Renzo De Felice is an Italian historian who spent most of his life researching fascism and writing a biography, published in several volumes, on Mussolini. De Felice approached his work like any good historian should: he consulted primary sources (he even managed to get access to documents that had never been seen by anyone else before) and interviewed people who lived and made that era, and then used his findings to paint an accurate picture of what fascism, and Mussolini, was and did. Unfortunately, fascism is still a very touchy topic for most Italians, so it’s not surprising that when published, his work attracted a great deal of criticism.
De Felice was accused of justifying fascism. Of course, the fact that his work was used by supporters of fascism (yes, unfortunately those people still exist) didn’t help his cause either. But De Felice never justified fascism. He just wasn’t particularly interested in condemning it in his work either, which, for some people, is enough to discredit it. What De Felice did was simply put his personal feelings on the matter aside, and instead concentrate on setting the right straight on the many myths about fascism, and to try and explain how fascism originated, why it become popular, how it ruled Italy, how and why it fell… De Felice simply tells it like it is and most people don’t like it. Believing that Mussolini (and fascism) was the devil is easier than facing inconvenient truths.
Because of this, De Felice spent a big chunk of his time explaining his theories in interviews and books. Rosso E Nero (Red and Black) is one of such books. It is the result of an interview De Felice gave to Pasquale Chessa, a journalist who worked for Panorama. The format of an interview, with questions and answers, was kept, but still Rosso E Nero could very well be, for the themes discussed and the sources used, an essay. The historian, in this book, tries to explain why, 50 years after the end of fascism, Italy hasn’t managed, hasn’t even tried, to understand, and come to terms, with such an important, albeit obscure, part of its history.
In particular, the book focuses on the history of the Resistance movement, whose importance, according to De Felice, has been greatly exaggerated by the opponents of fascism. That doesn’t mean that the Resistance wasn’t an important phenomenon (of course it was), but only that its history has been often twisted by politicians who used it for their own ends. This created a series of stereotypes that are still influencing Italian politics and culture. De Felice explains how in the two last years of the war, national morality was badly damaged, and if we don’t understand how that happened, we cannot fix it.
Overall, this is a short, but fascinating read, that’s easy to understand for both historians and casual readers interested in the history of fascism and why the Italians are the way they are. Of course some knowledge of De Felice’s work and Italian history is required, by the notes at the end of the book are very helpful to put the events mentioned in their proper context, allowing the reader to follow the topic without too many problems.
Rosso E Nero by Renzo De Felice and Pasquale Chessa is a short read that tries to set the record straight on the history of fascism, and in particularly on the last two years of the war, and the Resistance movement, in order to allow the reader to understand how these events have shaped Italian history and are still influencing Italians’ behaviour. The book is written in an interview format and, although some basic knowledge of the era (and De Felice’s work) is required, it is easy-to-follow and accessible for everyone.
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