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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Italy and Germany as Nation-states, 1871–1914


The two newly minted nation-states followed economic and social trajectories that initially diverged, until the industrialization of north Italy began to close the gap. Their core institutions, and above all the armies that underwrote the state's solidity and promised further expansion, continued to differ in their centrality to society, their degree of independence within the state, and – most fateful of all – in their internal cultures. Yet as Italy and Germany crossed the threshold of mass politics in the decades before 1914, their parliamentary systems came to mirror in parallel ways the divisions within their societies. In both countries the quasi-autocratic power of the executive withstood and thwarted the claims of twin mass forces: socialism and organized Catholicism. And the national myths, although differing in virulence and penetration, nevertheless proved similarly if not equally disruptive to domestic and European order.


The quasi-contemporaneity of Italian and German territorial unification partially masked differences fundamental to the two societies' roles in the coming century. The economic primacy in continental Europe that Germany achieved by 1913 through coal, steel, and its possession of the largest, most literate, and most highly skilled population in Europe gave it a power potential that seemingly authorized the far-reaching goals its intellectuals had long conceived. Italy's modest achievements, its relative poverty in energy and other resources, and above all the burden of the South made progress fitful and intermittent until the end of the century.