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 many other fellowships for her academic work on fascism and its memory, war, and visual propaganda. This historical knowledge infuses her analyses of how contemporary strongmen and right-wing movements undermine democracy and attempt to weaken our sentiments of compassion and humanity. In op-eds, essays, and interviews in The Washington Post The Atlantic, CNN.com, The New Yorker and many other foreign and national outlets, she’s argued that Trump must be seen as a leader along these lines. In two viral articles for CNN, she predicted that Trump would follow an authoritarian playbook as President, from attacks on our state (the judiciary, the civil service, and other areas of investigation and expertise) to the establishment of a Trump cult of personality.
Her New Yorker article on why Fascist monuments are not only intact but also admired today in Italy caused a media storm in Italy and prompted a national debate about what to do about the legacies of fascism at a time of resurgent right-wing politics.
Ben-Ghiat’s interest in fascism came from an unlikely place: Pacific Palisades, California, where she grew up – and where many famous exiles from Nazism had relocated. Hearing about their struggles led her to investigate (in Fascist Modernities and in Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema, her award-winning study of fascist visual propaganda) what happens to when authoritarian governments take hold and why fascism appealed to so many.
Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall (to be published by W.W. Norton) builds on this expertise. It puts the Leader at the center of a global history of authoritarian rule. Moving from the original fascists Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler to anti-colonial strongmen like Muammar Gaddafi to our current crop of authoritarians, the book looks at how strongman politics of the body and gender, violence and the media, and the recruitment of domestic and foreign allies has evolved over one hundred years. How do strongmen come to and stay in power, and why do so many people stay loyal to them no matter what they say or do? What are their weaknesses, and how they are best resisted? What has worked to remove them from power?
As an academic, Ben-Ghiat is an strong advocate of public history, the humanities, and the value of free intellectual inquiry. In this spirit, in 2014 she created and edited a popular multi-media series for CNN.com on the legacies of World War One.
She sits on the Board of Directors of the World Policy Institute. In 2013 she received an Award for Outstanding Service for her work for the Institute of International Education‘s Scholar Rescue Fund, which assists researchers threatened by repressive governments.
Media inquiries & speaking engagements (English and Italian): email@example.com.