During the late nineteenth century, desire for political reform swept through Europe. Modern ideas like nationalism, socialism, and more became increasingly popular amongst the working-class citizens of European countries. Unfortunately, many government systems were not properly equipped to handle the conflict brought about by rising political, social, and economic dissatisfaction, meaning that most attempts at political reform ended disastrously.
One prime example of a political disaster is the creation and unification of the state of Italy. Prior to becoming a single state, the various territories on the Italian peninsula were governed mainly by oppressive foreign powers. The northern territory, called Piedmont-Sardinia, was ruled by Austria, and southern areas such as Naples and Sicily were ruled by the Spanish Bourbons. (Berman, 126). Thus, we see that one of the main motivating factors behind unifying the Italian peninsula was to rid the territories of their oppressive outside governments. In order to do so, an Italian nationalist named Garibaldi worked together with the prime minster of Piedmont and the French emperor, and together they successfully removed the Austrians from the north and drove the Bourbons out of the southern territories. By 1870, Italy was a unified state.
However, although the Kingdom of Italy was now unified geographically, there remained a few crucial issues: creating a new political system for the entire kingdom, and unifying the Italian citizens culturally. Because the northern territory, Piedmont, was the most economically and politically advanced, their government “extended its constitution to the rest of the peninsula” (Berman, 134). This process, known as “Peidmontization,” was received quite poorly in the southern areas of Italy, and understandably so. The south was vastly different than the north in political, economic, and cultural aspects. Most of the southern people were illiterate and spoke a different language than the northern Italians (Berman, 149). Piedmont’s attempt to force their own constitution and government onto a completely different group of people was a huge culture shock for the people of the south. Furthermore, southern people began to perceive this new northern government as an equally oppressive replacement for the Spanish Bourbons. “Italy thus began its existence with a deeply divided citizenry as well as deep divisions between its citizens and their states” (Berman, 135).
Around the exact time that Italy was struggling to become unified, another set of European states were also working toward unification. Led by the Prussian prime minister, Otto Von Bismarck, several small German states warred with neighboring territories in order to expand and secure their borders. Their military victories “enhanced German patriotism and the willingness of the smaller German states to join a larger union” (Berman, (149). On top of this, the new German citizens had quite literally earned their new kingdom and conquered territories using their own military forces, whereas Italy received outside help from the French military. Moreover, the German population was more educated than the Italian population. “About 80 to 90 percent [of the German population was] literate, as well as largely linguistically homogenous” (Berman, 149). Because the Germans had a common language, they were able to better understand the political changes that were occurring within the new German state.
After Italy and Germany were unified, politicians within both new governments developed questionable methods of acquiring and retaining power. During Italian elections, government elites used a technique known as “trasformismo” to maintain their political positions. Trasformismo involved making deals and bribes in order to secure support from others or gain voters, and it essentially “undermined the functioning and legitimacy of parliament” (Berman, 139). Similarly, when Otto Von Bismarck began feeling that his power in Germany was being threatened by certain political and religious groups, he orchestrated several deliberate attacks against these groups. One group that he targeted was the socialist democrat party. Bismarck deceived German citizens into thinking that the socialists had malicious intentions by blaming them for several assassination attempts on the emperor. Here we see that corruption and deceit plagued both the Italian government and the German government, diminishing their political credibility. In the coming months and years, this corruption would be one of the central reasons that both the Italian and German governments became unstable, even to the point of collapse.
Berman, Sheri. Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day