The Hunchback's Tailor: Giovanni Giolitti and Liberal Italy from the Challenge of Mass Politics to the Rise of Fascism, 1882-1922

By Alexander De Grand | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

The Apprenticeship of a Statesman, 1842–1892

EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION

Giovanni Giolitti belonged to the second generation of Italian leaders who emerged as relatively young men on the parliamentary scene around 1880, just as those who made the Italian state were about to leave the stage. He would be one of the first statesmen to have no ties to the wars for independence, but the Risorgimento leaders, consumed by the unglamorous tasks of state building after 1860, favored his entry into public life. Before he entered politics, Giolitti was part of the small administrative elite that understood almost all facets of the emerging state apparatus. He entered parliament in 1882, just as financial stress and rising deficits brought on by an agricultural depression and new demands for military and colonial expansion put a premium on economic and bureaucratic expertise. Giolitti made issues of balanced budgets and lower taxes his own; still, he softened demands for austerity by expressions of concern for those Italians who had been left out of the liberal state. He called on the ruling elites to turn inward and to concentrate on domestic policy. This hard message grated on many in the Risorgimento generation who dreamed of a greater Italy. They dismissed Giolitti as a “mere clerk,” at best a good Treasury minister. To their surprise, he turned out to be much more than that.

Giolitti’s rise to the top of the political world began in Mondovì, in the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, where he was born on October 27, 1842. Piedmont was poised to break out of the torpor of the reactionary post–Napoleonic era and to take a leading role in the revolutionary wars of 1848 and in the unification movement of the 1850s. Giolitti’s family on his father’s side had been involved in public life in the Piedmontese province of Cuneo for several generations. His grandfather, Giovanni, had been marginally implicated in the abortive liberal

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