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On behalf of Fondazione Magna Carta, let me thank the Italian Consul General of Boston, Giuseppe Pastorelli, Provost of Brown University, David Kertzer, the director of the Italian Culture Institute, Professor Riccardo Viale and all the professors, academicians attending this conference, for this welcome invitation. To begin with, if this conference is to seize the opportunity to reflect on the most important goals achieved after 150 years of Italian government, we should avoid resorting to rhetoric. To put it simply, we mustn’t apologise for this celebration. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t proudly fly our national flag, left languishing at the back of a drawer for too many years. But let us not be seduced by the romantic aspect of Italy’s Unification, which at that time played such an important role. We can not miss this extraordinary opportunity to come to terms with the past, as we answer the question asked today by the organisers.

It is therefore necessary to realistically assess what is left of that dream of a united Italy called the Risorgimento. History and its lessons guide me step by step in this difficult task because although the question is legitimate, the answer is not easy. From my point of view, no one can argue that 1861 was not an auspicious milestone for our country. Italian Unification is Italy’s greatest political achievement – no ifs or buts- but it should not be taken for granted. We must act to make sure that we deliver the full and untapped potential of Italian Unification to support our efforts at achieving a strong civic education in Italy.

I feel the need to stress this point due to the threat posed by a portion of public opinion in Italy and certain political parties’ attitudes. Some are against celebrating Italian unification. The positive image of the unity of Italy is certainly not without its darker corners, but we have to admit that is was the exploits of those young heroes striving to give us a united, free and independent country that – later on – the so-called Destra Storica rapidly transformed into a modern state. As for the sound Machiavellian realism that history teaches us in every situation of a certain complexity, good and bad, right and wrong are inextricably linked.

As the historical Roberto Vivarelli reminded us during the last Magna Carta’s annual lecture: «We should leave behind us the description of the Risorgimento as a kind of “history of defeat”, a sort of original sin of the Italian nation, which would serve well to explain any subsequent defeat of the unitary state. After achieving unification as a political goal in a difficult context, the political forces faced the challenge of unifying the public. Due to geographical internal fractures and strong opposition from the church, this was a far from simple task.»

The problem therefore is not the positive value of to be found in Italian Unification, but why the promise implicit in this result has not materialised 150 years later. One of the reasons is an attempt to forget that the history of Italy goes hand in glove with the history of popular liberalism, but it is also partly due to the nature of liberalism in itself.

Italy’s liberal revolution lasted for the spring, in part because of two irreconcilable models of the Risorgimento. The Mazzini mode versus the Cavour model, which contributed to create the liberal State, that would intervene only if its citizens were not able to provide for their needs. The latter gave rise to solidarity as a modern-day value. Later on, solidarity was well represented by the social market economy model, as the slogan coined by Erhard – «Wohlstand für alle» – during the Adenauer Era in the Bonn Republic vividly reminds us.

Between these conflicting visions of nation building, the fall of the so-called Destra Storica in 1876 was a turning point. At that time the government was increasingly focussed on gaining international esteem and quickly forgot the general state of underdevelopment facing the country. Social tensions united under the socialist flag. The advent of socialism transformed a bipolar clash in a multilateral one. Moreover, the concept of class as supported by socialism radicalised the position at that time.  

The de facto vision of a nation as painted by the elite was replaced by a new concept of a class rising up from the bottom. Francesco Crispi suddenly became the common enemy of the people. The event that sparked divisions was once again a war in Libya, that of 1911-1912. The socialists were strongly opposed, and indeed only the First World War was able to heal many of the deep wounds from the past of a truly divided country.

I agree with the opinion of the historian Roberto Vivarelli, who said that: «the victory of fascism was not written in things, it was not the outcome of the First World War but the result of the ignorance of our political class, once again unable to meet the needs of the country»[1].

The advent of fascism defeated the liberal state and its basic principles. Fascism undoubtedly recycled certain legends from the Risorgimento, but in the meantime it also destroyed its key principles. Under fascism citizens lived as double agents – the liberals’ values hadn’t disappeared, but they were forced into hiding by the Italian population.

We have to wait until the end of the Second World War to see the promises of 1861 mix the fate of Italian history. But was the spring of 1945 really able to unite the Italian people under a single flag? On September 8th 1945, the country split in two. The nation died from losing its independence on the outside and a civil war erupting within.

The illusion of a new liberal Italy was soon shattered by that ordeal. The fall of fascism would have meant a new beginning for the nation, so long as it came to terms with its history and its most dramatic passages. We have to remember that for decades only a part of the population of Italy has waved the tricolor flag, and I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks as an Italian citizen to those people who had the courage to spearhead the symbol to this day. Stemming from theories supported by Ernesto Galli della Loggia or Renzo De Felice, many discussions would help us to understand how historians find it difficult to bring to light the pages of history until now still brushed under the carpet[2]. After the war, there were two urgent issues: statehood and overcoming the new civil war.

The rush as well as the anxiety to put aside an unpleasant past favoured the creation of new victors. They prefer not to present antifascism as it really was, but to create their own entirely different version. A minority movement, antifascism was suddenly presented as a majority one. The history of the hegemonic Catholic and Communist forces that had been excluded from the Risorgimento was revised. The first victim was the image of Count Cavour; next, with much graver consequences, came the total desecration of national history. For reasons we have neither time nor need to go into here, a climate of creeping civil war took hold in Italy, sparked by terrorism and fed by the myth of the betrayed Resistance.

The fall of fascism could have meant a whole new beginning for the Italian nation, had the perpetrators faced up to their actions and their darkest episodes without supplanting this necessary recognition with a more convenient memory, presenting antifascism as something it wasn’t, meanwhile dissolving and disfiguring the Risorgimento therein.

Once again, that atmosphere did not favour the Italians’ political education. Those who fed that climate are responsible for the cultural backwardness of Italian unification. A delay that my generation is called on to pay for even today. From my point of view, our lack of national pride is down to the reasons outlined above, factors that contributed to denying many Italians the love of their country. We should share the value of our country and rediscover our patriotism, as this is the only true cement of a nation. As Renan said, «A nation is not a simple area defined by boundaries. A nation is not a sum of interest, a nation is a sum of sacrifices and it is a plebiscite, which is renewed every day».

Conclusion. If we are not willing to rewrite the past in order for that which unites us to prevail over that which divides us, if we are not willing to untie the knots remaining from the Risorgimento, then we can not even try to explain to future generations that the land in which we live is the result of the sacrifices of the past generations who paid the ultimate price in name of their country. Finally, and crucially, if we are not willing to rediscover the forgotten pages of our history, then we can not preserve nor disseminate the sense of solidarity that has been deeply lacking in my generation. Here we celebrate the past not to ask who we were 150 years ago, but to find out who we want to be today and what we want to build in our country for tomorrow’s generation. A nation is made by each of us cherishing and renewing the choice every day, to pass on to those who will succeed us a better Italy than we have inherited today.

(Relazione di Francesca Traldi al convegno “150 anni di governo italiano: Che cosa è stato ottenuto?” presso il Joukowsky Forum del Watson Institute)



[1] R. Vivarelli, La fine di una stagione. Memorie 1943-1945, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2000; Ibidem, Il fallimento del liberalismo. Studi sulle origini del fascismo, Bologna, il Mulino, 1981.

[2] E. Galli Della Loggia, La morte della patria, Laterza, 1996; Ibidem, L’identità italiana, Il Mulino, Bologna 1998; Ibidem, Miti e storia dell’Italia unita, Il Mulino, Bologna 1999, con G.Belardelli, L.Cafagna, G. Sabbatucci; Si veda inoltre tra gli altri a riguardo, E. Aga Rossi, Una nazione allo sbando. L’armistizio italiano del settembre 1943, Il Mulino, 1998.