- Political History in Italy
This review essay is fundamentally devoted to the analysis of the numerous contributions on political history in Italy published after 1945. It focuses attention on some specific actors, problems, and events, particularly the impact of Fascism on postwar Italian politics, the evolution of the Italian Communist party, the role of the Christian Democrats, and the debate on the Italian identity in order to provide an evaluation of the overall evolution of the Italian parliamentary Republic, including its transformation and its incomplete and ongoing political and institutional transition. Although obviously Italian politics was affected by the Cold War in a way that remains difficult to properly assess, I will not deal with foreign policy issues because it is a topic that has its own autonomy and would require a different essay and a different approach. Finally, I will refer the reader essentially to books, with few notable exceptions, and not to articles published in Italian by Italian historians with the aim of conveying the essentials of the historical debate and production, which has been quite intense in Italy. I will make only a few references to foreign historians and even less to works published by sociologists and political scientists, unless they have affected the historical debate. In general, the large number of books devoted to the analysis of Italian history reveals the existence of many unsolved problems concerning the periodization, that is, the identification of different political phases; the evaluation of several factors, for instance, the weight of the past and the type of continuity, if any, with the fascist period; the existence and, if possible, the construction of a common and shared memory, and the transformation of the political system that has characterized Italy in the postwar period.
While the historical debate is undoubtedly quite rich, it has also become considerably politicized, even more so in the past decade or so, due to the [End Page 282] bitter and harsh confrontation between two political coalitions: the center-left and the center-right. Since the center-left includes former Communists of all shades and the center-right includes former neofascists, Italian history, its interpretation and its revision, have often been branded as political weapons in order to delegitimize the opponents by pointing to their more or less redoubtable heritage. This confrontation has produced two consequences. First, it is now extremely evident that it has become well-nigh impossible to construct an Italian identity based on shared historical memories. Second, it has also become increasingly difficult to teach Italian history in junior high schools and in high schools without encountering criticisms from local authorities and many of the children's parents. More than a decade ago, the teaching of "civic education," substantially devoted to an analysis of the Italian Constitution and the way it was drafted, by which cultural and political forces, in reaction to fascism, following the war of liberation against the Fascists and the Nazis, had become quite controversial. It was often carried out blandly, in an ineffective and simply unexciting manner. Hence, it was quickly dropped. The consequence is that the new generations of students know less about Italian history and, what is worse, that Italian history remains an object of political and cultural controversy, nourished by a what nonprofessional historians called "revisionists." Though some of their works, especially those by the journalist Giampaolo Pansa, have sold tens of thousands of copies, they do not contain anything that is new and convincingly researched, but present stridently polemical attacks against an idealized view of the Resistance: too little to deserve a full quotation.
Because of the wealth of available material, this review will inevitably be selective, though not idiosyncratic. I will refer readers not only to some important monographs, but to the many studies that provide a comprehensive view of post-1945 Italian history and politics. Though it is difficult to evaluate the weight transmitted by the past to the Italian democratic regime that emerged after 1945, there is no doubt that the issue of how much and which continuity and discontinuity have characterized at least the first phase of the Republic (for most historians up to the mid-1970s) has affected many...