Monday, February 24, 2014

What I've Learned about Italian Nationalism from David Gilmour

Before this weekend, I knew enough about European history to know that Italy was/is "a geographical expression,"--a cut-and-paste smoke-and-mirrors nation-state, held together by the delusions and fantasies of its sponsors more than any durable threads in the fabric.  I more or less knew that  the fantasy was largely the fault responsibility of Giuseppe Mazzini and his ilk--19th Century dreamers/intriguers who imagined the Italian community:
[T]he goal that he and his democratic followers aimed for was simply an Italy that would be both independent and undivided. Only a unitary state, they believed, would liberate Italy from its age-old rivalries.
Gilmour, David (2011-10-25). The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples (Kindle Locations 2698-2700). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

What I didn't know is that there were others on the left--not just the old fogeys of authoritarianism and empire--who did not see it that way.  These "others" believed
that only regard for [Italy's endemic internecine]  rivalries would allow Italians to respect each other’s differences and live together in harmony: a unitary state could never conceivably work in so diverse a country. The foremost federalist was the brilliant Milanese intellectual Carlo Cattaneo, who considered ‘the ancient love of liberty in Italy’ to be more important than ‘the cult of unity’. Like Guicciardini 300 years earlier, he believed that Italy had prospered from competition between the cities and argued that a political system that failed to take the communal spirit into account would not succeed. In his eyes this spirit was far from being a medieval irrelevance: it was alive – as it still is, 

remaining a vital component of the national identity even today. Cattaneo did not greatly exaggerate when he claimed, ‘The communes are the nation: they are the nation in the most innermost sanctuary of its liberty.’  Cattaneo was no romantic nationalist. Indeed he believed that nationalism was essentially illiberal – an unusual credence in those days – and he suspected with some reason that this would be the case with Piedmont. As a Milanese historian, he was aware of the old Piedmontese custom of grabbing and annexing bits of Lombardy, and he was rightly apprehensive about the ambitions of the Savoia monarchs in his own time. As a Lombard, he was also aware of his region’s ancient trading relationships beyond the Alps and recognized that there could be advantages, administrative and economic, in becoming a self-governing part of the Habsburg Empire. Such advantages would obviously disappear if Lombardy were to be annexed by Piedmont. 
 Gilmour, David (2011-10-25). The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples (Kindle Locations 2699-2705). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

I've spent a bit of time in and around Italy and I have to admit I don't remember ever hearing  of Carlo Cattanio before.


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