Historian David Gilmour writes that Italy is facing a crisis of unity. Whether that is an exaggeration or an accurate statement I can’t say, but his survey of Italian history was interesting and showed the artificial nature of a lot of modern nationalism. Here are two excerpts about law and language:
However, the patriotic movement that achieved Italian unification was numerically small — consisting largely of young middle-class men from the north — and would have had no chance of success without foreign help. A French army expelled the Austrians from Lombardy in 1859; a Prussian victory enabled the new Italian state to acquire Venice in 1866.
In the rest of Italy, the Risorgimento (or Resurgence) wars were not so much struggles of unity and liberation as a succession of civil wars. Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had made his name as a soldier in South America, fought heroically with his red-shirted volunteers in Sicily and Naples in 1860, but their campaigns were in essence a conquest by northern Italians of southern Italians, followed by the imposition of northern laws on the southern state known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Yet the southern city of Naples did not feel liberated — only 80 citizens of Italy’s largest city volunteered to fight for Garibaldi — and its people soon became embittered that the city had exchanged its role as the 600-year-old capital of an independent kingdom for the status of a provincial center. Today, its status remains reduced, and southern GDP is barely half what it is in the regions of the north….
Language is another barometer of Italy’s fractiousness. The distinguished Italian linguist Tullio De Mauro has estimated that at the time of unification, just 2.5 percent of the population spoke Italian — that is, the Florentine vernacular that evolved from the works of Dante and Boccaccio. Even if that is an exaggeration and perhaps 10 percent understood the language, it still means 90 percent of Italy’s inhabitants spoke languages or regional dialects incomprehensible to those elsewhere in the country. Even King Victor Emmanuel spoke in the Piedmontese dialect when he wasn’t speaking his first language — French.
In the euphoria of 1859 to 1861, few Italian politicians paused to consider the complications of uniting so diverse a collection of people. One who did was the Piedmontese statesman and painter Massimo d’Azeglio, who is reported to have said after unification, “Now we have made Italy, we must learn to make Italians.”