Il Whig in Italia

Some years ago I was interviewed by a reporter for Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most prestigious newspaper.  He had heard that I was a follower of Umberto Bossi, leader of the secessionist Lega Nord, and he wanted to know what plans I had for breaking up the United States.  After disclaiming any secessionist political agenda, I freely admitted my conviction that it would have been better if the South had won the war and expressed my admiration for Bossi, whom I had met several times and interviewed at length, and told him that I regarded several of the Lega Nord’s leaders as friends.  But, I added, I did not entirely accept the northern view of Italian history, which I summarized as the myth of the Risorgimento.  According to this official version of Italian history, the enlightened patriots of Piemonte and Lombardia went south to liberate the suffering masses from the oppression inflicted by the archduke of Tuscany, Pope Pius IX, and Francesco II, the Spanish Bourbon king of Naples.  In this myth, Cavour plays the part of Ben Franklin, Mazzini of Thomas Jefferson, and Garibaldi of George Washington.  Viewed from the perspective of the Italian south, however, north Italians conquered and subjugated southern Italy, which they have exploited ever since—all the time complaining about the crime and poverty of Sicily and Naples.

“Complete nonsense,” was the knee-jerk response of the...

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