19th Century Political Thought: Writings of Mazzini

I posted on the life of the Italian republican and national revolutionary, Giuseppe Mazzini a few weeks back.  Since then I’ve managed to finish reading The Duties of Man and Other Essays, a 1905 edition.  There is a recent edition of Mazzini’s political writings, so need to dig up the edition I’ve been reading for those who want to read Mazzini’s essays.  Despite the PUP edition, Mazzini is certainly much less read now than when the old edition appeared.  I can’t say that he deserves to be revived as a great political thinker, as some believed in the nineteenth century.  However, the essays are worth reading for their illustration of political attitudes of the time and the light they cast on early to mid twentieth century politics.  They convey a message of a belief in the perfect unity of individual rights, ethnic nationalism, internationalism, voluntary socialism, liberal capitalism, humanist and secularised Christianity which is not likely to convince many now.  However, it does cast interesting light on European political movements up to about 50 years ago, when the non-Marxist left, the moderate right, and liberals leaning towards social welfarism, were more likely than now to refer to some mixture of that kind.  A time when a unity and final purpose of human history, based on harmony within a nation, and between nation and state, seemed much more real than now. There is still some elements of it in that part of the centre and centre-right which emphasises social and national solidarity, Fianna Fail in Ireland, One Nation Tories in the UK, MODEM (neo-Christian Democrats) in France, the moderate Basque Nationalists, and so on.  In terms of current political theory it seems close to the communitarianism of Mark Sandel, Charles Taylor and Aladair McIntyre, themselves covering a political spectrum from left to right.

Mazzini expresses a belief in the movement from pure individualism to an ethic of obligation, which grounds various communities including the nation.  Despite his nationalist inclinations, he thought national sovereignty might be limited by associations of democratic nations, but does not consider the possibility of divided identities in a nation.  The language of obligation fits with the intellectual founder of ‘New (socially oriented) Liberalism’ in Britain, T.H. Green, and is in line with the Kantian and Hegelianism that informs Green.  Mazzinu himself completely lacks the kind of ambiguities in Hegel and Kant, which allow more recognition for conflicting interests and identities than Mazzini recognises.  They are essays which seem now to be full of a warm hearted naiveté about a politics founded on a secularised Christianity, which is essentially a religion of Man, though Mazzini prefers to emphasise continuity wit Christianity and opposes atheism.  The well meaning naiveté extends to the past in Mazzini’s assurance that Spartacus shared his ideas, and his sadness at Machiavelli.  We can get a very good idea of why Nietzsche was so annoyed by the humanism and free thinking of his time in this system of unquestioning belief in historical progress towards perfect harmony.

So not important for political thought, but a significant expression of the political and broader culture of the time, and for the traces left in twentieth century politics.  On that last point, Mazzini probably had a direct influence on the 1948 Italian Constitution.