This paper will examine the problems of nation‐building in Italy in later nineteenth century Italy, focusing principally on the ideas and policies of the man who dominated the country in the 1880s and 1890s, Francesco Crispi. It will be my contention that Crispi and many of his political contemporaries on both the left and the right were strongly conscious of the mobilising and nationalising potential of “the other”, and to an extent manipulated and deliberately exaggerated threats posed both by internal enemies — principally the Catholics and the socialists — and external enemies — above all France. Crispi's attitude to France and the French was complex and highly ambivalent, and I will suggest — using as evidence his speeches, writings, and political actions, above all when prime minister in 1887–91 — that there was an element of disingenuousness in his repeated claims that France was bent on destroying Italy. What Crispi was trying to do was to create a climate of tension that would not only bring the population together, but might also lead on to a war, in alliance with Germany — a war that would finally cement the country's “moral unity”.

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