The First World War and the social policies supporting its victims played an essential role in the development of the Italian welfare state, its spectrum of benefits, and its organization. The relief programs for millions of soldiers and their families as well as disabled veterans and survivors led to a new dimension of state intervention in the field of social policy. The influence these programs have had on the successive reforms of the post-war period is clearly visible. An obvious example are the measures to increase the employment of disabled veterans, which were precursors of the 1919 compulsory insurance against unemployment and represented the first concrete state intervention in the labor market, meant to even out some of its flaws and help particularly disadvantaged groups of employees. Another wartime legislation that inspired post-war measures was the law supporting the Great War’s widows and orphans. It paved the way for the first and most important social law of the Italian fascist regime of the 1920s: the Law on Protection of Mothers and Children. Additionally, the modernization of relief services during the war diminished the importance of traditional charitable and confessional assistance and resulted at the same time in a nationalization of social policy. This in turn brought about the bureaucratization and technocratization of welfare services throughout state departments and public agencies. The nexus between warfare and welfare, a relationship which can be identified in several belligerent countries after the Great War, was particularly evident in Italy. During the war, a pronounced process of “compensatory state building” gripped the country, with the consolidation of new social rights guaranteed by the state going hand in hand with the limitation of several political and civil rights. This paper will, based on these considerations, analyze the connections and continuities of Italy’s social legislation during the war and post-war period. It will include modernization factors and limits and contradictory developments of the Italian welfare state between World War I, the Civil War, and the rise of fascism.
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