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

Giuseppe Mazzini was a uniquely influential figure and revolutionary in the line of Republican tradition.

“A principality can easily become a tyranny, an aristocratic state a government of the few, and a democracy can easily turn into chaos.”—Machiavelli, On How Many Kinds of Republic There Are, And What Kind The Roman Republic Was

The Pillar of American Thought – Republicanism, a Way of Life

Republicanism during the Enlightenment period was a global revolutionary phenomena throughout France, Spain, China, England, Ireland, Latin America, etc., hence, a tradition (the over-arching philosophy) in and of itself carried into the Enlightenment era and early American political thought and way of thinking from the classical world. It was never merely a form of government. The American Conservatives and Liberals are but branches from that parent ideology, and its language structures or limits our very thinking as Americans, despite our political affiliations. 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, justice, and enlightenment. It is in the area of law people are mostly familiar with, but that is a limited focus.

One would not think of Republicanism in the way the Chinese saw Confucianism, or Daoism, yet that is exactly how Republicanism functions. Its thinkers consider it a way of life, and Law is one aspect only.

Mazzini’s Cosmopolitanism of Nations (Democratic Nationalism) and Process Theology 

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.

REPUBLICANISM is not a Conservative tradition, although certain American thinkers have called for a fusion of REPUBLICANISM and CONSERVATISM. I argue, that this is nearly impossible.

A REPUBLIC is essentially a fraternity (a brotherhood), and binds and unites the Community or People into a FAMILY, or SINCERE FRIENDSHIP. Republicanism does not need a Conservatism or Traditionalism to understand the value of the family, or to derive its spiritual vigor. It can be described as a Civil Theology as much as a political ideology, and has been expressed as such by the minds representing its cause. One such thinker and patriot who understood this was GIUSEPPE MAZZINI.

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, one of the principle movers, nationalism is closely related to cosmopolitanism, and not separated. Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism for Mazzini depend on one another. This understanding seems to be evidently forgotten in our day, especially by Western European leaders.

There are three things to understand going forward:

  1. Republicanism is not anti-liberal as has been historically characteristic of Fascism and Conservatism; and the republican is a revolutionary, not of the reactionary, or counter-revolutionary tradition.
  2. Marx is considered part of the republican political heritage; and 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.
  3. One cannot be rabidly anti-democrat and zealously anti-liberal and also claim to be a republican; and the mixture of the two identities – republican and conservative produces confusion and are in fact incompatible. American Conservatives, confused through disinformation have been deviating into Paleo-Conservative influences, Neo-Confederates, Identitarianism and European Conservative Tradition (through certain Catholic thinkers and anti-Enlighteners).

The idea of Democracy and Republicanism since Antiquity are not the same, but in the United States become one unified political cause, one body of bodies in political action. To be a liberal in our day is to be either establishment, moderate, or “progressive,” but this identity of the liberal continues to change, despite being so modern. Liberals were not anti-nationalists, or libertinian immoralists as the Right portrays Liberals today, but they were exactly the opposite.

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; also see The Sophistry of the Anti-Nationalist | Progressives and Liberals versus Nationalism).

“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 Book, A Cosmopolitanism of Nations: Giuseppe Mazzini’s Writings on Democracy, Nation Building, and International Relation]

What to Keep in Mind on Mazzini

“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

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