The study seeks to provide a non-teleological overview of a meaningful turning point of the "progress" in late nineteenth century Italy: the period from 1876 to 1880, when the Left wing party started to rule the country. The Italian case is set against the influential background of Europe at the dawn of the "Age of Empires".
The study is based on primary sources. It seeks to provide a textual analysis of parliamentary reports, governmental documents, political newspapers and magazines. It also investigates the debates involving medical, social and criminal sciences, which were closely related to politics. It thus considers the mainstream-culture of the new "bourgeois" Italy: the positivism. Specific attention is devoted to a key player of positivism, Cesare Lombroso, whose "discovery" of the "criminal man" - a sort of dangerous subman, that had to be neutralised as such - were about to become world famous.
The study seeks to provide a multifaceted and comprehensive analysis. It deals with structures and agency, by refusing both deterministic and subjectivist approaches. The research therefore focuses on the interaction between structures and agency, looking into both the perception and the cultural-political shaping of social processes.
The study hopefully provides a “view from the inside” of the risky capitalistic and democratic modernization in liberal Italy. Source analysis suggests that political elites and the rising bourgeoisie experienced a paradox: a) on the one hand, a need for a "progressive" change, in order to turn that late-comer into a competitive "nation" able to cope with social problems; b) on the other hand, a fear of the "progress" itself, whose tangible implications, i.e. the politicisation of social conflict, were dangerous to this weak country. That paradox might shed some light on the later centrist political agenda of “trasformismo”. Moreover, it might support a view that liberal democratic and authoritarian trends, which paired up in liberal Italy, were the two sides of the same coin. As for the cultural developments, it might be argued that the biological theory of "crime" was a safe and nonetheless painful representation of the unbearable dark side of the "progress": the anti-illuministic features of that increasingly influential representation were dictated by "progressive" feelings.