Jun 222018

Today is the birthday (1805) of Giuseppe Mazzini who was a major force in the unification of Italy and spearhead of the Italian revolutionary movement. I (and Italians) think of him in the same breath with Cavour and Garibaldi, and, in my case, Garibaldi took a more prominent place for years, probably because he visited the town where I lived as a teen in England, and my local pub was named after him. So much for being a rational historian. Now I rank him much higher than Garibaldi and Cavour because he provided the intellectual underpinnings to the Risorgimento. When I lived in Italy I constantly asked my students whether the unification of Italy was “a good thing” or a “bad thing” (echoing 1066 And All That). They all believed it was “a good thing” even though culturally Italy is far from unified nowadays. Palermo and Milan, for example, are both Italian cities, but they could scarcely be more different from one another. The crucial point in favor of the Risorgimento in the 19th century was that before unification the various Italian states were constantly subject to domination by neighboring powers because they were too weak to resist. A strongly unified Italian nation could establish its own destiny. I have spoken repeatedly of the perils of nationalism (Mussolini, for example), but when you have to choose between national unity and fragmentation, national unity tends to have a majority of backers.

Mazzini was born in Genoa, then part of the Ligurian Republic, under the rule of the French Empire. From an early age Mazzini showed a precocious interest in politics and literature. He was admitted to university at 14, graduating in law in 1826, and initially practiced as a “poor man’s lawyer.” Mazzini also hoped to become a historical novelist or a dramatist, and in the same year wrote his first essay, Dell’amor patrio di Dante (“On Dante’s Patriotic Love”), published in 1837. In 1828–29 he collaborated with a Genoese newspaper, L’indicatore genovese, which was however soon closed by the Piedmontese authorities. He then became one of the leading authors of L’Indicatore Livornese until this paper was closed down by the authorities, too. In 1827 Mazzini travelled to Tuscany, where he became a member of the Carbonari, a secret association with a political agenda. On 31st October of that year he was arrested in Genoa and interned in Savona. In early 1831, he was released from prison, but confined to a small hamlet. He chose exile instead, moving to Geneva in Switzerland.

In 1831 Mazzini went to Marseille, where he became a popular figure among the Italian exiles. Mazzini organized a new political society called Young Italy. Young Italy was a secret society formed to promote Italian unification: “One, free, independent, republican nation.” Mazzini believed that a popular uprising would create a unified Italy, and would touch off a European-wide revolutionary movement. The group’s motto was “God and the People,” and its basic principle was the unification of the several states and kingdoms of the peninsula into a single republic as the only true foundation of Italian liberty. Mazzini’s political activism met with some success in Tuscany, Abruzzi, Sicily, Piedmont, and his native Liguria, especially among several military officers. Young Italy counted about 60,000 adherents in 1833, with branches in Genoa and other cities. In that year Mazzini first attempted insurrection, which he hoped would spread from Chambéry (then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia), Alessandria, Turin, and Genoa. However, the Savoy government discovered the plot before it could begin and many revolutionaries (including Vincenzo Gioberti) were arrested. The repression was ruthless: 12 participants were executed, while Mazzini’s best friend and director of the Genoese section of the Giovine Italia, Jacopo Ruffini, killed himself. Mazzini was tried in absentia and sentenced to death.

Despite this setback Mazzini organized another uprising for the following year. A group of Italian exiles were to enter Piedmont from Switzerland and spread the revolution there, while Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had recently joined Young Italy, was to do the same from Genoa. However, the Piedmontese troops easily crushed the new attempt. On 28th May 1834 Mazzini was arrested at Solothurn, and exiled from Switzerland. He moved to Paris, where he was again imprisoned on 5th July. He was released only after promising he would move to England. Mazzini, together with a few Italian friends, moved in January 1837 to live in London in very poor economic conditions.

On 30th April 1840 Mazzini reformed the Giovine Italia in London, and on 10 November of the same year he began issuing the Apostolato popolare (“Apostleship of the People”). A succession of failed attempts at promoting further uprisings in Sicily, Abruzzi, Tuscany, and Lombardy-Venetia discouraged Mazzini for a long period, which dragged on until 1840. His mother pushed Mazzini to create several organizations aimed at the unification or liberation of other nations, in the wake of Giovine Italia: “Young Germany”, “Young Poland”, and “Young Switzerland”, which were under the aegis of “Young Europe” (Giovine Europa). He also created an Italian school for poor people active from 10th November 1841 at 5 Greville Street in London. From London he also wrote an endless series of letters to his agents in Europe and South America, and made friends with Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane. The “Young Europe” movement also inspired a group of young Turkish army cadets and students who, later in history, named themselves the “Young Turks”.

In 1843 he organized another riot in Bologna, which attracted the attention of two young officers of the Austrian Navy, Attilio and Emilio Bandiera. With Mazzini’s support, they landed near Cosenza (kingdom of Naples), but were arrested and executed. Mazzini accused the British government of having passed information about the expeditions to the Neapolitans, and a question was raised in the British Parliament. When it was admitted that his private letters had indeed been opened, and its contents revealed by the Foreign Office to the Austrian and Neapolitan governments, Mazzini gained popularity and support among the British liberals, who were outraged by such a blatant intrusion of the government into his private correspondence.

In 1847 he moved again to London, where he wrote a long “open letter” to Pope Pius IX, whose apparently liberal reforms had gained him a momentary status as a possible nexus of the unification of Italy. The pope, however, did not reply. By 8th March 1848 Mazzini was in Paris, where he launched a new political association, the Associazione Nazionale Italiana. On 7th April 1848 Mazzini arrived in Milan, whose population had rebelled against the Austrian garrison and established a provisional government. The First Italian War of Independence, started by the Piedmontese king Charles Albert to exploit the favorable circumstances in Milan, turned into a total failure. Mazzini, who had never been popular in the city because he wanted Lombardy to become a republic instead of joining Piedmont, abandoned Milan. He joined Garibaldi’s irregular force at Bergamo, moving to Switzerland with him.

On 9th February 1849 a republic was declared in Rome, with Pius IX already having been forced to flee to Gaeta the preceding November. On the same day the Republic was declared, Mazzini reached the city. He was appointed, together with Carlo Armellini and Aurelio Saffi, as a member of the “triumvirate” of the new republic on 29th March, soon becoming the real leader of the government and showing strong administrative capacity for social reforms. However, when the French troops called by the pope made clear that the resistance of the Republican troops, led by Garibaldi, was in vain, on 12th July 1849, Mazzini went to Marseille, and then to Switzerland.

Mazzini spent all of 1850 hiding from the Swiss police. In July he founded the association Amici di Italia (Friends of Italy) in London, to attract consensus towards the Italian liberation cause. Two failed riots in Mantua (1852) and Milan (1853) were a crippling blow for the Mazzinian organization, whose prestige never recovered. He later opposed the alliance signed by Savoy with Austria for the Crimean War. The expedition of Felice Orsini in Carrara of 1853–54 was also futile.

In 1856 Mazzini returned to Genoa to organize a series of uprisings: the only serious attempt was that of Carlo Pisacane in Calabria, which again met a dismal end. Mazzini managed to escape the police, but was condemned to death by default. From this moment on, Mazzini was more of a spectator than a protagonist of the Italian Risorgimento, whose reins were now strongly in the hands of the Savoyard monarch Victor Emmanuel II and his prime minister, Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour. In 1858 Mazzini founded another journal in London, Pensiero e azione (“Thought and Action”). Also there, on 21st February 1859, together with 151 republicans he signed a manifesto against the alliance between Piedmont and the Emperor of France which resulted in the Second War of Italian Independence and the conquest of Lombardy. On 2 May 1860 he tried to reach Garibaldi, who was going to launch his famous Expedition of the Thousand in southern Italy. In the same year he released “Doveri dell’uomo” (“Duties of Man”), a synthesis of his moral, political and social thoughts. In mid-September he was in Naples, then under Garibaldi’s dictatorship, but was invited by the local vice-dictator Giorgio Pallavicino to move away.

The new kingdom of Italy was created in 1861 under the Savoy monarchy. In 1862, Mazzini joined Garibaldi in his failed attempt to free Rome. In 1866, Italy joined the Austro-Prussian War and gained Venetia. At this time Mazzini frequently spoke out against how the unification of his country was being achieved, and in 1867 he refused a seat in the Italian Chamber of Deputies. In 1870, he tried to start a rebellion in Sicily, and was arrested and imprisoned in Gaeta. He was freed in October, in the amnesty declared after the kingdom finally took Rome. He returned to London in mid-December.

Mazzini died of pleurisy at the house known now as Domus Mazziniana in Pisa in 1872, at the age of 67. His body was embalmed by Paolo Gorini. His funeral was held in Genoa, with 100,000 people in attendance.

Mazzini rejected the Marxist doctrines of class struggle and dialectical materialism, and stressed the need for class collaboration, making him an enemy of both communism and capitalism. Mazzini also rejected the classical liberal principles of the Enlightenment based on the doctrine of individualism, which he criticized as “presupposing either metaphysical materialism or political atheism.” In fact, Mazzini’s thought was characterized by a strong religious fervor and deep sense of spirituality. Mazzini described himself as a Christian and emphasized the necessity of faith and a relationship with God, while vehemently denouncing rationalism and atheism. He regarded patriotism as a duty, and love of homeland as a divine mission.

Mazzini occasionally criticized the way the Catholic priesthood operated, but was staunchly opposed to Protestanism which he saw as:

divided and subdivided into a thousand sects, all founded on the rights of individual conscience, all eager to make war on one another, and perpetuating that anarchy of beliefs which is the sole true cause of the social and political disturbances that torment the peoples of Europe.

Mazzini formulated a concept known as thought and action, in which thought and action must be joined together, and every thought must be followed by action, therefore rejecting intellectualism and the notion of divorcing theory from practice. He likewise rejected the concept of the “rights of man” which had developed during the Age of Enlightenment, arguing instead that individual rights were a duty to be won through hard work, sacrifice and virtue, rather than “rights” which were intrinsically owed to man.

Mazzini was also an early advocate of a “United States of Europe” about a century before the European Union began to take shape. For him, European unification was a logical continuation of Italian unification. In Doveri dell’uomo (“Duties of Man”, 1860) Mazzini called for recognition of women’s rights. After his many encounters with political philosophers in England, France and across Europe, he had decided that the principle of equality between men and women was fundamental to building a truly democratic Italian nation. He called for the end of women’s social and judicial subordination to men. Mazzini helped intellectuals see women’s rights not merely a peripheral topic but as a fundamental goal necessary for the regeneration of old nations and the rebirth of new ones.

Karl Marx, in an interview with R. Landor from 1871, said that Mazzini’s ideas represented “nothing better than the old idea of a middle-class republic.” Marx believed, especially after the Revolutions of 1848, that Mazzini’s point of view had become reactionary, and the proletariat had nothing to do with it. In another interview, Marx described Mazzini as “that everlasting old ass”. Mazzini, in turn, described Marx as “a destructive spirit whose heart was filled with hatred rather than love of mankind” and declared that “Despite the communist egalitarianism which [Marx] preaches he is the absolute ruler of his party, admittedly he does everything himself but he is also the only one to give orders and he tolerates no opposition.”

Mazzini’s home town of Genoa is well known for many specialties, some of which I have mentioned already. Less well known than those I have mentioned so far is farinata, a baked dish made of chickpea flour, water, and olive oil. It is surprisingly good, even though it is simple to make. In standard Italian, the dish is called farinata (“made of flour”) while in the Genoese dialect it is called fainâ. It is now a common dish – with variations – all along the Ligurian coast, and in places where Genovese people migrated (especially Buenos Aires). In Nice and the Côte d’Azur, it is called socca, in Tuscany, cecina (“made of chickpeas”) or torta di ceci (“chickpea pie”) and in Sardinia fainè. In Argentina and Uruguay it is called (la fainá (feminine) in Argentina, and el fainá (masculine) in Uruguay). In Buenos Aires it is common to find fainá served on top of pizza, which I find to be a bit too much of a good thing.

I used to make farinata in a cast-iron skillet. You need a heavy pan that you can use on the stove top and in the oven. Begin by mixing 1 ½ cups of chickpea flour and 2 cups of lukewarm water in a deep bowl. Whisk well so that the flour and water make a completely homogenous batter. Cover and let sit for 2 hours. After 2 hours the mix will be slowly bubbling and there will be a film of foamy scum on top. Carefully skim off as much of the scum as possible, and then stir in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 500˚F/260˚C and put the skillet over high heat. When it starts to smoke, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and let it heat until barely smoking. Dump the chickpea batter into the skillet and quickly swirl it around to be sure it is evenly distributed. Then transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and let it cook, undisturbed, for 35 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and immediately lift the farinata out on to a cutting board. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and cut into slices (like a pizza) or – more traditionally – into irregular triangular and oblong shapes. Serve warm.

It is very common in Genoa to add a little fresh chopped rosemary to the batter before baking farinata, but, as you might expect, you can add anything you wish. Chopped onions or artichokes, are common, but the most famous derivative recipe is the fainâ co i gianchetti (“farinata with whitebait”).

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