Bottai, Giuseppe

   One of the leading Fascist intellectuals, Giuseppe Bottai fought as a volunteer during World War I, rising to the rank of captain. After the war, he was one of the original founders of the fasci di combattimento, organizing the Fascist squads in his native Lazio. Nevertheless, he was widely regarded as one of the few genuine intellectuals among the hierarchs of the Partito Nazionale Fascista/National Fascist Party (PNF). Editor of Critica Fascista, the moderation of his position on many issues and genuine openness to debate won him a relatively liberal reputation among the regime’s opponents. It also caused him trouble with Benito Mussolini. His opposition to the PNF’s increasing identification with the state almost caused his expulsion from party activity after Mussolini cracked down on internal dissent in October 1925. Despite his aversion to the party state, Bottai held a number of important governmental posts in the 1920s and 1930s. Between 1926 and 1932, he was the most enthusiastic exponent of corporatism as an ideology and, as minister for the corporations, was entrusted with turning theory into practice. He became governor of Rome in 1936 and minister for education between 1936 and 1943. In this last post he enforced the racial lawsand was also responsible for imposing on all schoolchildren compulsory membership in the regime’s paramilitary youth movements. On the other hand, his Carta della scuola (School Charter), because it opened public schools to workers, was widely praised among Fascist dissidents on the left. Between 1940 and 1943, Bottai published Primato, which seemingly sought to rescue Italian literature and culture from purely propagandistic uses. Its pages included essays by Fascist left dissidents, distinguished antifascists, and regime apologists. When war broke out in 1939, Bottai—who had already expressed private doubts over the desirability of the alliance with Germany— was one of many prominent figures who opposed Italy’s participation. Together with some of the old prewar liberal politicians, he began to draw close to the crown in the hope of inspiring in Victor Emmanuel III some initiative that might withdraw Italy from the war. On 25 July 1943, Bottai was among the 19 members of the Fascist Grand Council who voted to deprive Mussolini of his powers. For this “crime,” he was condemned to death in absentia by the Republic of Salo. In 1944, he fled Italy to North Africa, where he joined the French Foreign Legion. In 1945, he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the High Court of Justice, but he was amnestied in 1947 without having served a single day in prison. Bottai died in Rome in January 1959.
   See also Squadrismo.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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