The Kingdom of Two Sicilies and the Italian unification – An outlook

It is worldwide known that Italy, at the time of its unification (1861) had to endure the burden of a South, barbaric and backward, due to centuries of bad government and eventually to the kings belonging to the Borboni dynasty. The fact that it is worldwide known, however, does not mean that it’s true.

History is written by the winners: we are fully aware of the official story, that for a century and a half has been studied in schools. However illustrious historians and economists, de Cesare and de Sivo in the years immediately after the unification, then the studies of public finance of Francesco Saverio Nitti, in the early twentieth century, have questioned these assumptions, and some of them have even claimed that the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies  was, among the states before the unification of Italy, the most advanced.

The question arises: where is the truth?

The phenomenon of historical manipulation, defined by Denis Mack Smith and described, albeit in a fantastic way, by Orwell in “1984”, is a recurring phenomenon in the history of all peoples.

As far as the Italian unification is concerned, it is objectively demonstrated that the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies has been subject to a heavily slanderous international action, starting from 1850, and subsequently to a historical manipulation after unification. Perhaps, such manipulation could be justified by the attempt to create the Italian nation that actually existed only minimally and that in fact has been born, many decades later, in the trenches of the First World War (1915-18) where people from various parts of Italy, facing the death together, day afterday discovered themselves being Italians.

The main grievances against Two Sicilies originated from London: in particular John Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston, Prime Minister from 1855 to 1858 and then from 1859 to 1865, aimed at controlling the production of Sicilian sulfur, for which he had held a dispute in 1838, when King Ferdinand II had awarded the monopoly, previously in English hand, to a French company.

At that time, sulfur was  necessary for the production of gunpowder and therefore, since the eighteenth century, had become a raw material of strategic importance. Sicily held a de facto monopoly of the production, that covered about 90% of world production.

In Italy, even today, there is identification between patriotism and the Risorgimento: however, it is an identification to be reviewed. If patriot is one who defends his homeland, in 1796 the patriots were not those few intellectuals Jacobins who created puppet governments in support to the French armies, but the insurgents who fought for their country, secular and legitimate.

In Southern Italy, between 1861 and 1870, the patriots were those who fought to defend the independence of their country and that are historically knows as brigands. Do not forget that, if the Germans had won World War II, the partisans today, in school books, would be defined “banditen”.

Marcello Veneziani also notes that the Risorgimento caused, for its prominent anticlerical and liberal matrix, “the break with the religious soul of the Italian people, the break with the rural world and with the values of a civilization, the break with the South “.

Interesting, in this regard, are the poinits of view of Denis Mack Smith and Paolo Mieli.

  • Mack Smith said “contrary to the version told in official history books, the southern people did not participate in the Risorgimento” and
  • Mieli adds: “The season of the Risorgimento and Post-Risorgimento is made of thousands of deaths, fights, shootings, massacres. We lived a long civil war, of the outcasts against the ‘good people’. The people, especially in southern Italy, was in opposition, since the time of the Napoleonic invasions [the so-called ‘uprisings’ against the French that caused tens of thousands of victims for 19 years, until 1815]. The people stood hostile, because it was linked to Bourbon authorities, not perceived as an enemy, and to the Catholic Church. The phenomenon mentioned in our textbooks as banditry actually was a civil war that devastated the entire South, the losers had to leave their lands and fuel the massive emigration to America. “

Such studies should not be seen as in contrast to the union of Italy, it would not make any sense. We believe that, after more than 150 years, it is time to see the facts through a cold and aseptic historical view, instead of  dogmatically accepting the history made by the winners.

In reality, due to the limits of human nature, any sound historical review can be made only after the death  of the participants to the events together with all those who knew them personally; we acknowledge that there are different points of view, completely different from ours, that we respect without sharing them.

Let’s start with a couple of considerations that may seem obvious:

  1. That the South today is a depressed area does not need to prove it, we all know this and it is not the place to ask why. The question we ask is: in 1860 the South (defined as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, or better, like Naples and Sicily separately) was a more depressed area than the North or not? This is a historical fact, we must seek the truth and not reject it “because it might give the impression that the unification of Italy is not a value”. We must look at the real figures:  we then shall see that the assertion that the South was more depressed and is not as obvious as it seems, and therefore deserves to be further investigated.
  2. The peoples of the South as well as of the Centre of Italy (unlike Northern people) did not want the unit; this is easier to demonstrate than the previous point, just consider more than ten years of rebellion (known to history as banditry) and, subsequently, the heavy emigration. We cannot continue to pretend that Garibaldi has conquered Italy the South with an expedition of a thousand men, when in fact to conquer the South it took 80,000 to 120,000 men for about ten years.

We believe that only reviewing its history and re-establishing the truth and an objective, historical memory, Italy can overcome the problems arising from the initial injury to its identity and whose most obvious manifestations are the systematic self-denigration as well as the priority given to anti-values than the values (anti-communism, anti-fascism, anti-clericalism, anti-NATO, no-TAV, anti-globalization, no-EXPO and so on and so forth).

Some further  questions arise spontaneously:

  1. Can we still believe in the history presenting the Bourbon Kingdom as the most regressed and hated in Italy?
  2. How can we explain the fact that, before 1861, there was not any migration, and that, after that date have migrated millions of desperate people?
  3. There is an explanation to the tragic and heroic phenomenon of pro-Bourbon uprising of 1860-1865?
  4. Why in 1860 the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was not able to defend itself and maintain its independence?

As far as the last point is concerned, we must to point out that the foreign politics of Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were weak.

Ferdinand II, who had previously refused the Italian crown offered to him by the liberals (1831),  was living under the false security of the borders given  by ”the  salt and the holy water “. He had embarked on a policy to autonomy from the great powers of the time, thus making many enemies. After the disappointments of 1848, he had accentuated its policy of isolation.

Piedmont on the other hand, mainly thanks to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the most prominent statesman in Italy at that time, managed to be considered, both in France and in England, as the representative of the entire Italian nation. At the beginning, Cavour’s objectives were not so vast: he was aiming at just an extension of Piedmont, through the expulsion of Austria from Italy and the passage of the entire northern Italy under the crown of the Kingdom of Sardinia.

When we attempt a historical revision or reconstruction, it is important to refer to the mentality and the legislative framework and social of the time, not to the current ones. Moreover, we must avoid being influenced by political or ideological conclusions or consequences that can be drawn from the historical reconstruction, in a more or less instrumental way:  history deals with past events, not with their use for current purposes.

Eventually, we wish to point out that we must go back to the time of Justinian to find in Italy a unitary state, which broke with the Lombard invasion of 568 a.Ch; certainly, in the nineteenth century Italian unification it was a geopolitical necessity, since small states would not have been able to develop and perhaps even survive in comparison with the great European powers. The same problem arose, in the same period, for the German states. However, the unification of Germany was carried out in a smooth and less traumatic way, respectful of local communities and of their peculiarities: the individual kingdoms were maintained, even in the context of a supranational structure, until after the First World War. The unification of Italy, however, was obtained by a military conquest and the subsequent creation of a centralized state, that realized for decades a policy of piemontesizzazione.

The representation of the Mezzogiorno, namely of the provinces of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, as a single block of economic and social backwardness is not based on history and real data, his genesis is from ideological nature. In fact, in 1860,  the Kingdom was incorporated in a larger system, in which there were the seeds of capitalist development and transformation of the administrative monarchy in a liberal regime, that is, the seeds of a different model. From that comes the economic and political subordination of the South in relation to other parts of Italy, also because of “systematic and gradual demolition of an immensity of institutions, of interest by local authorities” denounced by the jurist Pasquale Stanislao Mancini (1817-1888), who had produced “an injury too extensive and profound.”

Regarding industrialization, there is no doubt that there was a liveliness in the South, which could be the prelude to an industrial revolution, liveliness comparable and in some respects superior to what was going on, in the same years, in  the North. The real Industrial Revolution began later on, in the North in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, while  the South returned to an agricultural economy. However, agricultural development was slower than that of other parts of Italy, and in particular the Pianura Padana, whose agriculture could be transformed with the spread of irrigation on a large scale while the South was and remained poor of water.

The gap between North and South deepened progressively: still recoverable in the late nineteenth century became unbridgeable in the following decades. The causes of the growth of this gap are beyond the scope of those notes.

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