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Republican and Progressive Pioneer: Giuseppe Mazzini’s Political Thought and his influence on President Woodrow Wilson


“Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–72) is today largely remembered as the chief inspirer and leading political agitator of the Italian Risorgimento. Yet Mazzini was not merely an Italian patriot, and his influence reached far beyond his native country and his century. In his time, he ranked among the leading European intellectual figures, competing for public attention with Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville. According to his friend Alexander Herzen, the Russian political activist and writer, Mazzini was the “shining star” of the democratic revolutions of 1848. In those days Mazzini’s reputation soared so high that even the revolution’s ensuing defeat left most of his European followers with a virtually unshakeable belief in the eventual triumph of their cause.

Mazzini was an original, if not very systematic, political thinker. He put forward principled arguments in support of various progressive causes, from universal suffrage and social justice to women’s enfranchisement. Perhaps most fundamentally, he argued for a reshaping of the European political order on the basis of two seminal principles: democracy and national self-­determination. these claims were extremely radical in his time, when most of continental Europe was still under the rule of hereditary kingships and multinational empires such as the Habsburgs and the ottomans. Mazzini worked primarily on people’s minds and opinions, in the belief that radical political change first requires cultural and ideological transformations on which to take root. He was one of the first political agitators and public intellectuals in the contemporary sense of the term: not a solitary thinker or soldier but rather a political leader who sought popular support and participation. Mazzini’s ideas had an extraordinary appeal for generations of progressive nationalists and revolutionary leaders from his day until well into the twentieth century: his life and writings inspired several patriotic and anticolonial movements in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as the early Zionists, Gandhi, Nehru, and Sun Yat ­Sen.

It was Mazzini’s conviction that under the historical circumstances of his time, only the nation ­state could allow for genuine democratic participation and the civic education of individuals. To him, the nation was a necessary intermediary step in the progressive association of mankind, the means toward a future international “brotherhood” among all peoples. But the nation could never be an end in itself. Mazzini sincerely believed that cosmopolitan ideals and national sentiment would be complementary, so long as the rise of an aggressive nationalism could be prevented through an adequate “sentimental education.” As we will argue in more detail below, he was thus a republican patriot much more than a nationalist. The nation itself had for him a primarily political character as a democratic association of equals under a written constitution. Like a few other visionaries of his time, Mazzini even thought that Europe’s nations might one day be able to join together and establish a “united States of Europe.” His more immediate hope was that by his activism, his writings, and his example, he would be able to promote what today we might call a genuine cosmopolitanism of nations—that is, the belief that universal principles of human freedom, equality, and emancipation would best be realized in the context of independent and democratically governed nation­-states.

Mazzini clearly believed that the spread of democracy and national self-­determination would be a powerful force for peace in the long run, although the transition might often be violent. Where oppressive regimes and foreign occupation made any peaceful political contestation virtually impossible, violent insurrection would be legitimate and indeed desirable. Democratic revolutions would be justified under extreme political circumstances. However, he expected that once established, democratic nations would be likely to adopt a peace-seeking attitude in their foreign relations. democracies would become each others’ natural allies; they would cooperate for their mutual benefit and, if needed, jointly defend their freedom and independence against the remaining, hostile despotic regimes. over time, democracies would also set up various international agreements and formal associations among themselves, so that their cooperation would come to rest on solid institutional foundations. In this sense, Mazzini clearly anticipated that constitutional republics would establish and gradually consolidate a separate democratic peace” among each other. He did so much more explicitly than Immanuel Kant (…).

For these reasons, Mazzini deserves to be seen as the leading pioneer of the more activist and progressive “Wilsonian” branch of liberal internationalism. There is indeed some evidence that President Woodrow Wilson, who later elevated liberal internationalism into an explicit foreign policy doctrine, was quite influenced by Mazzini’s political writings. On his way to attend the 1919 peace conference in Paris, Wilson visited Genoa and paid tribute in front of Mazzini’s monument. The American President explicitly claimed on that occasion that he had closely studied Mazzini’s writings and “derived guidance from the principles which Mazzini so eloquently expressed.” Wilson further added that with the end of the First World War he hoped to contribute to “the realization of the ideals to which his [Mazzini’s] life and thought were devoted.”

Recommended. A Cosmopolitanism of Nations: Giuseppe Mazzini’s Writings on Democracy, Nation Building, and International Relation.



Giuseppe Mazzini was a uniquely influential figure, pioneer and revolutionary in the history and loose family of republican tradition, or heritage. Again, the terms republic, republican, republicanism used here is not a reference to the U.S. political party ironically under the name Republican Party, which I have numerously suggested ought to change its name, including the Democratic Party. The governing system is a representative democracy, both Republic and Democratic, and Americans on either political side have made the terms meaningless, when not demonizing them through the actions of those that represent those terms. This lack of linguistic precision and recognition contributes to our political pathology. So, we are not talking about the U.S. Republicans, but a classical tradition and heritage, which was not a mere governing system, but a philosophy and culture, republicanism, passed onto us, from antiquity. The roots of the ideal for the United States lie in the emulation of antiquity, of the Roman Republic, Athenian Democracy, etc.

Republicanism during the Enlightenment period was a global revolutionary phenomena throughout France, Spain, China, England, Ireland, Latin America, etc., carried into the Enlightenment era and early American political thought and way of thinking from the classical world. This philosophy both as a way of thinking and political ideal greatly venerates in principle: Virtue, Truth, Justice, Law, Order, Family, UNITY, INTELLIGENCE and Education. It is a philosophy that sees itself as a harbinger of world order (law), justice, and enlightenment.


Being a revolutionary philosophy, revolution is a term denoting destruction of the old world, and the revolving of celestial bodies in its return to its initial position. Its aim and theme is the regeneration and liberation of man and nations. This works in tandem with liberality, hence the American political tradition. The premises of the republican nationalists like cosmopolitan Mazzini, who dreamed of a democratic world Republic, were not the same as Karl Marx, who saw the Nation and the historical duties of its people as based in reality. Karl Marx hated Mazzini, and Friedrich Engels was said to once mock the idea of a “United States of Europe.” However, Karl Marx and the classical Marxists are not anti-republican, and must be considered within the republican political tradition. For they advocated “socialist” or “social” republicanism.

However, already you will find the differences between Mazzini and Marx as to the importance of spiritual notions in Mazzini’s thought. The nation for Mazzini is something transcendental. It is a voice of the Divine (Deity in Motion, God evolving, “process theology”) in history and nature, manifested through the voice (logos) of the People.

The ‘cosmopolitanism of nations’ serves the People, with the People helping each other in association, to liberate the People, and incorporate the People. This same exact philosophy was adapted into Fascism (deeply rooted in the history of Italian thought) and recognized by the principle Fascist philosophers. Therefore, Mazzini was ironically an influence to both Fascists and Liberal Internationalists. Both the Fascist philosophers and Mazzini were influenced by Giambattista Vico. In Mazzini’s period, the main struggle of the republican movements were against Imperial Russia, the Latin Church, and the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the church organized and operating against Freemasons and republican movements.

Although certain American thinkers have called for a fusion of Republicanism and Conservatism, this is ignorance. Republicanism does not need Conservatism, or Traditionalism. Now, what is a Republic in the ideal sense? The motto: liberty, equality, and fraternity. Republicanism never needed Conservatism or Traditionalism to understand the value of the family since antiquity, or to derive its spiritual conception of life. Concerning Mazzini’s idea, we are all told in our introductory classes to political science, that nationalism is a modern “idea” that comes about in the 18th century. This is almost always stated, when one is making a case for Internationalism and Globalization, while attaching nationalism to racism, Nazis, the Far-Right, etc. Now, in Mazzini’s political thought, nationalism is closely related to cosmopolitanism, and not separated. Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism for Mazzini depend on one another. This understanding is utterly forgotten.


There are three things to understand about Republicanism:

  1. Republicanism, especially American republicanism is not an anti-liberal tradition. Anti-liberalism is historically characteristic of Fascism and Conservatism. The republican thinker is a revolutionary, and does not belong to the reactionary, or counter-revolutionary tradition.
  2. Marx is technically considered part of the republican political heritage.
  3. The Socialist and Marxist critique of capitalism and capital greed is not anti-republican. Critiques of capitalism and greed ought to be welcomed and debated.
  4. One cannot be rabidly anti-democrat and zealously anti-liberal and also claim to be republican; and the mixture of the two identities, republican and conservative produces confusion, because the two are incompatible.

The ‘particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic,’ in the republican vision was not anti-liberal, anti-nationalist, anti-classical, nor anti-cosmopolitan. The change may be attributed to the progressive intellectual tradition, which was being touted around the New Deal period as a “new liberalism” for a new century, to face the challenges of an American society no longer reliant on the agrarian economy of its founding era. Damon Linker argued, but “now liberals have undergone a complete reversal, treating something once considered a given as something that must be extricated root and branch” (Liberals keep denigrating the new nationalism as racist. This is nonsense). Hence, the Democrats and Progressives have to find a way to get back the perception, that they too even as resisters and revolutionaries, are patriots, veterans, and love their country even when criticizing it and holding it accountable to its principles.

“Mazzini was certainly a progressive and in many regards a revolutionary; yet his intellectual frame of reference was that of a thoroughly nineteenth-­century figure. Hence he also shared his contemporaries’ attitude toward colonialism. Most fundamentally, he shared with them a philosophy of progress that portrayed most non-European peoples as backward, in need of being “educated” and trained to become ready for self­-government. As he wrote to his mother in 1845, he believed “that Europe has been providentially called to conquer the rest of the world to progressive civilization.” Mazzini’s paternalistic endorsement of colonialism as an instrument of Europe’s “civilizing mission” echoed Mill’s idea that “nations which are still barbarous . . . should be conquered and held in subjection by foreigners.” (IBID, P. 29)


  1. One thing is for certain, the founding of America had nothing to do with fascism, which didn’t exist when America was born.

    The national ideology of fascism was inspired by process theology, which was inspired by Hegel.

    Marxism also took it’s inspiration from Hegel’s philosophy. Progressivism, too. All those political movements regard themselves as a fulfillment of “the meaning of history.” No, there’s nothing arrogant about that.

    So if America has somehow become fascist it can only be a result of those various Hegel-inspired process theologians entering into its balls of a academia during the 20th century.

    Those of us Americans who hate that influence in this country would like to tell you all to take a hike, and take your Marxist/Fascist evil twins along with you.


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