Keywords: Legitimate Defence; Armed Bodies; Liberal Italy; Subversion; Monopoly of Legitimate Physical Force.
The article aims to analyse the crisis of the liberal State during the so-called Giolittian era by reconstructing the legal and practical application of the notions of self-defence and the establishment of armed corps. The first section is devoted to the legal debate on gun licences, self-defence and armed corps, with a special focus on the views held by the positivist law school and jurist Vincenzo Manzini. However, theoretical issues are not limited to treaties and encyclopaedias, but mirror practical applications of crucial importance in the field of social conflicts. Therefore, the second part of the article examines the evolution of laws concerning night watchmen and rural guards in order to investigate changes in the social function of private property and the role of the State in the defence of order. Finally, based on two case studies (the so-called Citizen Patrols in Bologna and Volunteer Workers in Parma), the article analyses the legal and political processes through which private citizens granted themselves the right to personally quash strikes and social unrest. What emerges is a profound criticism of the very foundations of the legitimacy of the liberal state in the name of a sort of class self-defence and a reappropriation of sovereignty for explicitly seditious purposes.