The unification of Italy was forthcoming because reflection on the subject of autonomy and federalism was already at the center of public debate. Carlo Cattaneo wrote in 1848 that “every person can have interests which are dealt with in common with other peoples, but there are interests which can only be dealt with, because he alone feels and understands them”. In an article published on September 29, 1851, he explained that “Federalism is the only possible path to freedom.” For those who hoped to form the “United States of Italy”, the choice of the union of pre-unionist geopolitical entities was “the end of the Italian Revolution, as Norberto Bobbio wrote, and the starting point of a new nation-state”. The Lombard thinker greatly influenced one of the most prominent defenders of the historical right, Luigi Carlo Farini, who in May 1860 outlined in a note sent to the Council of State the criteria to be used for the administrative reorganization of the kingdom. After obtaining the approval of Cavour himself, he proposed to reconcile the central authority of the state with “the causes of municipalities, provinces and other larger centres”. In the latter case, he referred to areas that were supposed to correspond to the “natural centers of Italian life”. He asks Minister Marco Menghetti, in the first years of the unit, to translate into institutional terms by developing a project based on administrative decentralization. There was much debate about that plan, but in the end Parliament suspended it because of two concerns: the fragility of the newly created state and the great subversive impulse unleashed by banditry in the South.
Disillusioned by the rejection of his proposal, Menghetti, speaking in the Chamber of Deputies, used prophetic words when he said that “central power can lead to the paralysis of democratic life if not to dictatorship.” Needless to say, the two events – the dictatorship and the siege of democracy – belong entirely to later Italian political history. The belief that centralization of power could be an obstacle to modernization processes caught the attention of the political elite in both liberal and republican Italy. In this sense, one cannot fail to mention the report made by Don Luigi Sturzo in 1921 at the Congress of the People’s Party in Venice.
He rejects the thesis of those who see the regions as artificial facilities and identifies in them “an elected, independent, administrative and legislative body.” Only in this way, the founder of the People’s Party concludes, can one “fight the interference of the state bureaucracy.” The arguments were developed, about ten years later, by the anti-fascist movement “Giustizia e Liberta”. Indeed, in a 1932 article in the first issue of Quaderni, Carlo Rosselli referred to “autonomy as the central axis around which the new democratic state should be built, after the fall of fascism.” The theses, which were strongly supported in the Constituent Assembly by the jurist Piero Calamandri and the future head of state Luigi Einaudi, were no different. Even this time, however, it was preferred to take the path of centralization, for fear of endangering the stability of the nascent republic. The rest is the chronicle of our pendulum-swinging years between failed attempts to implement institutional changes in an autonomous sense – from a modest rewriting of Title V to Matteo Renzi’s reform rejected by referendum – and staunch resistance from national bureaucracies. Now that the Minister of Regional Affairs and Autonomy, Roberto Calderoli, has presented a bill on differentiated autonomy, we hope that it will be discussed without the veil of old prejudices. A frequent criticism is that the unity of the state would be endangered. For them, the words of the southerner Guido d’Urso apply when he writes – in Southern Revolution: “I understand the fears of those who fear subversive operations, but there should not even be any other minds that conceive of national unity, sacred and inviolable for all Italians, as a means of continuity with the present government.”
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