The remark, once attributed to Massimo D’Azeglio, that the Risorgimento generation had made Italy, but it was now necessary to make the Italians, is misleading. Giolitti’s analogy of the hunchback’s tailor remains more illuminating, if a bit bleak. The real task for generations after 1860 was to tailor an Italy that would fit the demands and needs of a people divided by deep regional, class, and ideological differences. Every generation after unification contested the legacy of the immediate past. We have seen how the restless young intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century viewed liberal Italy as having fallen well short of the great hopes of the Risorgimento. Then World War I, which was to relaunch the ideal of a greater Italy, was betrayed by politicians who lost the peace and by Socialists who fostered a climate of civil war.
When the Fascists assumed power in 1922, they felt that they would bury, once and for all, Italietta, Giovanni Giolitti’s modest little Italy. Mussolini’s Italy would be the antithesis of Giolitti’s. In place of slow, undramatic progress domestically and a modest place among the major powers, the new Fascist Italy would be strong, unified, respected, and even feared. The Fascists considered the legacy of Giolittian Italy to have been domination by a weak and divided parliament that was out of touch with the “real” country. In the guise of opening to democracy, Giolitti allowed the country to fall prey to revolutionary Socialists. Fascists and their Nationalist allies accused the Piedmontese leader of leaving a weakened state and a diminished nation. 1
Giolitti fared little better among democrats and Socialists. The young anti-Fascist democrat Piero Gobetti saw in Giolitti the corruption of an entire system that went beyond the man: “But our anti-Giolittianism would exist even if the head of the government was not called Giolitti, if his system continued. Trace the career of G. G., and you will not find one single moment of greatness.”