The Papal States were a series of territories in the Italian Peninsula under the direct sovereign rule of the Pope, from the 8th century until 1870. However, the spike in nationalism around the world began to erode the church's authority over its holdings, threatening to bring them to an end. This fate was avoided through the clever machinations of Pope Sidious, who forged a deal with the kingdom of Sicily. This would bring about a two-state solution, in which the Paper States would join the newly formed Italy but remain autonomous, with the rest of Italy becoming united under the kings authority.

While the deal made by Pope Sidious allowed the church to keep its power, the rise of democracy would eventually rear it's ugly head in the 20th century. As Italy would eventually democratize into a modern day state, it would ultimately be living next door to an authoritarian nation ruled by an absolute monarchy. There are aspects of this in our world with Vatican City. However, it is a tiny city-state with no real power to affect world events and little influence beyond the Catholic church. The Papal states was a territory that at their zenith, the Papal States covered most of Central Italy and some parts of France, which had much sway over the European countries and their relationships with the rest of the world.

How can the Papal States co-exist alongside the kingdom of Italy while maintaining its power in a democratic Europe?

  • $\begingroup$ So, let me try to understand this. You have an authoritarian state near Italy, and then you have Italy itself which is fully democratic in this. And the question is "How do the two nation-states get along?" Is Italy a flawed democracy rife with corruption or is it a pretty stable and uncorrupt democracy? $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2021 at 2:18
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    $\begingroup$ Even more puzzling: how can many autocratic corporations exist and function inside a democratic society? To add to it: how can the same autocratic structures exist inside multiple nations in the same time? $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2021 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ A treaty with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (which is what I presume you mean by the non-existant Kindom of Sicily) would be basically useless, given that it was thoroughly beaten and conquered by the Kingdom of Sardinia (aka Kingdom of Piedmont, aka Kingdom of Savoy). (After conquering most the Italian peninsula, the Kingdom of Piedmont changed its name to Kingdom of Italy.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 14, 2021 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ ... Long story short, the context is that the Kingdom of Savoy / Piedmont / Sardinia was supported by the Second French Empire of Napoleon III, whereas the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was hanging in the wind. Why would pope Sidious (whose real name was Pius IX, why change it?) want to ally himself with the very likely loser? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 14, 2021 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ Does the authoritarian state have to hold territory or merely have influence? If the latter, consider modern MNCs. They have economies larger than most countries, have standing armies (security services), hire mercenaries, engage in diplomacy and operate their own laws internally. Nominally, they are subordinate to the states in which they operate, in that they pay taxes and follow local laws, but that is dependent on the state's ability to collect and enforce $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Dec 14, 2021 at 4:37

5 Answers 5


There are two reasons why nations with differing beliefs and opinions are forced to coexist.

1 They each have something the other one needs

If both of the nations produce something that the other one needs, then they are both forced into a standstill. They can't destroy the enemy nation because that would mean giving up on the products that they produce.

For the sake of simplicity we will call

Nation A-the Authoritarian Regime

Nation B-the Democratic State

Nation A has horrible civil rights abuses, but so many people work in its factories that it has vastly superior manufacturing compared to Nation B. In particular, it specializes in making weapons, specifically guns and ammunition, among other things.

Nation B is a great place to live in, but it can't compare to the sheer industrial might of Nation A. It is horrible at making its own weapons. However, it is much better at agriculture. It is great at making and producing bread among other food items.

Now, because Nation A is great at making weapons and Nation B is great at making bread, they make a trade-off. Nation B gives A food to feed their starving people, and Nation A gives B the weapons to properly defend their homeland.

This is why they can't ever go to war against one another. They rely on each other too much.

If A decides to get a little too trigger-happy and considers attacking, B will just withhold its bread supply from them and their people will slowly starve.

If B ever decides it wants to go to war, A will just stop trading with them and cripple A's economy in a similar fashion to the above example.

You can't start a war if you don't have the guns to wage it.

This is one reason why two nations with diametrically opposed views would decide not to attack each other. Mutual need.

No matter how much Nation B might hate the civil rights abuses in A, what are they supposed to do if fighting them would cripple their economy? Would it even be worth it?

2 They are scared of the power the other one possesses.

If a mutual need is not the driving factor of this relationship, then mutual fear is more than able to do the trick.

Even if both nations absolutely hate each other's guts, they know what would happen if they went to war with one another. Both countries have armies and weapons stores that are formidable enough to make each other pause before they consider an all-out war.

Think of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Those two hated each other, but neither one was really able to do anything about the other because of the threat of mutually assured destruction at the hands of nuclear weapons.

Fear is a powerful motivator.

Obviously, the people of Nation B would like it if the people of Nation A were no longer under the rule of an oppressive dictator, but if that dictator has any number of nasty weapons, they would have to be crazy to even set foot on their soil.

Whether they like each other or not, ambassadors of both countries will have to grit their teeth and smile for the cameras, because they know that only one small fuse is all it would take to burn both their countries to the ground in the flames of war.

This assumes Nation B even cares about the tyrants in the first place.

Just because a country is a democracy does not mean it's a perfect one. It could be flawed to the point where it is just as bad if not worse than an outright autocracy. It can be rife with greed, lies, and countless other abuses of power. Honestly, this is common in all governments, no matter how outwardly nice they may seem.

Why would a corrupt government official care about the tyrant of a nearby nation-state? They might see each other as rivals, but they might not even care about the civil rights abuses going on in the rival nation, especially if they were committing similar atrocities within their borders.

Countries make such moral compromises all the time.

Even if the country doesn't want to turn a blind eye, what are they supposed to do? Are they just supposed to ignore the sovereignty of another nation and charge in guns blazing, telling them to completely change their government structure? This isn't a black and white moral quandary. Forcing a foreign nation to accept democracy, for example, is not democracy. It's more like the prelude to a bloody war.

To Summarize

Mutual need and economic trade forces two nations that might not like each other to work in tandem, or else suffer.

Mutual fear drives two nations that hate each other to hesitate before they go to war and end up annihilating each other.

Lastly, mutual corruption makes it such that immoral political figures will easily turn a blind eye to civil rights abuses.

Even if the relationship between these two nations is rocky, they just have to deal with it in one way or another.


Democratic doesn't have to mean fair, and it's not impossible for a system to deadlock itself based on intended-to-be-neutral rules [citation needed].

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I dont see any problem at all in democratic regimes coexisting with authoritarian alongside. We have a pile of examples how "democratic" USA not only coexists but actively supports dictatorship and authoritarian regimes all over the world. Like Pinochet's Chilie or Saddam's Iraq. So democratic institutions are somewhat of little significance when dealing with profit and power. Anyway, What is a democracy itself? It is the dictatorship of the "True Democrats"


Have Bismark die.

Bismark unified the German/Prussian states into one mighty nation. This drew France away from defending papal nations, because they lost in a massive war against Prussia.

Have him die, and the states that would be Germany fall into a civil war. France could focus on defending the papal states, and would keep them large enough for them to be a state.

Italy would remain as France wasn't able/willing to conquer them.


The timeline gets interesting here.

Papal States Join the Triple Alliance

By 1882, Italy in real world joins the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Assuming there is a two-state solution that agrees somewhat on foreign affairs, Papal States would join as well.

Industrialization was under way in Italy during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Papal States would need to have a progressive Pope, willing to pursue fast modernization of economics to survive. This is possible to do in an authoritarian environment. Ask the German Empire, they'll tell you how.

Papal States Ideology - Stronger than Nationalism

As the north of Italy industrializes, there would need to be charismatic Popes and social movements creating some religious-nationalistic identity for the Papal states. Tapping into Ultramontanism. Recruiting fervent Catholics to serve the Pope. Creating a politically and economically progressive ideology that upholds the complete authority of the Pope, for the glory of God and the universal Catholic church. Perhaps even disaffected Catholics fleeing the anti-clerical policies in France in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Great War

The Papal States stay neutral during World War I, along with Switzerland. Perhaps the Kingdom of Italy also stays neutral. This is where the butterflies begin to spin out of control. World War I was such a pivotal moment in history, you could take it 50 different ways.

For example: Germany wins in 1917 after the Russian Revolution-- without the pressure from Italy in the south against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they barely roll over the trenches and take out Paris. France is humiliated and signs a peace deal. Italy and the Papal states decide that authoritarianism wins, and doubles down on dictatorship. Fascism in the Kingdom of Italy, and an equally nasty Papal authoritarianism in the north. Anti-Jewish all around. Embracing Catholic supremacy, much like the Austrians during that same time.

The Next Great War

Another war would inevitably explode with a Revanchist France and an over-bloated Germany and the expanding Communist Russia. What happens next creates even more butterflies that could go 100 different ways.

Perhaps the Papal States stay neutral, like Switzerland. To appease the religious Austrians, the Germanic allies decide to leave the Papal states alone. Perhaps the Papal states are enthusiastic about the German militarism against the godless communists of the Soviet Union.

Dictatorship into the 21st Century

Regardless, it is very possible for authoritarian states to survive deep into the 20th century in Western Europe. Look at Franco in Spain. Look at Portugal. Those semi-fascist authoritarian governments, with heavy Catholic religious support, continued far into the 1970s. Savvy popes could very well do the same all the way into the 1980s.

After that, it gets tough. Either Germany would have to win and spread authoritarianism through the continent (in which case France and the Kingdom/Republic of Italy also remain authoritarian), or the Papal state in the 1980s and 1990s would turn inward, becoming a regressive dictatorship like Belarus-- which to this day is an authoritarian government sitting strong in Europe.


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