The Libyan War and Italian Modernity: a Troublesome Relation

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The experience of the Libyan war (Italo-Turkish war, 1911-12) played an important role in the actual and discursive construction of the Italian national identity during the late Liberal age, and in shaping its troublesome Mediterranean dimension. The Libyan war was a key moment of transition between the Risorgimento and modern Italy. The ideological and narrative discourse that fed and supported the military effort and that shaped the policy of occupation, settlement, and incorporation of the former Ottoman vilayet collected and mixed some pivotal traits of the Italian “geopolitical” self-perception. The myth of Rome and of the translatio imperii (“transfer of rule”) from Augustus to the unitary State; the social and economic similarities linking Italy to its neighbours of the “Southern shore”; the aesthetic activism of the conquest, and its difficult relation with the ideals of the Risorgimento, whose memory still operated, despite the end of the historical process... The Libyan war fits into a complex web of myths and values. At the same time, it helps to sustain it, to extend it, to stretch it to new areas, and to enrich it with new models, whose persistence is attested by the continuation – in the following years – of the same rhetorical structures, and of the same interpretative models, that have accompanied the war (or, at least, of a part of them). One pivotal element is the emphasis placed on the issue of the national rebirth. This rebirth intimately connected with the idea of modernity, of “evolving into another form”, of overcoming the (often cumbersome) past... Modernity had not already evolved into the menacing entity that – few years later – World War I would have evoked. Despite the well-known evidence that the Russo-Japanese conflict (1904-05) provided about the destructive power of modern warfare, in the auspices of its supporters, the conquest of Libya would have endowed Italy not only with the rich and prosperous lands that the propaganda depicted, or with the sovereignty over a population typically sketched as brave and proud as generous and hospitable . Rather, it would have produced a sort of catharsis of the “national soul”, leading to the emergence of a new Italy and a new breed of Italian. This was the unfulfilled promise of the historical Risorgimento, whose supposedly “natural” evolution had been diverted – in the narrative of the events that dominated Italian cultural landscape since the 1880s – by too many uncertainties, contradictions, and domestic and international influences. For this reason, the often disappointing results of the military campaign ended up in fuelling – rather than appeasing – the same sense of frustration that had prompted the intervention. In its turn, this sense of frustration made the process of elaboration of both the war in itself and the episodes that would have followed increasingly difficult, thus contributing in shaping the ambiguous relationship that – in the following decades – would have emerged between Italy and its new African possession
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteThe Libyan War 1911-1912
EditorLuca Micheletta, Andrea Ungari
Numero di pagine18
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2013


  • Guerra italo-turca (1911-12)
  • Identità nazionale italiana


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