This essay explains how deeply Italian colonialism was rooted in the international juridical background of its times. The Italian case is generally connoted by the passage from a sense of "moral restraint" the heirs of the Risorgimento felt toward colonial adventures, right down to a full participation in the colonial "generous competition" among the great European nations - to voice it with Pasquale Stanislao Mancini, then Minister for foreign affairs. Actually, the beginnings of Italian colonialism did not imply a repudiation of the ideals of national freedom and progress, but rather a sort of continuity with them, as attested by the very thought of Mancini himself, one of the most acclaimed scholars of international law at the time. Parliamentary papers, juridical essays and archival sources lead the A. to trace back Mancini’s peculiar mix of progressive stance and colonialist option to the current internationally known as "liberal imperialism". Only later, by the end of the century, will the Italian juridical culture live its true "turn to empire", an imperialistic turn marked by the prevalence of the theories of domination.
Keywords: Italian colonialism, International law, Pasquale Stanislao Mancini, legal culture, progress, liberal imperialism