Fascism was a political system born in Italy in the early 1920s based at least partly on extreme nationalism. The far-right movement Benito Mussolini engineered rejected both the class-war beliefs of socialism and the perceived decadence of democracy in favor of a totalitarian regime. In Mussolini's fascist state, the people proved their superiority over others by engaging in near-perpetual war.

The Rise of Il Duce

Following World War I, Benito Mussolini became convinced he was destined to lead Italy to the glory it rightly deserved. The militant, charismatic leader gained supporters between 1919 and 1921 who formed gangs that beat up socialist and communist officials, throwing them out of office. Mussolini formed the National Fascist Party in 1921, although at that point it was still unclear what "fascism" meant. In 1922, Mussolini and his followers marched on Rome, forcing fearful politicians to abandon their posts. Mussolini became Italy's new prime minister. After the 1924 elections, he further solidified his grip on power by closing down all opposition newspapers, banning protest meetings and strikes, and outlawing all political parties other than his own. Mussolini had become dictator of Italy, and within a year adopted the title "Il Duce" -- the leader.

Blood and Soil

Racial and national superiority was the foundation of fascism. Mussolini saw the Italian people as superior, and it was their duty to prove this superiority by conquering and ruling weaker nations. Fascism treated duty and sacrifice for the state as the highest aim of humanity. Mussolini saw pacifism as a form of cowardice and weakness. The energy of the people was at its highest, and put to its greatest use, when they were united in a state of war against outside forces. The state was at its most vital in a state of expansion.

The State as Absolute

Unlike socialism, fascism allowed private ownership of property and businesses. However, those private owners acted according to the dictates of a single ruler rather than consumers' needs. Mussolini saw no reason why the majority should determine the direction of society. The will of the majority wasn't right simply because it was the majority, and democracy legitimized collective irresponsibility. In fascism, in contrast, the centralized state is absolute, and has total control over all aspects of society. Individuals, groups and their interests only exist in the context of their relationship to the state. Only when advancing the power and superiority of the state is an individual truly free according to fascism.

The Pride of the Romans

Mussolini coined the word "fascism" using the Latin root word "fasces," which describes a bundle of rods tied together with a protruding ax, a Roman symbol of collectivism and power. The symbol was appropriate for Mussolini, as he hoped to lead Italy as a modern-day Caesar in the recreation of the Roman Empire. National myths provided guidance towards achieving national glory. After coming to power, Mussolini likened Italian men to ancient Roman soldiers. Fascist youth organizations were established to teach boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 18 the ideals of fascism and to train them physically. Mussolini's quest for empire ended, along with the fascist movement, when he was assassinated in 1945.