Berlusconi, il Duce, and il Dubya

April 23, 2004

Many have compared Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. Berlusconi himself has encouraged the comparison and praised and defended the fascist dictator. But the similarities are also striking between Mussolini and another imperialistic leader whom Berlusconi likes to praise, namely George W. Bush (or whoever it is that’s running the Bush Administration).

Yes, I know, Mussolini was more honest about his intentions, and, yes, I know, Mussolini made the trains run on time and was better for his nation’s economy – at least up until that little trouble with World War II, and he served in the military in his youth rather than going AWOL. But both leaders were appointed rather than elected. Both dramatically increased the power of their positions. Both started imperial wars without cause, resulting in thousands of senseless deaths and a pair of hapless doomed empires. Both leaders glorified war and gave priority to all things military. Both leaders were driven by corporate interests. Both locked up groups of people without charge or trial. Both encouraged racial and religious discrimination. True, Bush has not sent 6,000 Jews to their deaths in Nazi Germany (although his family may have profited from their labor), but he has killed far more than that number of Iraqi civilians, men, women, and children, and horribly wounded many thousands more in what he refers to as a “crusade.”

A study released in 2003 by four American psychology professors and discussed in “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, found common motivations in a range of political conservatives, including Mussolini and Reagan, namely “fear and aggression, dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity; uncertainty avoidance; need for cognitive closure; and terror management.” Associate Professor Jack Glaser of UC Berkeley gave George W. Bush’s comments during a 2001 trip to Italy as an example. Bush told assembled world leaders, “I know what I believe, and I believe what I believe is right.”

Bush probably has a special fondness for the Burning Bush in Exodus, which tells Moses “I am that I am.” But Bush’s decisive and dubious pronouncements also sound like those of his political brothers, even those of his more eloquent brethren. This was Mussolini’s twist on religion: “If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved, they will accept the illusion that mountains are moveable, and thus an illusion may become reality.” He could have been talking about weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s attack on the United States on September 11th.

Self-styled successor to Mussolini, Berlusconi has more in common with Bush than perhaps anyone else does, certainly more than most Americans do. The Italian newspaper La Stampa wrote: “Insomma, il nostro premier ha accolto interamente la “dottrina Bush”. Inoltre Berlusconi non ha dubbi sulla pericolosit