Liberal Italy

The 'United' Liberal Italy of the 19th century was ridden with problems, both socially and economically. The way in which Unification was brought about was neither glorious nor did it instil any sense of national pride. This was a major factor from which several other problems stemmed, resulting in Fascism becoming hugely appealing to many of the Italian people. The reliance on foreign powers, the hostility of the Pope, the domination by the 'Elite', the rejection of Southern Italy's problems and a fear of socialism all generated a social atmosphere in which extreme politics become attractive options.

It was Mussolini who effectively manipulated this charged social atmosphere and moulded it to suit his own political agenda resulting in a Fascist Italian state in 1922. However, did this new Fascist state earn its place or was power handed to it as the 'lesser of two evils'? The failures of the Liberal Italian state metaphorically, gave birth to, the Fascist regime of Mussolini and so it can be argued that this new Fascist state was born, and existed, only through the failures of it's predecessor.

Many Liberal historians argue that Fascism in Italy was simply an 'unfortunate accident' which only existed because of the First World War's disruption of the newly unified Italian Government's work. Indeed, urbanisation and growing literacy were having some effect by 1914 and 'Italian' was starting to emerge as a 'lingua franca' especially in the army and the towns. There was also a sense of Patriotic duty instilled in the youth in schools through propaganda. Furthermore there was a national economy linked by roads and railways with several institutions such as trade unions and newspapers developing.

These Historians also argue that it was not simply the failures of the Liberal state but was the political, social and economical conditions brought about by the War in which unrest develops and which allows strong figures such as Mussolini and Hitler to take control. Though the War was an obvious factor in the coming of Fascism in Italy, it was not the sole reason for it's existence as several other problems had existed pre-1914 and Italy was not as damaged by the War as the other Powers were.

Fascist Italy only truly existed through the faults of the Liberal Government. Had the Liberal Italian Government or the 'Giolitti regime' addressed many of the social problems that they faced then things may have been very different indeed. There was no real Liberal hegemony in Italy and no national agreement on basic ideological, economic and social aims. In other words the Liberal Government had little direction and little motivation to push towards change. An original problem with Liberal Italy was the way in which it had been unified.

Piedmont had to rely upon heavy foreign assistance in order to 'unify' Italy. French military help was required to force Austria out of Lombardy and the Central Duchies then, surprisingly; the hero Garibaldi was able to conquer Sicily and Naples by leading a peasant revolt. A combined force of Prussian and Italian troops took Venetia, though the Italian troops were actually defeated, the Prussian army was able to defeat the Austrians and hand Venetia over to the humiliated Italians.

Rome was taken when the Prussians forced the French out and Italian troops moved in, claiming it as the capital of their newly unified Italian state. This whole process of unification, though discussed and dreamt up by several Italians such as Garibaldi and Mazzini, was a sham as there was such little success on the part of the Italians themselves that their whole unification was down to the intervention/assistance of foreign powers. This reliance on the foreign powers created a national inferiority complex and a desire to prove that Italy was a strong power, thus leading to more Fascist desires.

Furthermore the lack of popular involvement in making Italy meant that the mass of the people did not identify with the new Italian state. Many weren't even given the right to vote in this new 'glorious' state leaving them disenfranchised and agitated. Fascism appeared to offer a completely opposite approach, offering pride and unity to the Italian people, in this sense Fascism earned the people's trust by providing solutions to Italian problems which the Liberal Government seemed unable to solve furthering the idea that Fascism was in some senses, a bastard child of the Liberal state.

The divide between the North and South of Italy was an issue for the Liberal Government as they were never able to effectively modernise the South and bring it closer (socially and technologically) to the North. The South of Italy was backward and inefficient, the soil there had once been fertile but poor farming methods had ruined it. Also the administration in the South was ignored, as the farmers simply didn't care who was in Government, as they knew little of the outside world anyway.

Corruption was such a large problem that Giovanni Giolitti admitted that there were places "where the law does not operate at all". Between 1892 and 1921 the South suffered from mass emigration, mainly to the US. This meant fewer workers were available for Industrialisation in the South and so it remained backward. There were also several natural disasters (earthquakes and landslides) during this period, often killing hundreds of people with each disaster. Giolitti's poor response to a major earthquake in Messina in 1908 was blamed for the high number of deaths.

Also the poor management of the aftermath of the Messina earthquake infuriated southern Italians who claimed that Giolitti favoured the rich north over them. This was argued further when the Liberal state attempted to unite the country economically by abolishing internal tariffs and attempting to set up a single Italian market. What this actually did was harm the industry in the South (though there was little of it), as it could not compete with the advanced north.

Furthermore the rapid growth of northern industry at the end of the 19th century reinforced the economic divide. The wealth distribution in the south was extremely unbalanced meaning there was a constant state of unrest and tension between the peasants and the landowners – 0. 01% of the population of the South owned 50% of the land! The 'Southern Problem' didn't simply go away when Fascism was introduced as the Southerners were so out of touch politically, many didn't even know Fascism was introduced.

Mussolini stamped down hard on the Southern Mafias and also destroyed trade unions in order to try and quell any organised resistance thus enabling the use of the Armed forces to break strikers or protesters. It was because of Liberal failures in the South that the landowners so greatly feared socialism as it threatened to push the peasants into taking over the land for themselves, as seen abroad in Russia. Fascism promised to prevent this, to put people in their places by instilling pride and respect for those in command not loathing and jealousy as the Liberals did.