- The Failure of Italian Nationhood: The Geopolitics of a Troubled Identity
In its journey from the French and Italian to the English version, the title of this book has become less tentative and more pessimistic: while it originally read "Italy without Nation?" three years later it reads The Failure of Italian Nationhood. What justifies the radical reassessment implied in the new title? Unfortunately, Graziano does not enlighten us on the reasons for this change—and they may be purely editorial, as often happens. One thing is certain: the English title of this book will make the secession-threatening and xenophobic Northern League quite happy— if they ever bother to read a book in English (or a book at all), that is.
Questions of title aside, the volume is an essay on the trajectory of modern Italy that intends to explain to a foreign observer the "profound changes that are under way in Italian politics, and, more generally in Italian society" (p. vii). Graziano finds the explanation in the longue durée (mostly the past two hundred years—since the beginning of the struggle for unification—with some inroads in earlier times) and in structural weaknesses persisting over this period. Among these, the country's "endemic low productivity" and the "weak" national identity of the Italians combined with the pressures coming from the international context play, according to Graziano, a pivotal role. The starting point of the essay is thus the troubled present of the country, declining economically and then still in the clutches of media tycoon Berlusconi and his ally, the Northern League. It is in light of this present that the author reads the overall history of the country since the time of its formation. Italians themselves are familiar with the genre: a bird's eye view of the history of the country often narrated as a sequence of failures, starting with the "original sin" (as the title of the foreword reads), namely—in Gramscian terms—the "revolution without a revolution" that was the struggle for national unification.
Graziano maintains that the country never really overcame its original problems in the course of its history as a unified state. From the beginning it was very divided and "backward" in socioeconomic terms, and it achieved unification in ways that had not been planned and through the help of foreign intervention in a process marred by the absence of popular participation. Italians had a culture but were not a "nation" (whatever that means, which is never clarified), and the Piedmontese, leading the process of unification, encountered the opposition of other inhabitants of the peninsula who resisted the former's attempts [End Page 488] to make the country in their image; given the power of the Roman Catholic Church, the only national identity the Italians ever got was a Catholic one, and of a "counter-Reformist" type to boot. After unification, political transformism was the dominant form of politics among its elites. The failure of liberal transformism led to fascism (which the author considers just another form of transformism), and the fall of fascism in turn led to a period of limited sovereignty and the dominance of the Christian Democratic party supported by the Vatican and the United States. This new period saw another failure: that of the "democratic nationalization" of the country in the middle of its "economic miracle." The 1990s and the process of European integration brought a new series of constraints that reshaped alignments in a party system where most of the old players had disappeared. In the current crisis, the only strong institution left is, again, the Catholic Church.
In a text that brings together analyses and interpretations of various origins and degrees of plausibility, the author sounds more convincing when he stresses the impact of the international context in shaping the domestic and foreign policies of Italy, a weak player at times lacking autonomy and a clear direction in the foreign policy sphere. Graziano is also right to emphasize the power and the role of the Roman Catholic Church...