To what extent was Austria responsible for the failures of the Italian revolutions in the years 1820-1849?

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To what extent was Austria responsible for the failures of the Italian revolutions in the years 1820-1849?

There is no denying that the power that Austrian Empire held from 1820 and 1848 was influential and was one of the reasons the Italian revolutionaries failed. This is why some argue that the main reason of the failed attempt to unite Italy was the brute force of the Austrian military and navy. However, many argue that this was merely one factor of many. Some argue that the reason that Italy’s revolutionaries failed was due to the geographical fragmentation of Italy and the fact that this consequently leads to parochialism within these individual sectors.  However, the argument that carries the greatest weight is that the individuals who led these revolts and were at the forefront of the revolutionary movements were not united themselves in how they wanted Italy to unite.

Austria clearly had a central role in putting down many of the revolts and so played an important role in both the failure of the 1820-21 revolutions and the ones that took place between 1848-49. Prior to 1820, Italy was unsettled and highly divided with nationalists, liberals and extremists amongst the masses. As the hostility in Italy increased under Austrian rule, secret societies emerged such as ‘The Carbonari’ – which was particularly popular in Southern Italy. By 1815, the aims of these secret societies changed in the direction of driving out the Austrians and restoring old Monarchs. Consequently, these factors paved the way for revolts and armed the peasants with something they never had had before – power. In a large number, the masses could stand against the oppressive rule of the Austrians. Therefore, the events that followed in the years 1820 – 1849 were all underpinned by the resentment of this from Metternich and the importance he placed on controlling Italy. Metternich was the Austrian chancellor and saw the danger of Italian nationalism and the potentially threatening ideas that could spread if he allowed it. He saw the need to keep the Italy weak, divided and controlled by Austria. Moreover, a revolution in Italy could have devastating repercussions. A revolt in Italy could be a catalyst to other revolts in the Austrian Empire itself. Ultimately, the reason why the revolutions were put down with so much force by Austria was due to their need to keep Italy divided, so that Austria – and only Austria – could be the dominating power.  

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One of the main ways that Austria ensured Italy remained in its Empire was by using military force to put down the revolutions and keeping control. The first time the Italians truly saw the wrath of Austria was when the poverty stricken Naples erupted in revolts in January 1820 due to political and economic grievences. Restrictions on personal freedom and a corrupt government led the Carbonari to march on Naples (July 2, 1820) to the cry of "Long live liberty and the constitution." This led King Ferdinand I to grant a constitution which limited royal powers, decreased centralization, and reduced ...

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