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Count Sforza’s Act of Faith

ISSUE:  Summer 1944

Contemporary Italy. By Count Carlo Sforza. Translated by Drake and Denise de Kay. E. P. Dutton & Company. $3.50.

Count Sforza’s book embodies his devotion to his country, and it is an act of faith—faith in Italy. He calls it “a testimony,” not “just a history,” and it is subjective, impassioned, and impressionistic. The image of Italy that he has created contains some “gaps and disproportions,” but it conveys the author’s adoration of liberty. Liberty has been Count Sforza’s cause—liberty for Italy and for the individual—and to him it is the good, the beautiful, in pursuit of which he has travelled far. He left the Fascist Senate in 1927, he has journeyed to France, England, and America, and now he is back at Bari in the Badoglio cabinet. To Sforza’s sincerity, patriotism, and idealism, his book bears witness. As a history, however, it lacks structure and objectivity, but he forestalled criticism of his highly selective method by saying at the outset: “I have wanted to write my ideas, my impressions, and not an encyclopedia.”

And so it is Sforza, more than Italy, that will catch the reader’s attention. It is Sforza’s reminiscences of European diplomacy with his inside stories about Algeciras, Ankara, Vienna, Versailles, and the Vatican; it is his observations upon popes, kings, politicians, and poets; and it is Sforza’s reflections upon Italian literature and history that make for fascination. From Italy’s past he has called up a myriad of personalities, ideas, and episodes to illustrate his theme, the Italians’ quest for freedom—intellectual, moral, and political. Personal loyalty to Giolitti, the prime minister he once served, may account for Sforza’s delicately tinted portrait of that old parliamentary dictator. Lurid episodes in Giolitti’s career that Margot Hentze and Cecil Sprigge have recently detailed, Sforza fails to recall or dismisses as “myths.” For him, Giolitti was “a great and honest servant of the State,” and he forgets how Salvemini, back in 1909, exposed the dictator’s electioneering tricks. Nor can we, today, accept Giolitti’s negative liberalism and do-nothing government as a positive good. The rottenness of the parliamentary regime has been too well documented to be flicked away with the stroke of a facile pen. And Sforza’s assumption that parliamentary Italy was a democratic Italy hardly holds.

Fascist Italy he seeks to bury with contempt and pity, and with an aristocratic tolerance of human frailty. This may be why it seems ungracious of him to flay the tragi-comic ministers of France and England, and Azana of Spain, for not having stood up to Mussolini. Now if it was true, as Sforza implies, that the Duce was mostly front, then why did not a few Italians gather together in liberty’s name and call his bluff? Unhappily, there were Italians, as well as Americans and English, who thought that Fascism was good for Italy. Herbert Matthews has answered the current Italian excuse, “It wasn’t our fault,” by showing that was “the fault of all those millions of Italians who had supported and applauded” Fascism for nearly twenty years. Back in 1924, after the Matteotti murder, many of the liberals fled from parliament where they were too few and too proud to fight Mussolini. Their strategy, to rally a morally outraged public opinion, while sound in logic was false in politics. The cynical Italy of 1924 lacked enough decent opinion to support an effective extra-parliamentary opposition, and civic apathy forced the migration of liberal leaders. Many of these men, like Sforza, intending only “to take a walk,” found themselves off on an Odyssey.

Now at his journey’s end and once again a minister of Victor Emmanuel (upon whom his book heaps disgust) Sforza is in a position to act. Surely, he will try to implant in Italy a more mature conception of the democratic process. At bottom, it rests on the principle of compromise which, to Sforza, is the same as the Italian “quality” of combinazione (union, combination). In Italian political practice, combinazione meant combining two programs, the union of two policies, while in American and British politics compromise, the granting of mutual concessions, generally contains an element of sacrifice. Put crudely, compromise has often meant taking half a loaf instead of none, while combinazione has all too frequently been a way of having two cakes and eating them both.

The new Italy will also need new men. Many of the landowners, the industrialists, and the clergy, Sforza feels, are too imbued with an authoritarian tradition. He banks on the peasants—if their problems are met at once—and about them he is hopeful and optimistic. Less cheerful are his comments on the clergy and the Holy See. A liberty-minded and anti-temporal clergy he desiderates for Italy, and he denounces the illiberal policies and the undemocratic principles of the Piuses, IX to XII. Among their faults none was greater than the Concordat with Italy, the signing of which, Sforza asserts on “irrefutable documentary evidence” which he cannot now publish, became Pius XI’s “deepest grief.” Hope of liberalizing the papacy rests with American and English Catholics, he implies, for after 1018 “the Holy See’s budget received almost nothing from France, Germany, and Austria. All the funds came from England and America”—ironically, the two great Protestant powers.

Through liberty, Count Sforza believes, all things may be brought to pass. Courage and faith such as his are needed to mould anew the Italian people. Along with food, factories, and finance, there must be ideas and ideals. So it may be well that there are among those in authority today men like Croce and Sforza who care about “the palpitation of the Italian soul.” Americans just out of south Italy, however, say that the Italians suffer from more than soul-sickness. In their picture, the Italians hardly resemble the people Count Sforza describes, the people we wish they had been and hope they may become.


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