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The Liberal Idea in 19th Century Italy: Building a New Science of Politics

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Sabetti, Filippo
Conference: Varieties of Liberal Thought in Nineteenth-Century Europe, American Political Science Association Meetings
Location: San Francisco, California
Conf. Date: August 30-September 2
Date: 2001
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4801
Sector: Social Organization
Region: Europe
Subject(s): liberalism
governance and politics
Tocqueville, Alexis de
Abstract: "Liberal ideas in France grew within a long-established state, with the result that they sought either to reconceptualize political power (Guizot) or to challenge the very entrenched view of that state (Tocqueville). By contrast, liberal ideas in Italy combined with nationalism to generate a variety of ways to achieve national as well as individual liberation. The prospect of a single political regime for the entire Italian peninsula and islands generated considerable debate as to what kind of liberal, constitutional design or model of government was best suited to a population that had lived under separate and diverse political regimes for more than thirteen hundred years. This debate gave rise to two broad currents of thought and action known as moderate liberalism and radical, or democratic, liberalism. Both were intended to realize, promote and advance what has been called "the liberal conception of European history" (Tilly 1975, 37). But the two differed on some fundamental aspects. The first derived from notions of constitutional monarchy and representative government, drawing support from the British experience and particularly the work of John Stuart Mill; the other rejected constitutional monarchy and went beyond representative government to include principles for a self-governing, as opposed to state-governed, society, drawing support from Tocqueville's analysis of democracy in America. The first is closely associated with the Piedmontese Prime Minister Cavour and the creation of the Italian state; the other with the Milanese writer Carlo Cattaneo and the constitutional design that did not happen, the defeated federalist alternative. The net result was that, while the former lent support to the entrenched European view of the state, the latter lent support to a non-unitary, polycentric, political order. For this reason, Cavour and Cattaneo could agree on the basic features of incivilimento or progress in Europe and even on how to resolve the Irish question, but they could not agree on what system of government was best suited to a free and united Italy. I have elsewhere discussed the chains of events that created the prospect of a single political regime for the entire Italian peninsula and islands, the considerable debate it generated as to which constitutional design or model of governance was best suited to a pluralist society like Italy and the chain of events that weighted the result of the Risorgimento in favor of the creation of the state organized as a milder form of the French system of centralized government and administration to minimize the problems of bureaucratic preemption and failure associated with the French case (Sabetti 2000: chaps. 2-3). In this paper, I propose to focus, more specifically, on how liberal ideas were used to provide an Italian parallel to what Tocqueville sought to do by examining Carlo Cattaneo's attempt to fashion a new science of politics for a self-governing society."

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