Seeds of Italian Nationalism, 1700-1815

Seeds of Italian Nationalism, 1700-1815

Seeds of Italian Nationalism, 1700-1815

Seeds of Italian Nationalism, 1700-1815

Excerpt

Italian nationalism as a sentiment which aimed to see Italy united into a national state did not appear as a moving force until the nineteenth century. In attempting to trace the roots of this feeling one must be careful not to confuse the traditional patriotism of the Italians with political nationalism. Traditional patriotism had appeared early in the history of Italy when its peoples had first realized that they shared spiritual and geographical ties. Usually, however, at the first dissension these early patriots were quite willing to see their fellow-Italians annihilated and subjected to foreign domination. We have only to remember the fratricidal struggles of the Guelfs and Ghibellines, the Whites and Blacks, and the tragic account of betrayal and shifting alliances from 1494 to 1529.

The fifteenth century which saw the affirmation of national states in France, Spain, and England witnessed no parallel movement in Italy. Rather, petty despots flourished unperturbed, for lacking one national leader around whom to gather, the Italians had developed many small flourishing states, each independent and determined not to cede to its neighbor one iota of power or prestige. In the early sixteenth century Machiavelli launched the first appeal for a united Italy and despairing of the people's ability to reach any voluntary agreement called for a strong leader. But Machiavelli did not reflect the majority opinion of his countrymen. As Spanish control enveloped Italy, Italian patriotism appeared more and more in literary expressions. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were rich in such predominantly patriotic literature. During this period many Italians, aware of their weaknesses, sought to find a solution. Guicciardini, Paruta, Sarpi, Muzio, Boccalini, Tassoni were all patriots--each though concerned with some immediate problem. Machiavelli was perhaps the only truly nationalist writer. Yet the influence of the others cannot be discounted, for they kept alive agitation and discontent among the Italian people.

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