De Felice, Renzo

   A controversial historian who wrote a monumental seven-volume work on the life and times of Benito Mussolini, Renzo De Felice was born in Rieti (Latium). As a young historian, he was a member of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI), but broke with the PCI, along with many other Italian intellectuals, after the leadership of the party justified the oppression, in 1956, by Soviet tanks of the Hungarian revolution against communist rule. De Felice taught for many years at La Sapienza University in Rome.
   De Felice’s claim to fame is that he broke a number of taboos regarding Fascism. When he began publishing the fruits of his researches on Mussolini in the 1960s, the prevailing consensus was that Fascism was a right-wing movement, like Nazism, that had been unpopular with the Italians and that had been largely overthrown through the efforts of the Italians themselves. De Felice revised this picture in ways that many intellectuals found difficult to accept. The first volume of his life of Mussolini insisted upon the socialist roots of Fascist ideology; other volumes drew a sharp distinction between Fascism and Nazism, emphasized that Fascism maintained a revolutionary appeal and—perhaps most controversial of all—contended that many Italians supported the regime almost until its end and that the years 1929–1936, in particular, had been the “years of consensus.” Especially after De Felice published an outspoken interview with the American historian Michael Ledeen in 1975, these findings aroused lively polemic, and De Felice often had to face noisy demonstrations during his lectures and ostracism from his colleagues. De Felice took a number of provocative positions during the last years of his life—he notably spoke slightingly of the wartime resistance—and by the time of his death in Rome in 1996 he was widely regarded almost as an apologist for Mussolini.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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