Without doubt, the fascist phenomenon has dominated the postwar debate about the course of modern Italian and German history. 1 The domestic and international impact of fascist policies drew attention to the conditions which facilitated the appeal of fascism in Italy and Germany, and to the factors which contributed to the radicalisation of its ideology and political practices. 2 Despite the differences in the level of economic development, as well as in the social and political structures of the two countries, the fact that they shared the experiences of late state formation and belated modernisation may shed new light on their similar historical trajectory in the interwar years. Without discounting these significant differences in the economic and social conditions between Italy and Germany, it seems that the 'late-comers' theory has provided a better starting point for the understanding of the similar long-term propensity of the two systems for territorial expansion than the theories of uneven economic or political development. 3 According to this theory, expansion was a means of both accelerating the pace of domestic development, enhancing the international prestige of the 'late-comers' in their pursuit of 'great power' status, and breaking free from the limitations (political, economic, geographical) that their belated arrival had placed upon them. Instead of focusing on the differing long-term socio-economic features of the two systems (as modernisation theory does, making a sharp distinction between the more advanced German society and the essentially backward, agrarian Italian equivalent 4), the 'late-comers' thesis places emphasis on the similar motivations generated by the common desire of the two newly unified states to establish their position as political 'great powers' in the European system.
There are, however, questions particular to each country's historical trajectory that the above theory cannot answer convincingly without recourse to specific national developments and to the impact of external factors on national politics. Although pre-1918 Italian and German expansionism was motivated by similar aspirations (great power status, completion of unification, social imperialism) and forces (emergence of radical nationalist organisations, deterioration of international relations, opportunities offered by the First World War), these factors were crystallised and subsequently affected national histories