as core drivers for building a new society. We therefore
argue that these debates and artistic expressions were of key importance for the existence of the regime, for they played a foundational role in shaping the aesthetics orientations of Italian culture, in creating its transnational profile, and in strengthening the power of the arts during political repression.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherI.B. Tauris
Number of pages350
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2021

Publication series

NamePolitics and International Studies


  • Fascism, Modernism, Aesthetics, Politics, Italian art.

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Urban Institute


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