We've been inundated with history about Hitler and Mussolini and the horrors of their actions leading up to and during WWII, but we don't hear much about what happened afterwards in Italy and Germany. I won't blame this totally on our public education system or media which both find it difficult to praise anything resembling a free market, because the bigger reason is most likely that fascism, mass murder, and the personalities of Hitler and Mussolini are more interesting than the boredom of economic freedom and growth and less dramatic than the more sober duo of Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer.
Both were at heart anti-statists in the sense of opposing a powerful State and the nationalistic fervor of the time. although de Gasperi fought to maintain Italian culture. They are both credited as two of the Founding Fathers of the European Union, although it's unlikely that what exists today as the EU is what they had in mind -- more likely, it was the common protection of Europe they had in mind, especially after the horrors of WWII.
What they achieved economically is more remarkable. Both were devout Christians and revered the family. Families had been ripped apart by the totalitarian violence, if not psychologically, then through death of family members, displacement of one parent into a labor camp, or by some form of forced separation. Tony Judt, in his book, Postwar, quoted William Byford-Jones, an officer in the British army:
'Flotsam and jetsam! Women who had lost husbands and children, men who had lost their wives; men and women who had lost their homes and children; families who had lost vast farms and estates, shops, distilleries, factories, flour-mills, mansions. There were also little children who were alone, carrying some small bundle, with a pathetic label attached to them. They had somehow got detached from their mothers, or their mothers had died and been buried by other displaced persons somewhere along the wayside.'
De Gasperi had been jailed by Mussolini in 1927 and likely would not have survived if not for Pius XI securing his release and protecting him in the Vatican Library for fourteen years. After the fail of Mussolini and fascism, de Gasperi, through the Christian Democrat Party, a center-right party, was able to stabilize Italy and bring about economic prosperity and respectability for Italy in the world community. Many of Italy's top industries were developed during the de Gasperi era. De Gasperi was in power for eight years, 1945-53, the longest reign in modern Italy. It was a miraculous turn-around. Among the companies which helped transform Italy from destruction to productivity and stablity were Vespa, Olivetti and Necchi.
Konrad Adenauer's story is interesting because Britain tried to undermine his rise to power in favor of the SPD, the Social Democrats led by Kurt Schumacher. Many British officials thought Germany would be better off under a labor party more like the one in power in Britain, but Schumacher and the Social Democrats, which represented a powerful German State, reunufication under Russian influence leading to collectivism and uniformity, the opposite of the free market direction represented by Adenauer and the Christian Democrats, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Adenauer prevailed and his leadership returned the rule of law, even to the State, created astounding economic stability and growth, brought Germany into the West and eventually created the needed partnership with De Gaulle and France that saved West Germany from East Germany's misery, and, ironically, the labor unions under Adenauer implemented everything good about unions, which were lacking in Brtitain. During Adenauer's chancellorship, real incomes tripled in Germany, and Germany became one of the main economic powers in the world. Another "miracle".
History shows the stark contrast of what happened under Adenauer's classical liberal leadership and the horror of East Germany under the USSR and Stalin's totalitarian nightmare. These distinctions should be highlighted in our schools and media representations of that period, but, unfortunately, they aren't. In actuality, these recoveries and transformations in Italy and Germany weren't miracles -- they represent the difference between State-controlled economies and economies working under a relatively free market. To the extent markets are left alone my meddling governments, they move toward prosperity and a higher standard of living -- to the extent markets are controlled by State forces, they stagnate, decline and eventually collapse. Yes, we need to learn these lessons.
For a better understanding of this period, read Chapter 17 of Paul Johnson's book, Modern Times, titled European Lazarus.