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‘Italy Was Not United, but Conquered’. Discuss This Assessment of Italian Unification.

  • Date Submitted: 12/05/2012 09:13 AM
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‘Italy was not united, but conquered’. Discuss this assessment of Italian unification.
The unification of Italy was largely the work of Cavour, prime minister of the Northern Italian state of Piedmont. Were it not for the modernisation of Piedmont, the expulsion of Austria from the Italian peninsula and it’s ultimate unification would have been very unlikely1. In 1796, when Napoleon had overrun Italy, the peninsula simply comprised of a patchwork of states and principalities, with little sense of being a cohesive, single entity. Italy at this time was merely ‘A geographical expression’ as Metternich so poignantly described it in 1814. To a degree therefore, one must argue that Italy was conquered by Piedmont, as it brought all the other states under its control. It is highly unlikely this would have happened organically, through nationalistic movements such as Mazzini’s ‘Young Italy’. However, ‘conquered’ is too sweeping a statement, as nationalism was doubtless a key driver towards Italy’s overall unification. With nationalistic ideas and feelings spread throughout the middle classes with the help of movements such as the Risorgimento and government propaganda from Piedmont, there was a strong willing throughout the educated people that Italy should be unified2. One cannot therefore dismiss the fact that Italy was partially ‘united’, as there was significant pressure amongst the intelligentsia for a one nation state, modelled on France and Britain for example. During this essay, I will explore to what extent Italy was united and to what extent Italy was conquered, as neither can be taken as the direct answer. Throughout the period of Italian unification, nationalism was gaining momentum amongst the educated classed, with movements such as the Risorgimento spreading ideals of a one nation state headed under a strong, centralised government. This enthusiasm for nationalism was not adopted by the masses however, meaning it was never typically a popular movement....

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