Renzo De Felice

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Renzo De Felice (8 April 1929 – 25 May 1996) was an Italian historian, who specialized in the Fascist era, writing - among others - a 6000-page biography of Mussolini (4 volumes, 1965–97). He argued that Mussolini was a revolutionary modernizer in domestic issues, but a pragmatist in foreign policy who continued the Realpolitik policies of liberal Italy, 1861-1922.[1]


He was born in Rieti and studied under Federico Chabod and Delio Cantimori at the Sapienza University of Rome. During his time as student, De Felice was a member of the Italian Communist Party. After the 1956 Soviet repression of the Hungarian Revolution, De Felice was among 101 Italian intellectuals who sharply criticized the Italian Communist Party for its backing of the Soviets. He broke with the Communists and joined the Italian Socialist Party. He taught history at the University of Rome. He was married to Livia De Ruggiero. He died in Rome.

Mussolini studies[edit]

De Felice is best known for a massive four volume, eight book biography of Benito Mussolini that was almost finished at the time of his death. De Felice was the founder and editor of the influential journal Storia Contemporanea. De Felice also wrote a well-regarded history of Jewish life under the Fascist government and articles on Italian Jacobinism.

De Felice's leading interest was in fascism. In his view, there were two types of fascism, "fascism as a movement" and "fascism as a regime". De Felice saw the fascism, especially in the "movement" stage, as a revolutionary middle-class ideology that had deep roots in the Enlightenment. Moreover, De Felice insisted that fascism was not caused by fear of a proletarian revolution on the part of the lower middle classes - as the leftist historiography maintained - but was rather an assertive movement originated by an emerging middle class in search for its proper role.

On the opposite, fascism as a regime was seen by De Felice as nothing more than Mussolini's policy - which tended to make of fascist ideology just the superstructure of Mussolini's dictatorship and personal power. De Felice felt that fascism should be seen as valid political ideology, not just something to be demonized and dismissed in simplistic terms. He argued that studies on Fascism should get out from the political debate and become a historiographical issue based on scientific assertions.

Furthermore, De Felice insisted that there was no connection or valid comparisons to be drawn between Italian Fascism and German National Socialism, which De Felice saw as being a completely different political ideology. Critics on the left attacked De Felice for being too sympathetic to Italian Fascism. Giuliano Procacci, Paolo Alatri, Nicola Tranfaglia and others even accused De Felice of writing an apologia of Fascism.

Selected Works[edit]

  • Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo, 1961.
  • The Jews in Fascist Italy. A History, Enigma Books, 2001. ISBN 978-1-929631-01-8
  • Mussolini, 4 volumes, 1965-1997 (Turin, 1965–97)
vol. 1, Mussolini il rivoluzionario, 1883–1920; vol. 2, Mussolini il fascista, pt. 1, La conquista del potere, 1921–1925, pt. 2, L’organizzazione dello Stato fascista, 1925–1929; vol. 3, Mussolini il duce, pt. 1, Gli anni del consenso, 1929–1936, pt. 2, Lo stato totalitario, 1936–1940; vol. 4, Mussolini l’alleato, 1940–1945, pt. 1, L’Italia in guerra, 1940–1943, bk. 1, Dalla guerra “breve” alla guerra lunga, bk. 2, Crisi e agonia del regime, pt. 2, La guerra civile, 1943–1945.
  • Le interpretazioni del fascismo, 1969.
  • Il fascismo: le interpretazioni dei contemporanei e degli storici, 1970.
  • Intervista sul fascismo, edited by Michael Ledeen, 1975.
  • Ebrei in un paese arabo: gli ebrei nella Libia contemporanea tra colonialismo, nazionalismo arabo e sionismo (1835-1970), 1978.


  1. ^ James Burgwyn, "Renzo De Felice and Mussolini's Foreign Policy: Pragmatism vs. Ideology," Italian Quarterly (1999), Vol. 36 Issue 141/142, pp 93-103

Further reading[edit]

  • Ledeen, Michael "Renzo De Felice and the Controversy over Italian Fascism" pages 269-283 from Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 11, 1976.
  • Painter, Borden "Renzo De Felice and the Historiography of Italian Fascism" American Historical Review, (1990) 95#2 pp. 391-405 in JSTOR
  • Gentile, Emilio: "Renzo de Felice: A Tribute", Journal of Contemporary History 32,2 (1997), pp. 139-151.
  • Knox, MacGregor "The Fascist Regime, Its Foreign Policy and Its Wars: An 'Anti-anti-fascist' Orthodoxy?" Contemporary European History, Volume 4, Issue # 3, 1995; pages 347-365
  • Simoncelli, Paolo (2001). Renzo De Felice: la formazione intellettuale. Le Lettere. ISBN 978-88-7166-602-0.