Charles Burdett’s paper analyses some of the numerous texts written during the Fascist period on the United States by authors such as Ciarlantini, Mario Soldati, Margherita Sarfatti and Emilio Cecchi and demonstrates the different connections such texts have with the politics of the time.
Perspectives of the United States changed over the critical period between 1930-1936, in same ways reflecting the trajectory of Italian foreign policy. Burdett argues that whilst at the beginning of the 1930s we can talk of a fascination with the United States, an admiration for American material progress and technical innovation, by 1936, the year of the signing of the Rome-Berlin axis, the United States is seen by some Italian writers as the antithesis of the collective values of Fascism. Depending on whether the authors appropriate or reject Fascist discourse, in the texts examined the United States becomes either the ‘utopian object of desire’ for the young writers opposing Fascism or the antithesis of Fascist values for those who support the regime.
The paper stresses how the perception of the United States can be extremely ambiguous and contradictory, for instance, M. Sarfatti, in spite of being one of the best known authors during the 1930s, and a supporter of the regime, is nevertheless taken by American optimism, the enormity of the architecture of the States and also, in particular, by the energy, strength and discipline of American women. But her discourse centers on the similarities and parallels she sees between Northern American and Italian culture, where Italy, or rather ‘the Graeco-Roman ideal’, is presented as the basis of American culture. Burdett asserts that her recognition of a shared civilisation between Italy and the United States serves an important function in the text: on the one side it legitimises the United States as an imperial power because of its undoubted technical superiority, and on the other, given Italy’s lasting cultural influence on the whole of Western civilisation, it also promotes Italy’s aspirations to colonial expansion.
Views closer to official Fascist thinking were expressed by E. Cecchi. His observations were published as newspaper articles over a period of two years and later collected into a volume, America amara (Bitter America). In the second part of this paper Burdett shows how Cecchi’s description of the ‘inevitable effects’ of racial differences is closely linked to the Fascist idea of the superiority of a society which is racially homogenous. Cecchi presents the reader with an overall negative vision of the United States, a country that, according to him, in rejecting the ‘puritanical’ principles of the founding fathers, has become chaotic, violent, and has degenerated to such an extent that it no longer possesses any ideals or any values. In Cecchi, the landscape of New York’s skyscrapers becomes a metaphor for the pride and the ‘godless religion’ of the whole of the United States, and, on a representational level, even American fiction is seen by the writer simply as a catalogue of ‘sinister emotions and impulses’.
Burdett concludes his paper by emphasising how Cecchi’s negative discourse on the American lack of collective ideals becomes an apologia for Mussolini’s ‘moral revolution’. The Fascist regime is presented as the antithesis of the individualistic and materialistic culture of the United States, acting as guarantor not only of the country’s institutions but also of the Catholic religion and the traditional values of Latin civilisation.