Fascism was the first and prime instance of a modern political religion. Rereading signs, symbols, cults, and myths, Italy’s leading scholar of Fascism offers a new history of Italian nationalism as a civic religion, albeit in its extreme form, and of Italian Fascism as a vital catalyst for contemporary mass politics. Emilio Gentile decodes Italy culturally, going beyond political and social dimensions that explain Italy’s Fascist past in terms of class, or the cynicism of its leaders, or modernizing and expansionist ambitions.
By looking back at the Risorgimento’s civic and moral renewal of the Italians as a free people educated in the faith and worship of a "national religion," at the jarring countereffects of the secularized nation-state not trusting mass political mobilization, and at Fascism’s retrieval of history from Rome, the French Revolution, and Romanticism, Gentile reconstructs the cultural configurations of a sacred politics. He shows how Mussolini used the concept of propaganda as a project in civic pedagogy, and how the Fascists thus cultivated a new consciousness that filled the void left by the decline of traditional religion. Fascism mobilized the masses through spectacle and public ceremony in an effort to conquer and shape the mentality and customs of a still emerging nation.