Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present

By Spencer M. Di Scala | Go to book overview

5
Failed Revolutions:
The 1820s and 1830s

After 1815, the Italian situation appeared unstable. Although governments in some states pursued moderate policies, all ignored vital changes in political mentality and social and economic conditions that had occurred during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic periods; indeed, continued fear of losing their power made the rulers partners of a reactionary Austria. Revolutionary principles continued in the form of nationalism and liberalism, which dominated nineteenth-century Europe. Both concepts, supported by many different peoples politically bound together by the mystical attraction and practical power of a strong monarch, posed a mortal threat for the Austrian Empire, because nationalism implied independence for all nationalities and liberalism advocated constitutional limitations on the sovereign’s power.

Italy represented a major threat to Austria because the desire for independence and unity that the French Revolution had stimulated among "Jacobin- Patriotic" intellectuals from different parts of the Italian Peninsula had spread beyond radical circles. As did their European counterparts, Italian liberals and radicals of the 1820s and 1830s looked to France for help. In those years they set off a series of revolutions. The disorders failed, but they produced some important lessons. First, the ideological underpinning of unity had to become less vague, and it had to give a picture of the future Italy to create favorable Italian and European pressure essential to Italian liberty. The debate on this issue produced three major "models," which are discussed in the next chapter. Second, the failures of the 1820s and 1830s—along with the events of 1848- 1849—demonstrated to Italian patriots that the European revolutionary movement would not or could not come to their aid. Half a century of disappointment would drive most Italian revolutionaries, in order to unify their country, to seize the realistic options that opened to them in the 1850s. The revolutions of the early Restoration were important stages in this evolution.

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