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An unwelcome Sister Republic: Re-reading political relations between the Cisalpine Republic and the French Directory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2020

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Summary

In the Italian historical and political tradition, it is rather commonplace to emphasize the decisive role of revolutionary France in the genesis of modern Italy. In the depiction of the triennio– from Napoleon's descent in 1796 to the overthrow of the Italian republics in 1799 – there are several critical evaluations of the French occupation, which focus on two different aspects of this occupation. First, the Parisian Directory is said to be guilty of introducing an oppressive fiscal system, plundering Italian resources and appropriating Italy's extraordinary artistic heritage. And second, France is said to have hindered Italy's political modernization by interfering with efforts made by the Italians themselves.

Both these accusations have different origins that need to be briefly explained. The first critique originates from the counter-revolutionary political discourse following the Catholic denunciation of 1789. It remained alive throughout the nineteenth century and re-emerged during Italy’s fascist period, especially in the ultra-nationalistic criticism of France. However, it is the second accusation – the obstruction of Italy's political independence – that has gained the most attention. The denunciation of French oppression fomented the national movement in the nineteenth century; in the aftermath of Italian unification, it sustained the pretence of an Italian Sonderweg to modernity. From this very aspect rose the assumption of originality: the Italian eighteenth-century patriots were no longer depicted as base imitators of the French model.

This explains why the Parisian Directory has always been represented as a foreign system that repressed the national aspirations of the Italian patriots. The persistence of this emphasis on the anti-Italian aspect reached its climax during the fascist era and broke down after the Second World War. In the historiographical debate after the overthrow of fascism, the Jacobin years now became crucial, because in the triennio it was possible to find an alternative Italian political tradition that was democratic and republican. It is true that this tradition was eventually defeated by the Napoleonic system, but even this breakdown could be put to use to explain the democratic asphyxia of contemporary Italian political culture.

Type
Chapter
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The Political Culture of the Sister Republics, 1794-1806
France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy
, pp. 211 - 218
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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