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Aristotle's Defense of Mazzini's Vision of Nationalism

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Harvey Mudd College
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Joseph Mazzini was an Italian journalist and a politician. His parents were highly influenced by the French Revolution since most of Italy at the time was directly occupied by France. Mazzini was the first individual to give a cultural definition of nationalism (Barr, 2008). According to the man, nationalism involved the sharing of language, customs, historical traditions, hope, as well as geographical continuity. Politically, Mazzini viewed nationalism as a tool that could be used to lead to a better representative state. Economically, the opinion of nationalism for the man meant the abolition of tariffs between states and promoting uniformity of standards in a bid to promote mass production. Mazzinis idea of nationalism was fueled by the revolution of 1848 which influenced many other political forces in Italy for their claim of national unification (Barr, 2008). On this year, he returned to Italy and became the president of the Roman Republic which was short-lived and ended up falling to the French forces that were protecting the papacy. Mazzini was operating in his secret society group Young Italy which had been founded in 1831 and which had their democratic ideals. The vision of nationalism could be supported and defended by Aristotle who also believed in democracy among other ideals. This forms the basis for this discussion.

Mazzini was a great role player in the spreading the cause of Italian nationalism and unity, although his hopes took long to yield fruits. His efforts were driven by the need for unification for Italy (Barr, 2008). Although his vision of a unified and a republic Italy was not achieved at his time, his ideology greatly affected the formation of a unified Italy state as it is today. His ideological nature would be supported by Aristotle who, too was a man of ideologies. Mazzinis zeal to achieve the good of his country rhymes with Aristotles view on governance. Aristotle believes that states should be governed by leaders who express a virtuous character that make them aim at the common good rather than personal interests (Aristotle (SANDEL), 2013). He believes that those who seek their interests first can only result in harm to the society as well as interfere with absolute justice which he explains as giving people what they deserve. Mazzini is portrayed as that leader and is reported to a man who was unwilling to compromise on the basic tenets of his philosophy.

Mazzini applied a sociopolitical ideology that was double-edged to incorporate responsibility, attained first by the individual. He was reported to vocally criticize utilitarianism that was being propagated by Bentham which affirmed rights only and not duties. For Mazzini, the notion of duty was at the center of his politics (Barr, 2008). Without duties, rights are seen as tenuous with history manifesting the tendency of man to usurp the rights of others. Duty was at the side of liberty in Mazzinis political system. Aristotle would be in support for this as he believes that the contribution that a person has to his or her state should dictate the share for control (Aristotle (SANDEL), 2013). This is a call for responsibility and duty. Aristotle calls for a state that gives consideration to honor, virtue, and morally decent. A person who should be allowed to rule must possess moral qualities of justice and courage, possess land, and high level of culture and education. To acquire all the mentioned characteristics one got to be a responsible person who obeys the call of duty besides exercising rights. This is where rights and duties merge.

Mazzini was a great believer in application of theories to the world outside the mind. As a result, he impacted into his followers the spirit of bringing about the realization of the new way of life. He was of the belief that revolution should be accompanied by positive work of reconstruction for it to have legitimate authority (Barr, 2008). Aristotle was a great thinker who helped to spread wisdom to many through his teachings. He often applied his knowledge and theories to constructive activities. He was in support of practical wisdom which involves allowing people to apply what they know to make lives better for themselves and those around them. The practical wisdom allows people to express their human capacities which forms part of the good life.

Mazzinis vision of nationalism was driven by the urge to serve the people of his state and make their lives better. Aristotle believes that a state should be an association that enables its citizens to lead better lives (Aristotle (SANDEL), 2013). This shows that he shared the vision of Mazzini to give people a better life. This is seen in his interpretations of the purpose of politics. He urges people to pursue noble actions rather than chase after financial and social status. That was Mazzinis view of nationalism. A state that pursues noble actions to better the lives of its citizens rather than chase after revolutions which according to him were dangerous.

In summary, Mazzinis view on nationalism would be to a great extent be supported by Aristotle. This would be in the line of ideologies, responsibilities, and duties, practical application of knowledge, and service to humanity.



Barr, C. C. P. (2008). Giuseppe Mazzini and Irish Nationalism, 1845-70. In Proceedings of the British Academy (Vol. 152, pp. 125-144). Oxford University Press.

Aristotle (SANDEL). Who Deserves what, 5 July 2013,


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