Moro, Aldo (1916–1978)

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MORO, ALDO (1916–1978)


Italian politician.

Aldo Moro was Italy's most powerful politician during the 1960s and 1970s. He was born to a devoutly Catholic professional family at Maglie, in the southern region of Apulia. A brilliant student at the University of Bari, he entered political life under Mussolini's regime by joining the Fascist youth movement, Gioventù Universitaria Fascista (Fascist University Youth). He accepted the dictatorship, whose corporate theory he viewed as compatible with Catholic social teachings and whose institutions he believed capable of creating a society based on religious principles. Making a rapid intellectual career at an unusually young age, he was appointed professor at Bari.

World War II alienated Moro from fascism. The war revealed the bankruptcy of a regime that brought Italy military defeat, economic collapse, and political crisis. The political system needed to be rebuilt, and Moro believed that Catholics had a vital role to play. To avoid the extremes of communism and fascism, Moro argued for social justice, toleration, and Christian charity. To achieve these ends, he entered the newly founded Christian Democratic Party (DC), where he took a position on the left of the party as a member of the progressive faction led by Giuseppe Dossetti and influenced by Jacques Maritain. Most distinctive was Moro's opinion that dialogue across the political spectrum had to include socialists and communists.

The DC, however, did not become the party of reform that Dossetti had envisaged. Faced with a powerful resistance movement led by the Left, fearing the possibility of revolution, and pressured by the Vatican, the DC under Alcide De Gasperi rapidly became the party of Italian capitalism, of the social status quo, and of the Cold War alliance with the United States. In 1951 Dossetti retired from politics in disillusionment and entered a religious community.

Ever subject to the allure of power, Moro remained with the party and assisted it in managing Italian politics. Moving to the center of DC politics, he retained the vocabulary of reform while shrewdly managing the interests of the political machine that dominated Italy. His great opportunity came in 1959, when the party chose him as its secretary. Serving variously as minister of foreign affairs, prime minister, and party leader, Moro dominated the period of social tensions that marked the 1960s and 1970s.

These tensions resulted from multiple causes: rapid economic growth, mass migration from the south to northern cities, deflationary policies that caused wages to lag far behind prices, environmental degradation, the failure of the state to carry out reforms, a long history of distrust on the part of Italians toward their political institutions, and the external pressures of the Cold War. The result was an upsurge in votes for the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and a series of protests by workers, students, the unemployed, and women, culminating in the student protests of 1968 and the workers' "hot autumn" of 1969. The extreme Right led a backlash that included violent police repression, fascist-inspired bombings, of which the most notorious was at the Piazza Fontana, and plans for a coup d'état.

Unwilling to press for the social and economic reforms that he had urged in his early years, Moro sought to defuse the crisis by a political maneuver. His idea was that the stability of the state could be preserved by an "opening to the left"—first toward the Socialist Party in the 1960s and then the Communist Party in the 1970s. Moro believed that the Left could be outflanked by giving the opposition parties a share of power and a stake in the status quo. The first result of this strategy was a center-left coalition with the Socialist Party during the 1960s. Its dramatic culmination, however, was the government that was to be launched on 16 March 1978 and supported by Communist votes.

On that day, Moro's car was ambushed on its way to parliament. After killing his five bodyguards, the revolutionary and terrorist group the Red Brigades kidnapped Moro and held him in a "people's prison" for fifty-five days. After staging a trial, the brigades murdered him and left his body in the trunk of a car carefully parked halfway between the headquarters of the DC and those of the PCI.

The Red Brigades targeted Moro as the symbol of the Italian state and of the repressive political order they wanted to destroy. Because he was an advocate of the historic compromise with the PCI, they saw Moro as corrupting the revolutionary movement and leading it to betray the cause. By striking down Moro, they hoped to galvanize the masses into the uprising they believed to be imminent. This display of power was intended to foster a myth of the brigades' invincibility and the vulnerability of the authorities.

After a series of investigations and trials that resulted in numerous convictions of brigade members for murder, debate over ultimate responsibility for the assassination continues and conspiracy theories abound. The Moro family has insisted that the full truth never emerged and that the complicity of powerful interests was never exposed.

See alsoCold War; Communism; Fascism; New Left; Red Brigades; Socialism.


Curcio, Renato. A viso aperto: intervista di Mario Scialoja. Milan, 1993.

Drake, Richard. The Aldo Moro Murder Case. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

Ginsborg, Paul. History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics, 1943–1988. London, 1990.

Lumley, Robert. States of Emergency: Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978. London, 1990.

Frank M. Snowden