North South Divide

Visual Representation of North South Divide

When one observes Italy’s abundant amount of historic events and looks further into how the country came to be united as one during the North and South Divide, it is understood that the past is complex, and unification was very difficult to achieve. One of the largest contributors to the difficulty of Northern and Southern Italy unifying at the time were their vast differences in culture and fiscal initiatives. In order to understand why the North South divide occurred and how it affects Italy today, we must look at the initial sparks in the conflict and how this issue has created an ongoing hardship for citizens to find a national identity. The time period we are looking at is from 1860-1870, while simultaneously examining the current condition of the country. Geography plays a major part in understanding the divisions that happened in Italy as well. However, the North and South of Italy are not only separated by vast amounts of land, but also through different dialects, political beliefs, economic beliefs, etc. Although the country of Italy was considered unified after the Risorgimento, there was still a major disconnect between the Southern regions and the rest of the North. This disconnect began with the issue of economic disparities mentioned and the lack of a national dialect. 

In order to dive deeper, many well respected authors and historians have devoted years of research on the divide itself. Mario Mignone, author of Italy Today: Facing the Challenges of the New Millenium and Antonio Gramsci, author The Southern Question, both describe the inequalities and disparities between the North and the South in their writing and provide insights for why these inequalities may have taken place. Both Mignone and Gramsci spend a significant amount of time addressing the root issue, which was found to be stereotyping, racism, and “othering” that came about during the time of unification (Mignone, 2007). 

Additionally, furthering the divide, the Brigand wars – a major piece of Italian history that often get overlooked as only being relevant to the South – were deemed as social unrest instead of the Brigands being labeled as rebels and bandits simply because they didn’t want to comply with the new government. The influx and spread of bandits and their behavior strongly influenced the picture that the Northerners had in their head of the South and their people. These stereotypes that formed have contributed immense hostility between the two sides of the country. This was considered by historians to be similar to a civil war because of the lack of help the South received during the unrest (Mignone, 2007). Although the Brigands in the South were considered violent, it seems as though much of this angst was in response to military troops stationed in the Southern part of the country to establish control of the social uprising that was brewing. The Brigand wars created a new rhetoric about the South in the North of Italy. Mignone discusses the complicated history of the Brigands and how much they were overlooked by the rest of the country. To bring this problem to life, she quotes a young Italian officer in 1861 who stated: “The brigands are like the Arab Phoenix; everyone says they exist, no one knows where they are; and I am beginning to believe that their existence is only the product of the overactive imaginations of these people” (Mignone: 2007, 185). This explanation from a man who lived through this crisis gives a clear picture of how the Brigands were misconstrued by many in the North because of this dangerous rhetoric of leaders that wanted to paint the South as the problem within the country. This clarifies Mignone beliefs that one of the main reasons the North and South divide occurred was because of these stereotypes discussed and “othering” that the leaders of the country enforced during this time period.

Moreover, Antonio Gramsci had similar ideas as to why the North South divide became so prominent. However, he differed in one category; the power of the economic differences. The economic disparities between the two halves of the country as well as the social classes that were in place contributed to the divide in a major way. Gramsci proposed a solution that would enable the working class to band together and help this economic gap close. A large part of this solution comes from Gramsci’s belief that the North South divide was prominent because of the Northern Bourgeoisie. He stated, “The Northern bourgeoisie has subjugated the South of Italy and the Islands, and reduced them to exploitable colonies; by emancipating itself from capitalist slavery, the Northern proletariat will emancipate the Southern peasant masses enslaved to the banks and the parasitic industry of the North” (Gramsci, 1926). This illustrates how the Gramsci understood how the North subjugated the South on purpose because of their capitalistic structure, and in an effort to further themselves as a country while leaving the South as the “others”. Gramsci has provided understanding on how social class and the workforce are important factors contributing to the North and South dividem in addition to the stereotyping and othering discussed previously. 

Despite the underlying issues and the causes for divide, the Italian unification, or the Risorgimento (“Resurgence” in italian) “was the political and social process that unified different states of the Italian peninsula into the single nation of Italy.” (Lezione 6, Italian Unification, 2020). Although the country of Italy was considered unified after the Risorgimento, there was still a major disconnect between the Southern regions and the rest of the North. This disconnect involved continued economic disparities and lack of a national dialect that serve as a unifier for most citizens. Despite the issues that linger on, one of the main contributors towards unification of Italy is the importance of family, something all Italians could get behind. Although the level of importance tends to differ from the North to the South (there is traditionally more emphasis on family in the South and less in the North), this still is very prominent, and almost equally as important as religion, the other belief most could get behind. Most Italians of that time grew up in a Catholic household, and we see to this day the power of the Roman Catholic church, and it makes sense how this could unify the masses. 

In conclusion, the North and South divide is a problem that while dissecting you find many different layers of problems and conflict. Research from many different time periods have shown sentiments of doing the same. Although the Risorgimento or resurgence took place, the North continued to be a major factor of the problem when looking at observing the divide. Northern Italy held the power even after the unification and this power was used to hold the South in a chokehold while in an economic and industrial standstill. This shows the difficulty in unification, even if it is formally agreed upon, and how even if there are resolutions, one party never relents as much as the other, and that is what makes this such a prominent event in Italian history. 


Mignone, M. B. (2007). Italy today: facing the challenges of the new millennium. New York:

            Peter Lang.

Gramsci, A., & Verdicchio, P. (1926). The southern question. Toronto: Guernica Editions.

            Di_Scala, S. (2009). Italy: from revolution to republic, 1700 to the present. Boulder

            (CO): Westview.

Italian Unification and the Southern Question – Module 5 (Leizone 6. PPT Slides)

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