Topic: The roots of the nationalist use of rurality: rural propaganda during the Fascist Italian regime
The rise of nationalistic and populist movements across Europe witnesses the crisis of the cultural appeal of modernization and globalization, and provide a challenge for those still looking at the perspective of an open and inclusive society. A different line of” alternative” thinking has been represented in the last decades by the emergence of concepts like “authenticity” and localness in the social debates about rurality and food. In recent years the latter elements are being increasingly enrolled in the populist and nationalist narratives, linking the preservation of rural territories and food traditions to a conservative, if not reactionary, political perspective.
To better analyse these trends it is worth looking back at a past which may seem remote in strictly chronological terms, but also close to the contemporary challenges, where the roots of this conservative rural discourse can be traced back. The rural rhetoric of the Italian Fascist regime provides an interesting example in this regard, not least because of its influence on many other countries at the time, and give insights into possible ideological drift of these narratives.
Rurality was more than one of the ‘discourses’ produced by the regime, to become a pillar of its ideological construction. This rhetoric had deep roots in the Italian society of the time: urbanization had created a newly urbanized class sensible to ‘rural nostalgia’, and countryside was often described by the media as a cradle of traditional values vis-à-vis easy-going urban lifestyles. In this context the regime promoted the image of a country that had to be more ‘rural’ than ‘urban’, as stated in an article published in 1928 by Mussolini himself.
Beyond this broad cultural landscape. the link between fascist propaganda and rural rhetoric was rooted in specific policies. In this sense, the rural discourse can be seen as a structural component of the fascist political action, rather than a cultural superstructure. Policies like land reclamations and battle for wheat were indeed ‘used’ to increase the regime’s popularity, but before this, they were even designed and planned according to their propaganda potential rather than for the true interests of the agrarian sector (often sacrificed in favour of the manufacture). Besides, through the image of ‘heroic’ pioneers who were rescuing the marshlands, the regime presented the land reclamations as ‘battles’, and the peasants as ‘soldiers’ on an internal war front, paving the way to a wider, and more dangerous, militarist enthusiasm.