Sunday 13 June 2021

Mazzini and a united Europe


I started Denis Mack Smith's biography of Mazzini, a man of whom I knew shamefully little, last night. These are just disjointed quick thoughts. 

As early as 1836 Mazzini used the word nationalist in a pejorative sense to denote chauvinists, xenophobes and imperialists. He thought himself not a nationalist but a patriot and patriotism should serve the wider interests of humanity. "The brotherhood of peoples which is our overriding aim" . 

Less than 5 percent of inhabitants of Italy in the 1840s spoke Italian which is a fraction of the numbers in Transylvania, Wallachia or Moldavia who spoke Romanian or inhabitants of Hungary who spoke Hungarian. 

Historical traditions and sense of community were what mattered, not languaage, Mazzini thought. I am not sure what he thought about Italians as an ethnos. 

He was intensely religious and esteemed Christianity but did not believe in the divinity of Christ and wanted a syncretic religion to unite all religions. This sounds like lots of people nowadays including Hans Kung and Tony Blair. He thought rich prelates and poor priests were a scandal which was true but he was never an anticlerical. There was a fair amount of tyranny in Italy before 1848, according to Mack Smith I regret to say in the Papal States, though it seems small beer after the Nazis and Communists. 

Lord Aberdeen lied to Parliament about the British police opening Mazzini's letters and informing Metternich. That sounds like it could be now. 

Mazzini was a great believer in the unification not only of Italy but Europe. He was definitely a globalist and he would fit in very well at the G7 summit in Cornwall. The BBC and the Pope would love him. 

Interesting that Metternich who kept a very close eye on them thought in 1847 that there were fewer than a thousand active Italian republicans, but that they were a big threat to him and his system. 

A mustard seed. Compare that to the numbers of nationalists, so called, in Europe now.  

The well off became supporters of political revolution and national unification to prevent the revolution becoming a social revolution. Like rich men and big companies today backing Woke.

Of course, the only European Union that worked or could work was Metternich's Habsburg empire. 

Even the Ottoman empire was another multinational state that had its merits. Had the Sultan not gone to war in 1914 with England and France the Middle East would now be at peace and the the Armenians would not have been massacred and Turkey would be immensely rich. 

P.S. Nation states are 'the political masterpiece' (Raymond Aron) when they exist, as I wrote here.


  1. In November 1956, the director of the Hungarian News Agency, shortly before his office was flattened by artillery fire, sent a telex to the entire world with a desperate message announcing that the Russian attack against Budapest had begun. The dispatch ended with these words: "We are going to die for Hungary and for Europe."
    What did this sentence mean?

    In fact, what does Europe mean to a Hungarian, a Czech, a Pole? For a thousand years their nations have belonged to the part of Europe rooted in Roman Christianity. They have participated in every period of its history. For them, the word "Europe" does not represent a phenomenon of geography but a spiritual notion synonymous with the word "West." The moment Hungary is no longer European—that is, no longer Western—it is driven from its own destiny, beyond its own history: it loses the essence of its identity.

    "Geographic Europe" (extending from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains) was always divided into two halves which evolved separately: one tied to ancient Rome and the Catholic Church, the other anchored in Byzantium and the Orthodox Church. After 1945, the border between the two Europes shifted several hundred kilometers to the west, and several nations that had always considered themselves to be Western woke up to discover that they were now in the East.

    As a result, three fundamental situations developed in Europe after the war: that of Western Europe, that of Eastern Europe, and, most complicated, that of the part of Europe situated geographically in the center—culturally in the West and politically in the East.

    But since Europe itself is in the process of losing its own cultural identity, it perceives in Central Europe nothing but a political regime; put another way, it sees in Central Europe only Eastern Europe. Central Europe, therefore, should fight not only against its big oppressive neighbor but also against the subtle, relentless pressure of time, which is leaving the era of culture in its wake. That's why in Central European revolts there is something conservative, nearly anachronistic: they are desperately trying to restore the past, the past of culture, the past of the modern era. It is only in that period, only in a world that maintains a cultural dimension, that Central Europe can still defend its identity, still be seen for what it is. The real tragedy for Central Europe, then, is not Russia but Europe: this Europe that represented a value so great that the director of the Hungarian News Agency was ready to die for it, and for which he did indeed die. Behind the iron curtain, he did not suspect that the times had changed and that in Europe itself Europe was no longer experienced as a value. He did not suspect that the sentence he was sending by telex beyond the borders of his flat country would seem outmoded and would not be understood.

    Milan Kundera
    The Tragedy of Central Europe

    1. Very moving and beautiful and sad. Europe is dying except Eastern Europe, for the time being.

    2. New York Review of Books
      Volume 31, Number 7 · April 26, 1984

  2. Of course, the only European Union that worked or could work was Metternich's Habsburg empire.

    Even the Ottoman empire was another multinational state that had its merits.

    I agree on both counts.

    19th century European nationalism was a disaster. It led to the breaking up of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, with unfortunate consequences. The breaking up of the Soviet Union was a disaster as well. Had the Soviet Union remained intact several wars would have been avoided and the US would not have been able to indulge in so much destructive meddling in Eastern Europe. That US meddling has made a Third World War much much more likely.

    Empires get a very bad press. And very unfairly.

    1. Nation states are the perfect polity but creating them from an ethnic patchwork was a bad idea. Now that it has been by Procrustean methods done in many parts of Europe, ethnic and nation states are being replaced by ethnic patchworks.