The Roman Salute
Much has been said of the Roman form of salute both in Italy and abroad, but few have noted that its spread is one of the best indications of the moral power of the Fascist Regime. It is a matter especially of a diffusion that is becoming universal among Italians and is being propagated all over the world
During the past summer, the author visited villages and fields in the provinces of Modena, Cuneo, Alessandria, and Massa Carrara. Being accompanied by persons well known in the districts, we were greeted at every step, and by almost everyone, in the Roman way. They were well-to-do land owners, peasants, artisans or laborers. Thus, they were not officials forced to obey rules, nor associates who combined “ad hoc” nor residents of important places, in which everyone knows, each new fad is seized upon and propagated earlier than in small, scattered centers. They were people, on the contrary, who disregarding heir headgear, unconsciously raised their right arm in a spontaneous salute.
All this in an era when styles are born no one knows how; when they live and are changed for no apparent reason, and on which, when they are spreading quickly throughout the universe, neither religions nor moral warning, nor laws of the greatest authority, have any effect; in an era in which one can say concretely, that even though the great war, which has shaken the very fundamentals, the sameness of fashion has kept itself so intact that in our present series of the vogue, there is no trace whatsoever of this universal upheaval.
We have thus, in the novelty of the Roman salute, a style which is an exception, which is not attributed to anything at all mysterious, but to a definite initiative at all mysterious, but to a definite initiative, that of the Regime, which was not formulated through a whim, but for the rational purpose of allowing the spirit of Rome to live once more the world over; and this fashion, so different and opposed in origin to all others, has gone over and how!
We add another singularity which would have more than ever caused the Fascist movement to seem inane: that is, its effect on material which apparently could not be changed. The whims of fashion change from year to year, purely because they have done so for centuries past and there is nothing to stop a stylist from changing a style. In the form of the salute, it is, however, another matter. In Italy the traditions of removing the hat goes back to the sixteenth century, that is, form the time men stopped wearing cowls. In the villages and country places, however that is, the places I visited the custom dates back to a full century before because a head covering was dated here before it was in the cities.
It was a matter therefore, of the Regime interfering with a peaceful “ab immemorabili” custom which no one had dared to think alterable. In addition, precisely against this well-accepted, undisputed thing the Fascist movement was exercised and has triumphed.
Some uphold that such popularity is due to the greater ease in raising an arm compared to baring the head. However, these persons fail to recall that case has little to do with the fortunes of fashions. One may say on the contrary that the feeling of subjecting oneself to disadvantages gives one a feeling of self-sacrifice not unpleasing to the individual. A few years ago did we not see the narrow dresses of the women hugging their knees so tightly as to render almost impossible their progress across a street, and especially difficult the climbing of stairs and the mounting of a public conveyance. Did we not see fashionable men held in the grip of stiff, highs collars of choking? And who reacted, who did not appear delighted, who did not on the contrary, so long as these fashions were in vogue, no one seemed to even notice that they were uncomfortable. It was only after the passing of the fad that they began to become aware of the fact. Perhaps, when today’s styles have changed, and have given place to new usages, then only will the disadvantages we now undergo be revealed, and the story of the mode will continue to be a tale of minor tortures which humanity, forever changing, has undergone to appear elegant.
If the new kind of salute had had only ease to recommend it, one could be sure that it would not have been accepted. The moral power of the Regime was essential to create an atmosphere in which new movements, even the most unexpected, such as this, should find supporters in men of every class and country, drawn to adopt the material essentials, which stood for a new spiritual order.
For the rest, the fact that to raise an arm is easier than to remove a hat remains to be seen. If the greeting is the same among all peoples, each people has created in its own individual form of respect, the action modifying it to correspond with the social standing of the person saluted, or even to express only that amount of reserve or of cordiality which the individual wishes to place in the act. The same served in the removal of the hat. It was enough for Don Rodrigo to indicate by the way he placed his hat on his head whether his mood was serene or “Marina Tobida” For Don Abbondio, one was expected upon meeting him, “to sweep the ground with the tip on one’s hat” to indicate willingness to be “prompt, always prompt to obey,” that the lack of so doing indicated his meeting with the “bravi”
For the present, at least, the Roman salute, equal in all, toward all, has no facility for expressing various states of mind. Some time ago, a Fascist, faithful to the Regime, but still an ordinary rustic, went to see a person of lofty social standing, and was greeted with the raised right arm. The man, however, answered with a bow. The high person not intending to admonish him, but smiling in a friendly way asked: “Why did you not give me the Roman salute? The other replied: “Because this salute would place me on the same level with you, while I want, as just deference, to acknowledge and indicate my inferiority.”
Both might have seen that, in such an instance, even to-day’s salute would apply, and that this act of expressing in the gesture of the ancient Romans what up to now had been expressed in the customary way, this possibility of showing instantly familiarity or respect, the invitation to approach or this will happen shortly, and the invisible instructors of etiquette will take a hand.
Raising the hand slowly or swiftly, holding it raised briefly or for a long while, these and other details will be many trifles that will acquire significance in time and will be clear to all. Thus this new custom will become a language no less familiar than the other, and in the meanwhile, the Regime will have given to both Italians and foreigners proof a great power, that of creating distributing and perfecting style, the most singular and unexpected of styles.