The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796

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Overview

A sweeping, first-of-its-kind history of the creation of modern Italy

The birth of modern Italy was a messy affair. Inspired by a small group of writers, intellectuals, and politicians, Italy struggled in the first half of the nineteenth century to unite all Italians under one rule, throwing aside a multitude of corrupt old rulers and foreign occupiers. In the midst of this turmoil, Italian politicians felt compelled by a “force of destiny” hideously at odds with Italian reality. After great sacrifice Italy was finally unified—and turned out to be just as fragile, impoverished, and backward as it had been before. The resentments this created led to Italy’s destructive role in World War I, the subsequent rise of Mussolini and authoritarianism in the 1920s and ’30s, and the nation's humiliating defeat in World War II. This haunting legacy deeply informs the Italy of today.

Christopher Duggan skillfully interweaves Italy's art, music, literature, and architecture with its economic and social realities and political development to tell this extraordinary European story. The first English-language book to cover the full scope of modern Italy, from its origins more than two hundred years ago to the present, The Force of Destiny is a brilliant and comprehensive study—and a frightening example of how easily nation-building and nationalism can slip toward authoritarianism and war.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The Italian national project is a potent but erratic force, argues historian Duggan (A Concise History of Italy) in this thoughtful history of Italian politics from the Napoleonic Wars that jump-started the nationalist movement to the present-day rise of secessionist parties that want to bury it. The romantic patriots of the 19th-century risorgimento, Duggan contends, faced daunting challenges in unifying their homeland: a peninsula fractured into squabbling statelets speaking mutually incomprehensible dialects; citizens whose civic allegiance extended no further than the local church tower or mafia boss; Northern Italians' contempt for the corrupt and backward South; a militantly antinationalist Catholic Church. Making a virtue of necessity, he contends, patriots made nation building into a quasireligious moral reclamation that they hoped would infuse order, discipline and martial vigor into the allegedly degenerate Italian character, a vision that inspired liberal democrats but culminated in Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship (of which the author offers an especially insightful account). Duggan's lucid, wide-ranging but conceptually focused narrative examines the tension between exaggerated aspirations for a united Italy-in literature, art and opera, as well as political ideology-and the often disappointing, fractious reality. The result is an illuminating study not just of one nation but of nationalism itself. Photos. (Apr. 28)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A capable recounting of the long, ongoing and perhaps futile struggle to forge a single nation from the many regions, and the many more divided loyalties, of the Italians. Italy, writes Duggan (Modern Italian History/Univ. of Reading; Francesco Crispi, 1818-1901: From Nation to Nationalism, 2002, etc.), was an idea well before it was a reality, an idea impeded by the fact that much of the peninsula was carved into competing states and would be dominated in the 19th century by foreign powers. Yet, Duggan observes, "Once unleashed in the 1790s, the idea that ‘the people' constituted the nation and that the nation should be coterminous with the state was a genie of ferocious power." The idea spread by way of the intelligentsia, with the government of the first Neapolitan Republic made up of "lawyers, clerics, writers, and professors of Greek and botany," but took its time becoming popular, pressed at the point of the bayonet by anti-Napoleonic guerrillas, Garibaldians and even a few mafiosi turned nationalists. Those who remained mafiosi pure and simple would remain an impediment, particularly in Sicily, which, the Tuscan intellectual Leopoldo Franchetti concluded, should be abandoned and allowed to declare independence. The rise of fascism in the early 20th century gave nationalism a new face and ambitions to expand the nation into an empire along the lines of ancient Rome. The postwar economic boom of the 1960s sowed confusion: Italians of all regions increasingly felt they belonged to one country even as wealth ushered in the "danger of falling back once again into the exaggerated individualism and materialism that the high-minded patriots of the nineteenth century had sought to correct."As Duggan notes, the collapse of the postwar First Republic in the mid-1990s, marked by the end of the Cold War and the Italian Communist Party and by the rise of Silvio Berlusconi, reintroduced fierce arguments about nationhood, particularly the notion among northerners that their southern compatriots weren't really Italian and belonged elsewhere, an argument that persists. An expressive history, of interest to students of European history and geopolitics.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141013909
  • Publisher: Penguin Books, Limited (UK)
  • Publication date: 7/28/2008

Meet the Author

CHRISTOPHER DUGGAN is a professor and director of the Center for Modern Italian History at the University of Reading, Great Britain. The author of several books on Italian history, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, American Historical Review, English Historical Review, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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Read an Excerpt

Deliverance, 1796–9 Soldiers . . . Your fatherland has the right to expect great things of you. Will you live up to its expectations? You still have battles to fight, towns to capture and rivers to pass. Everyone is burning to carry the glory of the French people far and wide. Everyone is eager to impose a glorious peace. Everyone wishes to be able to return to their village and say with pride: ‘I was in the army that conquered Italy!’ My friends, I promise you this conquest; but . . . you must respect the people you are delivering . . . People of Italy, the French army is coming to break your chains. Meet it with confidence.
—Napoleon Bonaparte, proclamation to the Army of Italy, 26 April 1796

But where will I find refuge? In Italy? A prostituted land, forever the prize of victory. Will I be able to face those who have despoiled, derided and sold us without weeping with anger? Destroyers of peoples, who make use of liberty in the same way as the popes made use of the crusades. Oh! I have often wished to plunge a knife in my heart, in despair at being able to avenge myself, and shed all my blood amid the last cries of my fatherland!
—Ugo Foscolo, Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis (1802)

The Arrival of Napoleon On Sunday, 15 May 1796, the feast of Pentecost, Napoleon Bonaparte entered Milan in triumph. In the space of a little over a month his ill-equipped army of some 30,000 men had secured a series of lightning victories over the Piedmontese and Austrians, and now the whole of northern and central Italy lay open before him. Quite what he intended to do with the newly conquered territories was far from clear, and many of those who turned out in the late spring sunshine to watch the French troops filing through the streets of the city must have experienced a good deal of uncertainty and dread as well as excitement. The French authorities had announced ahead of the invasion that Napoleon was coming to set ‘the peoples of Italy’ free and to ‘break their chains’; and Napoleon himself had promised the Milanese that their city would become the capital of a republic stretching from sea to sea, enjoying the ‘eternal friendship of France’. But there could be no guarantee that such promises would be kept.
Among those watching the ragged French troops filing into Milan was an elderly economist, Pietro Verri. Verri had been a leading figure in the movement to introduce reforms that had swept through most of the Italian states in the 1760s and 1770s. Like many fellow intellectuals, Verri had grown increasingly disillusioned at the slow pace of change and disenchanted with princely governments, and had retired from public life in 1786. The outbreak of the French Revolution had rekindled his hopes. Observing the French soldiers, he was conscious of a raw energy – an energy rooted, he felt, in the self-confidence that came from their feeling of belonging to a ‘nation’, and which more than compensated for their lack of equipment and their indiscipline:

They marched in disorderly fashion, and were dressed in tattered uniforms of different colours. Some had no arms, and therewas very little artillery. Their horses were weak and scrawny. When mounting guard, they sat down. They looked not so much like an army as a population that has brazenly sallied out from its town to invade the surrounding neighbourhood. Tactics, discipline and skill were constantly subordinate to the national commitment of a people fighting for themselves against [the Austrian] automata, who were fighting from fear of punishment.

Verri’s admiration for the French troops arriving in Milan was shared by his friend the distinguished choreographer and dancer Gasparo Angiolini. Angiolini had been born into a theatrical family in Florence in 1731, and like many talented Italian artists of his generation had decided as a young man to leave the provincial confines of his home city and try his luck in the courts of northern Europe. After a decade of travels, he had risen to become director of ballet at the Imperial Theatre in Vienna, where he had worked closely with the great opera composer Christoph Willibald von Gluck, developing the dramatic narrative style known as ballet d’action. In 1766 he had moved to St Petersburg to take over from the illustrious Austrian choreographer Franz Hilverding, at the Imperial Theatre. Laden with honours and pensions, he had returned to his native country in 1778 and had taken up the post of choreographer at the theatre of La Scala in Milan. His villa, Malgacciata, outside the city, was frequented by such luminaries as the poet Giuseppe Parini and the jurist Cesare Beccaria.
Living and working abroad, often alongside Italians from other parts of Italy, Angioolini had developed a strong sense of belonging to a great cultural nation. But he had also grown aware that Italy had lost its former pre- eminence in the arts and was now languishing behind the rest of Europe. This was a view that had become widely shared by the middle years of the century, with Italian and foreign commentators frequently reaching for metaphors of ‘sleep’ and ‘waking’ to describe the situation. The distinguished Venetian philosopher and art critic Count Francesco Algarotti had written from Berlin in 1752 of how Italy had once ‘opened the eyes’ of other nations and led them out of barbarism; but now it was ‘taking a little nap’. He was saddened by this state of affairs, but philosophical: ‘Let us be consoled by our past achievements . . . Other nations now dominate; but we were ourselves once dominant.’ Algarotti’s sense of resignation was not uncommon at the time; but from the 1760s a mood of mounting frustration had begun to set in among educated Italians. If Italy was sleeping, then it had to be woken, forcibly if necessary, in order to catch up with other countries. Amid the imperial splendours of St Petersburg, Gasparo Angiolini (whose compatriots in the city included Bartolomeo Rastrelli, architect of many of St Petersburg’s finest buildings, including the Winter Palace) had become infected with this new, more aggressive mood, and in a celebrated polemic he had written of how it was ‘humiliating for every good Italian’ that in the north of Europe dance and theatre had soared to heights of excellence, while in Italy, once ‘mistress of all learning’, productions were being staged that ‘disgraced’ and ‘shamed’ her. But he was confident that there would soon be a revival: ‘In every age Italy has had its Cimabues . . . its Dantes, its Pico della Mirandolas and its Galileos, the leading figures and most outstanding talents in every sphere, who have restored the arts and the sciences.’ Angiolini was deeply excited by the arrival of Napoleon and the French in Milan in May 1796. It seemed to him, as to many other educated men and women who over the preceding decades had absorbed the Enlightenment ideals of moral and material progress, to herald a new era of freedom and regeneration for both the city and Italy. And he hurried to show his enthusiasm for the revolutionary order, constructing a curious tree of liberty in front of his villa of Malgacciata: a massive oak with a Phrygian bonnet of polished bronze tied to its top-most branch, and two enormous sails of canvas hanging below that swelled and flapped in the wind. Angiolini had a similar tree of liberty set up in the piazza of a nearby village, summoned the local peasants and delivered a speech to them about the importance of what was taking place. Their response, it seems, was one of intense bemusement and anger.
Milan must have seemed to Angiolini in the next three years a vibrant city – the city ‘awoken from its slumbers’ described by the great French romantic writer Stendhal in the opening pages of his novel The Charterhouse of Parma, where the height of ambition was no longer ‘to print sonnets upon little handkerchiefs of rose-coloured taffeta on the occasion of the marriage of some young lady belonging to a rich and noble family’, but altruistically to serve ‘the nation’. Though ill and gout-ridden, Angiolini put his wealth and considerable talents at the disposal of the new regime, hoping to spread the gospel of revolution to the people. He produced pamphlets and jotted his political thoughts down in notebooks, which he had printed and distributed to his friends. He became involved in the setting up of the National Theatre, and almost certainly contributed to the production of such popular (and educational) musical dramas as The Dream of a Democrat, The Republican and Silvio, or the True Patriot. But his revolutionary ardour was in due course to cost him dear.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     xi
List of Maps     xiii
Preface     xv
Awakening, 1796-1815
Deliverance, 1796-9     3
Searching for the Nation's Soul     24
Conspiracy and Resistance     48
Preaching, 1815-46
Restoration, Romanticism and Revolt, 1815-30     71
Fractured Past and Fractured Present     90
Apostles and Martyrs: Mazzini and the Democrats, 1830-44     116
Educators and Reformers: The Moderates     144
Poetry, 1846-60
Revolution, 1846-9     165
Piedmont and Cavour     181
Unity, 1858-60     198
Prose, 1861-87
The New State     217
The Road to Rome, 1861-70     242
The Threat from the South, 1870-85     259
National Education     274
Sources of Authority: King, Church and Parliament, 1870-87     298
War, 1887-1918
Francesco Crispi and the 'New European Order', 1887-91     323
The Fin de Siecle Crisis     338
Rival Religions: Socialism and Catholicism     350
Nationalism     374
The Great War, 1915-18     390
Fascism, 1919-43
Civil War and the Advent of Fascism, 1919-22     407
The Establishmentof a Dictatorship, 1922-5     433
The Fascist Ethical State     449
Community of Believers     475
A Place in the Sun, 1929-36     488
Into the Abyss, 1936-43     506
Parties
The Foundations of the Republic, 1943-57     529
The Economic Miracle, 1958-75     548
Towards the 'Second Republic'     568
References     588
Index     627
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2011

    A Force of Destiny!

    I have personal enjoyed this enlighting book on the country of Italy. From its rise as a kingdom, to the fall fascists, and to the mordern miracle of the economy in the 1970s, this country has gone through a turbulent history. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys history and Italy.

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