political revue


Year XLI, 1999, Number 1, Page 58



Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) was, as is well-known, one of the “founding fathers” of Italian unity: throughout his life he fought for Italy to be one, republican and democratic, which more than once cost him prison and exile.
To realise his objective he founded a revolutionary association in 1833, called “Giovine Italia” (Young Italy). Realising, however, that it was unlikely that the aim he pursued could be achieved in any lasting way within a hostile Europe still linked to the anciens régimes, he tried to set up a parallel organisation, “Giovine Europa” — although this was to remain largely on paper — which, in his plans, was to be sub-divided into Young Germany, Young Poland and so on.
But, paradoxical as it may seem, it is no exaggeration to say that the idea of Europe (in the sense of a conviction of the need for supranational unity of the continent, as indispensable guarantee of a democratic, peaceful and stable order in Europe) does not come into this Genoese thinker’s scheme of things. There are two fundamental reasons for this, each sufficient to exclude it.
1. The first reason is that Mazzini was not convinced — unlike other thinkers of the Risorgimento — that, even then, only a system ordered above the state level could offer the old continent permanent assurance of development and progress in order and justice. In contrast, Mazzini fully shared that illusion held by liberals and by the Manchester school of economists, and which would later be held too by socialists of the Marxist or “utopist” confession, which can be called the “illusion of homogeneity”.
It is only the existence of capitalist regimes — according to the last, the socialist, version of this triform but substantially single illusion —, the existence of capitalist regimes alone which is the profound and real cause of disputes between nations and the resulting wars: an international society of socialist states will, by definition and necessarily, be peaceful.
It is only the obstacles to free trade — according to the second from which the socialist version, for example that of Marx, derives directly — which causes these disputes: a free trading Europe will be a Europe in which the causes of war themselves will have been tom out at the root.
It is only the Europe of the kings, of the anciens régimes, of absolutism — according to the first version, that of democracy — only “the Europe of the princes” which is by its very nature bellicose. It was Mazzini’s deepest conviction that a republican Europe, “Europe of the peoples”, would be a Europe where conflicts between states, which always have dynastic origins, would by definition be made obsolete. And as regards the indispensable coordination at continental level of the various nation-state policies — already naturally conspiring by their very democratic essence, because inspired by the same religious ideal (God and People) — this would be fully guaranteed by a sort of supra-state “lay Council” (whose duties and composition Mazzini never clearly defined).
2. In other words — thus we come to the second reason — to affirm explicitly and unequivocally the need for a European Federation one must clearly realise in theory, and energetically affirm in practice, the limits and risks of national unity: and therefore understand the need for a dual limitation of this nation-state idea — in the name of that principle of federalism called “subsidiarity”, which since Maastricht has come into fashion — upwards and downwards. Downwards, through internal federalism; upwards, by means of the establishment of a genuine European government. This conclusion was reached and voiced by a contemporary of Mazzini, Carlo Cattaneo, the only thinker and politician of the Risorgimento who can really be considered a precursor of the idea of the United States of  Europe, since he is also the only one to have understood it in modern and rigorously federalist terms, both infra- and supranational, subordinating and inferring the idea of regional organisation of the nation, like that of the federal organisation of Europe, from the one supreme principle of freedom.
Now, on the one hand Mazzini was against the “regionalisation” of Italy, at least if understood in the sense of internal federalism, and on the other he judged, in no less apodictic fashion, the independence of the various European nations — conceived precisely in the form of absolute state sovereignty — as an indispensable condition for them to be able to fulfil the “mission” to which they were called by divine to make their particular and irreplaceable contribution to civilisation, the progress of humanity.
In this perspective Mazzini quite naturally conceived of “Young Europe”, not as destined to promote the unity of our continent, but to promote the realisation, in each country, of democratic and republican regimes similar to that which he wished for Italy, and capable of politically reinforcing and guaranteeing their stability and influence at international level.
It is true that in Mazzini’s religious thinking — as Mario Albertini pertinently observed[1] — the “national” mission did coincide with the objective of European unity (“remember that the Italian mission is the moral unity of Europe”, Dei doveri dell’uomo): which led Albertini to conclude that “it must be admitted that supranational values were for him both the premises and the goal of his doctrine of the nation and not merely something accidental, extrinsic”. The fact remains that Mazzini’s European order — which he often called “the new Holy Alliance” — is very like the old (as Dante Visconti observes)[2], in other words like the order he was fighting, and does not go beyond the concept of international law, or the principle of balance. On the contrary, Mazzini was particularly concerned with balance, trying to draw a map of the new Europe which could guarantee a coherent and stable system of checks and balances: which shows, concludes Visconti, that in practice he basically had very little faith in the necessary brotherhood of democratic and republican nations, which he affirmed in theory. As P. Renouvin wrote, his Europeanism was basically none other than an alibi for his nationalism.
Our conclusion therefore is that there is nothing in Mazzini’s thinking which allows us to consider this author, in a “technical” sense, one of the precursors of the project of a European Federation.
If this is the idea of a European “state of mind”, but of a continental “state”, Mazzini was not federalist.
But there can be precursors who leave rich seeds for the future in a higher and more profound sense than in the technical sense: and it is in this sense that Mazzini is without doubt one of the authors who must have a special place in the federalist Pantheon, and who deserve to be better known and studied from this point of view too.
The religious conception which he had of the solidarity between peoples in defence of democracy and justice against the illegitimacy of the ancien régime, against the blind conservation of the Holy Alliance, against the cult of raison d’état and the disregard of the rights of the individual: all these constitute, beyond the superficial contradictions and mystical, romantic conjuring tricks, a political conception that is not only solid and coherent but, within those limits, still entirely relevant today.
Mazzini’s contribution to the current conception of unity and European independence is not only his severe moral commitment, in the context of an ideology in which human factors always prevail over the abstract and often absurd demands of the state and of the powerful; but on one point at least he also gives us a very precise suggestion of a “technical” nature, which indicates the direction we should follow. I refer to the constant polemic, in all his writings, against the principle of non-intervention, which he condemns as a genuine “atheism” in international politics: an atheism which ignores the fact that only through change and intervention has humanity made its greatest progress and its most notable achievements.
It is true that he does not develop this idea to its ultimate consequences: but it is not difficult to see — following the line and spirit of his thinking and teaching — that the idea of morality, of the obligatory nature of international intervention, requires that it be given a legal basis, and therefore implies the limitation of sovereignty; and that this limitation must be in turn be rationally disciplined and organised, by means of a constitution and a state order above that of the states — if reason of state is not to raise its ugly head once more as it re-asserts its rights. Indeed, if the state cannot be subordinated, the idea of non-intervention ends up also being unassailable because coherent with the system, despite all its atheism — or rather, precisely because of it: since then it is the system itself which in this sense, proves “atheist”.
It is this aspect of Mazzinian thinking which should, I believe, be the focus of federalist reflection, as the guiding principle through which Mazzini’s work and action can still provide a valid lesson for Europe today. And from this point of view — I note in passing — Mazzini’s conception of religion and of politics as a sort of lay religion — a conception so off-putting to the eminently concrete and “positivist” mind of Gaetano Salvemini[3] — recovers its value and its profound significance as a sort of “mythological incarnation” (indispensable to it practical efficacy) of the moral idea of a humane society which would root out the violence within it, among groups as among nations: the society which Kant called “perpetual peace”, and Dante “universal Monarchy”, and which will — as Albertini says, applying to this of ideas an expression of Marx’s — mark the passage from prehistory to history. A society which Mazzini, who was very sensitive to the profound values of ethics (though not to the institutional aspects which these values must assume, if they are to take on a political, and not purely individual, dimension and significance) — saw symbolised in the passage from the age of rights, that of the French revolution, to the age of duties, whose prophet he wished to be.
Alessandro Levi[4] shows very pertinently that Mazzini’s greatness lay neither in his ideas — often contradictory, confused and obscure — nor in his action, which finally ended in a failure so complete, that Mazzini died, as is often said in Italy, “an exile in his own land”. His greatness lies in the rigorous moral coherence with which, without any compromise and to the very end, he remained faithful to his convictions — loyal to loyalty, as Royce says — and maintained a perfect harmony between his ideas and his action.
Something similar may be said for the question which concerns us here. The value, and also the greatness of Mazzini’s European teaching lies not in his very vague and nebulous conception of Europe. Nor does it lie in the European action developed by the revolutionary organisations he founded, in the ambit of “Giovine Europa” — all, after all, quite insubstantial — which was never directed, even minimally, towards supranational objectives. It lies rather in the spirit, in the moral soul of all his activities, entirely aimed at showing — and at living such a conviction — that democracy, liberty and the defence of the dignity of man are in harmony at European level, or are destined to perish.[5]
It is up to us to continue on this path and to reveal what Mazzini could but faintly descry: in other words to find the practical means and legal instruments necessary to ensure that this harmony is incarnated in reality and “becomes a state.”
We the undersigned, men of progress and of freedom,
In equality, and in the brotherhood of man,
In equality, and in the brotherhood of peoples;
That humanity is called to proceed, by a continuous progress, and under the rule of universal moral law, towards the free and harmonious development of its faculties, and towards the fulfilment of its mission in the universe.
That it cannot do so without the active participation of all its members, freely associated,
That association cannot be truly and freely established among equals, since every inequality involves the violation of independence, and every violation of independence mars the freedom of agreement;
That Freedom, Equality and Humanity are equally sacred — that they constitute three inviolable elements in every absolute solution of the social problem — and that whenever one of these elements is sacrificed to the other two, something fundamental is missing in the way human efforts were organised to reach this solution.
That if the end to which humanity is tending is essentially one, if the general principles which must direct the human families in their journey to that end, are identical, progress may nevertheless be made in a thousand ways;
That every man, and every people has a particular mission, which, while it constitutes the individuality of that man, or that people, necessarily contributes to the fulfilment of the general mission of humanity;
Convinced, finally:
That the association of men, and of peoples must both protect the free exercise of the individual mission, and ensure certainty of direction towards the development of that general mission;
Strong in our rights as men, and as citizens, strong in our conscience, and in the mandate given by God and Humanity to those who willingly consecrate our right arm, intellect and life to the holy cause of the progress of the peoples;
Being first constituted in free, and independent, national associations, primitive seeds of Young Italy, Young Poland and Young Germany;
Met together for general advantage, on the fifteenth day of the month of April of the year 1834, with our hands on our hearts and standing surety for the future, we have signed the following:
Young Germany, Young Poland and Young Italy, republican associations tending to one identical goal which embraces all of humanity under the rule of a single faith in Freedom, Equality and Progress, swear brotherhood, now and for always, for all that concerns the general goal.
A declaration of principles, which constitute the universal moral law applied to human society, will be drawn up and signed in agreement by the three National Confraternities. It will define the belief, the goal and the general direction of the three associations. None of them can depart from these in its work without culpable violation of the act of fraternity, and without suffering the consequences.
For all that is outside the sphere of general interests, and the declaration of principles, each of the three associations is free and independent.
An offensive and defensive league of solidarity among peoples who recognise each other is hereby established among the three associations. All three work with one accord for their emancipation. Each will have the right to assistance from the others in every solemn and important manifestation to that end.
Any meeting of the National Confraternities, or of the delegates of each Confraternity, will constitute the Confraternity of Young Europe.
The individuals who make up the three associations are brothers. Each of them will fulfil the duties of a brother towards the others.
The Confraternity of Young Europe will decide on a symbol common to all members of the three associations; they will all be recognised by that symbol. A common motto at the head of all writings will mark the work of each association.
Any people wishing to participate in the rights and duties of the fraternity established between the three peoples linked by this deed, will formally agree to the same deed, signing it through its own National Confraternity.
Berne, Switzerland, 15th April 1834.
Has some important progress been achieved among us? The idea expressed in our work Alliance of the peoples has been translated into a deed, and a Central European Committee, composed of men belonging to all the nations of Europe and influential in the field of democracy, will actively work to promote its development in the sphere of reality. […]
Freedom without association inevitably leads to anarchy. Association without freedom is despotism, tyranny. Humanity abhors tyranny and anarchy in equal measure. It tries to maintain a balance between these two inseparable conditions of life: so inseparable, that the one cannot be achieved and maintained without the other. Every association sooner or later meets with rebellion, if its members have not freely consented to it: every freedom is precarious, if the forces of association do not arrange to preserve it.
And this is true for each country and for everyone. No system can be established as lasting legislation in a state, if it does not respect these two elements, freedom and association. No lasting conquest of freedom can come about in a nation, if similar progress is not achieved in the nations which surround it. […]
The life of nations is dual: internal and external: their own and by relation. The totality of men forming every nation have the task of regulating their own life; the Congress of nations have that of regulating the life of international relations. God and the people for each nation: God and humanity for all. We are trying to realise, not Europe, but a United States of Europe. […]
The absolute non-intervention doctrine in politics, appears to me to be what indifference is in matters of Religion, viz.: a disguised atheism — the negative, without the vitality of a denial, of all belief, of all general principles, of every mission of nations on behalf of Humanity. We are all thank God bound to each other in the world, and all that has ever been transacted upon it, that has been good, great, or eminently progressive, has taken place owing to Intervention. (Italy, Austria and the Pope. A letter to Sir James Graham, Bart. By Joseph Mazzini. Albanesi, London, 1845, pp. 5-6)
On principle, and broadly considering how the times are moving, we believe that everything in Europe is tending towards unity: and that, in the general re-organisation which is on its way, this region in the world will represent, as the final result of the work of our epoch, a federation, a holy alliance of Peoples constituted into great unitary aggregations, according to the nature of the physical and moral elements which exercise their action more particularly in a given circle, thus as a whole determining the special mission of the nationality. (From “Nazionalità unitari e federalisti”, 1835)
We long for the great federation of free peoples: we believe in the pact of nations, in the European congress which will peacefully interpret that pact. But no-one can enter as a brother in that pact, no-one can obtain a seat in that council of peoples, unless endowed with their own ordered life, constituted into national entities, armed, as a sign of their faith, with the unitary flag which represents it. (From “Scritti dell’Italia e del Popolo”, 1848)
(Prefaced and edited by Andrea Chiti-Batelli)

[1] Mario Albertini, Il Risorgimento e l’unità europea, Naples, Guida, 1979 (republished in Id., Lo stato nazionale, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1997).
[2]Dante Viseonti, La concezione unitaria dell’Europa del Risorgimento italiano, Milan, Franeesco Vallardi, 1948.
[3] Gaetano Salvemini, Giuseppe Mazzini, London, Cape, 1956.
[4] Alessandro Levi, La filosofia politica di Giuseppe Mazzini, Bologna, Zanichelli, 1917.
[5] As regards Mazzinian Europeanism, cf. also Andrea Chiti-Batelli’s in André Miroir (ed.), Pensée et construction européennes. Hommage à Georges Goriely, Bruxelles, Université Libre de Bruxelles, CERIS and Emile Van Balberghe, 1990, pp. 89-103.




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