Mezzogiorno and Modernity: Southern Italy and Its History

John A. Davis and John A. Marino

Southern Italy is Europeís principal empirical case study of failed modernization. Southern Italy is used by students of anthropology and sociology as a case study for clientelism and crime; by economics students as a case study for underdevelopment; and by political science students as a case study of the politics of factionalism and corruption. Increasingly, moreover, those interested in cultural studies have become interested in the South, particularly in representations and constructions of Southern "backwardness." In both popular stereotypes and scholarly investigations (Banfieldís Moral Basis of a Backward Society, economic dualismís proposition of "two Italies," Putnamís Making Democracy Work, or Gramsciís idea of hegemony), the idea that the Italian South was a land without a viable past, one blocked not only by foreign oppression, but also by the reactionary and ignorant instincts of southern society, can be traced back to the nineteenth-century writings of the southern intellectuals like Benedetto Croce and Francesco De Sanctis who dominated the cultural life of the new unified Italian state.

The "Southern Problem" or "problema del Mezzogiorno" continues to be a serious topic in contemporary Italian social, economic, political and cultural debate. Research over the last twenty years has challenged the traditional story of Southern Italy and we are presently engaged in writing a two-volume history which is divided chronologically according to our respective specialization: Southern Italy in Early Modern Times: from Renaissance to Enlightenment (John Marino) and Southern Italy in Modern Times: From Independent Kingdom to European Unity (John Davis). We argue that the disparities between the Italian North and South that are evident today cannot be understood as the inevitable result of the history of the South­set in stone in the Middle Ages and reinforced through successive crises in the fourteenth, seventeenth, nineteenth and twentieth century. The South does not have a single history that marches forward under the banner of "backwardness," but many different histories. We trace those different regional and sub-regional histories over the long term and through a range of perspectives from political history and institutions, economic organization, civil society, high and low culture, internal and external developments in order to recover a variety of lost histories. We argue that one must examine both the ways in which southern Italy was integrated into the political and economic organization of the new nineteenth-century unified state and the reasons why the subordination of the southern regions has continued to play a central role in the political and economic development of modern Italy down to the end of the twentieth century in order to understand what is now frequently described as Italyís "difficult modernization."