Mazzini and the Secret Societies: The Making of a Myth

Mazzini and the Secret Societies: The Making of a Myth

Mazzini and the Secret Societies: The Making of a Myth

Mazzini and the Secret Societies: The Making of a Myth

Excerpt

Only one serious study of Mazzini in English (that by Bolton King) has appeared without any attempt by the author to explain, in a descriptive clause, within the title, what he regarded as the significance of his hero. To glance at these titles is thus one way to appreciate the impact of the Italian upon the English- speaking world. From it we discover that Mazzini was "A Great Italian", "Patriot and Prophet", "The Greatest Prophet of Modern Democracy", and "Prophet of Modern Europe".

If we turn to Italian studies another and a longer list can, of course, be made. But it will suffice to notice what is most characteristic about Italian descriptions of Mazzini, namely the repetition of the epithets Il Profeta, Il Santo, Il Grande, Il Nostro. Of these the first is the commonest, and, since it is also the word which occurs most frequently in the English clauses, we may fairly conclude that Italy, Britain and the United States are agreed in regarding Mazzini first and foremost as a prophet. It is true that some of Mazzini's greatest Italian critics have had their doubts, de Sanctis insisting upon rejecting the title of prophet and calling him rather a precursor, and Professor Gaetano Salvemini emphasizing the grave limitations to Mazzini's understanding of the Italian genius and destiny. But there can be no doubt what has been the popular verdict, and it was one which found wide echo when President Wilson and Lloyd George redrew the map of Europe in 1919 in accordance with principles which bore a more than passing resemblance to those Mazzini had taught.

It is, however, a danger with prophets of established reputation, like Mazzini, that everything is seen as originating in their fertile minds; one has only to compare the conflicting movements and ideas which have been fathered upon Jean-Jacques Rousseau. At each turn in the fortunes of their country Italians have looked back to Il Nostro and have sought to reassure themselves in what they proposed to do by finding his approval; and . . .

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