The Kingdom Of Italy

The new nation faced many serious problems. A large debt, few natural resources, and almost no industry or transportation facilities combined with extreme poverty, a high illiteracy rate, and an uneven tax structure to weigh heavily on the Italian people. Regionalism was still strong, and only a fraction of the citizens had the right to vote. To make matters worse, the pope, angered over the loss of Rome and the papal lands, refused to recognize the Italian state. In the countryside, banditry and peasant anarchism resulted in government repression, which was often brutal. Meanwhile during the 1880s a socialist movement began to develop among workers in the cities. The profound differences between the impoverished south and the wealthier north widened. Parliament did little to resolve these problems: throughout this so-called Liberal Period (1870-1915), the nation was governed by a series of coalitions of liberals to the left and right of center who were unable to form a clear-cut majority. (The most notable leaders of the period were Francesco Crispi and Giovanni Giolitti.) Despite the fact that some economic and social progress took place before World War I, Italy during that time was a dissatisfied and crisis-ridden nation.

In an attempt to increase its international influence and prestige, Italy joined Germany and Austria in the Triple Alliance in 1882; during the 1890s Italy unsuccessfully tried to conquer Ethiopia; and in 1911 it declared war on Turkey to obtain the North African territory of Libya. After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Italy remained neutral for almost a year while the government negotiated with both sides. In 1915, Italy finally joined the Allies, after having been promised territories that it regarded as "Italia irredenta" (un-liberated Italy). The country was unprepared for a major war, however; aside from a few victories in 1918, Italy suffered serious losses of men, material, and morale. Moreover, despite the efforts of Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando at the Paris Peace Conference, the treaties that followed the war gave Italy only Trentino and Trieste, a small part of the territories it had expected. These disappointments produced a powerful wave of nationalist sentiment against the Allies and the Italian government.

Created: November 1996
Updated: 04/07/01
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