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Italian Foreign Policy
The Statecraft of the Founders
By Federico Chabod, William McCuaig
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1996 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
What Prussia Had to Teach
Our Italian genius is going to take on its own new and original form of expression here. The endearing habits formed in exile, the attachments of the heart felt by the generation that is in its prime today for those who were its teachers in youth, the conceptions formed in a series of progressive stages by the nation during the last fifty years, Guelphism, Liberal Catholicism, the collaboration of Italy and the papacy in politics, the alliance of the Latin races, all these will be preserved as touching souvenirs and as proofs of our good faith and our good will in each of the situations through which we have passed—but let us break the hold they have on our ideas and our actions in the present. Germany, following in the steps of England and America, has gained such a lead on the rest of the world that we shall have to hurry our pace and pursue reality, leaving behind affections, dreams, and the sentimental ideal, and grasp hold vigorously of the only things that are solid and secure: positive science, productivity, and the force that comes from both of them. It pleases me to repeat to you these things that you yourself have been saying for a long time now, because here in Rome I sense a spirit and a setting which, although not endowed with any incontrovertible moral or intellectual superiority, ought to sustain, so it seems to me, a more serious and elevated standard for our political and social action than what we had in Florence, and a less exclusive one than what we found in Turin. This effect of sober enthusiasm, of ardor tempered with reflection, of confidence without boastfulness, of the honest desire to do much and do it well, all of which I observe here, are felt by everyone, all the Italians from the other parts of the country have felt it too. Let us endeavor to make sure that it is not an illusion.... Happy the one who shall find himself at the vital points in the magnificent dawn that is commencing for Italy.
With these hopes for the future, the secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alberto Blanc, then on a mission to Rome, finished a long letter of 12 October 1870 to Marco Minghetti, who at that moment was in Vienna. Rome was now part of Italy and Prussia was supreme in Europe, and the two great events of the dramatic September of 1870, a month that would not be forgotten "until the distant revolution," were thus closely linked by Blanc: in both it was possible to glimpse the commencement of a novus ordo, and above all a radiant dawn for Italy, the "third Italy" that now had to stride resolutely toward the future, relying on the heritage and the genius of Rome and the powerful friendship of Germany, free of the trammels of the past.
And in fact Blanc seemed already to be working out a new subjective attitude, one entirely suited to the new political course he was propounding. A Savoyard raised under the direct political guidance of Cavour and bound permanently to the men of the Right, cabinet chief to La Marmora and general secretary to Visconti Venosta, Blanc was overall a man who might well, as a result of this background and this professional experience, have continued to embrace as true and real the values of La Marmora, Lanza, or Visconti Venosta. Instead he chose to call them souvenirs émouvants. Blanc said a firm farewell to the attaches du coeur, to the tradition of the past, in order to set himself new goals, and goals with a moral dimension, not merely those of political success. Sentimental ideals were banished, and he welcomed the only things that were now "solid and secure": science, productivity, force—for the concept of Realpolitik, though not the term, was by this time widespread, in the sense that the only forces to be taken into account were the tangible and observable ones, using the empirical sensory apparatus and mathematical calculation to do so. There was an overriding sense that the meaning of life ought basically to be looked for in the economic realm, and in the further development of civilization through mechanical and industrial technology, and hence that the dominant moral and cultural concerns of the men of the period from 1820 to 1850 ought to recede into the background. It was on this basis that Blanc, in another letter to Minghetti, insisted that the influence of economic factors was increasing almost daily in international politics, so that it was imperative to permit the fundamental laws of economics to bring about their effects, unhindered by the deleterious "inclinations to sentimentality or to classicism that still have a grip on so many distinguished intellects among us," and that his injunction to "grasp hold vigorously of the only things that are solid and secure" was truly the expression of a new way of facing the problems of political life. It was not the case, certainly, that before this time a sense of the concrete, of the politically possible, of the driving forces, had been absent; on the contrary, it would be utterly ridiculous to speak of, or even to suppose, such an absence, if one recalls that Cavour had already come and gone. But the fact is that only now, in 1870, were the driving forces so nakedly and openly defined as technology, productivity, material capacity: politics as pure, quantitatively definable force. To repeat, concepts and ideas of a Prussian cast were already in the air, and the realité endorsed by the general secretary at the foreign ministry was being assimilated to the Reelle to which the Sergeant King had once brutally recalled the attention of his son Frederick, then still a dreamy youth. There was an affinity between Blanc's choses solides and the realité which Frederick II, when he became king of Prussia, had based his actions on, and which now manifested itself anew as the canon followed by Count Bismarck, the man of the hour. In fact, the new reality was even more physically embodied and massive, comprising not only well-drilled formations of armed soldiery, but also numerous smokestacks rising above roaring factories, and warehouses filled with bales of merchandise in vast quantities, and the diffusion of these phenomena throughout the world.
Blanc's aspiration was thus not merely strategic—in other words, that Italy should have a more friendly political alignment with Prussia (many of the most obstinate Francophiles of 1870 would soon follow him in that)—but was rather a way of approaching political problems, the logical result of which was a distinct moral and intellectual leaning toward the new Germany. Such an approach was a fact of considerable significance since, quite apart from any single diplomatic episode, it lay at the root of the desire, which was destined to grow continually stronger in Italy, to join its own destiny to the future of the empire of central Europe. This desire was to be realized eleven years later, in the turmoil of the summer of 1881, when Blanc was to be among the earliest and most influential architects of the policy that steered Italy closer to Austria and Germany, and thus to the Triple Alliance.
For now, the word "alliance" remained unspoken. Blanc appeared rather to favor a policy of waiting until the outcome of events should have indicated what course to follow, whether that of a triple alliance of Austria, Italy, and France, if the new Germany revealed that its aims were primarily expansionistic, or that of an alliance with Germany, if it showed that it was sated with military conquest, and thus proved suitable to become "the continental base of operations for our future destiny in the Mediterranean, where France, and even Austria as regards the Adriatic, are our natural rivals." Nevertheless, the emphasis he placed on the necessity to facilitate "the natural flows which ought to be established between Germany, the Italian ports, and the Orient," and vice versa his underlining the fact that, before it could even constitute a threat to Italy's frontiers, Germany would have had to swallow up Austria,8 both showed clearly enough in what direction Blanc's sympathies were turning. This was confirmed by the general tone of his public utterance, his repeated affirmation of the necessity of staying close to solid reality, and his polemic against the sentimental tendencies of the Italians—which were really only the so-called Francophile tendencies that had appeared to dominate Italian politics for over a decade.
His opposition to these, together with his awareness of the economic and military force of Prussia, drove him forward intellectually and spiritually, toward a new emotional outlook and new aspirations; Blanc openly declared as much. He did not join with his friends in regretting the fact that Italy had not intervened on the side of Napoleon III, because by maintaining its neutrality Italy had acquired the moral autonomy that the rest of Europe had previously refused it. Just as the death of Cavour not long before had proved that the existence of Italy did not depend on that of one individual, the fall of Napoleon now demonstrated that likewise the fate of the kingdom did not depend on a foreign dynasty. The existence of a united Italy, in sum, had received its anointment from Sedan and from 4 September, not so much because they had made it possible to take the city of Rome, as because Italy had proved by its deeds that it was not a French protectorate, a vassal state. Finally it had a personality of its own, a personality which all could clearly see.
The same set of ideas, taken up by other men on the Right, inspired the campaign in favor of a decisive rapprochement with Germany that Civinini was conducting in the pages of the Nazione of Florence, and reappeared with particular vividness in another of the diplomats who had an active part in Italian foreign policy. A Savoyard like Blanc, and as a result embittered (much more than Blanc) against France for having made him a foreigner in the land of his ancestors, a man of immediate and impetuous reactions, Count Edoardo de Launay, the Italian ambassador at Berlin, had already gone a good deal farther than his colleague in the direction of friendship and alliance with Prussia.
It may be that the declarations of Cavour, which he himself had once been the first to read, still rang in his ears: "we march at the head of the great national party of Italy, just as the Prussian government has placed itself at the head of the German national ideal." In any case he was resolved, implacable, insistent to the point of monotony, in maintaining the necessity of the alliance with Prussia. The time had come to break with France once and for all, with exaggerated French claims to hegemony, with the presumption of tutelage emanating from Paris. He had expressed these opinions forcefully from the onset of the Franco- Prussian War, when Visconti Venosta had warned him, on 23 July, that it was his intention to try to limit the conflict and so remain neutral, but that it was his (Visconti Venosta's) duty to point out that, should it become impossible to maintain neutrality, Italy "would be unable, and I mean this in practically a material sense, to do anything but join with France." This made the fervid Savoyard explode: "My national sentiments revolt at the idea that we cannot be who we are; that we are hitched to France's destiny; that if required to do so we should turn our backs on Germany, to whom the future belongs." For the good of Italy and its ruling dynasty it was now necessary to "make a break with the French claim that they are our protectors, and that we are tugged along in their wake." It was necessary to avoid "the worst sentimental policy of all, that of taking sides with the loser, weaker party as we are." Italy should not let itself be conditioned by a motive from the past, fear of the Germans, because the times of the Holy Roman Empire were distant now, and as for Pan-Germanism (and Pan-Slavism), "those are just big words, and like feux follets they recede when you chase after them."
These ideas were in fact much like those of Blanc, but they were expressed more forcefully and peremptorily, and also more continuously from that time on. For years de Launay never ceased to hammer at the same points in the many reports and private letters he sent from Berlin to the ministry or to colleagues like Robilant: Italy ought to show France its claws and make it abandon the pretensions of superiority it still advanced. Certain of the Prussian victory as early as July 1870, convinced in addition—and he wasn't wrong—that Austria would sooner or later seek the friendship of Germany, he felt free to give vent almost every week to his rancor against France with unusual passion and persuasive force. Though there was no doubt a substantial element of personal human resentment at work beneath the surface in this case, de Launay's private motives were nonetheless only a part of the texture of his more general urge to free Italy from subjection to France. It is a drive that brought de Launay and many others together to form a major stream of opinion running through the history of Italy during the entire nineteenth century.
If in Blanc the triumph of Prussia and the triumph of industrial civilization amounted to the same thing, and if economic considerations therefore came to the fore in his thought, so that his outlook was practically identical to that of a businessman, in de Launay these factors were not given due weight, whereas the much older antipathy to France that had colored so much of Italian thought at the time of the Risorgimento disgorged itself with all the more force. Just as a reaction against French civilisation and its claims to remake everything in its own image had been present during the rise of the German nation in the eighteenth century, from Justus Moser to Herder, along with the exaltation of the primitive Germans and the good old customs of the Saxons, similarly (and with undeniable parallelism) Gallophobia had been one of a number of swelling springs that had burst to the surface at the rise of the Italian nation. It was, as before, a means of defending the national personality and preventing it from being suffocated at birth by excessively faithful imitation of the culture of another people. Alfieri had said as much when he exalted not only the necessity of national "hatreds" in general but also the peculiar necessity for Italy of hatred against France, the indispensable preliminary to its political existence, whatever that was destined to be; and the Saggio Storico of Cuoco had conveyed the same idea in a much more measured fashion. They had been followed by Mazzini, and Gioberti's Primato, and Pisacane. The nature of this anti-French polemic had varied: at times the purely cultural inspiration so vivid in Leopardi predominated, and at others the purely political reasons for it were thrust into the foreground.
Even an insistence on the past glories of the Italian people had an evident anti-French purpose, revealing the same urge to preserve the national self and its own spiritual life by erecting defenses against a force that seemed to have a fatal grip on Europe—the imitation of French examples no matter whether they were good ones or not. Various factors might have combined to smother this resentment against France: Cavour himself; the high regard in which French and English civilization were held as a result of their contribution to Italian liberal thought; above all, the events of 1859. But that is not how it was: the anti-French tradition, continually kept ablaze by Mazzini, had been fueled anew after 1860 for reasons having nothing to do with Mazzinian passions, and not entirely explainable either as a result of Mentana. Rather this came about because of the general complexion of events, for it seemed that the moral and political personality of the new kingdom was dominated, humiliated, and oppressed by that of France, an older nation, great and powerful. It was a case of protector and vassal. Hence Mazzini persisted in his aversion to France, and even a man of an utterly different cast of mind like Ricasoli considered French influence on Italy to be a source of great harm.
Excerpted from Italian Foreign Policy by Federico Chabod, William McCuaig. Copyright © 1996 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Foreword to the Series
Federico Chabod: A Bio-Bibliographical Profile
Federico Chabod, Historian of Italian Foreign Policy
A Note on Sources and Abbreviations
Pt. 1 Passions and Ideas 1
Ch. 1 What Prussia Had to Teach 5
Ch. 2 The Lesson of "Reality" in France 67
Ch. 3 Against the "Realism" of Bismarck 89
Ch. 4 The "Mission" of Rome 147
Ch. 5 Science or Renovatio Ecclesiae? 173
Ch. 6 The Shadow of Caesar 235
Ch. 7 The Anti-Romans 262
Ch. 8 The Conservative Program 271
Ch. 9 Among the Elite 293
Ch. 10 Liberty and Law 325
Ch. 11 The Present and the Future 377
Pt. 2 The Objective World and the World of Men 399
Ch. 12 Finance and the Army 403
Ch. 13 Political Apathy 422
Ch. 14 High Politics or the Politics of Tranquillity? 438
Ch. 15 Emilio Visconti Venosta 467
Ch. 16 Costantino Nigra 496
Ch. 17 Count de Launay 511
Ch. 18 Count di Robilant 515
Ch. 19 Lanza and Minghetti 536
Ch. 20 Vittorio Emanuele II 539