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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: May 2006

2 - Social and political cultures in Italy from 1860 to the present day



It is almost inevitable for historians to look back upon the past with an eye on the present, partly because they are influenced by later developments, and partly because contemporary debates relating to culture, politics and society actively lead them to reconsider past events in a new light, bringing out analogies with and meanings for the present. The collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War have accentuated this tendency. This is not surprising, since the most pressing issues facing Italy today, namely, regional disparities, the need for electoral and institutional change (the creation of a 'Second Republic'), clientelism and corruption, and national unity itself, can be considered as the resurfacing of unresolved problems. Now that the period dominated by the Cold War can be encapsulated within a precise time span, and the transition to a Second Republic is proving less smooth than might have been expected in the early 1990s, it is as if Italy's political agenda is being directly linked to concerns which predate that period and go back to the process of unification. One of these debates focuses on questions of nationhood and identity, questions which Italy is asking together with the rest of Europe, since, almost inevitably, such matters become prominent at moments of great political change. Nevertheless, in Italy these questions seem to revolve specifically around the country’s failure to create a collective national identity. According to the sociologist Roberto Cartocci, Italy’s present-day task is still the one d’Azeglio succinctly summarized after unification in his famous saying: ‘Italy is made; now the Italians must be made.’