Authoritarianism: certain constellations of personality traits seem to travel together

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

It’s interesting that certain constellations of personality traits seem to travel together, even in different cultures, and in different centuries. The cult-of-personality goes with the authoritarianism, which goes with the desire to delegitimate all criticism, which goes with particular ideas about sex, and the relations between men and women. So again, in 2017, we see the revival of the same united set of personality attributes that are described from the 1930s:

His vainglorious sexual boasting (‘They say I’ve got the most beautiful body in Italy’) worked on her like an aphrodisiac. Richard Bosworth, a research fellow at Jesus College, chronicles the ‘Ben and Clara’ affair in his absorbing new biography, Claretta, an addition to his previous histories of Rome and fascist Italy. Unfortunately for the ‘genteelly reared’ Catholic girl, Claretta was engaged to another man, while Mussolini himself was married with five children. The grandly uniformed Dux surely looked incongruous in her bedroom with its baby-pink telephone and items of pink furniture. He had had relations (or one-night stands) with hundreds of women by now, perhaps ‘as many as 400’, according to the Italian journalist Roberto Olla, whose 2012 psycho-sexual biography, Dux, una biografia sessuale di Mussolini, provides Bosworth with some of his material.

Hitler’s dealings with Eva Braun were frankly ‘arid’ by comparison. At first Claretta was brusquely mauled by Mussolini under his desk or on mattress-like cushions installed for the purpose. Towards the end of his 23-year-dictatorship, however, the Duce’s potency inevitably diminished and he became addicted to a German-manufactured aphrodisiac pill trademarked Hormovin. Taking this prototype Viagra was, in some ways, a political act as it served to prolong the myth of the Duce as the one who never flagged. Not only did he squeeze women’s breasts as if they were ‘rubber automobile horns’ (in the words of one of his British biographers), he routinely made for their genitals, Trump-style.

Until recently, Mussolini’s sexuality has largely been ignored by historians as being unworthy of study. Yet it was central to the ‘virile’ cult of fascism and the Duce’s image of himself as a man of power and ardimento — physical daring. He radiated a ‘god-like potency’ and ‘bull-like’ magnetism, according to Claretta. Her diaries, amply quoted here, record the dictator’s every movement and all his words to her, no matter how cringe-making or saccharine (‘I’d like to jump onto your bed like a big tomcat’).

Probably, she first wrote to Mussolini on 7 April 1926, when the mentally disturbed daughter of a Conservative MP, Violet Gibson, shot at the Duce at close range in Rome. (The bullet missed Mussolini’s head by a fraction, but snicked the tip off his nose.) ‘O, Duce, why was I not with you?’, the 14-year-old schoolgirl exclaimed angrily. ‘Could I not have strangled that murderous woman?’ Gibson came close to changing the fate of European history. Instead she ended her days in 1956 in a lunatic asylum in Northampton, unwept-for and disregarded. Claretta never forgot the near-fatal gunshot, and vowed to protect her Caesar-divinity from then on.

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