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Liberalism and radicalism have played a role in the political history of Italy since the country's unification, started in 1861 and largely completed in 1871, and currently influence several leading political parties.
During the first decades of Italy as a united country, the main parliamentary parties included liberals, but it was not until 1877 that the left-wing Radical Party was established as the first organized liberal party. The more centrist Liberal Union followed in 1913. Most liberal and radical parties were banned in 1926 under Benito Mussolini's Fascist government.
After World War II and the establishment of the Italian Republic there have been frequent changes in the configuration of political parties and, for the most part, the representation of liberal and radical views has been split among a number of parties that may also espouse other views. These parties have often been part of governing coalitions.
During the so-called "First Republic" three minor liberal parties were active: the Italian Liberal Party (centre-right), the Italian Republican Party (centre-left) and the modern-day Radical Party (left-wing). More recently, liberals have been split primarily among the centre-right The People of Freedom/Forza Italia and the centre-left Democratic Party.
In the 19th century both early Italian political groupings, the Historical Right and the Historical Left, were composed of monarchist liberals and functioned mainly as loose parliamentary groups, while radicals organised themselves as the Radical Party, and republicans, who were influenced also by socialism, as the Italian Republican Party. These two parties had in fact been part of The Extreme, which included also the Italian Socialist Party and its predecessors.
In 1913 the liberals around Giovanni Giolitti joined forces in the Liberal Union and in 1922 the Italian Liberal Party was formed. In that period, other liberal parties emerged: the Constitutional Democratic Party, the Democratic Liberal Party (merger of the Radicals with other liberal groups), and the Italian Social Democratic Party.
When Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party came to power in 1922, some Liberals and Radicals flirted with Fascism, but, ultimately, a Fascist regime was established and all the parties, notably including the Italian Liberal Party and the Italian Republican Party, were banned.
After the end of World War II, both Liberals and Republicans reorganised themselves, followed by more liberal parties in the upcoming decades (notably including the new Radical Party), and, despite their modest results in elections, they were often part of the Italian government, in alliance with Christian Democracy. In the 1940s, during the resistance movement and the writing of the republican Constitution, an important role was played by the Action Party, a social-liberal, republican and liberal-socialist outfit, successor of the Justice and Freedom movement. In this phase the Liberals adhered to conservative liberalism and Republicans to social liberalism.
Since 1992–1994, following the Tangentopoli scandals, the subsequent Mani pulite inquiries and the resulting shake-up of the Italian party system, the liberal movement has been strongly divided. As a result, a broad group of parties, not all included here, started to use the "liberal" label.
Italian liberals are basically divided between the centre-right Forza Italia (successor of the former Forza Italia, itself primarily a merger of liberal and Christian-democratic forces, and The People of Freedom, which integrated the more conservative National Alliance) and the centre-left Democratic Party (a merger of social democrats, progressive Christian democrats and social liberals, the latter two mainly organised in Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy in the early 2000s).
Minor liberal parties include, among others, Civic Choice, the Italian Radicals (ALDE Party and Liberal International member), the aforementioned Italian Republican Party (which stretched a long way from the far-left to the centre-right of the political spectrum), and Act to Stop the Decline (a party which is the standard-bearer of a more classical- and libertarian-oriented form of liberalism). Also the centrist-populist Italy of Values was a member of the ALDE Party, but it is hardly a liberal party.
From 1994 on, most Liberals and several Republicans joined Forza Italia and the other parties of the House of Freedoms coalition. This is the reason why the term "liberal" is more often used when speaking of the centre-right than the centre-left. A new Italian Liberal Party was launched in 1997, but, as the Italian Republican Party, it survives as a very minor party. The former two, Civic Choice, Act to Stop the Decline and minor groups joined forces in European Choice, with disappointing results, in 2014.