From within his "Paradiso" Dante once made Beatrice prophesy the advent of a ruler "who, below, shall be august; and who shall come to direct Italy upon the right path". The poet had formed the vision of an imperial figure who should restore the Holy Roman Empire, and bring all the factions of a disunited Italy under his sole command. This man was to come forth soon, and he had even been designated as Henry VII--then nominally the emperor. But Henry died an ignoble death, having accomplished less than nothing, and Dante was forced to postpone the date of the hoped-for unification, until at last he died with his prophecy unfulfilled.
After him came many generations of authors, all hoping for an "Italia liberata". Some, with Dante, desired an emperor; some hoped for a confederation of the various free cities; and some expected conquest by a single state. Finally, the event occurred in a manner slightly different from that which any one had anticipated.
But since that time no Italian ruler has enjoyed imperial power--none has been "august". None--that is--up to the present. But a solitary figure,--concerning whom much red ink has already been spilt,--has appeared to carry out Dante's dream. Perhaps it is a further waste of ink to say more of this Benito Mussolini. But he is a figure who challenges comparison; one who has not proved a short-lived upstart, nor yet an overbearing Napoleon, seeking to conquer Europe; but one whose rule has been characterized by sanity and vigor. Recently he has given additional proof of his many-sided genius, by active interest in a movement to improve the moral standard of Italian literature, and again by a proclamation requesting the observance of the fiftieth anniversary of Alessandro Manzoni's death. His phrasing in this is characteristic: "I desire that, even abroad as in the kingdom, we remember that date by fitting ceremonies." Manzoni is the dominant figure of modern Italian literature; one who has done more for its advance and the standardization of its diction than any other modern writer, and whose chief work "I Promessi Sposi", marks practically the beginning of the Italian novel: Mussolini's choice, as usual shows eminent good taste and balance. He plays the role of man of letters as well as statesman.
It seems strange, however, that Americans should show enthusiastic admiration for such a figure. For he has declared that Liberty is dead, and representative government a thing of the past. By his speeches and actions he has abnegated the principles of our Constitution. He should be, to American eyes, a tyrant, a despot, almost an oriental sultan in his arrogant absolutism. But it seems that for the rank and file of humanity the end justifies the means. If the autocrat succeed, who shall gain-say his right to rule? So long as it is Benito who holds the sceptre, "bene e!"