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Review: Which Italy?

Italian Culture and the Problem of Politics Author(s): Lucy Riall Reviewed work(s): Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 by Ruth Ben-Ghiat The Politics of Italian National Identity: A Multidisciplinary Perspective by Gino Bedani ; Bruce Haddock Racial Theories in Fascist Italy by Aaron Gillette Between Hollywood and Moscow: The Italian Communists and the Challenge of Mass Cultur ... Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp. 437-446 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 11/02/2009 06:36
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London,Thousand Oaks, CA and Journal Contemporary of HistoryCopyright? 2004 SAGEPublications, New Delhi, Vol 39(3), 437-446. ISSN0022-0094. DOI: 10.1177/0022009404044449


Review Article Which Italy? Italian Culture and the Problem of Politics

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, University of California Press, 2001; pp. x + 317; ISBN 0 520 22363 2 Gino Bedani and Bruce Haddock (eds), The Politics of Italian National Identity: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2000; pp. vi + 296; ISBN 0 7083 1622 0 Aaron Gillette, Racial Theories in Fascist Italy, London, Routledge, 2002; pp. viii + 247; ISBN 0 415 25292 X Stephen Gundle, Between Hollywood and Moscow: The Italian Communists and the Challenge of Mass Culture, 1943-1991, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2000; pp. x + 269; ISBN 0 8223 2530 6 (hbk); 0 8223 2563 2 (pbk) Albert Russell Ascoli and Kyrstyna von Henneberg (eds), Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento, Oxford, Berg, 2001; pp. xviii + 332; ISBN 1 85973 447 2 (hbk); 1 85973 452 9 (pbk) Glenda Sluga, The Problem of Trieste and the Italo-Yugoslav Border: Difference, Identity, and Sovereignty in Twentieth-Century Europe, Albany, NY, State University of New York Press, 2001; pp. xvi + 261; ISBN 0 7914 4823 1 (hbk); 0 7914 4824 X (pbk) The image of Italy as a failed nation is a pervasive one. Nationalism in Italy was born from a sense of weakness: of resistance to Napoleon's conquests; of inferiority towards Italy's neighbours, and of loss relative to a glorious past. Nationalism's most vigorous promoters felt let down by national unification; attempts by liberal governments to 'make' a united Italy were unpopular and fruitless; Mussolini's effort to create 'new' Italians led to catastrophe; and, over a hundred years after unification, the 'Northern League' has challenged the political and economic assumptions of national unity. Even nationalism's appeal in Italy comes from a feeling of failure, offering as it does the dream of regeneration (risorgimento), against which the squalid state of the present-day nation is judged and found lacking. As David Forgacs remarks, 'each country tends to develop ... a set of narratives of its own relationship to nationhood', and Italy's version is 'tragic', a story of successive 'inadequacies and failures'


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('The Mass Media and the Question of a National Community in Italy' in The Politics of National Identity, 144). Equally, it was disappointment with Italian nationalism, and a particular dislike of how its rhetoric of decay and regeneration had been used by the fascists, which led historians in the postwar period away from the study of nationalist politics and towards an interest in social classes, economic development and problems of state formation. Initially, this shift took place on the left. It formed part of a much broader opposition to the philosophical idealism of Croce, which was associated with the shortcomings of pre-war liberalism, and of a strategy which sought to replace Crocean idealism with the historical materialism of the Marxist activist, Antonio Gramsci. The move was given added vitality with the arrival in Italy of the 'new social history' during the 1970s and early 1980s, with its emphasis on social science methodologies, 'common people' and the longue duree. Nationalism was relegated to a secondary role. Considered the cultural expression of an ineffectual elite in the nineteenth century and a political excuse for war and dictatorship in the twentieth, nationalism in Italy became symptomatic of a process of social and economic change which was conceptualized as 'failed modernization'.1 The equation of failure with the Italian nation is analysed by Silvana Patriarca in her stimulating essay, 'National Identity or National Character? New Vocabularies and Old Paradigms', the concluding chapter to Ascoli and von Henneberg's volume, Making and Remaking Italy. For Patriarca, many current debates about Italian national identity merely repeat older worries about the 'national character'. Hence, Italian identity is depicted 'almost exclusively as a problem .... Italians do not really have a nation, but have a character all the same, and it does not make for a pleasant sight.' To talk of Italian identity is to talk of its lack, or to talk of Italian 'vices' (300). These are invariably attributed to a lack of modernity or to a 'modernity deficit' (303), and whether this deficit is blamed on the 'anti-industrialism' of intellectuals, the 'transformism' of politicians, or the attachment to family and a corresponding lack of 'civic spirit', it derives, Patriarca argues, from a fundamental assumption about the Italian national character, that is, its association with a 'traditional' and 'backward' society with atavistic features that can only be eradicated by modernity itself. In this way, she suggests, the discourse on national character in Italy also reflects the cultural and ideological 'project' of intellectuals who articulate, judge and interpret Italian history. Debates about what it means to be Italian involve, on the one hand, a process of 'intense selfexamination' and, on the other, an attempt to remake Italian culture according to a new set of 'modern' values and ideals (311). Thus, an 'actual', negative (and usually stereotypical) model of the Italian 'character' is counterpoised to an idealized, positive version and, implicitly or explicitly, discussions about

1 For an overview, see Lucy Riall, The Italian Risorgimento. State, Society and National Unification (London 1994), esp. 1-10.

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what Italians are (backward, corrupt, idle), mask an underlying argument about what Italians should be (modern, moral, healthy), and vice versa. In constructions of, and debates on, Italian national identity, the past has come to be pressed into the service of the present and future. Nowhere is the use of history more clear than in the Risorgimento (the period of Italy's 'resurgence', c.1815-70). As Adrian Lyttleton shows ('Creating a National Past: History, Myth and Image in the Risorgimento', also in Ascoli and von Henneberg's volume), nationalists in early nineteenth-century Italy looked for their 'foundation story' and (absent) national traditions in Romantic historical culture. Historical novels, opera and painting played a crucial role in diffusing 'a sense of the national past' and 'creating a mood of passionate participation' in nineteenth-century Italian politics (31). Two crucial and related points emerge from Lyttleton's analysis. First, he takes issue with Ernest Gellner's assertion that "the cultural shreds and patches used by nationalism are often

arbitraryinventions.Any old shred and patch would have served as well"'

(quoted on 27-8, Lyttleton's emphasis). Instead, according to Lyttleton, 'the way in which the national past is reconstructed is not a matter of political and cultural indifference.... It matters whether parliament, the monarchy, the city or the folk community is cast as the protagonist of the story' (29). Thus, it was important that nationalism looked to Romanticism. In Italy, Romanticism represented 'the revolt against established authority' (32); it proposed 'the dethronement of the hero or central figure' in literature and painting (33); it argued that 'love of family was a necessary foundation for love of country' (36); and it looked back to the medieval period of communal independence and to the Catholic Church, rather than to the classical tradition and Imperial Rome. Italian nationalists in the Risorgimento chose to construct a past for their nation which was autonomous, republican and democratic. But, secondly, the importance of the past to the present meant that it became 'the terrain of vigorous contest between rival groups', with an outcome which was 'important for the direction taken by national culture' (29). As nationalists fell out with each other and with the Church, and as some groups made compromises with the monarchy, stories held to be emblematic of the national tradition the Lombard League, the Sicilian Vespers - were re-interpreted and given a more conservative twist. As democratic nationalism declined, 'civic history lost ground to dynastic history' (60) as the basis for Italy's national traditions. The studies by Lyttleton and Patriarca establish a useful set of parameters for understanding the construction and interpretation of Italian national identity more generally. As essays in the same volume and in The Politics of Italian Identity indicate, as soon as the Risorgimento ended (with the capture of Rome in 1870), it became modern Italy's main 'foundation story', and was used to provide a sense of continuity and mask the changing reference points of culture and political life. Thus, the essays by Fogu, Forgacs and Dainotto in Making and Remaking Italy describe how fascist constructions of national identity were intended to consolidate, direct and absorb Risorgimento narratives. Yet these narratives themselves were endlessly contestable. As Fogu


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shows, fascist attempts to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Garibaldi's death, and to use the occasion to 'fascistize' the Risorgimento hero, led to 'a puzzling struggle' between rival renditions of Garibaldi and of fascism, where the leftist version of Ezio Garibaldi, the hero's (pro-fascist) son, clashed with Mussolini's personal and more conservative one ('"'To Make History": Garibaldianism and the Formation of a Fascist Historic Imaginary', Making and Remaking Italy, 207, 213). As a central part of nationalist discourse and, hence, political legitimacy, the Risorgimento itself became 'the terrain of vigorous contest between rival groups', and even of conflict between different interests within the fascist regime. Reflecting on the continuity of nationalist discourse in Italy, some historians have argued that there was much ideological common ground between fascism, anti-fascism and the Cold War period. Jonathan Dunnage shows how, after the fall of Mussolini and the division of Italy in 1943, the opposing forces of Republican fascism and the Resistance both used the same language and visual imagery, laid claim to the same national ideals inherited from the Risorgimento, and bemoaned the same weaknesses in the Italian character. There was, he concludes, a 'subconscious transfer of Fascist or nationalist values' in the 'conversion' of Italians to the cause of Resistance ('Making Better Italians', The Politics of Italian Identity, 207). However, other studies indicate that Dunnage confuses the use of nationalist discourse with its underlying meanings and associations. Forgacs suggests that words derived from the Risorgimento, like 'patria' ('fatherland') and 'popolo' ('people'), as well as some of the images associated with them, were 'continuous', in that they could survive fascism and anti-fascism and last into the postwar era, but that they also had 'changing articulations', in that they acquired different meanings through 'collocation with other concepts and images in a politically-charged discursive context' ('"Nostra patria": Revisions of the Risorgimento in the Cinema, 1925-52', Making and Remaking Italy, 270).2 For example, the film 1860, Blasetti's 1934 production about Garibaldi's expedition to Sicily, seems, in Forgacs's words, 'to have been made with clear fascist intentions and to have been part of a wider ideological project of deriving Fascism from the Risorgimento'. In the postwar context, however, these same elements in the film could be recycled and rearticulated, or 'combined with different extratextual elements which change their meaning and allow the Risorgimento to be linked to the Resistance' (ibid., 265). A distinction should be made, therefore, between, on the one hand, a persistent sense of 'Italianness' and 'a common stock of shared nationalist terms' (Forgacs, 'Mass Media', 154), and, on the other, the shifting meanings and reference points of nationalist discourse. A collective identity 'is not a state but a process' (ibid., 143), and what it meant to be Italian was far from stable. One effect of Forgacs's argument is to redirect our attention away from the
is 2 'Articulation' a term borrowedfrom ErnestoLaclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory:Capitalism Fascism Populism(London1977).

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study of national identity tout court and towards the 'changing articulations' of terms like 'liberty' and 'nation' with 'empire', 'race' and 'war' in the fascist period, or with 'communism' and 'liberation' in the anti-fascist period (Forgacs, '"Nostra patria"', 268). We might also conclude that historians of national identity need to be still more sensitive to the political and cultural context of nationalist discourse, and that they should look more closely at the dialogue between political leaders, cultural elites and the general public, and at who is controlling the nationalist discourse, and to what effect. Ruth Ben-Ghiat's Fascist Modernities has much to tell us about the dialogue between Italy's political leaders and its intellectuals over the control of Italian culture. She examines the fascist regime's project of 'national regeneration and international conquest' (2), or its aim of 'remaking' and 'modernizing' Italy along fascist lines. In particular, she analyses how culture was used to make these ideals seem acceptable and commonplace. Fascism, according to BenGhiat, initially won the support of many intellectuals for its modernizing project, in part because it offered a reassuring solution to the problem of modernity which reconciled tradition and innovation. Fascism 'offered the fantasy of a mass society that allowed economic development without harm to social boundaries and national traditions . .. [where] the spaces of modernity ... would lose their associations with social anarchy and instead function as sites that reinforced order and hierarchy' (3). The regime won the support of intellectuals by more active means too. It sought to 'control and neutralize' (61) intellectuals through the use of patronage; subsidies, privileges and prizes were given to artists and novelists loyal to the regime while dissidents were excluded from jobs and influence. An ostensibly pluralistic, open and 'ostentatiously "tolerant" stance' (9) was also adopted towards the cultural sphere. Foreign exhibitions and intellectuals were brought to Italy, festivals celebrating new film and music were organized, and fascism was put "'on display" in order to cultivate tourism, foreign currency holdings, and the cult of bella figura' (35). The outcome of this strategy was to 'entangle' intellectuals in fascist policy and institutions and create a form of 'collective complicity' with the regime (10). 'Temperament, talent, personal finances, and patronage connections', all this, in Ben-Ghiat's words, 'determined how each individual navigated the shifting sea of fascist culture', so that by the late 1930s, 'with few exceptions, the climate of conformism and intimidation had a normalizing effect on the comportment, career choices, and creative work of intellectuals of all ages'. Some drifted away from the avant-garde and towards cultural obedience, others retreated into cultural isolation, 'sadness' and resignation (121). Yet the aim of making a national culture and 'reclaiming' it along fascist lines was less than successful. Exposure to alternative models of modernity, especially to capitalist America, undermined the appeal of the fascist version. Ben-Ghiat argues that attempts to use film 'to transform ideologies and lifestyles' (70) were frustrated by the medium itself; 'fascist films showcased the very sort of cosmopolitan glamour that the regime's populist arm had pledged to defeat, and they projected models of social and sexual behaviour


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that were often at odds with those propagated in the official press' (71-2). Even in the 1930s, moreover, 'at the height of fascist protectionism' and 'internal purification', the Italian film industry was the most international in Europe (139-41). Italians still flocked to see American and French films, while Italian productions employed foreign directors and scriptwriters, including Jewish refugees from nazi Germany. The regime gradually lost control of young intellectuals. Fascism had little room for feminism and for young female intellectuals in general, and found that 'fascist culture, as conceived by youth, owed more to modernism than to Mussolini' (107). Where the regime did manage to incorporate youth, it created expectations of career advancement and social mobility which could not be fulfilled. In the late 1930s, new cultural referents established by the regime in accordance with its militarization of society and the alliance with nazi Germany deepened what Ben-Ghiat calls 'a generational identity crisis' and fuelled 'a slow burn of resentment' among young intellectuals (158). Yet disillusionment did not lead to open anti-fascism as much as to 'detachment or depoliticization' (165). Novels by Alberto Moravia and Paola Masino described the oppression and deception of living under fascism, and 'the triumph of a culture of betrayal and terror' over civic values (ibid.), while using satire 'to puncture the aura of power that protected Italian authorities, depicting the rituals and hierarchies of fascist society in a grotesque and mocking light' (159). Ben-Ghiat concludes that while fascism did manage to modernize Italy and Italians, 'it did so on terms somewhat different from those desired and planned by the fascists' (210). The fascist state made its cultural presence felt; it created new institutions and ways of organizing culture, but intellectuals 'found ways to utilize these spaces and maneuver within them to facilitate the realization of personal and professional aspirations' (ibid.). Fascism may have contributed to the creation of a modern, mass culture in Italy, but it by no means decided its values and ideals. Stephen Gundle's study, Between Hollywood and Moscow, which considers the cultural policies of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in the postwar period, notes a similar tendency for cultural spaces to evade political strategies. The PCI, Gundle tells us, had developed a strategy during the 1940s of winning support and exerting influence through cultural struggle. Togliatti, the PCI leader, was keen to give the party a 'national', rather than class-based or regional, appeal, and he placed great emphasis on intellectuals as the '"connecting tissue"' of the nation who, through their role as cultural leaders and by allying themselves with the working class, could head the task of reconstructing society (12). According to Gundle, the project itself was quite remarkable. 'A well-directed strategy aimed at achieving a hegemonic position within national thought and culture was virtually without precedent in the history of the European working-class movement' (ibid.), and it was a strategy which proved adaptable and resilient to the social and cultural changes of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, the strategy was not without its popular achievements. The party produced 'Mass Theatre', distributed books and

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published magazines in the 1950s (Vie Nuove was among the first publications to give publicity to 'working-class beauties' like Gina Lollobrigida and Silvana Mangano); supported the avant-garde and alternative circuits through ARCI (its 'Cultural and Recreational Association') in the 1960s and 1970s; and organized the 'Roman Summers' in the 1980s which took possession of the city's 'sacred spaces' and made them accessible to everybody. It was perhaps particularly successful in creating new popular spaces, most famously the summertime feste dell'Uniti which 'gradually came to be a popular institution on a grand scale, the most long-lasting and deeply rooted manifestation of the PCI in popular culture' (65). Yet seen from another perspective - that of mass culture - the PCI's strategy for cultural hegemony ran into trouble almost immediately. Apart from the tendency of the orthodox PCI leadership to fall out with its more pluralist intellectuals, the kind of intellectual courted by Togliatti was 'a narrowly traditional type' (the artist, the writer, the philosopher), that is, 'not at all the sort of figure whose role was emerging as central in the organization of consensus in capitalist society (the technical expert, the scientist, the industrial manager) but rather a category whose status and social function had been defined in an earlier phase of social development and whose values were frequently extraneous to modern experience' (22). Togliatti, Gundle writes, had 'an archaic conception of culture' (ibid.), and the PCI as a whole failed to appreciate or understand either the cultural changes brought about by state intervention under fascism or the rise of mass society thereafter. Indeed, the party leadership and its intellectuals shared a profound dislike of many aspects of mass culture. They disparaged the comics and photo-romances enjoyed by poorer workers and peasant women, and bitterly opposed the consumerism celebrated by Hollywood films and television advertising. In the 1950s, the PCI worried about 'the hysteria and paroxysm' caused by Elvis Presley (111); in the 1960s, it was irritated by 'the easy extremism and cosmopolitanism' of the student movement (131); and in the 1970s, it was 'perplexed and disoriented' by the growth of a counter-culture, seeing it as 'a disturbing process of Americanization that was confirmed by the spread of drugs, mysticism and communitarianism' (157). The underlying problem for the PCI, Gundle argues, was that it tried to construct an alternative, associational, and leftwing national culture at precisely the time that a mainstream mass culture, based on prosperity and consumerism and with the USA as its model, came to dominate Italian society. So Between Hollywood and Moscow is also a book about the failure to 'make' Italians. In its policy on popular culture, the PCI was outmanoeuvred by the right; it 'failed to match the extraordinary efforts made at all levels by the Church and the DC [Christian Democrats] to shape the reorganization of cultural production on modern, industrial lines and use commercially oriented entertainments to reinforce and even extend the hold they enjoyed in Italian society' (43). Unlike the PCI, the Church and the DC embraced the American model and 'did not make the mistake of bypassing the most modern means of


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persuasion and entertainment' such as radio, TV and the cinema (44). The structural and ideological obstacles faced by the PCI were such that even periods of political advance and moments of breakthrough seemed, inevitably, to end in defeat. Gundle writes of the mid-1970s, the period of greatest electoral success for the PCI, that it 'has come to be seen as one of failure and utter disappointment'. While the mid-1970s were, potentially, also 'one of the most fruitful moments in the long history of relations between intellectuals and Communism', the alliance did not last and led to growing disillusionment (158-9). By 1977, a new left-wing movement had emerged (the ultra-radical 'movement of 1977') 'that regarded the PCI not as an ally but as an enemy' (161) and which, with its 'curious joie de vivre' (162) and disrespect for authority, revealed how far the PCI had travelled towards membership of the power elite and to being a force of dogmatic conservatism. Of course, a story of a failure can have its advantages. In particular, as BenGhiat points out, the failure of fascism to 'purify' Italians and 'the trauma of national division and defeat' (205) helped many to evade a reckoning with the violence and racism of the regime, and collectively to forget their own collaboration with it. She quotes the novelist Corrado Alvaro that Italy in 1943-44 was a '"poor lamb, offered up in holocaust, which fights to defend itself as best it can"' which, she notes, contained an implicit and consoling denial of the role played by Italians as colonizers and conquerors during the previous two decades or more (ibid.). But both Aaron Gillette's Racial Theories in Fascist Italy and Glenda Sluga's The Problem of Trieste and the Italo-Yugoslav Border show how unsustainable this comforting narrative is, especially as regards the issue of racism and its relation to Italian national identity. Focusing on Trieste, an 'ethnically-mixed' border city, Sluga shows a strain of racism running through Italian national discourse from the nineteenth century onwards. Liberals and fascists alike held a common view of the 'Slav' (Slovene) minority of Trieste, endowing it 'with the status of an alien, anonymous, antagonistic ... Other' (39). Indeed, the sense of essential difference between Italians and 'Slavs' was so pervasive that 1943-5 it was shared by some non-communist members of the Resistance in, who criticized the communist Liberation Front for blurring the lines between Italian and 'Slav' and who came to establish 'an unofficial and easy alliance' with nazi collaborators to defend Italian culture and sovereignty in the region (81). However, Sluga's analysis also points us to the 'specificities' of Italian racial identity. Italian racial discourse was based on a superior sense of civilta (civilization): 'Slavs' were not considered a real nation not because of biology but because of their suppposed lack of an autonomous culture or language. Thus, the destiny of 'Slavs' was said to be 'assimilation', or the eradication of Slovene particularities and their acceptance into the Italian nation as 'faithful ... collaborators' (28). The centrality of civilta to Italian racial discourse is analysed at length by Aaron Gillette. He quotes Mussolini in 1932: '"Race! It is a feeling, not a reality; ninety-five per cent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me

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believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today"' (44). Mussolini's racial thinking followed a long tradition of Italian nationalist discourse on race, which was derived from a sense of 'spiritual unity' (28), environmental racism and a theory of 'Mediterranean genius'. The majority view, which Mussolini shared, was also 'anti-Nordic', that is, it deplored what was seen as the extremism and arrogance of 'Germanist' racial supremacy. This antipathy increased with the nazis' rise to power and the unleashing by them of what Gillette calls 'a tidal wave of pro-Nordic and anti-Italian rhetoric that would wash over Italy uninterruptedly for the next 12 years' (44). Yet Mussolini's concepts of race were also eugenic, and underpinned his belief in the 'regeneration' of the Italian race through fascism. Moreover, although his racism was primarily voluntaristic and 'spiritual', this did not extend to non-Europeans. Gillette tells us that Mussolini's anti-Africanism was 'long-existing' (57) and due primarily to 'an obsession with racial miscegenation' (43) which increased with the conquest of Ethiopia. And one explanation of Mussolini's otherwise puzzling decision subsequently to single out Jews for racist attack was that it was an extension of a larger racial programme intended '"to give the Italians a backbone"' (59) and strengthen their resolve to fight and conquer. Mussolini, in other words, was a racist before his alliance with Hitler, his racism derived from existing currents in Italian national discourse, and it was a racism striking, perhaps above all, for its internal inconsistency. Some of the most interesting sections in Gillette's study are concerned with the workings and impact of racist ideology after what Gillette calls Mussolini's 'volte-face' in 1938 towards Nordic racism, biological determinism and antisemitism. From the beginning, Gillette notes, Mussolini recognized that to convince Italians 'wholeheartedly to embrace antisemitic racism and the Nordic myth was a risky enterprise fraught with potentially grave consequences' (59). The Church denounced Nordic racism publicly, not for its antisemitism but for its acceptance of Italian subalternity to the Germans and its denial of Italy's Roman heritage. Nordic racism angered Italian scientists, who had invested a great deal professionally and personally in environmental racism and theories of a Mediterranean race. It even led to difficulties with the Germans, who continued to assert 'that Italians South of Rome had "Negro blood" in their veins', who had to be asked to 'recognize once and for all that Italians were a perfectly Aryan people', and who were requested to 'refrain from taking credit for the Italian Renaissance' (90). Antisemitism also proved 'a serious miscalculation'. It 'alienated many influential fascists and large segments of Italian society', thus adding to the internal divisions which already 'plagued' Italian fascism and society (5). In January 1944, the fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile asked the following question: "For which Italy should one now live think teach make poetry write?" (quoted in Ben-Ghiat, 202). He was referring specifically to the division of Italy between the Republic of Salo and the Resistance, and to the claim of both to represent the 'real' nation. Yet his question offers more general


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insights into Italian national identity. First, Gentile recognizes the existence of more than one Italy. As all the books reviewed here confirm, there has always been more than one way of being Italian and what it means to be Italian can be interpreted or 'articulated' in widely different ways. Second, and perhaps more remarkably, in a time of war and political violence Gentile emphasizes cultural participation in the life of the Italian nation. His question thus points to the active role played by culture and cultural elites in creating, subverting and reconstructing a political sense of 'Italianness'. Finally, Gentile refers us to the enduring power of Italian nationalism to evoke 'a mood of passionate participation'.3 Part of the perception of the Italian nation as a failure is due to the confusion between nationalism as a cultural identity and nationalism as a political movement or regime. However, it is crucial to make a distinction between them. Italian nationalism, as recent studies of the Risorgimento have shown, was a ('successful') cultural reality long before it became a ('failed') political movement.4 Thus, Ascoli and von Henneberg rightly comment on 'the contrast between the fragility of the political nation . . . and the cultural conviction of "Italianness"', and highlight 'the power of cultural elites to intrude on the more ordered or pragmatic visions of nation-building espoused by political leaders' (Making and Remaking Italy, 3, 5). And it is equally worth noting that Italy's political 'nation-builders' have never stopped trying to 'remake' Italalian culture according to their values and ideals. This discordance between cultural identity and political programme, and the shifting contours of both, are frequently obscured by the apparent continuity of nationalist discourse and rhetoric. Hence, the crucial point to recognize is not that Italy was an unsuccessful nation or that its leaders were invariably bad but that there has always been a struggle over what nationalism consists of, and over who should control and direct it. 'Failure' and 'resurgence' may well be the recurring bases of Italy's 'foundation story', but the real interest of the story lies in its contested meanings and in the power of these meanings to provoke, sustain or undermine the idea of the nation itself. Lucy Riall at Birkbeck College, is Reader in Modern European History University of London, and editor of European History Quarterly. Her publications include The Italian Risorgimento. State, Society and National Unification (London 1994) and Sicily and the Unification of Italy (Oxford 1998). She is currently writing a book on the myth of Garibaldi.
3 Lyttleton, 'Creating a National Past: History, Myth and Image in the Risorgimento' in Ascoli and von Henneberg (eds), Making and Remaking Italy, op. cit., 31. 4 See, in particular, A.M. Banti, La nazione del Risorgimento. Parentela, santita e onore alle origini dell'Italia unita (Turin 2000); and Raymond Grew, 'Culture and Society, 1796-1896' in J.A. Davis (ed.), Italy in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford 2000), 206-34.