M. Isabella: Southern Europe in the Age of Revolutions

Southern Europe in the Age of Revolutions.

Isabella, Maurizio
Anzahl Seiten
704 S.
$ 39,95
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Jens Späth, Fachrichtung Geschichte, Universität des Saarlandes

A book at the right time, one would think: While large sections of historical scholarship are discussing the European revolutions of 1848/49 in numerous publications and conferences on the occasion of their 175th anniversary, the place of the first wave of revolutions in post-Napoleonic Europe in the Southern periphery of the continent in the 1820s remains significantly underrepresented. Although quite a few historians have contributed to correcting this discrepancy over the past 15 years1, a comprehensive account of Southern Europe as part of a global South in the 1820s has so far been missing. Maurizio Isabella, who teaches at Queen Mary University in London and is a proven expert in Italian and Mediterranean history of the 19th century, took up this desideratum and created an opus magnum over many years of intensive research, synthesizing, combining, and reinterpreting various national historiographies. He benefited from the exchange with a wide network of historians of the Mediterranean and from the context of the international research group around Joanna Innes and Mark Philp, which is committed to reassessing of the history of democracy in the age of revolutions.2

Isabella's study revolves around four key questions: Was there a revolutionary South, when did it manifest itself, how did it present itself and what was special about it? In the wave of simultaneous and interconnected revolutions of the 1820s in Spain, both Sicilies, Portugal, Sardinia-Piedmont, and future Greece, he sees not only a chronological convergence but also broad parallels in aims and effects. These include substantial popular support for liberal ideas, the introduction of constitutions and a political mobilization of the population to an unprecedented extent in their respective countries. Departing from a Francocentric and generally Western dominated perspective, he sees the “Age of Revolutions” with David Armitage, Christopher Bayly and Sanjay Subrahmanyam as a by-product of a global crisis, in which Southern Europe and the Mediterranean were left out of the narrative.3

Isabella's initial thesis is that the Southern European revolutions of 1820/21 demonstrated the fragility, rather than the stability, of the international order in Europe agreed in 1815 (p. 8). The four major European powers then tried out new types of military and political intervention in Southern Europe in order to stabilize the continent. From the Greek Revolution onwards, Europe became increasingly entangled with the Ottoman Empire. In general, the author recognizes in Southern Europe a space intertwined with the Ibero-American and Asian worlds and in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean imperial and revolutionary maritime spaces at the same time. Following Christopher Bayly's interpretation of the 1820s as "constitutional moment in global liberalism" (p. 27–28), Isabella identifies a new popular constitutional culture in Southern Europe, which, although short-lived, caused a major boost in politicization with numerous debates and new practices such as elections and, overall, produced a specifically Southern European liberalism.

In order to substantiate his theses and to identify the content of specifically Southern European liberalism and constitutionalism, he examines four axes around which the revolutions of the 1820s revolved: first, the connections between the army, war and revolution; secondly, the complex of petitions, elections and territorial reorganization; thirdly, the birth of a revolutionary public opinion; and fourthly, the mutual influences of constitutional culture and religion. In the first part, which is by far the longest and compromises five of 13 chapters, Isabella locates the beginnings of revolutionary planning in secret societies whose members were strongly influenced by the Napoleonic Wars (Chapter 1). This military component of the specific, pro-constitutional form of insurrection by officers in the form of the pronunciamiento, which the author characterizes as a Southern European revolutionary “script” (p. 36), proved to be decisive. In all cases, these pronunciamientos were surprisingly successful because they used communications campaigns to build consensus in the military and civilian spheres with calls for reform while maintaining loyalty to the existing authorities. Thanks to popular support, which was variable but present in all revolutions, especially in secret societies, army officers were able to intervene for national liberation in the name of popular sovereignty, emphasizing the nation as a collective community in which individual rights were less important (Chapter 2).

The next three chapters of the first part show that the initial success story of the Southern European revolutions did not last long. Numerous counter-revolutionary alliances, civil wars and regional crises soon undermined the constitutional governments from within, but only led to the end of the revolution in Portugal. Overall, the internal divisions among social groups with their civil conflicts strengthened the military's leadership role in Southern Europe (Chapter 3). The revolutionary script of the 1820s was therefore only initially successful in forcing regime change, but then failed in all cases except in Greece due to recalcitrant monarchs, little diplomatic support, elites willing to compromise in their own country and, above all, the superiority of the Habsburg and French intervention army (Chapter 4). After the restoration of absolutism in the Western Mediterranean, a period of mass exile began in which tens of thousands of revolutionaries practiced new forms of mobility and solidarity, e.g. as international military volunteers moving around and maintaining their liberal networks. By starting with Palermo as a revolutionary Mediterranean hub, Isabella turns against the traditional narrative of Western European philhellenes and focuses decisively on the Southern European periphery. He emphasizes the diverse material conditions, circumstances and motives for crossing the Mediterranean by revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries, freedom fighters, economic migrants and mercenaries, among whom military volunteers were not the most common form of mobility of the decade – even though fears of their circulation led to stricter border controls in the affected states in the 1820s and 1830s (Chapter 5).

In the second part of his study, Isabella then turns more closely to the civil sphere, examining the connections between territorial reorganization, elections and petitions in the name of liberal constitutions. Repeatedly emphasizing the plurality of expectations, reactions and practices of different social groups, the author sees changes in the relationships between citizens, communities, and the state through political constitutions in three areas: First, on the one hand, the revolutions led to a new order with unified national control, but on the other hand local and regional demands for autonomy also created tensions, giving them the character of territorial crises (Chapter 6). Secondly, due to the indirect electoral system established in the Spanish constitution of 1812, national elections remained a primarily local experience, which is why popular sovereignty affirmed the constitutive role of municipalities for the nation (Chapter 7). And thirdly, petitioning as a form of political participation and representation showed the great mobilization for constitutions, but at the same time also socio-economic tensions with different understandings of the nation: on the one hand, the nation as a sum of individuals with a delegation of power to the national parliament with a unified territory and uniform laws, on the other hand, the nation as a collective structure of various social groups with their own privileges and local or regional autonomy rights (Chapter 8). As one of the most important results of the complex territorial crisis since the 1820s, Isabella records the politicization of new layers, but also the struggle against excessive centralization.

The struggle for the sovereignty of interpretation and the favor of public opinion during and after the revolutions forms the third axis of the study (Chapters 9–11). Starting from new spaces, actors and political, cultural and symbolic practices that the revolutions opened up with the introduction of freedom of the press and special forms of sociability, the author draws a differentiated picture for revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries alike. Broad discussions in society played an important role here, as did deliberately spread rumors, state and civically organized festivals, monuments and rituals or continuities of popular forms of protest. The fact that neither constitutional nor absolutist forces were able to create a general consensus is shown by the political tensions that sometimes reached the point of civil war in one and the same city. While the symbolic appropriation of public space proved to be a permanent conflict between revolution and counter-revolution, it also politicized broad sections of society outside the urban centers – a conflictual and tense development that would linger in the memory of the revolutions. In Spain, the political left tended to maintain the legacy of the 1820 revolutionaries, while the later nation-states of Italy, Greece and Portugal integrated them into the state's official culture of remembrance from the 1860s onwards.

In its fourth and final part, Isabella then turns to another central factor of social integration: religion and its role in the establishment of a new political order (Chapters 12 and 13). The author recognizes “junctures” (p. 483) in the 1820s revolutions for the renegotiation of the relationship between religion and politics. He underlines the religiously homogeneous understanding of the nation among revolutionaries in Southern Europe as well as the importance of priests as cultural mediators with their sermons as a central form of communication that could mobilize for or against the revolutions. The efforts of the revolutionaries to reconcile religion, nation and constitutional government indicate a distinctly “communitarian dimension of the early liberal ideology” (p. 559). Isabella also uses numerous examples to show that sections of the lower clergy were definitely pro-constitutional and that this attitude, independent of the Pope, was maintained throughout all revolutions, for example in Italy (1799, 1820, 1848). An important finding which the author identifies as perhaps the most enduring legacy of the 1820s revolutions is the realization that constitutional governments in Southern Europe needed religiously homogeneous communities in order to survive. Thus, all constitutions from the 1830s to 1850s in Southern Europe defined the nation in religious terms - with the exception of the Statuto Albertino of 1848 in Sardinia-Piedmont, which was the only legal text that provided for tolerance and emancipation of the Jewish and Waldensian minorities.

Instead of a comprehensive summary, Isabella ends his investigation with an epilogue in which he problematizes the unfinished legacy of the 1820s revolutions using one protagonist each for Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. The individual trajectories of Yannis Macriyannis, Bernardo de Sá Nogueira de Figueiredo, Guglielmo Pepe and Antonio Alcalá Galiano, all military except for the latter, included diverse experiences of exile after 1821/23. None of them were able to lead a revolution to lasting success. Instead, following Alcalá Galiano, many revolutionaries came to realize that only a constitution without revolution, i.e. a moderate liberalism, would have a chance of survival in the long term. Indeed, from the 1860s onwards, all Southern European states developed in this direction of a moderate monarchy with limited popular participation. However, the revolutions of the 1820s represented a “transformational moment both in the history of constitutional government and in the Age of Revolutions in southern Europe” (p. 605), in which, thanks to a combination of popular mobilization and mass participation in electoral processes, there was more political freedom in Southern Europe than in the later 19th century.

Isabella's empirically rich presentation, which includes numerous theses and corrections to older findings, is based on an impressive wealth of Mediterranean archival and printed sources as well as a stupendous knowledge of the multilingual international research literature. It is rounded off by a chronology of the years 1806-1831, a glossary and a comprehensive index that contains names of places and people as well as the most important technical terms. Two maps and 26 illustrations also provide visual relief, even if the illustrations are used purely for illustrative purposes and are not listed in an index of illustrations. Overall, the author deserves praise and recognition for a new standard work in Southern European historiography. Highly readable, well composed and repeatedly describing relatively unknown local case studies, the study proves to be a treasure trove for anyone who wishes to work on the age of revolutions in the Southern European-Mediterranean region in the future. Although the connections with the global revolutionary South or the perspectives and actions of the (Northern) European major powers could have occasionally been given greater consideration, one thing remains certain: Thanks to Maurizio Isabella's seminal work on the 1820s revolutions, Southern Europe is definitely back on the mental map of 19th-century historians.

1 Maurizio Isabella, Risorgimento in Exile. Emigrés and the Liberal International in the Post-Napoleonic Era, Oxford 2009; Christiana Brennecke, Von Cádiz nach London. Spanischer Liberalismus im Spannungsfeld von nationaler Selbstbestimmung, Internationalität und Exil (1820–33), Göttingen 2010; Agostino Bistarelli, Gli esuli del Risorgimento, Bologna 2011; Rosa Maria Delli Quadri, Innocenti all' estero: Inglesi e Americani a Napoli e nel Mediterraneo 1800–1850, Naples 2012; Juan Luis Simal, Emigrados. España y el exilio internacional, 1814–1834, Madrid 2012; Jens Späth, Revolution in Europa 1820–23. Verfassung und Verfassungskultur in den Königreichen Spanien, beider Sizilien und Sardinien-Piemont, Cologne 2012; Richard Stites, The Four Horsemen. Riding to Liberty in Post-Napoleonic Europe, New York 2014; Werner Daum, Oscillazioni dello spirito pubblico. Sfera pubblica, mercato libraio e comunicazione nella Rivoluzione del 1820–21 nel Regno delle Due Sicilie, Naples 2015; Konstantina Zanou, Transnational Patriotism in the Mediterranean, 1800–1850: Stammering the Nation, Oxford 2018; Pierre-Marie Delpu, Un autre Risorgimento: la formation du monde libéral dans le Royaume des Deux-Siciles (1815-1856), Rome 2019.
2 See the volume relevant to Southern Europe: Joanna Innes / Mark Philp (Eds.), Re-Imagining Democracy in the Mediterranean, 1780–1860, Oxford 2018.
3 David Armitage / Sanjay Subrahmanyam (Eds.), The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760–1840, New York 2010.