Brainwashing, Italian-Style: The Fascist Law on “Plagio”

Alfredo Rocco

In 1930, Mussolini’s Justice Minister Rocco introduced in Italian law a provision against mind control that would last until 1981.

Article 2 of 5. Read article 1.

by Massimo Introvigne — In the first article of the series, we have seen how the term “plagio,” which also means in a different context plagiarism or copyright infringement, was used in Italian law to identify the enslavement of human beings, and the 1853 code of the Grand Duchy in Tuscany had included for the first time a provision incriminating psychological, rather than physical, enslavement, although it was never enforced and was not included in the Italian Criminal Code of 1889, known as the Zanardelli Code.

In 1930, the Zanardelli Code was replaced by the Rocco Code, named after the Fascist Minister of Justice, Alfredo Rocco. The Rocco Code is still in force today, but the Constitutional Court has eliminated several provisions from it, declaring them incompatible with the new democratic Constitution introduced in 1947 after the fall of the Fascist Regime.

The article on “plagio” was one of the most discussed within the committee that prepared the Rocco Code. The starting point of that discussion was a distinction between slavery as a legal status and slavery as a factual condition. Anyone reducing a person to a condition of slavery (legal status)—for example, by bartering or selling that person in countries where slavery was not abolished—was to be punished pursuant to article 600. And anyone who “subjected a person to his or her power so as to reduce that person in a total state of subjugation,” thus creating a factual condition of slavery, but without calling that person a slave or without intending to barter or sell that person, was to be punished under article 612 of the first draft bill, which became article 603 of the Rocco Code.

But an important change was introduced between the draft bill and the final version of the Rocco Code. In the draft bill, article 612 described a “power” determining “a state of subjugation so strong as to totally suppress individual freedom.” In the Rocco Code, as it was promulgated in 1930 the reference to a “state of subjugation so strong as to totally suppress individual freedom” was replaced by one to a “total state of subjugation.”

Documents show that the change, which did not really solve the problems, was introduced because of criticism that had been levied against article 612 of the draft bill. For example, the Royal Bar Association of Milan had noted that the provision of the draft was “likely to generate excessive, even dangerous interpretations.” The Naples Royal Bar Association wrote that it did not understand what the provision wanted to punish, and whether the aim was to prohibit hypnotism in Italy altogether.

In fact, Italian medical authorities had been complaining about “theater hypnotism” for decades, suggesting it should be forbidden, as opposite to hypnotism practiced by licensed medical doctors for medical purposes. Already in 1886, worried about the feats of theater hypnotists, the Italian High Council of Public Health had claimed that “for the necessary protection of individual freedom, we cannot allow the abolition of human consciousness through practices that induce morbid psychological states in individuals so predisposed, such that a person becomes a slave of another man’s [sic] will without having consciousness of what she could be subjected to or of what she could do.”

Eventually, a majority in the committee in charge of preparing the new Criminal Code warned that a provision prohibiting “plagio” should stick to “the ancient meaning of reducing someone into slavery or a similar condition,” without introducing new meanings of an old legal term that would only confuse the lawyers and the judges.

However, Justice Minister Rocco personally intervened to defend the need to introduce some provision, although more carefully worded, making it a crime to reduce a victim to a state of mental, rather than merely physical, subjugation. In 1981, the Constitutional Court would find Rocco’s intervention politically biased and “poorly motivated.” But in 1930, Italy was not a democracy, and the position of Rocco, which in the committee represented the government and thus Mussolini himself, prevailed.

As legal scholars noted, Italy was introducing a provision without exact equivalents anywhere in the world. Even though they were unaware of it, the 1930 Italian legislators, for the first time in the world—before the CIA and Edward Hunter—, were treating as a criminal activity what later would be called brainwashing.

Source: Bitter Winter

Photo Alfredo Rocco from (I Presidenti della Camera - Editalia Edizioni d'Italia 1988)