To what extent was Italian unification a 'revolution from above?'

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I would argue that the unification of Italy was largely, but not completely, a “revolution from above.”  I say this because the role of government leaders like Camilo Cavour was, in my view, more important than the role of peasants and others of the lower classes.  The unification of Italy was more important to the people of the middle and upper classes than it was to the lower classes.

We cannot say that the unification of Italy was completely “from above.”  We must recognize that radicals from the lower classes, such as those led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, did play an important role in the unification. If Garibaldi and his Redshirts had not attacked the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (ruled by the Bourbon Dynasty of Spain), it would have been much harder for unification to occur.  It seems clear that Garibaldi and the Redshirts really were examples of the “revolution from below” that Giuseppe Mazzini believed in. 

However, once Garibaldi’s people achieved their success in Southern Italy, they were pushed out of the way.  Camilo Cavour, who was no democrat, was worried by the possibility that Garibaldi’s vision for a republican Italy would come to fruition.  Cavour put monarchist Sardinian troops in Southern Italy to take power away from Garibaldi’s democrats.  Cavour is generally seen as the man who is most responsible for the unification of Italy.  He used his diplomatic skills to make it possible for the various parts of Italy to throw off their foreign masters and unite.  For example, Cavour made the deal with France to give Nice (Garibaldi’s birthplace) and Savoy to France in exchange for French help in driving the Austrians out of Italy.  If Cavour is the person who is most responsible for uniting Italy, it is very hard to see the Italian unification as a popular movement.  In that sense, it is appropriate to describe it as a “revolution from above.”

Clearly, the unification of Italy was largely a revolution from above.  It, like German unification, was driven largely by governmental leaders who wanted to enhance their power and that of the states that they led.  It owed some of its success to the efforts of peasants like the Redshirts, but it was not generally a revolution from below like, for example, the Bolshevik Revolution.

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