Friday, March 23, 2012

The Allied Offer to Italy in 1940

The map shown may look unusual, but there is at least a possibility that something near to that might have become a reality after the start of World War II. Although already allied with Germany, the Kingdom of Italy remained neutral when the conflict first broke out. Italy had not been attacked (yet) and the Italian armed forces were still recovering from successive military campaigns in Ethiopia, Spain and Albania. The Allies, of course, were eager to break Italy away from Germany and have her join the war on their side. Not for the first time they were a day late and a dollar short. Italy had been the first to take action to prevent the German annexation of Austria but was alarmed when France and Britain did nothing to support her. This alarm grew to anger when the League of Nations, with Britain and France leading the way, imposed sanctions on Italy over the war with Ethiopia. Germany did not join in the sanctions and since Britain and France had offered no help in containing Germany, Mussolini secured his northern border by making an alliance with the Germans. When the Allies belatedly tried to enlist Mussolini's support for stopping the Germans they did so while sanctions were still in place on Italy -obviously not a good environment for obtaining Italian sympathy.

Once again, after World War II began, the Allies approached Italy with big promises if she would abandon Germany and switch sides to join the Allies. They promised that when the war was over and Germany destroyed that Italy would be ceded the Tyrol, all of Austria, parts of southern Bavaria and that they would make good on the territorial promises which were made to Italy during the First World War but which were never delivered. We can assume roughly that this meant the Litoral region and Dalmatia at least. However, as we know, Mussolini did not accept the offer saying, "The Italy of 1940 is not the Italy of 1914. We've heard that story before, much to our regret. Why should we believe you now?" This was obviously a reference to what had happened in the First World War when Italy, previously allied to Germany and Austria, was persuaded by the Allies to come into the war on their side against the Austro-Germans with promises of extensive territories in the Tyrol, the Adriatic coast and a share of captured German colonies in Africa. After years of hard fighting and the loss of hundreds of thousands of men only a small portion of these grand promises were actually kept. As such, Italy took the attitude that, 'fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me'.

After this offer was refused the Allies put new sanctions on Italy in an effort to hamper her military preparations, stopping Italian ships at sea carrying raw materials from Germany even though Italy was still a neutral power. Mussolini regarded this as an act of aggression and, as we know, Italy soon joined the war against the Allies, ultimately to her great misfortune.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi

Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi is one of those royal figures who seems out of time, as if he would fit in better in a more adventurous, colorful period of distant history than the era he was actually born into. He was born Luigi Amedeo Giuseppe Maria Ferdinando Francesco di Savoia-Aosta, at the time a prince of Spain, on January 29, 1873 in Madrid to HM King Amedeo I of Spain (previously and subsequently Duke of Aosta) and his queen Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo, the last of three sons born to the couple. His grandfather was King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy. Not long after his birth he much put-upon father declared Spain ungovernable and abdicated, happily returning to Italy where the prince became known as the Duke of the Abruzzi. Even in his youth he was a world traveler and it is tempting to think that his visits to places as far flung as Eritrea in east Africa and Vancouver, Canada might have put him on the path he would follow for the rest of his life, conquering mountain peaks, hostile seas, arctic ice fields and burning deserts.

Exploring the most remote and rugged corners of the earth became his passion and in 1882 he began training as a mountain climber on Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa in the Italian Alps. In 1897 he set off on an epic adventure to the mountainous U.S.-Canadian border to climb Mt St Elias in search of a native legend known as the Silent City of Alaska which was said to appear over a mountaintop glacier. Prince Luigi and his party conquered the mountain and did indeed see the “city” which was actually a mirage but, by all accounts, one that had to be seen to be believed such was the magnificence of the sight of it. The trek had paid off, the accounts each member gave to the papers afterward were more fantastic than the one before. However, the Duke of the Abruzzi was only getting started. In 1899 he organized an expedition to reach the North Pole. As with most of his expeditions, the story reads like something out of an adventure novel.

First the Prince and his party traveled to Oslo, Norway (then called Christiania -this was when Norway was united with Sweden) where he bought a whaling ship which he named the ‘Polar Star’. The Duke was an accomplished sailor as well and they braved the icy seas to reach Archangel in northern Russia. Donning their best finery they were welcomed by the local Tsarist governor, civil officials and a colorful collection of foreign representatives present at the frosty port of call. Special celebrations were held in honor of the royal visitor and the international gathering in the Russian port were treated to a special performance of a play set in the Middle East followed by the orchestra striking up the Italian royal anthem in honor of their guest. Before departing the Catholic Italians were invited to attend an Orthodox Divine Liturgy and finally they set sail for Franz Joseph Land where they planned to wait out the worst of winter before going by dog sled to the North Pole. Unfortunately, the Prince lost two fingers to frost-bite during the grueling winter which made him unable to handle a dog sled, forcing him to leave the last leg of the expedition in the hands of his subordinate Captain Umberto Cagni.

Although denied his prize of reaching the pole himself, Prince Luigi was still eager to boldly go where no man, or at least very few men, had gone before. With visions of Henry Morton Stanley dancing in his head, in 1906 he set out on a trek across the remote African wilderness of what is now Uganda to explore the Ruwenzori Mountain Range. In doing so he reached the top of some sixteen mountains one of which was named Mount Luigi di Savoia in his honor. Buoyed by his African adventure, only two years later in 1909 he gathered another expedition and set off to climb K2, aka “Savage Mountain” the second-highest peak on earth in the Karakoram Range on the Pakistan-Chinese border. They were ultimately unable to reach the very top, attaining a top elevation of 6,666 meters with their route known forever after as the Abruzzi Spur. In 1910 Prince Luigi and his team took on Chogolisa (Bride Peak) in the same overall mountain range, some of the most rugged and dangerous terrain on earth. Again, they did not reach the summit but set a new world record for the elevation they did reach. He was celebrated across the world, nowhere more than in Italy of course, and was a celebrity to intrepid explorers everywhere.

Prince Luigi had also trained with the Royal Italian Navy and by 1911 held the rank of vice-admiral and from 1911 to 1912 was given the post of Inspector of Torpedo Craft. This was more significant than it probably seemed at the time as free-swimming torpedoes were a recent innovation and would not actually sink a ship until a German u-boat did the job for the first time in 1914. However, this was an area that the Italians would later excel at and would achieve some stunning successes against the formidable British Royal Navy using tactics that began with those first torpedo craft developed under the Duke of the Abruzzi. When World War I broke out in 1914, Italy joining the fight a year later, the Duke was given command of the Italian Adriatic Fleet at Taranto with the formidable battleship Conte di Cavour as his flagship. As in the North Sea though, there was little combat between the main battle fleets of Italy and Austria-Hungary, each being content to keep the other side as inactive as possible while small-scale raids probed for weakness. However, Prince Luigi and his ships performed one of the great missions of the war when the rescued the long-suffering Serbian army which, in a combined German-Austrian-Bulgarian offensive, had been driven from their homeland. Were it not for the timely arrival of the Duke and his Italian fleet the Serbs would have been wiped out completely. Their rescue enabled them to rejoin the fight at the new Allied front in Greece and ultimately go on to see Serbia liberated from Austrian occupation.

After the war, with all of his accomplishments, Prince Luigi was one of the most popular members of the Italian Royal Family. Even the previously zealous republican Benito Mussolini was quick to avail himself of the Duke’s experience in Africa when it came to negotiating a new friendship treaty with Ethiopia in 1928. Prince Luigi journeyed to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to present gifts of friendship to Haile Selassie, including a Fiat 3000 tank which he later used in thwarting a coup led by forces loyal to the reigning Empress Zewditu. One can imagine that Mussolini probably later regretted such generosity. In 1932 Prince Luigi tried his hand at running the new Italian shipping line which had formed from a merger of all the previous transatlantic lines. However, it did not work out will as the Prince had nothing of the businessman about him and found dealing with company executives impossibly frustrating. Instead, he moved to the Italian colony of Somalia where he established his own model plantation. The African wilderness was far more to his liking than a desk in an office building.

The Duke of the Abruzzi had led a life most men would only dream about. The only thing lacking was a romantic interest he could carry off into the African sunset. There had been an earlier romance with an American woman named “Kitty” Elkins, the daughter of a wealthy West Virginia Senator. She was likely the one great love of his life but his cousin King Vittorio Emanuele III was adamant that no prince of the House of Savoy could marry a commoner. Prince Luigi was frustrated by this but, since the relationship could go nowhere, his brother, Prince Emanuele Filiberto Duke of Aosta (a hero of the Great War) convinced him to give the girl up and move on. This he did, only finally marrying a Somali woman named Faduma Ali toward the end of his life when he was no longer concerned with the consequences. He died in Jowhar, Somalia on March 18, 1933 at the age of 60 and, as per his wishes, was buried near a local river. Missing no opportunity to put himself forward, Benito Mussolini presided at his funeral, hailing the Duke of the Abruzzi as the last in a long line of great Italian explorers history would never forget.

This may have been an exaggeration, but if so, it was only a slight one. Prince Luigi-Amedeo simply had the misfortune to be born into a time when there were not many untouched corners of the world left for mankind to conquer. Had he been born earlier it is certainly easy to imagine him being counted among the great Italian explorers of history such as Marco Polo, Giovanni Caboto, Amerigo Vespucci or Christopher Columbus. It was simply his nature to strive for the seemingly unobtainable, to go to the places most difficult to reach and to prove that he was equal to any challenge the land or the sea could throw at him. Hopefully, in the end, he finally found what he was looking for in all his travels to the farthest reaches of the earth.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Birthday Italy!

Buon Compleanno Italia!

It was on this day in 1861, with the work of unification (mostly) done that the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed to the world with HM King Vittorio Emanuele II of Piedmont-Sardinia likewise proclaimed the first King of Italy. In one of those twists that history tends to present, it was also on this day in 1805 that the Italian Republic, a creation of Napoleone Buonaparte and of which he was President, became the (Napoleonic) Kingdom of Italy, so it is an historic date indeed. Of course, in 1861, the work of reunification was not entirely finished. Much of the northeast remained under Austrian rule and the Eternal City of Rome was still occupied by French troops. However, for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, the Italian peninsula was united from the Alps to Sicily under one Italian government with one Italian monarch. Some areas remained to still be 'redeemed' but the most difficult first steps had been taken and the majority of the work accomplished. About ten years later King Vittorio Emanuele II would enter Rome to make the Eternal City again the capital of Italy but it would be left to his successors to see the remnants of the Italian nation still under foreign rule brought into the arms of their countrymen. This historic occasion should serve as an inspiration to all patriotic Italians to see that original monarchy restored, to see true independence restored and to see all Italians again united as one family in one common cause.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beware the Ides of March!

Today, on the Ides of March, we remember the tragic assassination of that great Roman (and Italian), Julius Caesar. It was an event of historic betrayal by which one of the giant figures in the history of the world was lost. Yet, his death was not in vain for it paved the way to the establishment of the Roman Empire and the highest peak of Italian civilization in history. The image and memory of Caesar hung heavily over the Italian patriots during the culmination of the Risorgimento. He too had been forced to take the unenviable task of going to war to reunite his people, marching on Rome and putting an end to the fratricidal conflicts of the past to create a greater future. The idea that King Vittorio Emanuele II was restoring what Julius Caesar had first built, a great and united Italian peninsula governed from Rome, was remarked upon by many at the time. When the first King of Italy died there was a much reproduced drawing from Harper’s Weekly showing a weeping figure representing “Italia” at a veiled bust of the late King with a quote from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” when Marc Antony said, “My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, and I must pause till it come back to me”. Yet, even today, the figure of the original Caesar remains controversial, some still viewing him as a tyrant and others as one of the quintessential ‘great men’ of history. The truth, of course, was that Caesar was no tyrant. He was a wise man, one who knew when to be prudent and when to be daring, he was a matchless general, an astute statesman and a merciful man who was not cruel, vicious or nasty. This is evident enough from the fact that he was betrayed and murdered by the very men he had pardoned. He truly is one of the giants of world history, a great Roman, a great Italian and one of the fathers of western civilization as we know it. May he never be forgotten…

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Italian Colonial Empire

It would be easy for modern Italian monarchists to try to dismiss anything to do with imperialism by associating it solely with the Fascist era and thus condemned in unison with the popular majority. That would not be entirely true of course, nor would it be feasible for those of us who do not see imperialism as something to be condemned as inherently terrible at all. The period of Italian colonial expansion long pre-dated the rise of the Fascists though it certainly reached its peak during the Fascist era when the Kingdom of Italy held sway over all of modern Italy, Libya, the Dodecanese Islands, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Albania, Montenegro, Dalmatia, southern Slovenia, Kosovo, most of Greece, Corsica, Tunisia, Nice, Savoy and other areas. Wider aims were hinted at by Mussolini, and others, but as we know, never came to fruition. However, this was nothing new and, in fact, the areas where Italian power expanded during the Fascist era were all areas which Italy had long had interests in prior to Mussolini coming to power. Ethiopia, Albania and even Spain and Greece were areas Italy had extended or tried to extend influence over in various forms since Italian unification.

This should not be surprising given the nature of the birth of the modern, united Italy, which was always pushed forward by a drive for a more great, cultural revival and restoration of Italian glory. From the very beginning, along with the drive to unite all Italians into one nation also came the ambition to recover all lands that had once been ruled by the Italian people. This only later seemed outrageous because of, frankly, historical ignorance on the part of many who overlooked the vast influence held by Italians long before the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 by the House of Savoy. For instance, one of the major sources of pride and inspiration for Italians fighting for reunification was the glories of the Italian Renaissance. That included the magnificent cultural-artistic accomplishments most are aware of but also the political and economic influence of the Renaissance Italian city-states which many are not familiar with. The most obvious example was the city-state of Venice which ruled an empire of islands and coastal enclaves that stretched down the Adriatic, across much of southern Greece, including Cyprus, holdings in the Middle East and even the Black Sea.

Imperial aspirations were thus present from the very beginning, even if much of the rhetoric could easily be taken out of context such as talk of “setting fire to the four corners of the world” or the boast that, “we Italians have conquered the world before and can do so again”. Such phrases were certainly not meant to be taken literally but were simply an effort to inspire the Italian people to pursue greatness for the nation. There were, though, very real and concrete aspirations for expansion, both in terms of territory and influence. King Vittorio Emanuele II sought to have a prince of the House of Savoy on the throne of Greece, which did not come to fruition, and later to have an Italian King of Spain, an ambition which was achieved, albeit only briefly, in the person of his second son King Amadeo I, previously (and afterwards) Duke of Aosta. It is also significant to note that Italy, not exclusively but for the most part, was quite different from the other colonial powers in the lands she set her sights upon for expansion and development. Italy was intent on re-taking rather than taking and must be set apart from the rest of the imperial powers.

Whereas the venerable empires of Portugal, Spain, France, England, Belgium, Holland and Germany reached out across the globe to control lands totally unknown to their people, indeed often where no European foot had ever trod before, Italy focused on areas that had a long history of Italian association. One of the earliest areas of interest was Tunisia, which was closer to Italy geographically than to any other European power, which had a sizeable Italian community already living on its shores and which had been the target of an Italian naval expedition in 1825 under King Carlo Felice of Piedmont-Sardinia. However, to the outrage of Italy, France beat them to the prize and Italy was left out of the “scramble for Africa”, being advised by the other great powers to look to Albania for a potential colony. Here too Italian roots ran deep. In the days of ancient Rome, Albania was actually brought under Roman rule even before the same could be said of the extremes of the Italian peninsula. The famous Italian Prime Minister (and ardent imperialist) Francesco Crispi had been born in Albania and, many years later, it was the intervention of Italian troops which kept Albania out of Greek hands during the First World War (before Greece joined the Allies). Today the fact is often ignored that when Italian forces occupied Albania in 1939 the annexation was little more than a formality since Albania was already an Italian protectorate and, in fact, had been dependent on Italian aid for some time previously. It is also worth noting that the occupation was carried out with hardly any loss of life at all.

The most far-flung Italian expansion came in East Africa and also began peacefully through purchase and diplomatic negotiation with the local chieftains, first in Eritrea and then in Somalia. A protectorate over Ethiopia was arranged at that time as well but, of course, the defeat at Adowa set that effort back for a few years. The biggest single piece of expansion, prior to the conquest of Ethiopia, was the addition of Libya and the Dodecanese Islands after the Italo-Turkish War of 1911. The islands were held mainly for their strategic naval importance and as a foothold in the event that some opportunity for further expansion could be found in Asia Minor (which was almost realized in the aftermath of World War I when the partition of Turkey was drawn up but never realized). Libya was the focus of much greater attention, being hailed as the national “fourth shore” and it was, in fact, the Italians who “created” Libya. Previously it had been merely a collection of remote Ottoman provinces. Italy grouped these provinces together and named the colony Libya, resurrecting the old Roman name for the region and thus establishing what became the country of Libya we know today.

Here again was Italy re-gaining rather than gaining a colonial territory. The sands of Libya had heard the march of Roman legions and lived under Roman law long before the first Arab ever set foot in North Africa, many hundreds of years before the Prophet Mohammed was ever born. Whereas the British who raised their flag over North America, India or Australia were operating in environments totally alien to them and their people, the Italians who extended the rule of Rome over Libya were simply returning to lands their distant ancestors had occupied, ruled and developed long ago. One would be hard pressed to argue that the peoples who arrived and conquered the region much later would have had a better “right” to Libya than the Italians whose forebears had held the region long before anyone else ever had. The point could also be raised as to what “right” any might have to land they do nothing with. This was something well understood by the colonial powers of their era, be it the “White Man’s Burden” of Great Britain or the “Mission of Civilization” of France.

Here again, Italy cannot be held to quite the same standard as the other colonial powers. Italy was the last to gain a colonial empire and the first to lose it, however, even then, the record of Italian accomplishments compares favorably even to that of Portugal who, contrarily, were the first to have an empire and the last to relinquish it. In the minor clashes and pacification campaigns that accompany colonialism usually, in the case of Italy being confined mostly to Libya, outsiders often criticize Italian forces for having so many unfair advantages over their enemies. This is no different than any other colonial power of course, but the fact that Libyan rebels rode horses while Italian troops made use of trucks, armored cars and airplanes does serve to prove the point of how backward these territories were prior to Italian rule. In terms of social and technological advancement these areas were virtually stagnant. However, as part of the Italian colonial empire the foundations were set down for the first modern infrastructure in any of these lands. Sticking with the example of Libya, it was the Italians who built the first roads, the first modern ports and schools and hospitals, model farms and spread such things most take for granted such as electric lights, telephones, hygienic standards and disease control. Even to this day many of the structures still in use in Libya, from roads to airfields, were actually built by the Italians during the colonial period.

The case of Ethiopia is usually the one most used to criticize and shame the Kingdom of Italy, yet, here again, the situation was not so simple as most are led to believe. The “incident” which sparked the conflict was a battle over that minor dot on the map called Wal Wal. It is usually stated, or at least implied, that Mussolini provoked this clash in order to obtain a pretext for invading Ethiopia. The facts, however, do not support such a conclusion. Although victorious, the small Italian force at Wal Wal was outnumbered by the Ethiopians by at least 4-to-1, hardly the sort of odds one would favor to provoke a fight with anyone with. Wal Wal had been held by the Italians for many years at that point and Ethiopia had never claimed the area nor made any hint of doing so prior to the battle that started the ball rolling toward war. The Ethiopians had also been building up, enlarging and modernizing their armed forces for some time prior to the conflict, something which Italy had not done as is evidenced by the fact that so many Italian divisions had to be rushed to East Africa from Italy when the fighting broke out and even then were vastly outnumbered by their Ethiopian enemies. It was easy for people in Italy to believe that the Ethiopian ruler Haile Selassie had been planning a war against them for dominance of the horn of Africa for some time considering how rapidly he carried out this military build-up, after seizing power by force and, it must be said, eliminating his own tribal enemies in the traditional fashion for that part of the world in doing so.

Criticism over how the war was conducted is another story. Italy was roundly condemned for using weapons which gave them an unfair advantage in the eyes of the world. The fact that every country, in every war always seeks to use any advantage they may have over an enemy is often ignored. Accounts of attacks against peaceful posts can also not always (and I say not always) be taken at face value. It is known, for example, that some of the missionaries (mostly Scandinavian Lutherans) were importing rifles hidden in crates of Bibles and that some things, like air attacks on hospitals, were exaggerated or outright fabrications. Noted English Catholic author Evelyn Waugh wrote as much in his own first-hand account of visiting Ethiopia. He noted how bored journalists were quick to inflate the most minor occurrence into something sensational in the hope of advancing their careers.

Waugh also notes the look of Ethiopia in the immediate aftermath of the 7-month war. In Harar he sees the local market doing good business, roads being built and sees a school in Asmara freshly built by the Italians as well as noticing Italian soldiers happily playing with Ethiopian children. Waugh wrote in his book, “The Italians had accomplished in six months a task which they had expected to take two years. They now found themselves faced with opportunities and responsibilities vastly greater than their ambitions at the beginning of the war…It was a severe test of morale and they stood up to it in a way which should dispel any doubts which still survive of the character of the new Italy.” During the period of Italian rule some 11,678 miles of the first modern asphalt roads were built in Ethiopia, connecting the major cities of Italian East Africa. Additionally, 559 miles of railroads were built, new dams and hydroelectric plants were constructed, many new schools and rural clinics and many new industries were established in addition to the expansion and modernization of agriculture. Plans to update and expand Addis Ababa were only halted by the outbreak of World War II.

HM King Umberto II had hoped that, after joining the Allies against Nazi Germany, Italy would have at least been permitted to keep those colonies she had held long before the Fascists ever came to power but this was not to be. It is also important to note that those colonial Italians had their voices suppressed in the pivotal referendum on the future of the monarchy. In any event, when assessing the history of the Italian empire is it revealing to see what happened to those territories after the Italians were gone and their independence was achieved. The oldest colony, Eritrea, was annexed by the Ethiopians under Haile Selassie. Their language was suppressed as were all signs, symbols or expression of national distinction. This resulted in a long and ugly war for independence, guerilla bands of Eritreans fighting Soviet-backed Ethiopians with final independence not coming until 1993. Even since then violence has been almost constant, poverty crippling and social problems persist ranging from HIV to female genital mutilation. The years of Italian rule would seem a paradise in comparison.

The most stark example is surely Somalia which, under Italian rule had law, order, religious liberty, growing industries and model plantations. Since independence Somalia has been through a communist dictatorship, massive famines, brutal civil war, religious killings and terrorism. Today it is perhaps the most cited example of a failed state, existing in near total anarchy with terrorist gangs controlling most of the country and the coast being the best known haven for pirates in the world. Any Somali who is able flees the country at the first opportunity. Then there is Libya which, only shortly after becoming an independent kingdom, fell under the rule of the dictator Qaddafi who staged a military coup to seize power. He ruled for decades after with an iron fist, massacring any who opposed him and fomenting terrorist attacks around the world. When his own people finally rose up against him, he turned his military on them and was only finally overthrown with the intervention of the U.S. and E.U. (with the Italian Republic being a hesitant partner despite Qaddafi having a long history of blackmailing Italy). Today much of the country is in ruins and it remains to be seen whether things will get better or worse under the new administration.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Tea Party in Italy

So, not long ago it was brought to my attention that there is a (small but fervent) “Tea Party” in, of all places, the Republic of Italy. This caught my interest immediately, both because Italy would be one of the last places I would have expected such a group to exist and because I have a (many would say unhealthy) fascination with the libertarian crowd who are probably, I would say, the real backbone of any coherent message the Tea Party might have. I know, many people are scared of libertarianism (many readers here are I know) but, as I have talked about before, libertarianism always seemed to me to have something rather medieval about it and, all in all, I find the high middle ages pretty tough to beat. Anyway, who would have expected to see a Tea Party in modern Italy of all places? I had heard, of course, of some likeminded groups in the United Kingdom which would seem to make more sense than in non-English-speaking countries. Well, that is to say, as much sense as one could expect from British people supporting a group of conservatives and libertarians who took the name of their movement from an attack on a British company but, there’s no need to go into that.

Pointed toward the face book page for the Italian Tea Party, I must admit I was surprised to see so many American flags on display. I was downright stunned to see a Confederate flag on display (causing me to question whether Italians are aware of the connotations it has on this side of the pond) but in all honesty I could not help but feel a slight surge of pride to see the Texas flag displayed as well. Okay, admittedly, when it comes to Texas and Texans our pride surges fairly easily but they didn’t choose the Massachusetts flag, the South Carolina flag or the Idaho flag did they? Nope, it was the Lone Star of Texas and so that may have made me a bit partial even at first glance. In all seriousness though, I was in fact a bit troubled by how lonely the Italian tricolor looked amongst this rather American-dominated vexillogical display. I was also struck by how plain and empty the solitary Italian tricolor looked without the Savoy royal crest in the center. Surely an Italian Tea Party would be supporters of the old Kingdom of Italy and their former Royal Family?

I know many people at this point will be wondering how I could ask such a question. Libertarians, by and large, are not known for their monarchist sympathies. In America of course they have led the way in the revival of bashing poor old King George III and cheering American Revolutionary republicanism. “The Founders” are sacrosanct to most of them. However, when I was first told that there was a Tea Party in Italy, or as it was put to me, that there were actually libertarians in Italy, the first thought that occurred to me was that these people must surely be ardent admirers of the House of Savoy. After all, more often than not, the one thing more than any other that the Savoy monarchy is often attacked for is exactly what most hard-core libertarians uphold as the greatest virtue: self-interest. Since this is something the House of Savoy has long been accused of, I naturally assumed libertarians would salute them on the same basis. Now, perhaps I have more of a libertarian streak than I would like to admit but I never really understood the outrage directed at the Italian monarchy on the basis of acting in their own self-interest.

Usually, in my experience, this often involves the Italian participation in World War I which was around the time that Italian political leaders first began to toss around the phrase “sacred egotism” or ‘sacred self-interest’. The self-righteous attitude adopted by many toward the Kingdom of Italy in this regard, frankly always stunk of rank hypocrisy to me. After all, how many nations involved in World War I were not motivated by self-interest? Belgium was not certainly but who else? Perhaps Russia, certainly as concerns the Russian Empire it did not turn out to be in the interests of Russia to charge into war on behalf of Serbia. But Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ottoman Turkey, Japan etc all had self-interested reasons for getting involved. And, again, I am not criticizing them for that in and of itself. Do we not expect governments to act in the best interests of their people? Perhaps the Italians were simply a little more honest about it. I never understood why the Kingdom of Italy was so often criticized for her territorial demands by countries who gained far, far more vast territorial concessions out of the conflict. It does not seem dastardly to me for a country that makes the supreme sacrifice of war to expect to have something to show for it when it is over. Great Britain and France added greatly to their colonial empires by the war and the Royal Houses of Serbia and Romania each gained far more territory from the conflict than Italy did despite the fact that each were conquered by the Central Powers during the course of it.

Whenever someone ridicules the House of Savoy for always acting only in their own best interests, surely Italian libertarians should join the monarchists in leaping to their defense. Of course, when this attack is usually made, it is divorced from the nation at large; that is to say, the Savoy kings are usually accused of acting in the interests of the monarchy and their dynasty rather than the nation as a whole. I would say that is untrue simply as it stands, however, a case could be made that many countries would have been better off if their monarchs had followed their own self-interest rather than listening to what was advocated as the “greater good”. After all, King Louis XVI of France had great reservations about intervening in the American War for Independence because he feared that it would encourage revolution against his own monarchy by aiding the enemies of another. However, his advisors convinced him that it would be in the best interests of France to see Great Britain humbled in North America. That ultimately didn’t work out well for the Bourbon monarchy or France as a whole which got the Revolution, the Reign of Terror and all the rest. German Kaiser Wilhelm II had similar reservations about helping Lenin get back to Russia, fearing that communist revolution could spread to Germany and threaten the House of Hohenzollern if it gained a foothold in Russia. For similar reasons he was prevailed upon that it would be better for Germany to get Russia out of the war no matter the method. Well, Germany lost the war anyway and the Kaiser lost his throne in the process.

There was also a time when the Savoy monarchy was criticized in the same way for being champions of free trade, something else prized by most libertarians, doing business with countries others thought should be off-limits. The first minister of the first King of Italy was well known for his acceptance of the profit motive and his pragmatic saying that, “Free institutions tend to make people richer” and that his efforts were not about destroying the old order at all. Cavour tried to reassure the class that had, over great periods of time, risen to the top by saying, “You will see gentlemen, how reforms carried out in time, instead of weakening authority, reinforce it; instead of precipitating revolution, they prevent it.” Indeed, one could look back all the way to Renaissance Italy and see in the incredible success of the city-states such as Genoa and Venice a clear example of the profit motive at work. How else could one perpetually flooded city founded by refugees rise to become the dominant economic and naval power of the eastern Mediterranean? What else made Genoa the economic center of western Europe? Italian Tea Party members of all people should recognize that profit is not a dirty word nor is acting in your own self-interest inherently wicked. They probably already do but they should apply those principles to the republic vs. monarchy debate as well.

Tea Party supporters and libertarians tend to be zealous individualists and this was precisely the argument used by HM King Victor Emmanuel III in denouncing the idea of republicanism. The Italians, he said, were too individualistic for republicanism to ever be successful in Italy. Yet, many libertarians and certainly most Tea Party people seem to think that republicanism is the only way. This, as we have pointed out before here, is quite absurd when one gives it more than a second of thought. Why should the benefits of private ownership over public ownership apply to everything except the highest office in the land? If the individual always does better than the collective, why do so many still insist on collectivism rather than individualism when it comes to the sovereign? If a parcel of land becomes worthless under public ownership but becomes profitable under private ownership, the same rule should apply for the country as a whole.

When a King does what is in his own best interests the country naturally tends to do better. When a collection of politicians, all claiming to represent the interests of the people, naturally do what is in their own best interest instead, all of their interests conflicting with each other, you get disaster. Or, you get the state of the Italian republic as it is today. Given the state Italy (and many others) is in today, I think some libertarianism, in any amount, would probably do them some good as far as their economy goes. For basically at least the last 90 years Italy has had a socialistic, state-run economy. Today we are witnessing the result of that so a little competition and respect for private property might be something they would want to at least consider.

These people are, obviously, republicans but it is just as obvious that they shouldn’t be. Keeping in mind that the first republican government in Italy since unification was the Italian Social(ist) Republic of Mussolini, what has the republic given to Italy? Looking today we see a Communist Party member as President, a Prime Minister who has totally sold-out Italian sovereignty and independence to the European Union and who is simply their tool in Rome, we have a system that squashes creativity, innovation and industry of any kind and which has delivered corruption, economic collapse, a divided populace and a state enslaved by the bonds of debt to foreign agents. I would also remind the people of the Tea Party, Italian libertarians and all Italian republicans that this, aside from the anti-democratic aspects, is exactly what their hero Giuseppe Mazzini wanted. He wanted a “United States of Europe” in which the Italian republic was simply one minor member among many. It is no exaggeration to say that the Kingdom of Italy represented the only system which proudly and strongly stood for independence, not dependence on some foreign power or international organization. Even anti-monarchy historians have considered it praiseworthy that the era of the republic has made Italy content with mediocrity and second or third-rate power status. All those who desire true freedom, real independence and the pursuit of success should embrace the monarchist alternative.