The process of successful state formation, through which the institutional structure that performs the basic functions of the state emerges and spreads across the national territory, is crucial for the development of well-functioning institutional machinery. In modern countries, institutions often bear the marks of the process of state formation that began in the previous century (Chambru et al. 2022). Indeed, in many countries there are still elements of issues relevant to the current political debate that can be traced to past ‘flaws’ in such processes (Tilly 1975).
Of particular interest are cases where state formation faces resistance from local communities, often in conflicting and even violent ways. Subsequent instability (and government repression) with negative consequences on social and economic outcomes (e.g. Tabellini 2010) may create less confidence. Several studies have shown how violence can be detrimental to state formation and have a negative impact on state power (Basel et al. 2021, Ch et al. 2019).
In a recent study (Lecce et al. 2022), we examine patterns of violent reactions against state formation. To this end, we study the annexation of southern Italy to the new Italian state during the national unification process of the 1860s. This gave rise to a wave of violently popular unrest, known as brigandage, which spread to southern communities and lasted for decades in certain areas. Both the unrest and its suppression could negatively affect the Italian state-building process in later years (e.g. Accetturo et al. 2017). The main advantages of this setting are the transparency of the state formation process (including the effort to build a conscious state and a huge institutional replacement) and the possibility to measure the intensity of brigandage at the level of municipalities, the smallest administrative units.
Most importantly, over the centuries, several areas of southern Italy have been settled by non-indigenous groups, creating clusters of municipalities with distinct linguistic and cultural identities. Of these, at least ten municipalities were founded in the Middle Ages by settlers in the Piedmont area (marked in red in Figure 1). And, among the existing territorial states, Piedmont was the initiator of the Italian state-building process in the 1860s.
Figure 1 The intensity of brigandage in southern Italy, 1861-70
Comments: The map shows all the municipalities of continental southern Italy as of 1861. The size of the marker reflects its intensity Robbery (Number of episodes per 1,000 inhabitants). The communities of Piedmontese descent (“pied. Enclave”) are marked in red and their names are indicated for each cluster.
Figure 1 shows the distribution of the brigandage episode and the location of the Piedmontese community. Almost all Piedmontese communities were located in the middle to high brigandage areas, especially in the basilicata (second and third from north to south). These communities were not snatch-free, but they and their immediate neighbors were significantly less affected by the brigandage episode than their nearest nearby municipality, which actually exhibited more brigandage than the average municipality. The pattern is clearly visible in Figure 2, where the intensity of the brigandage is plotted against a measure of distance from the nearest Piedmontese community. The brigandage is represented in deviations from the provincial average in order to differentiate the average level of brigandage in the area.
Figure 2 The brigandage intensity and distance from the Piedmontese community
Comments: Distance from nearest Piedmontese enclave Average brigandage incidence at the municipal level (from 0 to moderate, the province controls for static effect (provinces were the thickest administrative subdivision). Distance is measured by the time required for travel. পদ্ধতিzak (2010) Nearby enclaves: Each bin travels approximately two hours, or 10 kilometers. Sample includes Piedmontese enclaves, but retains all results if excluded.
Conditioned on observable features, the Piedmontese community and their nearest neighbors exhibited fewer brigandage episodes than the surrounding municipalities. We estimate that doubling the distance from the nearest Piedmont enclave is associated with a 13% increase in the expected incidence of the Brigand Rebellion. Consistent with the patterns in Figure 2, we find that the relationship between the distance from the Piedmontese enclave and the intensity of the brigandage is highly nonlinear, recognizable only in municipalities within a 10-hour walk of the nearest Piedmontese enclave. Such effects reinforce a wide variety of model specifications and additional controls. In the paper, we show that it is not responsible for the difference in pre-integration of socio-economic variables, or for other dimensions that make Piedmontese enclaves different from other municipalities.
A common question asked is why do we detect such effects. The local nature of the influence probably reveals a role driven by frequent interactions between the population of the neighboring municipality and the residents of the Piedmontese community, which may lead to the spread of cultural features from later times to the former. After excluding various possible economic and institutional factors, we take a measure of our distance from the area of Piedmontese descent as a good indicator of cultural distance from Piedmont. Our results support the assumption that Piedmont’s cultural proximity undermines the objectives of the rebellion, in favor of new rulers and new institutional structures.
We explore two possible mechanisms by which cultural proximity can create such diversity in the intensity of the response to Italian unification. The first is a process of social identification, and it deals with the identity of the new rulers. The beginning of the integration process has elevated the local cultural identity, as described by Bazi et al. (2018, 2019), Fouka (2020), and Dehdari and Gehring (2022), and the realization of shared identity by the Piedmontese enclaves that descend into southern Italy. The process of social identification enhances the perceived legitimacy of the new rulers, raises better expectations about the new government’s actions, or imposes the inability to fight people of similar origins to reduce the intensity of brigandage in and around the Piedmont enclave. In other words, the communities of the Piedmontese dynasty may have a more favorable attitude towards the new Piedmontese rulers before the most intense phase of the state formation process begins. An indication comes from a different source: Using the list of men who volunteered for General Garibaldi’s Italian unification campaign in 1860, we prove that the rate of participation in such initiatives was higher in the municipality near the Piedmont enclave.
The second possible process is the conflict between the local values and the content of the specific Piedmontese organization imposed after the merger. The acceptability of the new set of organizations may depend on the cultural characteristics of the recipient community as well as their ‘suitability’ (Dryzek, 1996, De Jong and Mamadouh 2002, Lecce and Ogliari 2019). In the context in which we analyze, cultural proximity could make the Piedmontese enclave and surrounding communities even more so with some of the transplanted institutions. To make a precise example, the anticlairic content of the Piedmontese law may be lower than the average southern municipality, contrary to local social norms. By supporting a potential religious channel, we provide evidence that the presence of a monastery is less likely to occur when someone approaches the Piedmontese community.
While other processes may be effective, which we cannot explore due to a lack of quantitative sources, the two pieces of evidence we present indicate that there may be both favorable tendencies in the former and post-impact acceptance of newly imposed institutions. Work here. While other contexts caution the extrapolation of results in a particular historical environment, our findings support the notion that cultural proximity to the ‘source’ of the state formation process is associated with reduced negative reactions to the new state, probably because local communities view the new rulers as culturally intimate. , Or the policies they apply are consistent with local social norms.
Author’s note: The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors and the Bank of Italy.
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