The Fascists and the Jews of Italy: Mussolini’s Race Laws, 1938-1943

Michael A. Livingston.

December 2013. Order online through Cambridge University Press or Amazon. ISBN: 9781107027565.

From 1938 until 1943 – before the German occupation and accompanying Holocaust – Fascist Italy drafted and enforced a comprehensive set of anti-Semitic laws. Notwithstanding later rationalizations, the laws were enforced and administered with a high degree of severity and resulted in serious, and in some cases permanent, damage to the Italian Jewish community. Written from the perspective of an American legal scholar, this book constitutes the first truly comprehensive survey of the Race Laws in the English language. Based on an exhaustive review of Italian legal, administrative, and judicial sources, together with archives of the Italian Jewish community, Professor Michael A. Livingston demonstrates the zeal but also the occasional ambivalence and contradictions with which the Race Laws were applied and assimilated by the Italian legal order and ordinary citizens.

Although frequently depressing, the history of the Race Laws also involves numerous examples of personal courage and idealism, and provides a useful and timely study of what happens when otherwise decent people are confronted with an evil and unjust legal order.


“Michael A. Livingston brilliantly explores the legal framework, case-level operation, and ominous consequences of Fascist Italy’s racial laws from their introduction in 1938 to the regime’s destruction in 1943. He offers original and often disturbing perspectives on the legal-bureaucratic mechanisms of the Holocaust, the character of modern Italy, and the rule of law. Livingston’s analysis is unrivalled in conceptual sophistication, mastery of the relevant legal scholarship, profound knowledge of the historical literature, and painstaking archival research. The Fascists and the Jews of Italy is a splendid introduction to issues that remain unresolved – a full seventy years after Fascist Italy’s ignominious end.”
MacGregor Knox, Stevenson Professor of International History Emeritus, London School of Economics and Political Science

“This fascinating study reverses the view that the leggi razziali, the Italian equivalent of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, especially because they included exemptions for meritorious Jews, were not as harsh as the German. Michael Livingston brings a lawyer’s precision to the issue, explains the problems that the drafters faced, and chillingly shows their terrible effects. It is ‘an example of the power of lawyers and legal thinking in creating evil as well as good results’.”
Jonathan Steinberg, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History, University of Pennsylvania

“In this book, Michael A. Livingston analyzes the creation, administration, and impact of the Racial Laws promulgated in Italy in 1938. He argues that the Racial Laws written and applied by the Fascist regime were a distinctively Italian and Fascist phenomenon and that, contrary to common assumptions, they were actively enforced. Taking what is only now accepted as a historical truth, the author asserts that Italians supported the Racial Laws and that they were put into force with ever greater dedication between 1938 and 1943. Through his keen analysis, Livingston offers a detailed presentation of the legal imposition of the Racial Laws, as well as their application on the local level. In so doing, he brings to light a critical chapter in European history and debunks a myth central to postwar Italian national identity.”
Marla Stone, Professor of History, Occidental College

“Professor Livingston’s research is admirably detailed and offers a rare perspective on an underaddressed aspect of the road to the Holocaust, countering many myths about its Fascist Italian incarnation.”
Mark L. Blackman, The NYMAS Review

Read reviews for The Fascists and the Jews of Italy: Mussolini’s Race Laws, 1938-1943:

Livingston’s “Fascists and Jews of Italy” – Dan Ernst, Legal History Blog
The Fascists and the Jews of Italy: Mussolini’s Race Laws, 1938-1943, by Michael A. Livingston – Mark L. Blackman, Strategy Page
Rutgers Law Prof’s New Book Delivers Comprehensive Legal Examination of Mussolini’s Race Laws – Rutgers Today

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: on the historical significance of the Leggi Razziali
2. Legislation: race, religion, and the ‘Italian Model’ of anti-Semitism
3. Administration: expansion, evasion, and the problem of institutional conflict
4. Adjudication: theory, practice, and the role of judicial personality
5. The daily plebiscite: how local officials and ordinary Italians responded to the race laws
6. From perpetrators to victims: the question of Jewish responses
7. Conclusion: implications of the study for Italy, the legal profession, and the study of racial statutes.

About the Author

Michael A. Livingston is Professor of Law at the Rutgers School of Law, Camden. Professor Livingston has published extensively on tax law, comparative law, and other subjects, including articles in the Yale Law Journal, the Cornell Law Review, the Texas Law Review, and the American Journal of Comparative Law. He has taught at Tel Aviv University, Bar Ilan University, the University of Graz and Cornell University, and has lectured at various universities in Italy, Israel, and the United States. Professor Livingston’s course on law and the Holocaust, which has been taught in three different countries, is one of the few of its kind in American law schools.
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