Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) is considered the leading figure in liberal nationalism because of his passionate views of a united democratic Italy. The great Italian revolutionist played a vital role in the Italian Risorgimento, the period of cultural naturalism and political activism that lead to the unification of Italy. As a young man of sixteen, Mazzini witnessed unsuccessful Italian revolutionaries depart from Genoa and swore to wear black until he saw Italy unified. Soon after, Mazzini joined the Carbonari (Italian for charcoal burners), a closely organized secret society prominent in Italy, Spain, and France that was gradually absorbed into the Risorgimento. He was imprisoned shortly in 1831 because of his revolutionary actions and associations, and was eventually forced into exile in Marseilles. There he organized a secret society of his own, called the Giovine Italia (young Italy), where various followers joined and ran a campaign against the rulers of different Italian states for Italian unity under a republican government. The organization grew to over 60,000 members and encouraged Mazzini to pursue his ideas about the unification of Italy.
Mazzini traveled from Switzerland to London advocating his revolutionary ideas. He had great influence not only over other Italian radicals, but on revolutionaries throughout Europe. Mazzini’s main ambitions exceeded just merely unifying Italy, he also advocated for republicanism, democracy, the liberation of any oppressed peoples, as well as the removal of Austrian supremacy over Italy and the oppressive power of the pope. By the 1840s, Mazzini became recognized as the head honcho of the nationalist revolutionary movement. Not just the poor, oppressed classes responded to Mazzini’s zeal, artisans, intellectuals, middle class, and even higher class men and women took his words to heart. Mazzini wrote in 1844, “We [Italy] have no flag of our own, no name in politics, no voice among the nations of Europe: we have no common centre, no common agreement, no common market. We are broken up into eight states that are independent of one another, without a united aim, without alliances and without regular reciprocal contact. Eight different systems of currency, of weights and measures, of civil, commercial and penal legislation and of administrative restrictions keep us as strangers one from another.” Mazzini’s ideas were not solely based on political aspects, but also on great moral strength. His ideas were deeply social, focusing on human redemption on a moral and religious foundation involving liberty and justice. Mazzini whole heartedly believed that under the flag of “God and People” people could form a democratic republic of Italy with a new capital in Rome. Through this new Italy, Mazzini felt that other peoples would follow into freedom and liberty. Eventually a whole new Europe would surface embodying these ideas.
Revolts were beginning to arise in Milan, the Papal States, and the Two Sicilies. Mazzini could not participate in the revolts occurring in his home country; he had to be content watching in his London exile. Unable to retain himself, Mazzini returned to Italy. Although the people enthusiastically welcomed his arrival, the leaders expressed much less excitement. The papal minister, Pellegrino Rossi, was assassinated and the Romans declared a republic and elected Mazzini to the Triumvirate (the executive body of the republic). Becoming Triumvir of the Roman Republic was the first step in Mazzini’s plan of unification. Unfortunately, the Roman Republic was quickly overthrown by the French Second Republic and Mazzini once again returned to exile from Italy where he continued his propaganda. Unsuccessful uprisings followed in Milan and Southern Italy.
While in London, Mazzini established the Pensiero ed azione (thought and action) where he was able to express some of his radical ideas. He was known for his remarkable writings on politics, social science, philosophy and literature. While serving as senator in the kingdom of Sardinia, Mazzini, through his speeches, initiated a debate about the various diseases inhibiting the island, as well as many modern economic concepts and social issues. During his time in London, Mazzini founded another organization including Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, a French lawyer and politician, Arnold Ruge, a German political writer, and Albert Darasz, a Polish political reformer, called the European Democratic Central Committee.
While supporting Giuseppe Garibaldi, a fellow Italian patriot, and his expedition to control the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, as well as Naples, Mazzini had different ideas on what government should be allotted to the newly acquired territory. Mazzini wanted to establish a republic, but his friend Garibaldi remained loyal to Victor Emmanuel, as well did many of Mazzini’s former followers. In 1861, at Teano, capital of Piedmont-Sardinia, Emmanuel was proclaimed king of a united Italy by a Parliament that included representatives from all of Italy except from Venetia and Rome. Camillo Benso di Cavour, premier of Sardinia and active force behind Emmanuel, had a very shaky relationship with Mazzini. Although Cavour and Mazzini had the same goal of unifying Italy, they had extremely different ways of achieving this common goal. While Mazzini felt that revolution and war based on the common people was the best form of action, Cavour relied on the aid of foreign powers (such as France).
Mazzini never fully accepted the monarchical united Italy and continued to advocate for a democratic republic. After the unification of the Italian state, however, Mazzini focused his attention to the prospect of unifying Europe. This political society became known as the Giovine Europa (young Europe) which proposed to pull down the reactionary governments and the reigning dynasties and unify and liberate all of Europe. This organization included many exiles from many different places including Germany and Poland. This group strove “to organize human society in such a way as to enable it through continuous progress in the shortest possible time to discover and apply the law of God by which it should be governed,” (Pact of Young Europe). Mazzini’s efforts in Italy were not in vain, for the political movement he led formed the still active Republican Party today. In 1870 Mazzini was shortly imprisoned for his continuous revolutionary activities and died shortly afterwards.