Professor MacGregor Knox

Professor MacGregor Knox

Emeritus Stevenson Professor of International History

Department of International History

About me

What attracted me to the Department of International History in 1994 was the uniqueness that still distinguishes it. In the wider world of historical studies since the ‘sixties the discipline founded by Thucydides the Athenian – the analytical study of international politics and warfare – has become an unloved minority pursuit. Worse still, much of the profession has come to view efforts to know the causes of things [Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas] as a sign of irredeemable intellectual backwardness. But not here; we are not slaves to fashion.

My overriding historical objective, pursued from my graduate-student days, has been to understand the cultural, political, economic, and military-organizational roots of the cumulative radicalization toward genocide and national suicide of the two “western” dictatorships, Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany.

My first book, on why and how Benito Mussolini plunged Italy into the Second World War and led it to catastrophic defeat, rested on two years’ work with notebook and 35mm camera in Italian, German, British, and United States archives. It attacked with élan a variety of quasi-apologetic interpretations of the Fascist regime and its many wars – Renzo De Felice and his protégés in Italy and the many German historians who stoutly denied the validity of comparison, from a bizarre inverted national pride, between the Italian dictatorship and its even more murderous ally. It applied to the Italian dictatorship, with a twist, approaches already proven in the German case. And it took seriously both the military evidence and the central, fundamental, constitutive role of war in both regimes – a position still not universally shared, especially in Italy and among cultural historians.

The resulting insights into the dialectical interaction of domestic and foreign policy in the two cases, and the military-organizational cultures that had shaped both the cadres of the Fascist and National Socialist movements and the strategic options available to the dictators, set me to planning a comparative history of the two regimes. It sought to tease out causation in each case by matching up the many striking parallels and equally striking disparities. Numerous preliminary studies from the mid-1980s onward clarified, among other issues, how the distinctive Prusso-German invention of “mission tactics” – the demand for thinking aggressiveness and action without awaiting orders – intersected with Hitler’s social promises to achieve the suicidal dynamism denied both to the Italian dictatorship and to Germany’s adversaries.

The project’s first volume – To the Threshold of Power – appeared in 2007-08. It sketched the national backgrounds – societies, polities, and national mythologies – and the crises that made the dictatorships possible and determined what sort of dictatorships they could be. The second volume – in progress – will carry the analysis of the regimes from their tentative beginnings through violent expansion to common ruin in 1943-45.

I have likewise pursued over the years a related but more general interest: the history and theory of strategy, and have co-edited and contributed to two widely translated essay collections: The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War, and The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050 – works that appear to have attracted particular attention in East Asia, for reasons obvious to anyone who follows contemporary events.

Education: 1967: Harvard College (B.A. magna cum laude in History); 1968: Infantry Officer Candidate School, Fort Benning, GA (commissioned 2LT, Infantry); 1972: Yale University (M.A. in History); 1977: Yale University (Ph.D. in History)

Previous University Teaching: The University of Rochester, US, 1975-94: instructor to full professor and department chairman.

Professor MacGregor Knox was Stevenson Professor of International History from 1994 to 2010.

Expertise Details

European International and Strategic History 1890-1945; Foreign and Military Policies of Italy and Germany; the German War 1914-45; Comparative History; Strategic Theory and Practice; Bureaucratic and Military-Organizational Cultures; Dictatorships

Teaching & supervision

Professor Knox has taught, or lectured in, the following courses:

At undergraduate level:

HY116: International History since 1890 (taught jointly with other members of the Department)

HY226: The Great War 1914-1918 (taught jointly with other members of the Department)

Professor Knox has supervised, among others, the following Ph.D. students:

Gil-li Vardi, ‘The Enigma of German Operational theory: The Evolution of Military Thought in Germany, 1919-1938’ (Ph.D., 2009).

Elizabeth M. Yavnai, ‘Military Justice: The US Army War Crimes Trials in Germany, 1944-1947’ (Ph.D., 2008).

Tatjana Kraljic, ‘Forgotten Armies: British and American Troops in Southeast Asia and the Brutalisation of Warfare, 1942-45’ (Ph.D., 2005).

Claudia Baldoli, ‘Italian Fascism in Britain: The Fasci Italiani all'Estero, the Italian Communities, and Fascist Sympathisers during the Grandi Era (1932-1939)’ (Ph.D., 2002).

Alexander Ferguson, 'Axis of Failure: Strategic Folly, Economic Incompetence and Mutual Antipathy in the ltalo-German Alliance, 1939-1943' (Ph.D., 2002).


Professor MacGregor Knox's many works include:


 KnoxThresholdPower To the Threshold of Power, 1922/33: Origins and Dynamics of the Fascist and National Socialist Dictatorships Volume I (Cambridge, 2007-08) (paperback); for which he received a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship in 2003-2005.
 KnoxCommonDestiny Common Destiny: Dictatorship, Foreign Policy and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (Cambridge, 2000; paperback 2009; Italian edition, 2003).
 KnoxHitlerItalianAllies Hitler's Italian Allies: Royal Armed Forces, Fascist Regime, and the War of 1940-43 (Cambridge, 2000; paperback 2009; Italian edition 2002).
 KnoxDynamicsMilitaryRevolution Co-edited with Williamson Murray, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050 (Cambridge, 2001, translations: Japanese, Traditional Chinese, Modern Greek, Modern Hebrew); incl. 'Mass Politics and Nationalism as Military Revolution: The French Revolution and After', pp. 57–73.
 KnoxMakingStrategy Co-edited with Williamson Murray and Alvin Bernstein, The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War (Cambridge, 1994; translations: Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Modern Greek); incl. “Continuity and Revolution in the Making of Strategy”, pp. 614-45.
 KnoxMussoliniUnleashed Mussolini Unleashed, 1939–1941. Politics and Strategy in Fascist Italy’s Last War (Cambridge, 1982, Italian edition, 1984).

Articles and Chapters


“Fascist Italy chooses endless war, 1935-1936: Continuity and break,” in Marco Maria Aterrano and Karine Varley, eds., A Fascist Decade of War: 1935-1945 in International Perspective (Routledge: London, 2020), pp. 182-188.

 KnoxSeaInHistory 'The Sea and the Rise of the Dictators: Italy, 1919-40,' in N. A. M. Rodger, ed., The Sea in History – The Modern World (Boydell and Brewer: Martlesham, Suffolk, 2017), pp. 534-544.
 KnoxChinaInternationalStrategyReview 'Germany, Adolf Hitler, and the Second World War,' in China International Strategy Review 2015 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2016), pp. 378-399 (in English and Chinese).
 KnoxItaliaMilitare "Fascismo, Forze Armate e il Carattere della Disfatta del 1940-1943" ["Fascism, the armed forces, and the nature of defeat in 1940-43"], in Paola Bianchi and Nicola Labanca, eds., L'Italia e il 'Militare'. Guerra, nazione, rappresentazioni dal Rinascimento alla Repubblica (Rome, 2014), pp. 237-259.
 KnoxPoliticalLeadershipNationsCharisma "Mussolini and Hitler: Charisma, Regime, and National Catastrophe," in Vivian Ibrahim and Margit Wunsch, eds., Political Leadership, Nations and Charisma (London, 2012), pp. 98-112.
 KnoxStrategicStudies 'Thinking War - History Lite?,' Journal of Strategic Studies, 34:4 (2011), pp. 489-500.
 KnoxImperialGermanyRevisited 'The First World War and Military Culture: Continuity and Change in Germany and Italy', in Sven Oliver Müller and Cornelius Torp, eds., Imperial Germany revisited: Continuing debates and new perspectives (Oxford, 2011), pp. 213–25.
 KnoxAchseKrieg '"Totality" and Disintegration: State, Party, and Armed Forces in National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy', in Lutz Klinkhammer, Amadeo Osti Guerrazzi, and Thomas Schlemmer, eds., Die "Achse" im Krieg. Politik, Ideologie und Kriegführung 1939-1945 (Paderborn, 2010), pp. 80–107.
 KnoxDeutscheKaiserreichKontroverse 'Erster Weltkrieg und "Military Culture": Kontinuität und Wandel im deutsch-italienischen Vergleich' ('The First World War and Military Culture: Continuity and Change in Germany and Italy'), in Sven Oliver Müller and Cornelius Torp, eds., Das Deutsche Kaiserreich in der Kontroverse. Eine Bilanz (Göttingen, 2008), pp. 290-307.
 KnoxZeigekchichte 'Das faschistische Italien und die „Endlösung" 1942/43' Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 55:1 (2007), pp. 53-92 ('Fascist Italy Faces the "Final Solution",1942–43')
KnoxItaliaContemporanea  '"Totalità" e Disintegrazione: Stato, Partito e Forze Armate nella Germania Nazionalsocialista e nell'Italia Fascista' ('"Totality" and Disintegration: State, Party, and Armed Forces in National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy'), Italia contemporanea (Milan), no. 246 (2007), pp. 5–31.
 KnoxLiberalFascistItaly 'Fascism: Ideology, Foreign Policy, and War', in Adrian Lyttelton, ed., Liberal and Fascist Italy (a volume in the Oxford Short History of Italy) (Oxford, 2002), pp 105–38.
 KnoxHistoricalJournal '1 October 1942: Adolf Hitler, Wehrmacht Officer Policy, and Social Revolution,' The Historical Journal 43:3 (2000), pp. 801–25.

Book reviews

My research