Sunday, March 13, 2011

Italian Unification

The celebrations have been going on for some time now in honor of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. This is an issue I have very mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I love the Italians and the Kingdom of Italy. I love Italian culture and the House of Savoy has not been without truly great and admirable figures over their long history. Indeed, they are one of the great royal houses of Europe. I despise how the kingdom was made the scapegoat for Italian missteps at the time of World War II and I regard the “referendum” (which had precedent in Italian politics only in the manner of its blatant unfairness) which brought down the monarchy as one of the (many) positively terrible events to come out of post-war Europe. On the other hand, the way unification came about was through extremely underhanded and disingenuous methods. Effectively it came to this: a monarchy making a deal with the revolutionary devil to undermine and eventually cannibalize the other monarchies on the Italian peninsula. It saddens me that any of these principalities were lost and probably the Papal States and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies most of all. It also pains me because it did not have to happen that way.

In the end, the unification of Italy was not so much the voluntary union of all Italians but, with republican help, the effective conquest of the Italian peninsula by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia under the House of Savoy. Although this was the eventual method, the vision of Italian unity had been around for some time and many other ideas had been discussed. Such a vision could not but have arisen given the unparalleled glory of the history of the Italian peninsula from the time of the Roman Empire to the magnificence of Renaissance Italy; be it the economic empire of the Republic of Venice, the artistic splendor of Florence or the cultural flowering of Papal Rome. There had been greatness before and it was only natural that the desire arise to be great again. How to achieve that was a matter of debate. One idea which, though dismissed by many as unworkable, would have held more appeal for me, was the neo-Guelph plan.

This plan, at least one version of it, was put forward in the massive book “Il primato morale e civile degli Italiani” by Father Vincenzo Gioberti who had once been the chaplain of King Carlo Alberto of Sardinia. He too looked back longingly on the past glories of Italy but totally rejected the anti-clerical views of the radical liberals like Mazzini and Garibaldi. Gioberti took the view that it was the Papacy alone which could best accomplish the national unity which the pan-Italian nationalists most desired. The neo-Guelphs were mostly moderate, educated people, considered to be at least somewhat liberal by the standards of the day, who supported Italian unification but only through traditional authorities and under the sovereignty of the Roman Pontiff. Their basic goals were for some progressive reforms in the Italian states but with the intention of supporting rather than undermining the legitimate rulers. They called for an Italian federation which would be ruled by a college of the Italian princes under the overall reign of the Pope who would act as the primary source of unity for the new country. They called for representative assemblies in the various states, but whose sole purpose was to advise the monarch rather than to govern. Each state would be able to maintain their local autonomy and unique differences with the Pope acting as a sort of president, however not over a republic, but a “federation of consultative monarchies”.

Historians, such as the biographer of Pius IX, E.E.Y. Hales have noted that this basic idea was not totally new. For a long time it would have been considered simply common sense. During the history of Italy, since even before the fall of the Roman Empire, the Church had been the constant force, the most important institution, the greatest source of art and culture and the best illustration of Italian achievement on display. It therefore seemed natural that any move towards Italian unity would have to happen under the general guidance and leadership of the Church. In a country so entirely Catholic as Italy, who else but the Pope would be entitled to the place of honor in any coalition of governments? This was to have been a unity based on Christian brotherhood and local autonomy rather than conquest. However, as we know, it did not come about as the leaders on both sides were rather distrustful of how it would work in practice.

Another idea that failed to get off the ground was a similar model which called for a union of the existing states with overall national leadership going to the King of Sardinia, the Pope or the King of the Two-Sicilies but, again, no one accepted the offer because no one wanted to rock the boat with so many republican revolutionaries causing trouble throughout the region. Those who finally took the lead were far from being exemplary figures despite the fact that they have been cheered and romanticized ever since. The two most associated with the revolutionary wing were Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, both of whom were radical liberals, republicans, men who had been exiled for subversion and both were freemasons who enjoyed the support of the “enlightenment” Masonic elites in Great Britain and the United States. Mazzini, incidentally, was one of the first advocates of a “United States of Europe” and Garibaldi was a professional revolutionary who did very little else and even dressed his troops in red shirts -rather interesting. Eventually the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia made common cause with these scoundrels under the leadership of the Prime Minister Count Camillo Cavour, a rather scheming character who called Garibaldi a “savage” but who nonetheless made use of he and his red shirts when it came to taking down those who stood in the way of Piedmont-Sardinia; namely the princely states.

We have touched on some of these here before, such as the case of Leopold II, last Grand Duke of Tuscany, and the last Queen of the Two-Sicilies. The Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies is regarded by most history books as the most religious, reactionary and backward region of Italy and thus it is no surprise that the Two-Sicilies holds a special place in my heart. The truth is that the Two-Sicilies had a slight higher literacy rate than Sardinia, it had the first railroad and the first telegraph system in Italy and was the only state with a balanced budget and the security of some gold reserves in the bank. Those who dismiss the kingdom as primitive and backward, frankly, don’t know what they are talking about and are simply repeating the propaganda of the liberal nationalists and republican revolutionaries. Of course, wherever the nationalists went they carried out the farcical show of having a plebiscite but these were never legitimate. There was no secrecy allowed, Sardinian troops guarded the polling places and flagrant intimidation was used as well as simple lies.

In the Papal States, when Sardinian troops invaded to “keep order” (how many conquerors have used that excuse) even though no disorder existed, they held plebiscites in which many refused to participate and some wrote in the name of the Pope or even St Peter. Nonetheless, the nationalists declared victory. In the Two-Sicilies they claimed a ridiculous 99% vote in favor of union with Italy. The fact that this was a total lie (if the number was not enough) is the fact that Piedmont-Sardinia had to keep 120,000 troops in the Two-Sicilies for more than a decade afterwards to put down the constant rebellions and uprisings against Italian rule. Yet, these were the people who Cavour, Garibaldi and others claimed were yearning for freedom from the Bourbon yoke! As many as 60,000 Sicilians were arrested for their opposition to unification and many towns and villages completely destroyed for refusing to submit to the new order. The southern part of Italy once the Kingdom of Two-Sicilies has suffered economically ever since, despite being on firm footing when independent. To this very day southern Italians make less than half of what their northern counterparts do. And this is what they called “progress”?

The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was greatly helped in this campaign of conquest, early on, by the French, particularly the second French Empire. Napoleon III has started his political career amongst the Italian revolutionaries and he thought he could weaken Austria by supporting the Italians against the Austrian presence in Italy and conquering those states ruled by Hapsburg princes. This worked out a little better than Napoleon had counted on. He tried to backtrack and support the Pope in holding on to Rome at least but, his previous weakening of Austria allowed the Prussians to displace them as the leader of the Germans and when Prussia and her German allies came knocking at the door in 1870 the French had to pull out their forces from around Rome to rush to the defense of France (ultimately unsuccessful) and Italian unification was complete with Savoyard troops marching into Rome and the Pope withdrawing inside the walls of the Vatican for what would be many years of political stand-off.

Facts like these are not pleasant to look at, but the truth must be told and it is partly because I do like Italy that I think they should be remembered. I think it is at least in part why the Kingdom of Italy remained rather shaky and did not long survive. The unification of the peninsula was not a natural thing, it was based on an unholy alliance of opportunists and revolutionaries who had very little in common beyond their shared wish for a united Italy. The revolutionaries were never happy with the final result and viewed the Kingdom of Italy as simply a stepping stone toward the secular, revolutionary, Republic of Italy that they really had wanted all along. As we are all only too well aware, this is what they finally gained and the House of Savoy, who led the way in making a united Italy possible, were ultimately thrown away and even today receive scarce praise or credit for their part in the creation of modern Italy. As the old saying goes, ‘He who sups with the Devil must have a long spoon’. For the House of Savoy, it seems their spoon was not quite long enough.


  1. Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.-Proverbs 14:34.

    I think that most of the worlds Historical woes come from our past Sins. The Kingdom of Italy fell because it never had a Legitimate Claim, and Italy has never had anything but a Corrupt Government with injustice since. That is the cost of Sin.

    The EU is a Dictatorship that praises Freedom and Democracy. It was created by abandoning Traditional Moral and Ethical Thought and forsaking ones own Heritage, as well as good sense, to embrace now accepted Truths of Modernist Philosophy that simply never have actually worked in Practice.

    The wealth, stability, and greatness of Europe is inherited from its past and they swiftly consume their Family Fortunes, especially the United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal, and France.

    (There is a Surprising amount of Nationalism left in Germany, Spain, and several other EU Nations.)

    America seems to have started rocky, and only 80 years in had a Civil War, arguably the worst War in US History in terms of Numbers relative to the time.

    And now America is headed toward Financial ruin and political Division which rips the Nation asunder.

    I think that the whole of Modern thought has proven itself a Lie more than once, and we insist on keeping it more because we are not honest enough to face the fact that we have submitted to a False Religion.

    The Italians are a mess and have been since the Conquest. Their modern Political Structure is a joke with never ending Scandals, strippers sitting in Parliament performing (Literally happened), and a President on Trial.

    Has Italy had rest since?

    I sometimes think the House of Savoy brought abut its own end by planting these seeds, and the Harvest came at its time.

    I mean nothing against Italians Generally or their Culture, but the whole of it is falling apart now.

    It stays together only out of Habit of Italy being a Nation.

  2. The Risorgimento was an mess, because it destroyed several monachies and it wasn't voluntary and it finished with hundreds of monarchy.

    It could be an Italian Federation of the several nations that where in italy, like it was in the German Empire.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...