Flag of the Young Italy Movement.

Finally, Gilmour states that “the benefits of Italian unification remained a mystery to many people who for centuries had been finding it difficult to reconcile themselves to their ever-declining status.” [5] A “lack of enthusiasm for the national cause” existed among many at times, and it could be because of the socioeconomic situation. [6] There were growing numbers of middle-class citizens joining the cause, but it still appears that the elite drove the change to unite Italy. Foreign influence seemed to count much more than domestic influence, as seen with Napoleon III in France and military issues with Austria over their conservative-laden influence over northern Italy.

I look forward to seeing other people’s posts on this one. It seems like the argument really can lean either way, with the right source material to give a good argument with.

[1] Duggan, Christopher. The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy since 1796. London: Penguin Books, 2018, 136.

[3] Gilmour, David. The pursuit of Italy: a history of a land, its regions and their peoples. London: Penguin



I Introduction

Nationalism is a relatively new phenomenon and ideology. The earliest nation states did not emerge until the 1300-1400s, and even then they were fractious states, where regional identities and loyalties often superseded the national ones.

In many cases, nation states were built around loyalty to the king rather than some sort of understanding of national-ethnic-linguistic unity. As Louis XIV of France allegedly said in 1655: “L’etat, c’est moi.” In English: “I am the state.”

Many of these early nation states, such as France and Spain, continued to be very diverse. In France before the Revolution, only a half of Frenchmen spoke any French, and as late as 1870s, only 25 percent spoke it as their native tongue. Regional languages (Basque, Breton, Flemish, Catalan, etc.) continued to thrive.

However, as the 1700s and 1800s progressed, new and stronger type of nationalism began to grow in popularity. This ideology criticized old, multi-ethnic empires such as Russia and Austria-Hungary, arguing instead that all peoples who shared a language, history and ethnicity, should be allowed to form their own country.

The ideology spread even to Italy. However, in Italy the success of nationalism was far from granted. Cultural diversity, linguistic disunity, geographical distances, foreign powers’ substantial roles in Italian politics, and often severe distrust between different regions hindered the process.

However, during the 1800s, Italy finally unified in a complex and bloody process called Risorgimento,resurgence.

II Origins of Italian nationalism

As mentioned earlier, some Italians of the Renaissance, such as Machiavelli, had called for Italian unity in order to fight off invading foreign powers. However, these calls for unity were driven more by political and military calculations rather than any genuine nationalistic spirit.

French Revolution and the ensuing French involvement in Italian politics formed an important watershed in the development of Italian nationalism.

Revolutionary France invaded Italian Peninsula in 1792 as part of their War of the First Coalition. The French brought with them their revolutionary republicanism and new, Enlightenment-era political ideas.

French introduced ideas of equality and freedom, gave the final blow to feudalism in areas they controlled, and infused the peninsula with ideas that the time of old regional monarchies was over. Additionally, the Wars of the First and Second coalitions had made Italy yet again a battleground for European powers, as Austrians, Russians, and French had again settled their affairs on the peninsula.

After the defeat of Napoleon, the victors in the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) restored old conservative political order throughout the continent.

With the downfall of Napoleon in 1814 and the redistribution of territory by the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), most of the Italian states were revamped: the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. They were now ruled by conservative, even reactionary governments.

However, French revolutionary ideas continued to live among young intellectuals, taking additional fuel from the emerging nationalism that was awakening in many parts of Europe.

In the south, an illegal movement called Carbonari (coal makers) sought to resist region’s regressive regimes, promoting national unification to counter the stifling monarchy.

Carbonaris operated as a secret society, with rituals and special terminology for its members.

The members were largely more concerned about curbing the oppressive regime of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, its strongest operating area. National unification was their intended tool for reducing government oppression.

Carbonaris were brave and dedicated, as a mere membership in the secret society could result in a capital punishment. In 1820-1821 and 1831 they took up the arms, starting organized revolts against the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. However, they failed in both diplomacy and in the battlefields. The movement’s leaders either escaped the country or were arrested and executed.

Flag of the Young Italy Movement.

Young Italy movement (La Giovine Italia) was born in 1831, largely out of the efforts of Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), a lawyer and a journalist who dedicated his life to the Italian unification.

Mazzini was hoping to create a network of dedicated activists throughout the peninsula, who would organize regional uprisings against their regressive governments and, in parts of the country, foreign powers – particularly Austria.

Mazzini had to direct his efforts from exile. After a prison sentence for his activism in 1827-1831, he left the country, working to promote his cause from France, Switzerland, and the Great Britain.

Young Italy movement gained popularity especially among middle classes. In many parts of the country, shopkeepers, lawyers, doctors, professors and other trained professionals saw their path to political influence blocked by conservative monarchies. Censorship, restrictions to free speech and political assembly, and other violations of individual rights strongly agitated this group, who felt they should have a stronger say in directing public affairs. By 1833, the movement had roughly 60,000 members.

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