Planning, Protectionism, and Politics in Liberal Italy: Economics and Politics in the Giolittian Age

By Frank J. Coppa | Go to book overview
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Chapter IX
GIOVANNI GIOLITTI: THE LAST REPRESENTATIVE OF LIBERAL ITALY

It is no simple task to evaluate the role played by Giovanni Giolitti in the political and economic development of modern Italy just as it is far from easy to decide whether Giolitti was Ansaldo Il ministro della buona vita or Salvemini Il ministro della mala vita. Giolittianism was a complex movement that does not admit of simplistic explanations, just as Giovanni Giolitti himself is not easily understood. At first glance, both Giolitti and Giolittianism appear full of contradictions. Giolitti is rather a unique figure in the liberal world, a man whose idealism is tempered by pragmatism--a man who holds the liberal order in reverence, but whose announced aim is to bring the masses into the country's political life and thus destroy the foundations of liberalism. A rather strange liberal, he, who is anti-doctrinaire and disconcertingly practical.

Perhaps what most annoyed the doctrinaries and the idealists was the fact that the Prime Minister's liberalism did not rebel against all forms of corruption, but rather tolerated even electoral violence and manipulation. These men questioned a liberalism which sanctioned and accepted what it could not readily change, and openly declared that such liberalism was a pretense, was in fact a false liberalism. Other facts seemed to corroborate this. It was obvious that Giolitti's liberalism did not prevent him from freely and frequently violating most of the tenets of free trade and economic liberalism. Such a liberalism, practiced by a master politician of the likes of Giolitti, quite naturally aroused suspicions.

Unfortunately, those who sought to understand the man and his system fabricated a series of explanations which though logical were not true. Most prominent among these was the notion that Giolitti had a tacit alliance with the northern industrialists and the unionized workers of the same region, whereby the government provided these industrialists with protection and they in turn shared this spoil with their workers by granting them higher salaries. This northern bloc was seen to bribe the South by supporting the tariff on grain which the latifundists of that region desired. In turn, all three groups lent Giolitti their support and kept him in the saddle. This thesis appealed to the anti-Giolittians because they were con

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