Date of Award

2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Supervisor

Professor Emeritus Alan Cassels

Abstract

This thesis uses newly available archival material from the Archivio Storico del Ministero degli Affari Esteri , especially Ciano's Gabinetto , the Foreign Ministry office under which Mussolini and Ciano successively centralized and tightened Fascist control of foreign policy, as well as the Serie Affari Politici , copies of telegrams from embassies abroad plus the diplomatic traffic sent from the Gabinetto to various embassies. This research represents the most comprehensive archival study to date. It also adds a substantially new interpretive cast to the historical debate. It considers but rejects the writings of recent revisionist Italian historians, especially the late Renzo De Felice and several of his students. Their work inaccurately presents a picture of Italy balanced between England and Germany, hoping to play the role of the 'decisive weight' in European affairs. This study argues instead that Benito Mussolini was the primary animator of Italian foreign policy during the 1930s. He was a programmatic thinker, whose ultranationalist mentalité included contempt for democracies, Bolshevism in Western Europe, and for the international Masonic order. More seriously, he held profoundly racist, militarist and social Darwinist beliefs, and routinely acted on these impulses. This complex of irrational beliefs led Mussolini to align Italy with Germany to expand the Italian Empire in East and North Africa at the expense of Britain and France. From June 1936 to early February 1939, Mussolini clearly tightened Italian ties with Germany. These links allowed the Duce to challenge the Western democracies on a broad number of issues. Although Mussolini hoped to achieve many concessions through a process of alternate intimidation and conciliation, he ultimately knew that he could realize his main territorial goals only through war with France and Britain. Only an alliance with Hitler's Germany offered Mussolini the chance to achieve his grandiose imperial plans, though at the profound risk of domination by Germany and military defeat against Britain.

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