Italy: Revolution, Restoration, and Unification

In 1871 Italy became a unified nation, however in the period of 1796-1870 there were many barriers, which prevented the political change in Italy. The widespread apathy of the people certainly did effect the unification of Italy, however there were other barriers such as the foreign influences of Austria, the un-organisation of the revolts and the fact that at the beginning the Risorgimento was more for the elitist class. So it is not valid to say that apathy was the most serious barrier as there were other factors that together made it difficult for Italy to become united.

One factor that was particularly influential was the power Austria has over Italy. Austria was a major power at this time with a large empire. During this period there were a number of revolutions across Europe. Austria and Russia were both conservative monarchists that were determined to suppress any nationalistic movements as possible as they were worried about the spread of revolutions affecting their own countries.

Austria spread its influence in Italy by installing members of the Austrian imperial family, the Hasbburgs, to rule in many Italian states. This was used for a more pro-Austrian attitude and a less patriotic nationalistic attitude to their own country; Italy of 1815 was basically under control of the Austrians. Metternich said at the time; “Italy is only a geographical expression.” It is clear that Austria were a major influence and helped to prevent Italy from developing it’s own identity thus preventing unification- which was Austria’s main aim.

It is true to say that Austria exerting it’s power over Italy does show the apathy of the people as they didn’t seem to do very much about it, or appear to concerned for some time. Less than 3% of Italians spoke Italian, and as communication wasn’t very good it was hard for Italy to feel like one unified country as they were so separated. People’s sense of pride was what was missing in Italy. People were very attached to their own particular region and in a sense were not affected by what happened in other areas of Italy, especially the north-south divide.

It could be argued that this un-communication between different areas of Italy proves that apathy among the people did prevent unification, as the Italians were obviously not prepared for it. However if the government gave the public a reason to be proud and patriotic, and given them a sense of unity they probably would have reacted and been more unified.

In fact not all Italians did have this apathetic attitude towards unification. There were attempts of revolutions in 1820 and 1831, but the force of the Austrians easily crushed these attempts. The Carbonari (1820s) were a secret society attempting change but didn’t work as there were too few of them. There are also examples in radical democrats such as Garibaldi and Mazzini that played a big part in the unification process as they really believed in it and managed to spread the message more too the masses.

This was another barrier to political change that there was little support for the attempts at revolution. This was to do with the fact that the Italian people has been led to believe that democracy was a thing to be feared, and unification may make Italy worse. Also during the beginning the Risorgimento was more of an elitist phenomenon, where only people of education and urban centres could get to hear about it. There was also a lack of co-ordination and confusion between the different ideologies that proved to make revolutions difficult.

The Italian public were also unsure of what type of Italy would result after a revolution has taken place. There was particularism between some Italians and their own states as they may have felt they were better off not unified as it may change things in a way they didn’t like.

Before the Crimean war (1854-56) there seemed to be little chance of Italian unification as the country was so divided and controlled so greatly by Austria. The Crimean war changed a lot of things in Europe. The war was the resultant reason for the two major powers of Austria and Russia to break their alliance. Russia was humiliated in the war and was un-supported by Austria. Russia felt like it had been denied to be seen as the major power that it was.

Russia therefore was un-supportive of Austria and changed it’s policy, having been before quite conservative, to an attitude favourable of change. With the weakened force of Austria and its plight to prevent democratic states, people like Garibaldi creating a new found patriotic atmosphere among Italians, by 1871 Italy was unified.

Overall it is valid to say that the apathy of the Italian people was a barrier to political change. In some ways the apathy of the people was not just because they weren’t bothered but because the majority did not receive information about the Risorgimento till quite late. However it is more the foreign opposition of Austria that was more of a powerful prevention to change that affected the unification process more than the apathy of the people. It was partly due to the “domino effect” the Austrian influence had that did help to encourage the apathy of the people, as Austrians were so desperate to reduce nationalism they managed to help prevent Italians from feeling a belonging to a country.

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