Postmodernism, Part 29: Young Italy

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; Mussolini: A New Life, by Nicolas Farrell; and A History of Germany, by Bayward Taylor.)


Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

The postmodernists took refuge in the totalitarian collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleon.  The Germans gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism sprang from the same German Counter-Enlightenment roots, adding romanticism and disgust at industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (not morality).  Marx and Engels brewed a Hegelian concoction: “scientific socialism” (revealed history and Communist prophecy).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

The Revolutions of 1848 was a big letdown.  The French Revolution of 1848 created a republic.  Their socialist experiments flopped.  (The usual) radical leftist uprisings were crushed.  In the German Revolutions of 1848, Communism and German unity were epic fails.  (Marx was bitter.)  However, Marx’s seeds were sown and Bismarck (who would unify Germany) had come onstage.

Young Italy
mazziniGiuseppe Mazzini

Italy was bristling under Austrian domination.  A new breed of “professional revolutionaries” appeared:

  • Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian nationalist republican.  In exile, he led an underground nationalist movement (“Young Italy”).
  • Giuseppe Garibaldi was a military leader and follower of Mazzini.  In exile, he was leading a “Red Shirt” revolutionary army, in Uruguay.

Both Mazzini were in exile, following a failed “Young Italy” revolution in Piedmont (northern Italy) against Charles Albert, King of Sardinia.  They were tried in absentia, and sentenced to death.  Mazzini’s writings were outlawed in many places.

Austrian Chancellor Metternich called Mazzini “the most dangerous man in Europe”.  Mazzini thought it Italy’s mission to lead oppressed Europe to liberty.  He created an international revolutionary network (“Young Europe”).

Mazzini was unlike Marx.  Mazzini was patient, practical, and a liberal republican.  Marx was an impatient Communist.  (Marx despised the “old ass” Mazzini and his bourgeois revolutions.)  Mazzini played the long game, “[laboring] less for the generation that lives around [us] than for the generations to come.”

War for Independence

The Italian revolutions of 1848 and First War for Independence had a number of things going against them:

  • People feared revolution would be followed by anarchy and a second (leftist) revolution and Terror.  (The French Revolution of 1789 and Reign of Terror gave left radicalism a bad name.)
  • Italy mostly lacked a strong sense of national unity.  While there was some “ethnic nationalism” (shared ethnicity, language, culture), there was a lack of “civic nationalism” (common political identity).
  • Italy lacked political cohesion because its governance was medieval and fragmented (among hereditary aristocrats and the Papal States).
  • The revolutionaries lacked real armies, and were forced to turn to Italian nobles and an unreliable Pope.
  • Austria may have had weak political leadership, but could still mobilize considerable military force.

The Italian revolutions were mostly doomed from the start.

charles-albertKing Charles Albert

The revolutionaries lacked real armies and had to turn for help to Charles Albert, King of Sardinia.  He demanded a price: northern Italy united under his constitutional monarchy.  The republican Mazzini returned from exile, and reluctantly agreed to a truce with Charles Albert.  (Better a united Italy, now, and a republic, later.)  The revolutionaries in Milan, Venice, Naples, and Turin did the same.

The Pope was in a pickle.  Elected in 1846, “liberal” Pope Pius IX had made liberal reforms in the Papal States (relaxing censorship and freeing political prisoners).  Protestors demanded that the Pope raise an army to fight for Italian unity.  Liberal republicans warned that he should join the revolution (or it might turn against him).  Reluctantly, the Pope had sent a small force to join with Charles Albert.

Garibaldi returned from exile to offer his services to Charles Albert (who had sentenced him to death, a decade earlier).  Charles Albert declined Garibaldi’s offer.

radetzkyMarshall Radetzky

The wily octogenarian Austrian Marshal Johann Radetzky (governor of Milan), defeated Charles Albert.  (Defeated, Charles Albert abdicated his throne, in favor of his son, Victor Emmanuel II.)  In defeating Charles Albert, the steely Radetzky had overcome the weak political leadership of Emperor Ferdinand (even ignoring Ferdinand’s orders).  There was still strength in Austria and Radetzky.

With Charles Albert defeated, Radetzky moved to retake Milan.  Naples soon fell to counter-revolution.  The poor slum-dwelling lazzaroni, who had swelled the ranks of revolutionary mobs, now turned on the revolutionaries, looting and pillaging.  Venice would follow.

The Roman Republic

The Pope withdrew his support for the revolution.  He couldn’t wage war against Catholic Austria (especially with revolutionaries calling this a holy war “to exterminate the enemies of God and Italy”).  Now, the Catholic church was officially against the war (and against liberal republicanism).

The Pope was forced to flee Rome.  Radicals had assassinated his  moderate Minister, Count Pellegrino Rossi (who had envisioned an Italian league, led by the Papal States).  Thousands (including armed civic guards) marched on the papal palace, demanding a republic.  Shots were fired (killing the Pope’s secretary).  The Pope fled in the night.


With Charles Albert defeated, Garibaldi and his “Italian Legion” moved to defend Rome. Garibaldi hailed Rossi’s murder, “In getting rid of him, … A young Roman had wielded anew the sword of Brutus and drowned the marble steps of the Capitol with the tyrant’s blood.”

The republicans now held Rome.  They encouraged the Pope to return and negotiate.  He wasn’t interested.  So, they declared a Roman Republic (that Mazzini thought a bit premature).  Mazzini and the republicans made liberal reforms (religious tolerance, abolition of censorship and the Inquisition).

The Pope called for help.  French President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sketchy nephew) answered the call.  He dispatched French troops to retake Rome (pressured by French Catholics, but secretly wanting to crush revolution).  The French raced to beat Austrian troops to take Rome, but faced fierce fighting against Garibaldi and company.  Outnumbered and outgunned, Garibaldi evacuated (followed by Mazzini).  The French restored papal rule.

The Pope and his “Red Triumvirate” got back to their old ways: staining Christianity (restoring the Inquisition and capital punishment; and exiling liberals and the Jews).  (This whole Papal States question wouldn’t be settled until Mussolini.)

Mazzini and Garibaldi would be back.


In 1848, Mazzini’s ideas were much more dangerous than Marx’s.  He inspired nationalist revolutionaries across Europe (“Young Ireland”, “Young Poland”, “Young Ukraine”) and beyond (“Young Argentina”).  (The “Young Turks” would seize control of the Ottoman Empire, lead them into World War I, and commit the Armenian genocide.)

papa-mussoliniAlessandro Mussolini

Before long, the ideas of Marx (Communism), Mazzini (nationalism), and Garibaldi (militarism) would be embraced by a Communist agitator named Alessandro Mussolini.  “Socialism,” he would write, “is open rebellion, violent and moral, against the inhumanity of things as they are.”  He would pass these ideas on to his son, Benito (named for Mexican revolutionary Benito Juarez, who executed Austrian Archduke Maximilian).

In his father’s obituary, Benito Mussolini would write, “[Alessandro] became a follower of the [Communist] International … and formed the [local] organization of the International. … He left me no material heritage, but he left me a moral one – his treasure: the Ideal … I pursue my way, following in his footsteps.”


France gets another Empire.  Germany gets one step closer to unification.  Next: Part 30, Blood and Iron.