Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, is a political commentator and cultural critic who has received Guggenheim and other fellowships for her work on fascism, war, and visual propaganda. In Fascist Modernities and Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema, she looks at what happens to societies when authoritarian governments take hold and why fascism appealed to so many. Her New Yorker article on the normalization of Fascist monuments at a time of resurgent right-wing politics in Italy prompted a national debate about how to consider fascism’s heritage today.
In 2016-2017 she predicted that Trump would imitate Putin’s personality cult and follow the authoritarian playbook once in office. 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 and his establishment of a culture of threat in America are consistent with the behavior of demagogues.
Her latest book, Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall (to be published by W.W. Norton) looks 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