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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cavour: Rome and Italy

Count Camillo Benso di Cavour [1810-1861], “the regenerator of Italy,” was for many years Premier of his country. Under his leadership the cause of Italian unity was greatly advanced, the clerical question was settled and the first Italian parliament established. The following speech was made in 1861, and appears here in abridged form.

Rome should be the capital of Italy. There can be no solution of the Roman question without the acceptance of this premise by Italy and by all Europe. If any one could conceive of a united Italy with any degree of stability, and without Rome for its capital, I would declare the Roman question difficult, if not impossible, of solution. And why have we the right, the duty, of insisting that Rome shall be united to Italy? Because without Rome as the capital of Italy, Italy cannot exist.

But here begin the difficulties of the problem. We must go to Rome, but there are two conditions: We must go there in concert with France, otherwise the union of Rome with the rest of Italy will be interpreted by the great mass of Catholics, within Italy and without, as the signal of the slavery of the church. We must go, therefore, to Rome in such a way that the true independence of the pontiff will not be diminished. We must go to Rome, but the civil power must not extend to spiritual things. These are the two conditions that must be fulfilled if this united Italy is to exist.

As to the first, it would be folly, in the present condition of affairs in Europe, to think of going to Rome in the face of the opposition of France. Yet more: even if, through events which I believe improbable and impossible, France were reduced to a condition which forbade material interference with our actions, we should none the less avoid uniting Rome to the rest of Italy, if, by so doing, we caused loss to our allies.

We have contracted a great debt toward France. I do not claim that the narrow moral code which affects individual actions should be applied ad literam to international relations. Still there are certain moral principles which even nations may not violate with impunity.

I know that many diplomats profess contrary views. I remember hearing a famous Austrian statesman applauded a few years ago when he laugh­ingly declared that in a short time Austria would astound Europe by her ingratitude to Russia. As a matter of fact, Austria kept her word; you already know, and if you do not I can testify to the fact, that at the Congress of Paris no power showed more hostility to Russia or tried harder to aggravate the conditions of peace than Austria, whose sword had done nothing toward imposing peace upon her old ally. But, gentlemen, the violation of that great moral principle did not go unpunished. After a few years Russia had her revenge; and we should be glad of it, for I do not hesitate to attribute to the unforgotten ingratitude of Austria the facility with which friendly relations were established between Russia and ourselves, relations now unfortunately interrupted, but, I hope, with­out changing the feelings of Russia for Italy, and without any alteration of the sympathy for us which has always dwelt in the bosom of the Czar.

Gentlemen, we have an even graver motive for cooperating with France. When, in 1859, we invoked French aid, when the emperor consented to descend into Italy at the head of his legions, he made no secret of his pledges to the court of Rome. We accepted his aid without protest against those pledges. Now, after reaping such advantages from that alliance, we can protest against the pledges only to a certain point. But then, you will object, the solution of the Roman question is impossible!

I answer: If the second of our conditions is fulfilled, the first will offer few obstacles. That is, if we can so act that the reunion of Rome to Italy does not cause alarm to Catholic society. By Catholic society I mean the great mass of people who profess religious belief from conviction and not for political ends, and who are free from vulgar prejudices. If, I say, we can persuade the great mass of Catholics that the uniting of Rome to Italy can be accomplished without sacrificing the liberty of the church, the problem will, I think, be solved.

We must not deceive ourselves; there are many who, while not prejudiced against Italy nor against liberal ideas, yet fear that, if Rome were united to Italy, the seat of Italian government established there and the king seated in the Quirinal, the pontiff would lose both dignity and independence; they fear that the pope, instead of being the head of Catholicism, would be reduced to the rank of grand almoner or head chaplain.

If these fears were well founded, if the fall of the temporal power would really have this consequence, I would not hesitate to say that the union of Rome to the Italian state would be fatal not only to Catholicism, but to the existence of Italy itself. Yet further, I can imagine no greater misfortune for a cultured people than to see in the hands of its rulers not only the civil, but also the religious power.

The history of centuries proves to us that wherever this union was consummated civilization immediately ceased to advance and, therefore, necessarily began to retrograde; the most detestable of despotisms fol­lowed, and this whether a caste of priests usurped the temporal power, or a caliph or sultan seized control of things spiritual. Everywhere this fatal union has produced the same result; God forbid that it should ever be so here! ...

When these doctrines have received the solemn sanction of the national parliament, when it will be no longer lawful to doubt the feelings of Italians, when it is clear to the world that they are not hostile to the religion of their fathers, but wish to preserve this religion in their country, when it is no longer necessary to show them how to prosper and to develop their resources by combating a power which was an obstacle, not only to the reorganization of Italy but also to the spread of Catholicity, I believe that the greater part of Catholic society will absolve the Italians, and will place where it belongs the responsibility of the fatal struggle which the pope insists upon waging against the country in whose midst he lives.

But God avert this fatal chance! At the risk of being considered utopian, I believe that when the proclamation of the principles which I have just declared, and when the indorsement of them that you will give, are known and considered at Rome and in the Vatican, I believe, I say, that those Italian fibers which the reactionary party has, as yet, been unable to remove from the heart of Pius IX. will again vibrate, and there will be accomplished the greatest act that any people have yet performed. And so it will be given to the same generation to have restored a nation, and to have done what is yet greater, yet more sublime, an act of which the influence is incalculable, that is, to have reconciled the papacy with the civil power, to have made peace between church and state, between the spirit of religion and the great principles of liberty. Yes, I hope that it will be given us to compass these two great acts, which will most assuredly carry to the most distant posterity the worthiness of the present generation of Italians.

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