Mussolini's Essay On Lost Time
In 1907 Benito Mussolini took an exam that would, if he passed, qualify him to teach French and German. The first part of the exam required the candidates to write an essay in Italian. The topic was: "'For to lose time irks him most who most knows' - Dante said. - With what reason did he say it?" Here's what Mussolini wrote (the translation from a flowery, convoluted, archaic Italian is mine):
The supreme poet's maxim cannot be understood according to the utilitarian English ethics. A people of merchants and traders considers the use of time in relation to the rapidity of profit. For the brain of a solvent second-hand dealer a dissertation on the metric of ancient rhapsodies or on the research of the primitive Indian culture is a waste of time; the honest stockbroker believes to be "parasites all those who" speculate with thoughts and not with "industrial values"; it will be very difficult for a retired marshal to convince himself that the "Manzoni Studies" by d'Ovidio could "even" be worth the paper on which they are printed.
Today, despite the idealistic efforts of the new philosophical schools, it is widespread - especially among the masses - a feeling of disdain for those who can't show the by now too rhetoric and tribunicial horny hands, for those who produce intellectually and don't transform some goods. Giorgio Sorel looks down on les professionnels de la pensée who won't - according to his foresight - find it easy to find a place and bread in the future society composed exclusively of syndicated producers.
Conversely - we notice in Italy - since a few years a sort of "pronunciamiento" against this meanly utilitarian concept of time and of human life. There's a magazine, "Caenobium", written by a very learned man, that I remember with particular gratitude for the help he gave me in a critic circumstance of my life - and there are some young homines novi - that together with Giuseppe Renzi proclaim from the columns of "Caenobium" a sort of buddhism for the use of the Western world. Their doctrine is an open and sometimes well-conducted attack against the value current morals give to "physical" work. Life should be contemplative and employed in a series of "spiritual pleasures".
I don't want to discuss here the value of this conception. It can be another "sign of the times" but I very much fear that it will find some followers. To be "contemplative" without risking the penal code, you need to have a private income of at least 50 lire a day, otherwise you will be considered a "vagabond". Moreover, the traditional bourgeois ethics will never welcome in its bosom, however spacious, a doctrine that, in practice, will result precisely in a "systematic inaction", therefore in an absolute, huge, waste of time.
At this point, however, I can't resist the temptation to do a small raid into the land of philosophy. May the ancient and the modern, the supreme and lilliputian philosophers bear no grudges to me if I enter for a little while in their republic. Well, the sentence "to lose time" is absurd, a contradictio in adiecto, when it's not referred to human life, like a determinate and determinable phenomenon. Withdrawing from all immediate, utilitarian and practical considerations - from the empiricism namely from the enunciation - is it possible to lose time? And those who lose it could lose it not? And as an humorous appendix, if time can be lost, who finds it?
It seems to me that after having conveniently posed the question in its true logical terms it is right to conclude that: it is not possible to lose time, category of the spirit, philosophical notion; it is instead possible, and blameworthy depending on the cases, to neglect the best use of your own life. Utilitarian or idealistic people, builders of bridges or cenobites, physical workers or ascetics, they can't however differ from giving a supreme value to time in relation to our own life. One can disagree on the more or less value of the use of this time, but time in itself is life. Without the notion of space and time we wouldn't know we existed.
To lose time only means to partially or completely renounce your own life. Who feels this and is forced by events to inactive vegetation feels an acute hurt. Dante's verse is the result of meditations on the value and brevity of human life. Nature that arranges time can economize the effort but humans can't. To lose time or more exactly to lose some energies is a crime, it is a crazy dissipation of an incalculable treasure. The damage produced by those who beastly vegetate falls back on the offspring. It is a sort of theft which everyone can regret.
Our life is a brief parenthesis between two eternities. Tomorrow we'll be no more. Others will pass through these "fragrant hills" and will be shipwrecked in our cities. We'd recommend the oration: Ede, bibe, post mortem nulla voluptas?* This, what else matters? What matter is to live to the full - to spread oneself Gurjan would say - to conquer Nietzsche would say, to spend time not in childish futilities, but to follow an ideal of beauty, of might, of love... to draw from our souls like from a wonderful heptachord all the sounds, all the songs and the new and old harmonies... then - arrived to the last evening - with the calmness of the ancient stoics to descend in the realm of shadows.
His teacher gave Mussolini, for his efforts, a six plus, adding next to it "mentally deranged".
Oh, and in case you were wondering, he eventually got the qualification to teach French, but not German, despite being convinced to be able to speak it quite well...
*Eat, drink, after death there are no pleasures.
Riservato Per Il Duce by Arrigo Petacco
Mussolini and Hitler
Mussolini and Hitler
Photo by Unknown
Once in control of the government, Mussolini looked to build up Italy's military strength. In 1936, Italy invaded and conquered Ethiopia. Mussolini thought that this was only the beginning. He felt that Italy would soon rule much of Europe. He also allied himself with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in an alliance called the "Pact of Steel."
World War II
In 1940, Italy entered World War II as an ally of Germany and declared war on the Allies. However, Italy was not prepared for such a large war. Early victories became defeats as the Italian army became spread out across a number of fronts. Soon the Italian people wanted out of the war.
In 1943, Mussolini was removed from power and put in prison. However, German soldiers were able to break him free and Hitler put Mussolini in charge of Northern Italy, which was controlled by Germany at the time. By 1945, the Allies had taken over all of Italy and Mussolini fled for his life.
As Mussolini tried to escape from the advancing Allied forces, he was captured by Italian soldiers. On April 28, 1945 they executed Mussolini and hung his body upside down at a gas station for all the world to see.
Interesting Facts about Benito Mussolini
- He was named after liberal Mexican President Benito Juarez.
- Adolf Hitler admired Mussolini and modeled his Nazi Party after fascism.
- He was known as a bully as a child and was once expelled from school for stabbing a classmate.
- Actor Antonio Banderas played Mussolini in the movie Benito.
Learn More about World War II:
History >> World War 2 for Kids