An Assessment Of The Liberals

A major dispute that is still debated today is whether or not the Liberals actually modernised Italy, or if their policies infact hindered development and fully developed divisions with Italian society. The Liberal regime faced many problems even its infancy. To begin with, none of the members of the Liberal party were real politicians; they were lawyers, doctors and university lecturers, or entrepreneurs or landowners. This was a reason for distrust amongst the people.

However, all avidly believed in Italian unification and felt it was about time Italy took her rightful place alongside the great powers of Europe. To do this, they would need to 'create Italians'. This was easier said than done, as the population was not used to change and was familiar with being under orders of the Pope, who's Catholic Church was the biggest problem. The Pope did not want to lose control to a political party and would not allow Catholics to take part in any national politics, even as voters.

The people of Italy did not have a real sense of national identity, nor did they think much of a unified Italy. Only 2% of the entire population spoke Italian, as the rest spoke in their more comfortable local dialects. The Catholic Church was so unsociable towards the Liberals that it encouraged the majority of the population to also act this way. Between 1861 and 1870, the Liberals and the Pope had an ongoing fight against each other, responding to the other's actions as though they were schoolchildren. The fight came to an end when Rome was occupied and the last of the Papal States were destructed.

Another major factor affecting the Liberals' regime and the development of the national identity was the fact that Italy was still fairly backward economically. Communications were difficult, and the south lagged behind in rail networks, farming methods and fertile plains. The unification did not bring any new investment in southern industry. The Liberals knew they had a divided country to deal with, but were very unsure of how to unify the population and fix this problem. Attempts to win the support of the Church had failed.

The main issue opposing groups were concerned about was poverty. They felt the Liberals overlooked how serious poverty was in the south, and for most of the time they were in power, the Liberals thought of poverty and the south as issues of less importance. The above issues were seen as the negative aspects of the Liberals. However, they themselves argued back that they did achieve a lot for Italy during their forty years in power, despite all the opposition. They felt they had done well by providing state education and had presided over the industrialisation of the country.

They believed they had created 'Italians' out of the masses that had been locked away in poverty and superstition for generations, almost scared of anything that was not from their immediate locality. There was not a way to help the south because it was its own worst enemy: plans made in 1906 to increase the number of small tenant farmers were completely thwarted by southerners, they were work-shy and an increase in criminal activities was seen and they didn't bother to ensure their children went to school.

Emigration was, in a way, an advantage as it reduced unemployment and led to an increase in wages. Liberal Italy had made impressive progress: a backward, barely united state had at last taken its place among the modern European powers. I feel that Liberal Italy was neither a complete success nor a complete failure. The evidence shows that many people were happy to see Liberalism come to an end, but another group of people was happy with the achievements of the Liberals and felt they should stay in power.