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Jus Sanguinis:
Racial Identity in 19th-Century Italian Nationalism

Donne-e-Risorgimento-in-arrivo-tre-mostre-a-MIlano735 words

Translated by Guillaume Durocher

Translator’s Note:

The following is translated from the excellent Italian nationalist website Il Primato Nazionale. The title is editorial. 

The Kingdom of Italy’s law on citizenship, dating back to 1865 (and whose principles would also be fully respected by [liberal statesman and long-serving Prime Minister Giovanni] Giolitti’s reform with law number 555 of June 13, 1912), is the logical result of the process of the Risorgimento [of Italian unification]. If the Risorgimento gave a political and state form to the Italian nation, it in fact resulted in the choice of establishing citizenship on the principle of nationality, and therefore of granting it, with rare exceptions of strictly regulated naturalizations, only to individuals of Italian nationality and to their descendants. 

In this regard, I think it is also important to recall, if only briefly, the theoretical-cultural itinerary in order to ever-better elucidate the concept of nationhood, and what represented, so to speak, the doctrinal foundation on which the legislator ultimately based its work on. 

Unsurprisingly, there emerges throughout the pages of an important collection of documents [on Italian unification] published a few years go – centered on [the nineteenth century Italian nationalist activist and politician Giuseppe] Mazzini  – a conception of the nation founded upon “an ascriptive membership (that is factors which are independent of the choice of the individual alone); the biological essence implying membership in a common community (physiological medicine); cultural characteristics (language) and natural ones (the soil) which are unique to it,”[1] which then feed into the strictly political work of a nation’s will-to-be. 

But in this same anthology it is apparent that the Mazzinian idea of the nation was widely shared as for example with [the poet and novelist Alessandro] Manzoni (141, “an [Italy] of arms, of language, of the altar / Of memories, of blood, and of the heart”), [the philosopher and Piedmontese Prime Minister Vincenzo] Gioberti (p. 148: “there is but an Italy and an Italian race bound by blood, by religion, by written and illustrious language”), and [literary scholar] Francesco De Sanctis (368: “we will be a nation of 27 million men, one by language, by religion, by memory, by culture, by genius, and by kind”). 

Equally significant is the entry “Nation” in Tommaseo and Bellini’s Dictionary of 1869: “Nation, a stock of men having the same origin and speaking the same language. A union of people bound by civil, moral, and intellectual traditions. A society of families in common and continuous bonds of descent, of tradition, of affection, of language, of institutions, of deeds, of settlement: Above all of settlement and affection. That is most proper. Nation, where men have common lineage, language, laws, and power, and the will to actualize them.”[2] 

At the end of this summary, but instructive, reconstitution, one cannot neglect to cite the words of Pasquale Stanislao Mancini, the jurist and politician to whom Italy’s post-unification citizenship law is largely to due. 

Already in 1851, in a course on international and maritime law, held at the Royal University of Turin, Mancini identified the salient features of the principle of nationality: “territory, race, language, customs, history, laws, religions.” And when it came to debating the rules on citizenship in parliament, Mancini would powerfully reiterate the absolute centrality of the principle of nationality, saying that “man is born as a member of a family, and the nation being an aggregate of families, he is a citizen of the nation to which his father and his family belong to. The place of birth, that of domicile or residence, have neither value nor significance. And praise be to the new Code, which paid tribute to this great principle, which states that is Italian he who is born, in whatever place, of an Italian father and of an Italian family.”[3]


1. A. M. Banti, ed., Nel nome dell’Italia: Il Risorgimento nelle testimonianze, nei documenti et nelle immagini (Rome and Bari: 2010), 143-44. In a later text, stressing the critical character, for Mazzini, of birth as a politically relevant event, as it situates in the individual within his national community and gives a sense to his ties with past, present, and future generation of which the same community is made of, Banti comes even to speak, again about Mazzini, of a “biopolitical conception of the nation” (A. M. Banti, Sublime madre nostra: La nazione italiana dal Risorgimento al fascismo [Rome and Bari: 2011), 17).

2. Quoted in A. M. Banti, La nazione del Risorgimento (Torino: 2000), 166.

3. Both quoted in Ibid., 163 and 169 respectively.




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  1. Jeff
    Posted November 9, 2015 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    “Theorists who hold it to be a wrong that a nation should belong to a foreign State are therefore in contradiction with the law of civil progress. This law, or rather necessity, which is as absolute as the law that binds society together, is the force which makes us need one another, and only enables us to obtain what we need on terms, not of equality, but of dominion and subjection, in domestic, economic, or political relations. The political theory of nationality is in contradiction with the historic nation.

    Check out this book on the iBooks Store:
    Excerpt From: Acton, Lord. “Mr. Goldwin Smith’s Irish History.” iBooks.
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  2. Occidental Composer
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Great piece! Thanks!

    Does anyone know where I can get more info on racial identity in 19thC Italy? I’m trying to write an essay on Verdi’s Otello but with a Racialist/Racial Identity perspective.

    Also any references for racial identity for the rest of Europe? (Same period)

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