A brief sketch of the historical milieu in which Pareto’s life was shaped will bring us back to a familiar theme: Sociological theories of order were typically a conservative response to conditions of disorder. In the nineteenth century, Italy (like European society in general) was divided and fragmented. With the fall of Bonaparte in the early years of the era, the French Bourbons and the Austrian emperor came to rule various republics and duchies in Italy, with Pope Pius VII regaining the Papal States. Hence the specter of foreign domination coexisted with the division of the nation, a separation that inhibited the commercial interests of the rising bourgeoisie.
This was a time for the formation of shadowy organizations predicated on political resistance, which succeeded in touching off popular rebellions throughout the nation. New leaders were to appear, such as Mazzini, Gioberti, and Garibaldi, each of whom sought to unite Italy through half a century of fire and blood. One year after Pareto graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in Turin, Rome became the capital of a newly unified Kingdom of Italy. However, there proved to be more to unification than lines drawn on maps.
Divisions in the new Italy were as always political, economic, and social. However, these conformed to some extent with the major geographical regions of the country. In the north, modernization had taken the form of political bureaucratization and industrial development. The largely agrarian south featured widespread poverty, misery, and illiteracy. The forces of the right, based in the more affluent north, controlled the kingdom until 1876. Its panaceas of free trade, unequal taxation, a balanced budget, and an austere attitude toward public work expenditures alienated large segments of the population. Riding the tide of disaffection, the predominantly southern political left swept to a parliamentary victory. Although promising progressive taxation, public services, and wider suffrage, the liberal government ruled by patronage and corruption until the First World War.
Some industrial development in Italy was evident in the latter part of the nineteenth century, particularly in textiles. However, the level of that development lagged behind other European states such as France and England. In the south, the larger owners successfully opposed the land reform desperately wanted by the peasants. Laws calling for compulsory education were not implemented, taxation remained regressive, and the governmental bureaucracy remained bloated and ineffective. Popular insurrections flourished, the intellectuals became disaffected, and the liberal democratic ideals withered in the dust of economic stagnation. On October 28, 1922, Benito Mussolini marched on Rome.
Within a short time, the vision of peace gave way to the glorification of war. The interests of the owning class were preserved under a system of centralized state control while the dream of political enfranchisement succumbed to one-party rule. The diversity of unions, minority groups, and political opposition collapsed under the press of nationalism. Together, these conditions marked the advent of the iron fist of Italian fascism (Perdue, 1986, pp. 96-97).