Courtesy Reuters

The Italian Constitution Under Fascism

ON TAKING power in October 1922, Mussolini declared his intention of remaining faithful to the Italian Constitution. The only changes contemplated in the fundamentals of Italian government, he said, would be to "adapt the parliamentary procedure" (by depriving the legislature of some of its power in favor of the executive), to impose the Government's policies on the bureaucracy (which had become increasingly a law to itself as a result of the frequent change of ministries) and to limit the exercise of certain rights and liberties previously enjoyed by the Italian people. Whether the measures Mussolini adopted in putting these changes into effect violated the provisions of the Italian Constitution is a question on which there has been much difference of opinion. This divergence is, in part at least, due to the nature and wording of the Constitution itself.

This document, known as the Statuto, was promulgated by King Charles Albert of Piedmont on March 4, 1848. Having been drawn up before the outbreak of the February Revolution in Paris, its authors had modelled it on the 1830 Constitution of the July Monarchy, which dated from 1830. The Constitution was drawn up by the King and his close advisers; the people of Piedmont in no way participated. In conferring this document, the King described it as the "fundamental law, eternal and irrevocable, of the Monarchy." And indeed, one of the grave shortcomings of the Statuto is that it contains no provision for amendment. True, some articles are sufficiently vague or qualified by provisos to allow considerable latitude in their interpretation. For instance, article 26 specifies: "Individual liberty is guaranteed. No one may be arrested or brought to justice except in such cases as are provided by law and in the manner which it prescribes." Article 27 stipulates: "The domicile is inviolable. No domiciliary search can take place except in pursuance to the law and in the manner which it prescribes." Article 28 stipulates: "The press is free, but a law shall check its abuses."

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