Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, is a political commentator and cultural critic who has received Guggenheim, Fulbright, and other fellowships for her work on fascism and its memory, war, and visual propaganda. In Fascist Modernities and Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema, her award-winning study of fascist visual propaganda, she looks at what happens to societies when authoritarian governments take hold and why fascism appealed to so many. Her New Yorker article on why Fascist monuments are admired today in Italy caused a media storm in Italy and prompted a national debate about the legacies of fascism at a time of resurgent right-wing politics.
Since 2015 she’s used her historical knowledge of how authoritarian leaders behave to predict that Trump would follow the authoritarian playbook once in office and strike at state institutions to adapt them for his personal agendas. In essays in The Washington Post and The Atlantic and her monthly column for CNN.com, she’s argued that Trump’s use of trial balloons as warnings of his anti-democratic intentions, his attempts to use the Presidency to amass personal power, and his establishment of a culture of threat in America are consistent with the behavior of past and present demagogues.
Ben-Ghiat also writes on questions of gender and power, from Trump’s fear of women, to the strongman’s belief that consent is for the weak in political and sexual matters, to the unfolding of the #MeToo movement.
Her latest book, Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall (to be published by W.W. Norton) draws on archives from around the world and interviews with survivors of regimes to look at how strongmen from Mussolini to Trump have used persuasion and violence to stay in power. Why do so many people admire these rulers and stay loyal to them no matter what they say or do? How does the strongman leverage his masculinity to present himself as the nation’s ideal leader, what are his weaknesses, and how can be resisted and removed from power?
Ben-Ghiat enjoys translating her academic expertise into public writing and speaking. In 2014 she created a popular multi-media series for CNN.com on the legacies of World War One.
She advises Protect Democracy and is on the Board of Directors of the World Policy Institute. In spring 2019 she will be the inaugural Visiting Scholar of the Center for Media at Risk at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication.
Media inquiries & speaking engagements (English and Italian): email@example.com. Twitter: @ruthbenghiat