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NATION AND RISORGIMENTO
Mazzini and 'Young Italy'
In 1843, the Italian nationalist leader Giuseppe Mazzini wrote from his exile in London to another Italian exile in Uruguay: 'Garibaldi is a man who will be of use to the country when it is time for action'. His correspondent was Giovanni Battista Cuneo, who was a journalist and a Ligurian like Mazzini, and who, like Mazzini and Garibaldi himself, had been forced to flee Italy in the early 1830s as a result of his involvement in political conspiracies against the Piedmontese government. Such transatlantic contacts between Mazzini and Cuneo tell us much about the ambitions of Mazzini and the role he envisaged for Garibaldi. They were part of a political strategy which he had developed over the previous decade, and reflected the network he had built up, incorporating exiles, activists, writers and sympathisers in Europe and the Americas, as well as conspirators within Italy itself.
Mazzini was the founder and head of what he claimed to be an immense revolutionary organisation called 'Young Italy' (Giovine Italia), of which Cuneo and Garibaldi were both members. He had established Young Italy in Marseille in 1831, after the failure of a series of uprisings against the conservative governments in central Italy. These uprisings had discredited the Carbonari secret society (to which Mazzini had belonged) and other revolutionary secret societies, and had shown both their conspiratorial methods and their dependence on French leadership to be misguided. The new movement – Young Italy – which Mazzini proposed aimed to be quite different from the secret societies. It was based on youth because only the young, Mazzini believed, were uncompromised by the failure of the old sectarian organisations and their practices inherited from the French Revolution; the young had no memory of that revolution and were instead the bearers of a new, romantic spirit and culture. Only they could carry out the task of democratic renewal and national 'resurrection' which Mazzini envisaged for Italy.
The goal of Mazzini was nothing less than the creation of a new society based on the Saint-Simonian principles of association, progress and religious faith. However, unlike Saint-Simon, he made Italy, not France, the leader of the new age: 'It is in Italy that the European knot must be untied. To Italy belongs the high office of emancipation; Italy will fulfill its civilizing mission.' His mission for Italy in Europe was expressed succinctly in a letter written to a sympathiser in 1846: 'Twice we have given moral Unity to Europe; and I have faith in God that we will give it ... a third time.' Mazzini's new religion of 'Humanity' was also to be achieved through a political revolution which would introduce a concrete set of changes. In an early draft of the statutes and instructions for the organisation, Mazzini set out five political, religious and social aims:
1. One republic, undivided across the whole territory of Italy, independent, united and free. 2. The destruction of the entire upper hierarchy of the clergy and the introduction of a simple parish system. 3. The abolition of all aristocracy and every privilege which is not the result of the eternal law of capacity and action. 4. An unlimited encouragement of public education. 5. The most explicit declaration of the rights of man and the citizen.
Young Italy was to adopt the slogan 'Unity, Independence, Liberty', and the establishment of a unitary republic in Italy was to be the signal for a general revolution, marking the end of monarchy, aristocracy and clerical privilege across Europe.
Mazzini's republican and democratic vision for Italy represented a fusion of romantic socialist and Jacobin ideas. In fact, Mazzini admitted that the ideas behind Young Italy were not especially original but were simply intended to realise and apply to Italy 'truths that today are diffused throughout Europe'. Mazzini's early strategies were equally derivative. They were influenced as much by the old Italian Jacobin, Buonarotti, as they were by his desire to distinguish the new movement from, and supplant, Buonarotti's methods. And it is worth remembering that for Mazzini and his followers the risorgimento ('resurgence') of Italy was a call for immediate military action. To become a nation, Italians had to fight. The new foundation story for the 'Third Rome' was to be based on political freedom and military success: Italians would become an example to the rest of the world of military heroism as well as civic virtue.
Military planning was central both to Mazzini's thinking and to disagreements with him. Debates about strategy revolved around two difficult questions: how to overcome the indifference of the mostly rural population – how, in other words, to involve the Italian people militarily in their own emancipation – and how the revolution could defend itself against the unquestionably superior forces of Austria and its allies. Mazzini's general answer was that Italians would liberate themselves, and specifically that the selfless heroism of a few activists could inspire the Italian people to rise and throw off the Austrian yoke. The link to, and the creation of, the people – no longer mere individuals but now the popolo associated as a nation – would be entrusted to a recognisably Jacobin figure: a 'genius', 'a prophetic actor of the future destinies of nations and of humanity', a 'spark of God', and a thinker and activist capable of expressing and embodying the unity and 'brotherhood' of humanity. In this way, the revolution would encompass an elite and a mass 'moment'. As Mazzini conceived of it initially, it would start off as an urban uprising led by the elite conspirators of Young Italy, but would continue as a rural war or guerra per bande, with the people organised into guerrilla bands in the countryside.
As one of Mazzini's biographers remarks, Young Italy was part secret society and part modern political party. It was a secret society in so far as it relied on conspiratorial methods and the leadership of 'an inner core of true believers', but it was also modern in that it 'called out to the people'. In practice, Mazzini relied heavily on the dedication and enthusiasm of his (mostly young, mostly educated) followers and on their readiness to die for Italy. The 'general instruction for the brothers of Young Italy', which members – including Garibaldi – swore when they joined, resembles the oaths sworn by members of secret societies in its appeal to a sense of religious truth and belonging. A lengthy preamble stated the rationale for Young Italy as 'the brotherhood of Italians believing in a law of progress and duty ... convinced that Italy is destined to be a nation', while it defined the territory of Italy as the peninsula 'between the sea to the south and the upper circle of the Alps to the north' and the islands 'declared as Italian in the talk of native inhabitants'. The preamble further declared Young Italy's aims to be 'republican and unitary' by nature, history and destiny: republican because 'all the men of a nation are destined ... to be free, equal and brothers; and the republican institution is the only one which assures them this future – because sovereignty resides essentially in the nation'; and unitary because 'without unity there is no nation ... no force ... because the entire logic of Italian civilisation has for centuries ... tended towards unity'.
Furthermore, in swearing loyalty to Young Italy, members swore loyalty not only to Italy but to everything the nation could feasibly be identified with: God, the (national) saints and martyrs, family (brothers, mothers and children), a sense of place and history, and a sense of duty, morality and sacrifice for the community. Thus, members swore:
In the name of God and Italy, [i]n the name of all the martyrs of the holy Italian cause, fallen under the blows of foreign and domestic tyranny ... [and] for the duties that tie me to the land where God has placed me, and to the brothers that God has given me – for the love, innate in every man, for the places where my mother was born and where my children will live – for the hate, innate in every man, for evil, injustice, usurpation, arbitrary power ... for the memory of past glory – for the knowledge of present humiliation – for the tears of Italian mothers – for sons who have died on the scaffold, in prisons, in exile – for the misery of millions.
They also promised to dedicate themselves ('di consecrarmi') for ever to the cause of Italy 'united, independent, free, republican' and to 'promote' by all possible means, 'by word, writings, action, [and] the education of my brothers', the values and association of Young Italy.
Mazzini's use of religious and romantic language can easily confuse the reader today, but the essential point here is that Young Italy was a revolutionary organisation, and that Mazzini's 'general instruction' seeks to be both political rhetoric – in that it seeks to encourage and inspire believers – and a concrete statement of political realities. The long preamble states the existence of Italy ('destined to be a nation') and delineates its physical borders, hence justifying the actions of Young Italy; the invocation gives its members a common history, experience and identity ('for the memory of past glory – for the knowledge of present humiliation') and places a special emphasis on sacrifice and martyrdom for the community; while the pledge offers them a goal (Italy 'united, independent, free, republican') and all the means – words, action, education – to achieve it. Like his Jacobin predecessors, Mazzini sought not just to overthrow the existing government but to transform the way Europeans (led by the Italians) thought, talked and behaved politically. And, perhaps even more than the Jacobins, Mazzini sought to achieve this revolution as much by an appeal to religious dedication and emotional belonging as by a call to reason and recourse to armed conflict. Young Italy was a secular religion. As Emilio Gentile has remarked, Young Italy 'was an apostolate, revolutionary action devoted to the "religion of martyrdom" and leading to the resurrection of a "new Italy"'.
The idea of the nation
Mazzini's invocation of religion and history, and his reliance on the selfless dedication (even until death) of young men, also reflected his perception of the problems which Italian nationalists faced in making visible and convincing their idea of the Italian nation. Scholars of nationalism and nationalist movements have long disagreed about whether modern nations are built on pre-existing 'ethnies' or whether they are merely the product of modernisation, either as the accompaniment to urbanisation and industrialisation or as a conscious invention of new political elites in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. However, if we look more closely at how Italian national identity was formed, this debate appears to be somewhat misconceived. What Alberto Banti has called the 'national–patriotic discourse' in Risorgimento Italy seems neither to have been invented ex nuovo nor to be based on an existing ethnic or political identity. Instead, the national–patriotic discourse simply 'manipulated', 'transposed' and 'modelled itself on' an existing set of symbols, metaphors and rituals. It is equally clear that although Italy did not exist politically in any sense before the middle of the nineteenth century, quite a strong sense of cultural italianità (Italian-ness) did exist among a small educated elite in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was expressed in their scientific interests, in their associational life – in courts, salons, academies and opera houses – and in literature and the visual arts. Indeed, as Raymond Grew tells us, '[e]ducated Italians took delight in their common culture: the Latin classics; Dante, and all the Italian poets after him; five centuries of paintings and sculptures recognized as Italian, and music that was admired and imitated across Europe. Culture ranked with geography ... as a marker of Italian identity.'
However, this elite culture was profoundly affected by the French invasions and occupations of Italy which took place between 1792 and 1815. The French Revolution and Napoleonic wars represent a watershed in the politics of the Italian peninsula: the ensuing upheavals shook the legitimacy of the ancien régime states; upset the already delicate relations between state, Church and nobility; brutally modernised and centralised the administration of power; and repeatedly altered Italy's internal and external frontiers. The revolution in government brought about social change in that a new generation and a new class of men, with new ideas and values, came to fill important positions in public administration and the army. Perhaps most significantly for our understanding of the rise of nationalism in Italy was the experience of the short-lived Jacobin Republics (1797–9), which sought to transform the way people thought about politics. The Jacobins introduced new political symbols and rituals and a new language of politics, and encouraged new forms of political engagement and belonging. And although many intellectuals denounced the revolution, they did embrace some of its principles, and the arrival of the French gave an enormous stimulus to intellectual life, especially in cities like Milan, which saw the establishment of forty journals between 1796 and 1799. Most of all, the old elite language of italianità proved receptive to the introduction of a new political vocabulary of revolution, which had words like 'nation' and 'patria' (fatherland) at its core.
In short, Italian national identity was derived from the culture of the eighteenth-century elite, but this culture was first transformed by the French Revolution and then by Napoleon. Restoration Italy did the rest. The revolutionary period was followed by a public backlash after the return of Italy's ancien régime rulers in 1814–15 as part of a general settlement created by the Congress of Vienna, which restored (most of) Italy's internal frontiers and placed the whole peninsula within an Austrian, and thus conservative, sphere of influence. The anti-revolutionary backlash sought to punish and 'purge' those who had supported the revolution and to repress its symbols – to outlaw the use of revolutionary images, rituals and language – as well as to cancel some (although by no means all) of its political ideas and administrative legacy. Political discussions of italianità, associated with the vocabulary of revolution, were stifled by government censors. But since the censors in Restoration Italy were concerned with an ostensibly political threat, they largely failed to notice and control the growing popularity of the idea of Italy in the arts: in poetry, novels, opera, histories and painting. In fact, under the influence of the romantic movement, whose arrival in Italy was announced by Mme de Staël in 1816, studying Italy's past, painting Italian subjects and writing and singing about Italy became highly fashionable.
Italian romanticism is usually seen as less interesting than its English or German counterparts. It is said to be largely derivative of the romantic movement in northern Europe; to represent less of a break with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment; and to have developed in Italy only when it was already past its peak elsewhere. For our purposes, however, the artistic merits of Italian romanticism are less important than its impact and reception, and here it is worth noting that romanticism in Italy was less conservatively inclined and had a broader reach than romanticism elsewhere. Partly because it was more consensual, romanticism in Italy was able to incorporate both a strongly religious dimension and progressive eighteenth-century ideas. This consensus meant that while Italian romantics united around what they called the 'modernisation' of Italian literature and rejected the rigid conservatism of the academy, they could do this without denying the weight of their own history and culture. They spoke of the need for art and literature to reach the people and of a literary, linguistic and artistic tradition which was specifically 'Southern' and had its roots in the medieval period. In this way, Italian romantics could openly engage with problems of the present while embracing specific aspects of their 'national' past.
In post-revolutionary Italy, the concern with Italy's past probably owes as much to this new culture of romanticism as it does to previous narratives of italianità. Banti suggests that the romantic literary and artistic forms through which italianità was expressed in Restoration Italy meant that it reached a far wider audience than a 'cold and remote work of [political] analysis' might have done. For example, the historical adventure novel was something of a publishing phenomenon in the 1820s and 1830s. Walter Scott's medieval romance, Ivanhoe, was published in nine separate editions between 1822 and 1854, and Italy produced its own version of this genre, most notably with the novels of Alessandro Manzoni, Domenico Guerrazzi and Massimo d'Azeglio. Generally, through the works of such writers, as well as the poetry of Foscolo and Leopardi, the operas of Rossini, Bellini and Verdi and the paintings of Hayez, the idea of Italy met with public acclaim and touched a chord in public emotions. In this way, the conservatism and censorship of Restoration Italy can be said to have indirectly stimulated the growth of a Risorgimento culture. It helped to introduce future Italian patriots to an Italian nation whose appeal was all the more powerful because it was first heard in romantic novels, paintings or song.
Excerpted from GARIBALDI by LUCY RIALL. Copyright © 2007 by Lucy Riall. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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List of Illustrations and Maps.................... ix
Chapter 1 Nation and Risorgimento.................... 19
Chapter 2 In Search of Garibaldi.................... 33
Chapter 3 Revolution.................... 59
Chapter 4 Exile.................... 98
Chapter 5 The Garibaldi Formula.................... 128
Chapter 6 Independence.................... 164
Chapter 7 Fashioning Garibaldi.................... 185
Chapter 8 The Thousand.................... 207
Chapter 9 Making Italian Heroes.................... 226
Chapter 10 The Garibaldi Moment.................... 272
Chapter 11 Unification.................... 306
Chapter 12 Culture Wars.................... 347
Conclusion The Myth of Garibaldi.................... 388
Select Bibliography.................... 456