Giuseppe Mazzini: The Man of Europe

November 11, 2018


While statistics on the degree of affection towards Europe show an increasingly low level of enthusiasm towards the EU institutions of the member states, European politicians are more concerned than ever with the preparation of the elections in 2019. The elections, as the American dominated world is becoming more multipolar on the economic aspect, will be the moment to prepare what is necessary for a new Europe, in which Europeans will have a chance to maintain their well-being by proposing solutions that address the real issues of the Union. However, before action comes the thought: so we dedicate this article to a person who was a predecessor and prophet of the European unity, the Italian philosopher and politician Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872).



A European mind-set



Mazzini is mentioned in the history books as one of the main protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento but in reality his struggle for the stateless people, at the time oppressed especially by the Habsburg Empire, also aimed at the collaboration of European nations. In fact, after the Young Italy (the patriotic organization), he founded the Young Germany, the Young Poland and finally the Young Europe (Giovine Europa) during the 30s of the XIX century with his fellow conspirators beyond the Alps. Even before reaching the goal of a united, democratic, free and republican Italy, he believed that his country should sit at the "banquet of sister nations”. Many convictions, including two death sentences, for inspiring insurrectionary movements, caused Mazzini to live more than thirty years of his life in exile in London, but this gave him the opportunity to meet the other European intelligents such as the economist Stuart Mill and writers like Dickens, and to develop his ideas about the emancipation of women and the people of the British colonies. Even his knowledge of religions was extended, with a particular attention to Buddhism: the precepts of living together and detachment from the physical desires, which today many people in the western world find appealing, had convinced Mazzini even then.



Political legacy



In 1848-49 he was in Rome to direct the intense political experiment of the Roman Republic, which was bloodily repressed by the French troops. The precious legacy of that experience, the Constitution, served as a model for the founding fathers of the Italian Republic (a hundred years later) in several passages, including “sovereignty belongs to the people within the limits described by constitutional laws”, which refers to a concept that is key to prevent any rough populist drift. When the first unitary Italian State was finally founded in 1861, Mazzini continued to fight against the Papal State, a monarchy that he defined as tyrannical and which left its citizens in a state of illiteracy. He was a man of faith, but wanted a secular republic with a clear distinction between the state and the church.



The notion of duty



The work that best sums up Mazzini’s philosophical thought is “The Duties of Man”, published in 1860. It claims that the granting of individual rights alone can lead to the misery of many, to selfish men who will eventually make the law of the jungle prevail. Talking about duties may sound strange in a world where citizens in many continents are still struggling to get their rights. The ideas put forward in the book were however appreciated by notable politicians like W.T. Wilson and leaders like Gandhi. The concept of duty that Mazzini proposed was not aiming to become richer or happier, but to make oneself and others better human beings, fighting against injustice throughout life. According to Mazzini, this principle can only spring from two sources: our conscience inspired by God, and humanity, which is its prophet.



Reconciling patriotism with Europeanism



For Mazzini, the love for the Fatherland was of fundamental importance since it could provide an identity to men and women, allowing citizens to present themselves as brothers when relating with other nations. This idea of ​​a common homeland, without castes or privileges seem to us extremely relevant today, in an age of false patriotism, while only a sincere shared feeling of homeland in each European nation will allow us to collaborate in the common progress of the Union.

Mazzini’s focus on national identity should not, in fact, be mistaken for close-minded nationalism. On the contrary, he can indeed be considered as one of the early advocates of a united Europe. Mazzini aspired the creation of a Europe of the people, as opposed to a Europe of kings, which should result in the conquest of peace and brotherhood at the national level. To him, the unification of Italy, as that of Germany and Poland, was not an end in itself but the first step of a bigger process. It is no surprise that in his supranational political proposal, Mazzini talked about a European culture, not a national one. In 1834, he wrote: "The past era, an era that ended with the French Revolution, was destined to emancipate man, the individual, conquering the dogmas of freedom, equality, brotherhood; the new era is destined to constitute humanity [...], it is destined to organize a Europe of free peoples, independent of their internal mission, associated to a common aim, under the uniform: freedom, equality, humaneness".



Empowering the workforce



In the years following the publication of the Communist Party Manifesto, he criticized Marx’s ideas to solve the social question, which had to be faced not with class clash but rather with associations amongst workers. The abolition of private property, however, as Mazzini acutely prophesied, could push the economy by creating a petrified society and the so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat” could generate totalitarianism. Nevertheless, he deemed the creation of associations of workers to be essential, not only to overcome wage levels of mere subsistence, but also to foster their members’ cultural development and increase their participation in the company’s enterprise. An idea of ​​union responsibility similar to what has been carried out in many contemporary German companies with the Mitbestimmung, that is the participation of the workers' representatives in the management of the factory. Mazzini believes that especially in agriculture, there could be a future for cooperative associations of workers and farmers’ private property. We can think of the kibbutz experience in Israel or the Italian case, where farmers’ cooperative movements had hundreds of thousands of members among producers, distributors and member consumers, making us realize that the proposals of the philosopher were not only idealistic, but had their own economic concreteness and foresight.



The role of music as a universal language



Besides the pedagogical themes of Mazzini, he also used to be a passionate guitar player. Music for him was not a frivolous divertissement; it is a spiritual mean of elevation that leads to an understanding among different populations. He loved the classical Italian and German tradition, the melodrama that contributed to the affirmation of oppressed nations under the Hapsburg Empire. Music must be known and practiced by everyone as its universal character pushes towards fraternity among men. The melodramas of today are the great musicals and music events, made available to all across borders by their international character. A clear example of this is the Eurovision Song Contest. However, the notion of spiritual elevation that pertains to music is perhaps not yet recognized. The buzz that some of the young people are looking for in pop events is exactly the opposite of what Mazzini envisioned and we should perhaps think of how we can improve the conception and organization of such events in order to enable a deeper understanding of their meaning.



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