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Italy the nation?,
This review is from: The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796 (Paperback)
Christopher Duggan's book is not so much a history of modern Italy as it is an account of the evolution of Italy as a nation. This focus allows him to address a perennial problem that Italy has faced since its coalescence in 1861, which is the absence of a strong unifying identity. At first glance, this may seem curious, given the long and storied history of the Italian peninsula. Yet from the start Duggan shows that the centuries of division into competing realms cultivated a series of regional identities, irrespective of any common past or language.
This was the challenge that Duggan sees facing Italian nationalists at the start of the nineteenth century. While Napoleon Bonaparte's conquest fueled hopes among some of their number that unification would follow, his constant redrawing of the political map of Italy demonstrated that he had little interest in creating a unitary nation of Italians. In the aftermath of his defeat, pluralism was reestablished at the Congress of Vienna, with the peninsula now governed by several rulers, many of whom were connected to the Austrians. Duggan makes it clear that the King of Sardinia was the only ruler in a position to bring about unification, yet it was a unification that few wanted beyond the fervent Italian nationalists and the Piedmont leadership which stood to benefit from spearheading the political consolidation of the peninsula.
Yet unification brought new challenges which the nationalists were unable to address. The vision of a united, democratic Italy often seemed a contradiction, as many nationalists feared that a representative political process would create factions and thus run counter to the vision of a single nation. Thus Italy found itself wrestling with its existence from the start, in a struggle marked by corrupt politics, regional prejudices, and the hostility of the Catholic Church. By featuring this struggle, Duggan makes the appeal of the Fascists clear, as their calls for monolithic unity offered a solution to this problem. As leader of the Fascists Benito Mussolini also hoped to deliver another missing equation of unity - military victories that demonstrated Italian strength and rallied the populace. Yet Mussolini's efforts to this end only resulted in the scourge of war and the humiliation of conquest. Moreover, whatever success enjoyed by the Fascists seemed superficial, as many of the underlying problems continued to plague Italy right down to the present day.
Duggan's book is one that would cause anyone who loves Italy to weep for it. It is a powerful and insightful survey of the struggles that Italy has faced over the past few centuries, one that will leave many readers skeptical about Italy's future prospects. Indeed, Duggan makes an excellent case that Italian unification was premature, and it is on that prematurity that so many of Italy's problems rest. As pessimistic as such a diagnosis is, it helps readers to both better understand Italy's past as well as some of the underlying problems it faces going forward. It is for this reason as well as many others that this is a book that should be read by anyone interested in Italian history or in the troubled nation of Italy today.