Italian Liberal Party

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Italian Liberal Party

Partito Liberale Italiano
Leaders Giovanni Giolitti
Luigi Facta
Benedetto Croce
Luigi Einaudi
Enrico De Nicola
Bruno Villabruna
Gaetano Martino
Giovanni Malagodi
Valerio Zanone
Alfredo Biondi
Renato Altissimo
Raffaele Costa
Founded8 October 1922
Dissolved6 February 1994
Preceded by Liberal Union
Succeeded by Federation of Liberals [1]
(legal successor)
Union of the Centre [1]
Membership (1958)173,722 (max) [2]
Ideology Liberalism [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]
Conservative liberalism
Conservatism [10] [11]
Political position Centre [12] [13] to Centre-right [11] [14]
National affiliation National Blocs (1922–24)
National List (1924–26)
National Liberation Committee (1943–46)
National Democratic Union (1946–48)
National Bloc (1948)
Centrism (1948–58)
Pentapartito [15] (1980–93)
European affiliation ELDR Party
International affiliation Liberal International
European Parliament group ELDR Group
Colours     Blue

The Italian Liberal Party (Italian : Partito Liberale Italiano, PLI) was a liberal and conservative political party in Italy.

Italian language Romance language

Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, and together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to it of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a regional or a traditional language in these countries, where Italians do not represent a historical minority. In the case of Romania, Italian is listed by the Government along 10 other languages which supposedly receive a "general protection", but not between those which should be granted an "advanced or enhanced" one. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian and other regional languages.

Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights, capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Yellow is the political colour most commonly associated with liberalism.

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. The central tenets of conservatism include tradition, human imperfection, organic society, hierarchy, authority, and property rights. Conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as religion, parliamentary government, and property rights, with the aim of emphasizing social stability and continuity. The more traditional elements—reactionaries—oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".


The PLI, which is the heir of the liberal currents of both the Historical Right and the Historical Left, was a minor party after World War II, but also a frequent junior party in government, especially since 1979.

The Right group, later called Historical Right by historians to distinguish it from the right-wing groups of the 20th century, was an Italian parliamentary group during the second half of the 19th century. Since 1876, the Historical Right constituted the Constitutional opposition toward the left governments. Since 1882, its members were usually labeled as Constitutionals or Liberal-Conservatives, especially during the leadership of Rudinì and Sonnino. Few prime ministers after 1852 were party men; instead they accepted support where they could find it, and even the governments of the Historical Right during the 1860s included leftists.

The Left group, later called Historical Left by historians to distinguish it from the left-wing groups of the 20th century, was a liberal and reformist parliamentary group in Italy during the second half of the 19th century. The members of the Left were also known as Democrats or Ministerials. Differently by his Right counterpart, the Left was the result of coalition who represented Northern and Southern middle class, urban bourgeoisie, small businessmen, journalists and academics. It also supported a right to vote and the public school for all children. Moreover, the party was against the high taxation's policies promoted by the Right. Since the 1890s, the Left showed conservative tendencies, breaking strikes and protests and promoting a colonialist policy in Africa.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.



The origins of liberalism in Italy are in the Historical Right, a parliamentary group formed by Camillo Benso di Cavour in the Parliament of the Kingdom of Sardinia following the 1848 revolution. The group was moderately conservative and supported centralised government, restricted suffrage, regressive taxation, and free trade. They dominated politics following Italian unification in 1861 but never formed a party, basing their power on census suffrage and first-past-the-post voting system.

Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour Italian politician and patriot

Camillo Paolo Filippo Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour, Isolabella and Leri, generally known as Cavour, was an Italian statesman and a leading figure in the movement toward Italian unification. He was one of the leaders of the Historical Right, and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, a position he maintained throughout the Second Italian War of Independence and Garibaldi's campaigns to unite Italy. After the declaration of a united Kingdom of Italy, Cavour took office as the first Prime Minister of Italy; he died after only three months in office, and thus did not live to see Venetia or Rome added to the new Italian nation.

Kingdom of Sardinia former Italian state (1324–1861)

The Kingdom of Sardinia was a state in Southern Europe from the early 14th until the mid-19th century.

Revolutions of 1848 in the Italian states organized revolts

The 1848 Revolutions in the Italian states, part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, were organized revolts in the states of the Italian peninsula and Sicily, led by intellectuals and agitators who desired a liberal government. As Italian nationalists they sought to eliminate reactionary Austrian control. During this time period of 1848, Italy was not a unified country, and was divided into many states, which, in Northern Italy, were ruled by the Austrian Empire. A desire to be independent from foreign rule, and the conservative leadership of the Austrians, led Italian revolutionaries to stage revolution in order to drive out the Austrians. The revolution was led by the state of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Also, the uprisings in the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, particularly in Milan, forced the Austrian General Radetzky to retreat to the Quadrilatero (Quadrilateral) fortresses.

The Right was opposed by the more progressive Historical Left, which overthrew Marco Minghetti's government during the so-called "Parliamentary Revolution" of 1876, which brought Agostino Depretis to become Prime Minister. However, Depretis immediately began to look for support among Rightists MPs, who readily changed their positions, in a context of widespread corruption. This phenomenon, known in Italian as trasformismo (roughly translatable in English as "transformism"—in a satirical newspaper, the PM was depicted as a chameleon), effectively removed political differences in Parliament, which was dominated by an undistinguished liberal bloc with a landslide majority until World War I.

Progressivism is the support for or advocacy of social reform. As a philosophy, it is based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancements in science, technology, economic development and social organization are vital to the improvement of the human condition.

Marco Minghetti Italian politician

Marco Minghetti was an Italian economist and statesman.

Agostino Depretis Italian politician

Agostino Depretis was an Italian statesman and politician. He was the Prime Minister of Italy for several times between 1876 and 1887 and leader of the Historical Left parliamentary group for more than a decade. He is the fourth-longest serving Prime Minister in Italian history, after Benito Mussolini, Giovanni Giolitti and Silvio Berlusconi. Depretis is widely considered one of the most powerful and important politicians in Italian history.

Two parliamentary factions alternated in government, one led by Sidney Sonnino and the other, by far the largest of the two, by Giovanni Giolitti. The latter was known as Liberal Union since 1913 and was finally re-joined also by Sonnino. At that time the Liberals governed in alliance with the Radicals, the Democrats and, eventually, the Reformist Socialists. [16]

Sidney Sonnino Italian politician

Sidney Costantino, Baron Sonnino was an Italian statesman, 19th Prime Minister of Italy and twice served briefly as one, in 1906 and again from 1909 to 1910. He also was the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs during the First World War, representing Italy at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

Giovanni Giolitti Italian politician

Giovanni Giolitti was an Italian statesman. He was the Prime Minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921. He is the second-longest serving Prime Minister in Italian history, after Benito Mussolini. He was a prominent leader of the Historical Left and the Liberal Union. Giolitti is widely considered one of the most powerful and important politicians in Italian history and, due to his dominant position in Italian politics, he was accused by critics of being a parliamentary dictator.

Liberal Union (Italy) political party in Italy

The Liberal Union, simply and collectively called Liberals, was a political alliance formed in the first years of the 20th century by the Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Historical Left Giovanni Giolitti. The alliance was formed when the Left and the Right merged in a single centrist and liberal coalition which largely dominated the Italian Parliament.

The brief party

Giovanni Giolitti, five-time Prime Minister of Italy (1892-1921) Giovanni Giolitti 2.jpg
Giovanni Giolitti, five-time Prime Minister of Italy (1892–1921)

At the end of World War I, universal suffrage and proportional representation were introduced. These reforms caused big problems to the Liberals, which found themselves unable to stop the rise of two mass parties, the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and the Italian People's Party (PPI), which had taken the control of many local authorities in northern Italy even before the war. The Catholic PPI opposed the PSI, but also the Liberals and, generally, the Right, under the consequences of the capture of Rome and the struggles between the Holy See and the Italian state which the Liberals had ruled for more than fifty years.

Universal suffrage Political concept

The concept of universal suffrage, also known as general suffrage or common suffrage, consists of the right to vote of all adult citizens, regardless of property ownership, wealth, income, race, or ethnicity, subject only to minor exceptions. In its original 19th-century usage by political reformers, universal suffrage was understood to mean only universal manhood suffrage; the vote was extended to women later, during the women's suffrage movement.

Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body --- each citizen voter being represented proportionately as by Evaluative Proportional Representation located in Section 5.5.5, or by each party being represented proportionately. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party as their favorite, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result - not just a plurality, or a bare majority. The most prevalent forms of proportional representation all require the use of multiple-member voting districts, as it is not possible to fill a single seat in a proportional manner. In fact, the implementations of PR that achieve the highest levels of proportionality tend to include districts with large numbers of seats.

Italian Socialist Party former Italian political party (1892–1994)

The Italian Socialist Party was a socialist and later social-democratic political party in Italy. Founded in Genoa in 1892, the PSI dominated the Italian left until after World War II, when it was eclipsed in status by the Italian Communist Party. The Socialists came to special prominence in the 1980s, when their leader Bettino Craxi, who had severed the residual ties with the Soviet Union and re-branded the party as liberal-socialist, served as Prime Minister (1983–1987). The PSI was disbanded in 1994 as a result of the Tangentopoli scandals. Prior to World War I, future dictator Benito Mussolini was a member of the PSI.

The Parliament was thus divided in three different blocks with huge instability, while the Socialists and the rising Fascists instigators of political violence on opposite sides. In this chaotic situation, the Liberals founded the Italian Liberal Party (PLI) in 1922, which immediately joined an alliance led by Fascists and formed with them a joint list for the 1924 general election, transforming the Fascists from a small political force into an absolute-majority party. The PLI was banned by Benito Mussolini in 1925, while many old Liberal politicians were given prestigious, but not influential, political posts, such as seats in the Senate, which was stripped of any real power by Fascist reforms.

Post World War II

Luigi Einaudi, President of Italy from 1948 to 1955 Luigi Einaudi.jpg
Luigi Einaudi, President of Italy from 1948 to 1955

The PLI was re-founded in 1943 by Benedetto Croce, a prominent intellectual and senator whose international recognition allowed him to remain a free man during the Fascist regime, despite being an anti-fascist himself. After the end of World War II, Enrico De Nicola, a Liberal, became "Provisional Head of State" and another one, Luigi Einaudi, who as Minister of Economy and Governor of the Bank of Italy between 1945 and 1948 had reshaped Italian economy, succeeded him as President of Italy.

In the 1946 general election the PLI, which was part of the National Democratic Union, won 6.8% of the vote, which was somewhat below expectations. Indeed, the party was supported by all the survivors of the Italian political class before the rise of Fascism, from Vittorio Emanuele Orlando to Francesco Saverio Nitti. In the first years, the party was led by Leone Cattani, member of the internal left, and then by Roberto Lucifero, a monarchist-conservative. This fact caused the exit of the group of Cattani and Bruno Villabruna, a moderate, was elected secretary in 1948 in order to re-unite all the Liberals under a single banner.

Giovanni Malagodi

Giovanni Malagodi, Liberal leader from 1954 to 1972 Giovanni Malagodi.jpg
Giovanni Malagodi, Liberal leader from 1954 to 1972

Under the leadership of Giovanni Malagodi (1954–1972) the party moved further to the right on economic issues. This caused in 1956 the exit of the party's left-wing, including Bruno Villabruna, Eugenio Scalfari and Marco Pannella, who founded the Radical Party. In particular, the PLI opposed the new centre-left coalition that included also the Italian Socialist Party and presented itself as the main conservative party in Italy.

Malagodi managed to draw some votes from the Italian Social Movement, the Monarchist National Party and especially Christian Democracy, whose electoral base was composed also by conservatives suspicious of the Socialists, increasing the party's share to a historical record of 7.0% in the 1963 general election. After Malagodi's resignation from the party's leadership, the PLI was defeated with a humiliating 1.3% in 1976, but tried to re-gain strength by supporting social reforms such as divorce.

The Pentapartito

After Valerio Zanone took over as secretary in 1976, the PLI adopted a more centrist and, to some extent, social-liberal approach. The new secretary opened to the Socialists, hoping to put in action a sort of Lib–Lab cooperation, similar to that experimented in the United Kingdom from 1977 to 1979 between the Labour Party and the Liberals. In 1983 the PLI finally joined the pentapartito coalition composed also of the Christian Democracy (DC), the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) and the Italian Republican Party (PRI). In the 1980s the party was led by Renato Altissimo and Alfredo Biondi.

With the uncovering of the corruption system nicknamed Tangentopoli by the Mani pulite investigation, many government parties experienced a rapid loss of their support. In the first months the PLI seemed immune to investigation. However, as the investigations further unraveled, the party turned out to be part of the corruption scheme. Francesco De Lorenzo, the Liberal Minister of Health, was one of the most loathed politicians in Italy for his corruption, that involved stealing funds from the sick, and allowing commercialisation of medicines based on bribes.

Dissolution and diaspora

The party was disbanded on 6 February 1994 and at least four heirs tried to take its legacy:

In a few years after 1994, most Liberals migrated to FI, while others joined the centre-left, especially Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (DL).


The party was re-founded in 1997 by Stefano De Luca and re-took its original name in 2004. The new PLI gathered some of the former right-wing Liberals, but soon distanced itself from the centre-right coalition, led by FI, in order to follow an autonomous path.

Before World Wars the Liberals constituted the political establishment that governed Italy for decades. They had their main bases in Piedmont, where many leading liberal politicians of the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Italy came from, and southern Italy. The Liberals never gained large support after World War II as they were not able to become a mass party and were replaced by Christian Democracy (DC) as the dominant political force. In the 1946 general election, the first after the war, the PLI gained 6.8% as part of the National Democratic Union. At that time they were strong especially in the South, as DC was mainly rooted in the North: 21.0% in Campania, 22.8% in Basilicata, 10.4% in Apulia, 12.8% in Calabria and 13.6% in Sicily. [17]

However, the party soon found its main constituency in the industrial elites of the "industrial triangle" formed by Turin, Milan and Genoa. The PLI had its best results in the 1960s, when it was rewarded by conservative voters for their opposition to the participation of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in government. The party won 7.0% of the vote in 1963 (15.2% in Turin, 18.7% in Milan and 11.5% in Genoa) and 5.8% 1963. The PLI suffered a decline in the 1970s and settled around 2–3% in the 1980s, when its strongholds were reduced to Piedmont, especially the provinces of Torino and Cuneo, and, to a minor extent, western Lombardy, Liguria and Sicily. [18]

As the other parties of the pentapartito coalition (Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans and Democratic Socialists), the Liberals strengthened their grip on the South, while in the North they lost some of their residual votes to Lega Nord and its precursors. In the 1992 general election, the last before the Tangentopoli scandals, the PLI won 2.9% of the vote, largely thanks to the increase of votes from the South. [18] After the end of the "First Republic" former Liberals were very influent within Forza Italia (FI) in Piedmont, Liguria and, strangely enough, in Veneto, where Giancarlo Galan was three times elected President.

Electoral results

Italian Parliament

Chamber of Deputies
Election yearVotes%Seats+/−Leader
1913 2,387,947 (1st)47.6
270 / 508
Giovanni Giolitti
1919 490,384 (5th)8.6
41 / 508
Decrease2.svg 229
Giovanni Giolitti
1921 470,605 (5th)7.1
43 / 535
Increase2.svg 3
Luigi Facta
1924 233,521 (6th)3.3
15 / 535
Decrease2.svg 28
Luigi Facta
1929 Banned
0 / 535
Decrease2.svg 15
1934 Banned
0 / 535
1946 1,560,638 (4th)6.8
41 / 535
Increase2.svg 41
Manlio Brosio
1948 1,003,727 (4th)3.8
19 / 574
Decrease2.svg 22
Leone Cattani
1953 815,929 (7th)3.0
13 / 590
Decrease2.svg 6
Bruno Villabruna
1958 1,047,081 (6th)3.5
17 / 596
Increase2.svg 4
Giovanni Malagodi
1963 2,144,270 (4th)7.0
39 / 630
Increase2.svg 22
Giovanni Malagodi
1968 1,850,650 (4th)5.8
31 / 630
Decrease2.svg 8
Giovanni Malagodi
1972 1,300,439 (6th)3.9
20 / 630
Decrease2.svg 11
Giovanni Malagodi
1976 480,122 (8th)1.3
5 / 630
Decrease2.svg 15
Valerio Zanone
1979 712,646 (8th)1.9
9 / 630
Increase2.svg 4
Valerio Zanone
1983 1,066,980 (7th)2.9
16 / 630
Increase2.svg 7
Valerio Zanone
1987 809,946 (9th)2.1
11 / 630
Decrease2.svg 5
Renato Altissimo
1992 1,121,264 (8th)2.9
17 / 630
Increase2.svg 6
Renato Altissimo
Senate of the Republic
Election yearVotes%Seats+/−Leader
1948 1,222,419 (4th)5.4
7 / 237
Leone Cattani
1953 695,816 (7th)2.9
3 / 237
Decrease2.svg 4
Bruno Villabruna
1958 1,012,610 (6th)3.9
4 / 246
Increase2.svg 1
Giovanni Malagodi
1963 2,043,323 (4th)7.4
18 / 315
Increase2.svg 14
Giovanni Malagodi
1968 1,943,795 (4th)6.8
16 / 315
Decrease2.svg 2
Giovanni Malagodi
1972 1,319,175 (6th)4.4
8 / 315
Decrease2.svg 8
Giovanni Malagodi
1976 438,265 (8th)1.4
2 / 315
Decrease2.svg 6
Valerio Zanone
1979 691,718 (8th)2.2
2 / 315
Valerio Zanone
1983 834,771 (7th)2.7
6 / 315
Increase2.svg 4
Valerio Zanone
1987 700,330 (9th)2.2
3 / 315
Decrease2.svg 3
Renato Altissimo
1992 939,159 (8th)2.8
4 / 315
Increase2.svg 1
Renato Altissimo

European Parliament

European Parliament
Election yearVotes%Seats+/−Leader
1979 1,271,159 (7th)3.6
3 / 81
Sergio Pininfarina
1984 2,140,501 (5th)6.1
6 / 81
Increase2.svg 3
Valerio Zanone
1989 1,532,388 (5th)4.4
5 / 81
Decrease2.svg 1
Renato Altissimo



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