To look at how and why a revolution fails you must consider why it occurred in the first place. The year 1815 saw a monumental change in the history of the Italian states with the Treaty of Paris turning back the progress of the Italian Political system and inverting it to the old obsolete absolutist monarchies the likes of which had been ruling the Italian peninsular for the past thousand years. Of course you can imagine much of the Italian populous were not too pleased with the obvious removal of progress to divert power back to a select few in the upper bracket of society.
Interestingly enough however it was not the peasants of the peninsular who were ready to act against these reactionary demands even though they were supposedly being the most hard done by the Treaty, but of course a peasant is much too busy and perhaps not well enough educated to be able to devise a successful plot against the system. Rather, it was left to the middle-classes who began founding revolutionary Organisations, most notably the Adelfi, Carbonari and the Italian Federation.
Due to the diversity in Italian culture and political outlooks, at this time ‘Italy’ was only rarely used as a geographical expression, every different state had different revolutions occurring at any one time, however each revolution inspired another. For example, the Sicilians revolted against the Neapolitans which was then succeeded by the Neapolitans revolting against their own King, Ferdinand 1st. Due to his decision to stay and fight even though faced with an overwhelming number of enemies the King was forced to make concessions most notably the promise of a constitutional Monarchy.
That appeased the majority of the Neapolitans however was not enough for the Sicilians who had begun their revolution with a view to independence, more of which will be discussed later. The general success of this Southern Revolution inspired the Carbonari, a secret revolutionary society with an eventual purpose of Italian Unification, to revolt in the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Northern States. As a result in Sardinia a constitutional monarchy would again be implemented as well as other reforms of liberalism.
However all these achievements soon were quickly undone with the intervention of the Holy Alliance that would prove to be so key in halting any Liberal Ideals through-out Europe. The key figure of Klemens Von Metternich of Austria dominated European foreign policy and opposed any kind of revolution. After organising a meeting with King Ferdinand 1st at Laibach he declared that Ferdinand could not contain the revolutionaries and an Austrian intervention was required for help in restoring absolute rule in Naples.
The Austrian army arrived in Naples, broke through the resistance and served consequences to those who had upset the control and army of the state. This included prison sentences, torture and numerous executions. After the interference of Austria, Naples returned to order and the revolution had failed. This was again the case in Sicily, as control returned there also. This constant conciliation was arguably one of the more important factors in the breakdown of these revolutions however there were other contributing factors as well.
One such reason was the lack of a clear aim. In the revolution of 1820 in Naples, the Carbonari took control. The Carbonari had their hearts set on implementing two main policies; opposition to feudalism and support for constitutional and administrative governments. In comparison to other secret societies the Carbonari were relatively moderate and did not look towards extremist policies as a way of progress, rather they believed a policy in which affected as many people for the greater good is one of which a Nation should strive for.
A rather interesting aspect of the Carbonari is that they occasionally looked to a higher power to support their revolts which would present a certain degree of a centralised society but also tells historians the knowledge that even the Carbonari believed they did not possess the necessary strength to unite Italy. Another double-edged sword of the society if you will is that they were not such a closed group as other societies.
This allowed a greater number of members which were desperately needed however also meant that everyone and anyone who believed that a constitutional Government was one of which that was desirable over the current system. Rather unsurprisingly this included a significant number of middle class Italians resulting in a lot of members being unable to decide on a general ideal to implement once the revolution had succeeded. Much like the Republican movement of the Spanish Revolution almost 100 years later you cannot hope to succeed with a politically divided core.
Of course the main factor to the failure of the revolutions as aforementioned was that of the constant intervention readily available by the Holy Alliance who had proved they were prepared to commit thousands of troops in any situation where Liberalism posed a threat. As aforementioned, not all motives shown during the revolutions aligned or indeed related to any ideals of a Liberal nature. This is most certainly the case in Sicily where the whole thesis of the revolution was that of a view to Independence rather than a general change in the executive’s form of leadership.
So in this singular case perhaps it’s right to consider this a nationalist movement in nature but then you must consider the aims for the other movements arising circa this era. This is when the problem or what is considered a nationalist movement and what is not comes to provenance. Historians have subsequently argued on whether to consider the entire Carbonari movement that of a nationalist sort due to the fact that this organisation wanted to ultimately unite the Italian peninsular under one Government.
However, the counter-argument to that is simply to note how it was the case with all Italians at the time, regardless of class, would not consider the phrase ‘Italy’ to mean anything politically rather than that of the geographical expression. Its rather important to note also how eleven years later another wave of revolutions took place towards the centre of the peninsular most notably dotted within the minor republics and of course the Papal states.
These, much like the revolutions that came before, were quick to be crushed by the iron fist that was the Austrian Empire (Holy Alliance belligerent). There was little to note in the way of success however, whilst some states gained minor liberal additions to their Governmental laws the years to come would mean that these very laws would be abolished by the same leaders that promised to keep them in the hope of subsidising unrest which ultimately contributed by public demand further escalating to the point of further revolutions in 1848.
The failure of the revolutions in Sardinia, Naples, Piedmont and the Central states is not to be overstated. Little went in the way of consequences due to there being little the Governments in question could actually do to make take away further rights from their citizens. So in essence nothing was really lost by the Italian people who took part in these revolutions endearing for change. On the contrary, many believe much was gained.
It was now clear that a revolution could only succeed with a weakened Holy Alliance. It was also obvious that a true leader needed to come forth and unite the Italian middle classes with drastically different political views on what to do with the Italian states once such a revolution had succeeded. In conclusion, these revolutions that took place in the years 1820-31 can be considered by Historians the early beginnings of the path forged by the Italian people to unite the peninsular under one flag.