On first consideration, a discussion of Italian citizenship appears antithetical to the larger project of developing an understanding of Italic identities. The notions of citizenship and identity seem so distinct and mutually exclusive as to preclude a meaningful discussion of Italian citizenship within the context of Italic identities. Any understanding of "citizenship" must necessarily begin with legal membership in a territorially bounded polity. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) confirms this point, defining citizen as "A member of a state, an enfranchised inhabitant of a country, as opposed to an alien;" and "citizenship" as "The position or status of being a citizen, with its rights and privileges" (OED, Second Edition, 1989). In contrast, Piero Bassetti deliberately removes Italicity from the legal dimension of any specific territory or polity, defining Italicity as a transnational identity based on consciousness and cultural values bereft of a bounded territorial element (Bassetti, 2003, 22). The consequent gulf between the construction of a post-national and trans-national cultural italic identity and an exclusive, territorially bounded notion of membership in the Italian polity renders a discussion of citizenship according to both terms almost impossible. One is confronted with the nearly insurmountable task of considering Italian citizenship without the terms "Italian" or "citizenship."

However, consideration of each notion on its own terms reveals significant common ground between the historical constructions of Italic identities and Italian citizenship. More specifically, the historical migrations from the Italian peninsula, which predate the creation of the modern Italian state, reside squarely at the source of Bassetti’s notion of Italic identity and the cultural idioms (Brubaker, 1992, 16) that shaped the formal rules governing accession to Italian citizenship or nationality in 1912 (Koenig-Archibulgi, 2003; Pastore, 2001). From this perspective, the migrations away from the Italian peninsula prior to and during the construction of the modern Italian state at the end of the nineteenth century provide an analytical bridge to transcend, at least in a limited manner, the aforementioned incompatibility between Italicity and Italian citizenship. Italian citizenship remains a legal construction associated with the Italian polity, but the same cultural idioms that informed the construction of the formal rules governing accession to Italian citizenship lay simultaneously at the center of Italic identities.

The formal rules defining Italian citizenship were originally adopted in 1912 and subsequently amended in 1992. These rules embraced the principle of jus sanguinis as the legal principle determining accession into Italian citizenship, granting the possibility to obtain Italian citizenship to the children and grandchildren of Italian citizens. By adopting jus sanguinis, these rules institutionalized an ethnic conception of Italian identity and thus can be seen to be consistent with a limited notion of Italicity. These rules are consistent with a limited notion of Italicity because on the one hand, they maintain a formal connection between the global Italic diaspora and the Italian state, but on the other hand, they restrict the legal possibility to obtain full Italian citizenship to the children and grandchildren of Italian emigrants. Bassetti’s notion of Italicity seeks to develop the transnational cultural dimension of the Italian diaspora in a manner akin to the Jewish diaspora as it developed prior to the twentieth century (Bassetti, 2003, 17-21). The transnational component of Israel’s formal citizenship laws is unlimited. Israel’s Law of Return (5710-1950, amended in 1954 and again in 1970) establishes an unlimited hereditary right to obtain Israeli citizenship to any Jew. In the Italian case, the principle of jus sanguinis serves as a formal bridge, which, by maintaining the right to return to Italy as a full citizen, also nourishes a cultural and sociological bond with Italy.

Thus, the construction of Italicity and Italian citizenship are not wholly incompatible. While it is impossible to explain Italian citizenship entirely in terms of Italicity, a discussion of Italian citizenship and identity is relevant to a discussion of Italicity. Furthermore, despite Bassetti’s reluctance to insist on a formal, current connection between Italy and Italic identities, the Italian peninsula remains at the epicenter of Italic identities. Bassetti states as much:


In the light of these considerations and in this frame of reference, it may be possible better to understand "Italicity" and how Italicity can differ from, and go beyond "being Italian." Undoubtedly it has strong historical roots in terms of identity, linked to centuries of Italians’ trans-territorial and trans-national mobility. But it is not limited to these roots, although it continues to nourish itself through them (Bassetti, 2003: 19).




European Member States tend to base their citizenship laws on two fundamentally incompatible notions. In Nationhood and Citizenship in France and Germany, Rogers Brubaker (1992) analyzes the distinction between these two philosophical and legal forms of inclusion—jus soli and jus sanguinis. Strictly speaking, jus soli and jus sanguinis are "principles governing the unilateral attribution or ascription of citizenship by the state, not the voluntary acquisition of citizenship by an individual through naturalization" (Brubaker, 1992, 119). Since 1889, France has embraced the jus soli conception, which confers citizenship on individuals born on the territory. Since at least 1913, Germany bases its citizenship laws on the jus sanguinis conception, which confers citizenship through parental lineage or blood. Brubaker explains that these laws result from cultural idioms, politics and historical experience.

France experienced a republican revolution in 1789, which, in its efforts to dismantle the feudal legacy of privilege, embraced a universalist understanding of citizenship based on legal equality. Between 1881 and 1889, when the contemporary jus soli law was being constructed, an alternative proposal, which would have based the new law on jus sanguinis, failed. Brubaker explains that the central factors leading the Chamber of Deputies to embrace jus soli were: one, the perceived unfairness of second generation immigrants avoiding military service; and second, that such a distinction would undermine the assimilation of foreigners into French society, perpetuating what Brubaker terms "nations within nations" (see also Lefebvre, 2003).


The extension of jus soli, then, was defined by the Republicans of the Chamber as a means of eliminating the "odious privilege" enjoyed by long-settled foreigners and preventing the emergence of nations within the nation (Brubaker, 1992, 106).


In contrast to France, Germany embraced a definition of its citizenry based on jus sanguinis in 1913. Prior to 1913, the individual Länder of the German Empire had embraced exclusively jus sanguinis. The explanation for this strict adoption of jus sanguinis resides with the historically late construction of a German state and the ethnic composition of Prussia. The Catholic Polish and Jewish populations in Prussia made it intolerable to Bismarck to adopt a citizenship law based on a territorial element. Thus, Bismarck secured the passage of education laws in 1872-1873 making German the compulsory language of instruction in elementary schools in Upper Silesia, and West Prussia and made German the sole language of public life in 1876 (Brubaker, 1992, 129). Another important element in explaining Germany’s adoption of jus sanguinis was the geographic position of Germany as a "frontline" state subject to influxes of diverse ethnic populations. Until the conquest of Germany in 1870, German nationalism had been defined as a people, ein Volk, without a state. German speaking communities resided outside the narrowly defined geographic territory of Germany and could be included as German citizens despite not being born on the territory. After World War II, when Germany lost territory, it embedded jus sanguinis in its new constitution, the Basic Law, as a mechanism to protect the possibility of its citizens to return to Germany from its former territories and from behind the Iron Curtain.

Mathias Koenig-Archibulgi explains that Italy faced fundamentally different concerns than France or Germany. In contrast to the experiences of France or Germany, Italy’s main concern has been emigration. In this respect, the interest in global Italic identities is even more relevant to Italian citizenship than for other countries. Until recently, relatively few foreigners have wanted to become Italian, and there are relatively few foreigners living in Italy.1 Moreover, where France sought to integrate "foreigners" born on French soil into French society, and where Germany sought to exclude "foreigners" born on German soil, "in Italy, the significant problem was not how to integrate foreigners, but how to integrate Italians in the state, in other words, how to transform Italian nationals into loyal Italian citizens" (Koenig-Archibulgi, 2003, 103).

Ferruccio Pastore makes a similar point. The parliamentary discussions and motivations that led to the Italian nationality law of 1912 were based largely on reactions to Italian emigration and naturalization laws in foreign countries. Pastore comments that the Italian ruling class held essentially passive attitudes towards the mass emigrations at the end of the nineteenth century and start of the twentieth, but suggests that the motivation for the adoption of the principle of jus sanguinis emanated partly from the perception that Italian identity would survive generations living abroad.


After unification, the political ruling class maintained, with relative continuity, a broadly positive—although essentially passive—attitude towards emigration, which was viewed as a contributor to economic growth and the relaxation of social tensions. Despite this, the ruling class, during the monarchical as much as the republican period, resisted the strongly integrative policies of some countries of immigration. It did so on the basis of a ‘strong’ conception of Italian nationality as a tie sufficiently resilient to survive emigration, even after generations (Pastore, 2001, 96).


One of the main catalysts to Italy’s 1912 naturalization law came from the declaration of the Brazilian Republic on November 15, 1891 and its new constitution. Brazil’s new constitution embraced the principle of jus soli and automatically transformed all foreigners present prior to Nov. 15, 1989 into Brazilian citizens "unless they declared a desire to keep their original nationality within six months," Brazil’s ‘Great Naturalization’ (Pastore, 2001, 96-97). Italian emigration to Argentina and the United States was equally important and generated similar conflicts over nationality laws. Italy’s political elite responded by creating nationality laws that would protect the opportunities for emigrants and their descendants to recover Italian nationality. Pastore offers two fundamental reasons for this reaction: one, to avoid ostracizing this important source of material wealth through remittances; and two, to avoid provoking a potentially divisive political battle in a still immature and fragile state and economy. The net result was to create a nationality law that encouraged dual citizenship, which may have contributed to the further weakening of Italian nationality (Pastore, 2001, 96-99).

Italy’s nationality law of 1912 was amended in 1992, and now has the following features:


1. Absolute predominance of jus sanguinis;

2. Italians who apply for foreign nationality may keep Italian nationality;

3. Former Italian nationals who reside in Italy for one year in Italy automatically become Italian citizens unless they expressly reject it;

4. Children and grandchildren of former Italian nationals may acquire Italian nationality at the age of maturity if they have resided in Italy for at least two years before then;

5. Naturalization requires a minimum residency period of ten years, except for EU nationals, who may apply for Italian nationality after four years (Koenig-Archibulgi, 2003, 104).


As in Germany, jus sanguinis was a means to sustain the Italian nation as it lived abroad. The distinction, however, was that where Germany originally embraced jus sanguinis in order to exclude non-ethnic Germans from becoming citizens, Italy embraced jus sanguinis in order to expand the opportunities for descendants of emigrants to recover Italian nationality. Moreover, from the historic perspective of the formation of Italic identities, the critical moment came in 1912, when the political class established formal rules that contributed to the perpetuation of a formal bond between emigrant communities and the Italian state.

While lamenting Italy’s unwillingness to adopt a more aggressive assimilationalist naturalization law based on jus soli, Pastore remarks that the jus sanguinis principle has contributed to the maintenance of an Italian cultural identity abroad. In this sense, the possibility to reclaim Italian nationality or citizenship may be understood to correspond to Bassetti’s notion of Italicity: "From the point of view of effective participation in national political life, the millions of Italians resident abroad, citizens by descent or through a recovery of citizenship (and thus dual nationals), remain at best a ‘virtual people’" (Pastore, 2001, 103). The irony, of course, is that Italy has over the last three decades become a country of net immigration and where its nationality laws were intended to maintain a bond between emigrants and the Italian state, these same rules have formed a correspondingly high barrier to the assimilation of foreigners. Indeed, the 1992 law introduced considerable new restrictions on foreigners applying for Italian citizenship, including the establishment of a "detailed hierarchy among different categories of foreigners, [and] fixing different residency requirements for each" (Pastore, 2001, 105).




T.H. Marshall constructs a historical understanding of citizenship based on the creation of civil, political and social rights. Putting aside the historical accuracy of Marshall’s argument (see Klausen, 1995), his notion of modern democratic citizenship concurs with this second definition and corresponds more closely with the modern construction of reciprocal rights and obligations between the state and the individual. These rights and obligations are neither irreversible nor unambiguous. Indeed, if politics is about the distribution of scarce resources, then these rights and obligations, which form the essence of modern citizenship, are the very essence of politics.

Just as Marshall argues that "social rights," which we can understand as entitlement programs of the modern welfare state, have resulted from historical progress, more recent observers of the welfare state make similarly historical arguments to explain how and why these entitlement programs vary across countries (Esping Andersen, 1990; Skcopol, 1992; Steinmo, et al., 1992). Rogers Brubaker adopts a similarly historical view to explain how the rules governing who becomes entitled to these rights and privileges, i.e., a citizen, are formed. Indeed, he suggests that the formal rules governing who becomes a citizen are shaped profoundly by a nation’s history. It is Rogers Brubaker’s perspective that informs this essay and its interest in the cultural idioms and political context that shaped the construction and implications of Italian citizenship or nationality. There is unquestionably a large set of issues relating to the legal, political and social dimensions of Italian citizenship that have not been addressed by this essay, but the purpose of this essay has been to relate formal membership in the Italian state with global Italic cultural identities.

As 2004 approaches, Italy’s current turn to hold the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) is coming to a painful, disappointing close. The optimistic efforts to adopt a European constitution in a new Treaty of Rome and construct a European citizenry failed over the weekend of December 13, 2003. The central issue leading to the collapse of the effort was the weighted votes of mid-size member countries such as Poland and Spain in the Council of Ministers, the central decision-making body in the EU (Tagliabue, 2003). While the larger European project was being forged, Italy has been simultaneously engaged in a difficult effort to redefine its constitution and the legal, political and social elements that define its proper citizenry. While there are important differences between the two cases, these developments share similar causes and timelines. Both Italy and Europe have been reexamining their institutional, political and cultural identities since the end of the Cold War, and there is much reason to believe that both will develop a deeper sense of common identity. However, the future directions of these identities are undetermined. Furthermore, it is unclear if Italy will significantly reform its constitution (Pasquino, 1998; Furlong, 2003), and it is now even more uncertain whether the EU will renew efforts to establish a Constitution for Europe and construct an effective and powerful European government (Moravcsik, 2002).

Nevertheless, despite the failure to ratify the draft constitution, European citizenship was legally established by the 1992 Treaty of European Union (Maastricht) and modified by the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty (effective May 1999). Article 8 of the draft constitution treaty adopted the same language:


Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship; it shall not supercede it.


Even though the constitution treaty was not adopted, the language remains legally part of the European acquis communautaire. The language clearly recognizes a citizenry but grants no authority to its polity to bestow citizenship; that power resides undisputedly with the Member States. Preuss, et al. suggest "Apart from its ‘anemic content,’ ... Union citizenship seems to suffer from the fact that its extension is completely determined by rules decided outside the legislative procedures of the EU" (Preuss, et al., 2003, 5). J.H.H. Weiler similarly acknowledges that "this is a trite, banal phrase," but elaborates that its essential deference to the Member States reveals an important debate about European integration. On the one hand, Weiler suggests that skeptics perceive such empty symbolism as wishful thinking or "trivial and empty" (Weiler, 2-3). On the other hand, proponents of a deeper union fear that such empty language may be perceived as a dangerous symbol that may exacerbate nationalist reactions and antagonize efforts to proceed with the European project.

Rightly or wrongly, the notion of a European citizenry has entered the European vocabulary and brings to a head whether the original project, "to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe" (Preamble, Treaty of Rome 1957), or should establish a single European people (Weiler, 6-7). The parallel between Europe and Italy is that both polities possess a cultural heritage, which is claimed often to form an identity. Moreover, the tension across EU member states’ differing naturalization laws is the same tension that led Italy in 1912 to adopt the principle of jus sanguinis as the basis of Italian nationality law. The consequent dual nationality that emerged has at least not undermined the development of Italic identities abroad, and at most contributed to and fostered the perpetuation of global Italic identities. The tension between jus soli and jus sanguinis persists, but at least from a cultural perspective, this tension may be adequate for the formation of dual identities akin to the development of dual citizenship for the Italic peoples who maintain the possibility to reclaim their Italian citizenship.

Piero Bassetti’s notion of Italic identities is based on consciousness and cultural values that transcend the territorial dimension of Italy. From this perspective, Italicity is essentially closed to entertaining a discussion of formal citizenship as it relates to Italy. However, the persistence of jus sanguinis as the governing principle of Italian naturalization law establishes a cultural element that bridges formal membership with an ethnic component.




1 In 1998, foreigners composed 6.3 percent of France’s total population, 8.9 percent in Germany, and 2.1 percent in Italy (Koenig-Archibulgi, 103).




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