Italian nationalism builds upon the idea that Italians are the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic successors of the ancient Romans who inhabited the Italian Peninsula for over a millennium. The origins of Italian nationalism have been traced to the Renaissance. Italian nationalism first arose as a potent political force in the 1830s in the Italian peninsula under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini. It served as a cause for Risorgimento in the 1860s to 1870s. Italian nationalism became strong again in World War I with Italian irredentist claims to territories held by Austria-Hungary, and during the era of Italian Fascism.
Renaissance to 19th century
Renaissance-era diplomat and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli in his work The Prince (1532) appealed to Italian patriotism urging Italians "to seize Italy and free her from the Barbarians", the "Barbarians" he referred to were foreign powers occupying the Italian Peninsula.
When France started to annex Corsica in the XVIII century (and then incorporated during the Napoleon's empire the regions of Piemonte, Liguria, Toscana and Lazio), the first movements to defend Italy's existence aroused with Paoli revolt and were later followed by the birth of the so-called "irredentism".
Paoli was sympathetic to Italian culture and regarded his own native language as an Italian dialect (Corsican is an Italic language closely related to Tuscan, Sicilian and, to some extent, Sardinian language). He was considered by Niccolò Tommaseo, who collected his Lettere (Letters), as one of the precursors of the Italian irredentism. The "Babbu di a Patria" (Father of the fatherland), as was nicknamed Pasquale Paoli by the Corsican Italians, wrote in his Letters the following appeal in 1768 against the French invaders:
We are Corsicans by birth and sentiment, but first of all we feel Italian by language, origins, customs, traditions; and Italians are all brothers and united in the face of history and in the face of God ... As Corsicans we wish to be neither slaves nor "rebels" and as Italians we have the right to deal as equals with the other Italian brothers ... Either we shall be free or we shall be nothing... Either we shall win or we shall die (against the French), weapons in hand ... The war against France is right and holy as the name of God is holy and right, and here on our mountains will appear for Italy the sun of liberty....
1830s to 1848
The initial important figure in the development of Italian nationalism was Giuseppe Mazzini who became a nationalist in the 1820s. In his political career, Mazzini held as objectives the freeing of Italy from Austrian occupation, indirect control by Austria, princely despotism, aristocratic privilege, and clerical authority. Mazzini was captivated by ancient Rome that he considered the "temple of humanity" and sought to establish a united Italy as a "Third Rome" that emphasized Roman spiritual values that Italian nationalists claimed were preserved by the Catholic Church. Mazzini and Italian nationalists in general promoted the concept of Romanità (the Roman ideal) that claimed that Roman culture made invaluable contributions to both Italian and Western civilization. Since the 1820s, Mazzini supported a revolution to create of an ideal Italian utopian republic based in Rome. Mazzini formed revolutionary patriotic Young Italy society in 1832. Upon Young Italy breaking apart in the 1830s, Mazzini reconstituted it in 1839 with the intention to gain the support of workers' groups. However, at the time Mazzini was hostile to socialism due to his belief that all classes needed to be united in the cause of creating a united Italy rather than divided against each other.
Camillo Benso, the future Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia and afterwards the Kingdom of Italy, worked as an editor for the nationalist Italian newspaper Il Risorgimento in the 1840s. Cavour was a clear example of civic nationalism with a high consideration for values including freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights compatible with a sober nationalism.
Economic nationalism influenced businessmen and government authorities to promote a united Italy. Prior to unification, tariff walls held between the Italian states and disorganized railway system prevented economic development of Italy. Prior to the revolutions of 1848, Carlo Cattaneo advocated an economic federation of Italy.
Revolutions of 1848 to Risorgimento (1859 to 1870)
Supporters of Italian nationalism ranged from across the political spectrum, it appealed to both conservatives and liberals. The Revolutions of 1848 resulted in a major development of Italian nationalist culture. Liberalization of press laws in Piedmont allowed nationalist activity to flourish.
Following the Revolutions of 1848 and the liberalization of press laws, the Italian nationalist organization called the Italian National Society was created in 1857 by Daniele Manin and Giorgio Pallevicino. The National Society was created to promote and spread nationalism to political moderates in Piedmont and raised money, held public meetings, and produced newspapers. The National Society helped to establish a base for Italian nationalism amongst the educated middle class. By 1860, the National Society influenced dominant liberal circles in Italy and won over middle class support for the union of Piedmont and Lombardy.
Statesman Daniele Manin seems to have believed in Italian unification years before Camillo Benso of Cavour, who with Giuseppe Garibaldi actually unified the country through diplomatic and military actions. During the 1856 Congress of Paris, Manin talked to Cavour about several plans and strategies to achieve the unification of Italy; Cavour clearly considered those plans as vain things, and after the meeting wrote that Manin had talked about "l'unità d'Italia ed altre corbellerie" ("the unity of Italy and other nonsense").
Post-Risorgimento, World War I and aftermath (1870 to 1922)
After the unification of Italy was completed in 1870, the Italian government faced domestic political paralysis and internal tensions, resulting in it resorting to embarking on a colonial policy to divert the Italian public's attention from internal issues.
In these years, one of the most prominent figures of Italian nationalism was Francesco Crispi whose actions as prime minister were characterised by a high patriotism that often appeared as a form of obsession for the national unity and defence from hostile foreign countries. Italy managed to colonize the East African coast of Eritrea and Somalia but failed to conquer Ethiopia with 15,000 Italians dying in the war and being forced to retreat. Next Italy waged war with Turkey from 1911 to 1912 and gained Libya and the Dodecanese Islands from Turkey. However, these attempts to gain popular support from the public failed, and rebellions and violent protests became so intense that many observers believed that the young Kingdom of Italy would not survive.
Tired of the internal conflicts in Italy, a movement of bourgeois intellectuals led by Gabriele d'Annunzio, Gaetano Mosca, and Vilfredo Pareto declared war on the parliamentary system, and their position gained respect among Italians. D'Annunzio called upon young Italians to seek fulfillment in violent action and put an end to the politically maneuvering parliamentary government. The Italian Nationalist Association was founded in 1910 by the jingoist nationalist Enrico Corradini who emphasized the need for martial heroism, of total sacrifice of individualism and equality to one's nation, the need of discipline and obedience in society, the grandeur and power of ancient Rome, and the need for people to live dangerously. Corradini's ANI's extremist appeals were enthusiastically supported by many Italians.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Italy initially maintained neutrality, despite its official alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary since 1882 on the grounds that Germany and Austria-Hungary were waging an aggressive war that it refused to take part in. In 1915 Italy entered the war on the side of the British and the French against Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Nationalist pride soared in Italy after the end of hostilities in November 1918 with the victory of Italy and Allied forces over Austria-Hungary and the seizure by Italy of former Austro-Hungarian territories. Citizens in Rome celebrated the victory. The Italian population of newly liberated Trieste (140,000 of 240,00 inhabitants) attended the arrival of General Carlo Petitti di Roreto, the newly proclaimed Governor-General of Trieste, who arrived at Trieste by warship and met cheering mass crowds.
Italy's demands in the Paris peace settlement of 1919 were not fully achieved, Italy did attain Trentino, Trieste, the Istrian peninsula, and South Tyrol from Austria-Hungary, though other territories previously promised to Italy were not given to it.
In particular, Italian nationalists were enraged by the Allies denying Italy the right to annex Fiume, that had a slight majority Italian population but was not included in Italy's demands agreed with the Allies in 1915, and a larger part of Dalmatia which had a vast majority Slavic population and a minority Italian, claiming that Italian annexation of large part of Dalmatia would violate Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. D'Annunzio responded to this by mobilizing two thousand veterans of the war who seized Fiume by force, this action was met with international condemnation of d'Annunzio's actions but was supported by a majority of Italians. Though d'Annunzio's government in Fiume was forced from power, Italy annexed Fiume a few years later.
Fascism and World War II (1922 to 1945)
The seizure of power by Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 and his development of a fascist totalitarian state in Italy involved appeal to Italian nationalism, advocating building an Italian Empire in the Mediterranean Sea. Mussolini sought to build closer relations with Germany and the United Kingdom while showing hostility towards France and Yugoslavia.
Mussolini strongly promoted the Italian irredentism: indeed during the 19th century the Italian irredentism fully developed the characteristic of defending the Italian language from other people's languages (like, for example, German in Switzerland and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or French in Nice). The liberation of Italia irredenta was perhaps the strongest motive for Italy's entry into World War I, and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 satisfied many irredentist claims.
Furthermore, Italian irredentism has even the characteristic of being originally moderate, requesting only the return to Italy of the areas with Italian majority of population, but after World War I it became aggressive - under fascist influence - and claimed to the Kingdom of Italy even areas where Italians were minority or had been present only in the past. In the first case there were the Risorgimento claims on Trento and Istria, for example, while in the second there were the fascist claims on all Dalmatia, the Ionian Islands, Savoy and Malta.
Post–World War II and current situation
After the fall of Fascism and following the birth of the Republic, the interest of scholars and politicians, and in general of the masses in Italian nationalism was relatively low, mainly because of the connections that it had with Fascism and consequently with the bad memories of World War II. The only notable and active political party who clearly declared Italian nationalism as its main ideology was the Italian Social Movement which became the fourth largest party in Italy by the early 1960s. In these years, Italian nationalism was considered an ideology totally linked to the right-wing political parties and organisations. Nevertheless, two significant events seemed to revitalise Italian nationalism among Italians, the first one in 1953 during the Question of Trieste when the claim of Italy on the full control of the city of Trieste was largely endorsed by most of the Italian society with patriotic demonstrations, the second one in 1985 during the Sigonella crisis between Italy and United States.
In the years 2000s, Italian nationalism seems to have gained a moderate support by the society, in particular during important days such as the National Day Festa della Repubblica (Republic day) and the Anniversary of the Liberation. The President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has often praised patriotism among Italians by mentioning in his speeches national events including Risorgimento or Resistenza, and national symbols like the Flag of Italy and the National Anthem, although he seems to want to stress self-confidence rather than nationalism. In 2011, the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unification showed a moderately renewed interest in Italian nationalism among the society. Nationalist ideologies are often present during Italian anti-globalisation protests. Today, Italian nationalism is mainly supported by right-wing political parties including Brothers of Italy-National Alliance who has gained nine seats in the Italian Parliament in the last general election, and by far-right-wing political parties like The Right, New Force or Tricolour Flame. Nonetheless, in recent times Italian nationalism has been occasionally embraced as a form of banal nationalism by liberal parties like Forza Italia, centrist parties like the Union of the Centre or even by centre-left parties like the Democratic Party.
Italian nationalism has also faced opposition from within Italy. Regionalism and municipal identities have challenged a unified Italian identity, such as those in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Naples, Sardinia, Sicily and Veneto. Such regional identities evoked strong opposition after the Piedmontese-led unification of Italy to plans for "Piedmontization" of Italy. Italian identity has long been strained by a larger regional North-South divide that developed partly from the economic differences of a highly industrialized North and a highly agricultural South.
Civil flag of Italy, originally designed in 1797. A symbol of the Italian nation since the early-19th century and symbol of the Italian Republic since 1946.
Civil flag of the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 to 1946. Presently used by Italian monarchists.
War flag of the Italian Social Republic, the incarnation of Fascist Italy from 1943 to 1945 after the Fascist regime in the Kingdom of Italy was dismantled in 1943. It is a prominent symbol used by Italian neo-fascists.
Italian nationalist parties
- New Force (1997–present)
- History of Italy
- Italian culture
- Italian Fascism
- Italian irredentism
- Italian unification
- Revolutions of 1848
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