Joseph Mazzini
An Essay On the Duties of Man
Addressed to Workingmen


Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site of the Hanover Historical Texts Project.

Joseph Mazzini spent most of his adult life in exile in France and Britain. In 1831 he founded a nationalist organization, Young Italy, and he edited a journal of the same name. He participated in the Revolutions of 1848-49 in Italy. He served as one of the three Triumvirs in the short-lived Roman Republic that temporarily displaced the Papacy as the political authority in Rome.

1. According to Mazzini, what are the limitations of Liberalism?
2. How does Mazzini define a "country" or "nation"?
3. Why does he stress "duties" rather than "rights"?
4. How does nationalism redress the problems that Liberalism fails to solve?
5. Would you consider Mazzini to be a Liberal in addition to being a Nationalist? Would he also be a democrat?


[1] I intend to speak to you of your duties. I intend to speak to you, according to the dictates of my heart, of the holiest things we know; to speak to you of God, of Humanity, of the Fatherland, and the Family.

[2] Listen to me in love, as I shall speak to you in love. My words are words of conviction, matured by long years of study, of experience, and of sorrow. The duties which I point out to you I have striven, and shall strive while I live, to fulfill so far as I have the power. I may err, but my error is not of the heart. I may deceive myself, but I will not deceive you. Listen to me, then, fraternally; judge freely among yourselves whether I speak truth or error. If it seems to you I speak error, leave me; but follow me and act according to my teachings, if you believe me the apostle of truth. To err is misfortune, and deserving of commiseration; but to know the truth and fail to regulate our actions according to its teachings (6)is a crime condemned alike by Heaven and earth.

[3] Wherefore do I speak to you of your duties before speaking to you of your rights? Wherefore, in a Society wherein all, voluntarily or involuntarily, tend to oppress you; wherein the exercise of so many of the rights that belong to man is continually denied to you; wherein your portion is suffering, and all that which men call happiness is for other classes - do I speak to you of self-sacrifice rather than of conquest? of virtue, of moral improvement, and of education, rather than of material well-being?

[4] This is a question which I am bound to answer clearly before I go any further, because this is precisely the point which constitutes the difference between the school to which I belong and many others now existing in Europe; and also because this is a question that naturally arises in the vexed mind of the suffering workingman.

[5] "We are the slaves of labour - poor and unhappy; speak to us of material improvement, of liberty, of happiness. Tell us if we are doomed to suffer forever; if we are never to enjoy in our turn. Preach duty to our employers; to the classes above us, who treat us like machines, and monopolize the sources of well-being, which, in justice, belong to all men. Speak to us of our rights; tell us how to gain them. Speak to us of our strength; let us first obtain a recognized social and political existence; then indeed you may talk to us of our duties."

[6] So say too many workingmen, and they follow doctrines and join associations corresponding to such thoughts and desires; forgetful, however, of one thing, and that is, that these very doctrines to which (7)they still appeal have been preached during the last fifty years, without resulting in any, the slightest, material improvement in the condition of the workingman.

[7] All that has been achieved or attempted in the cause of progress and improvement in Europe during the last fifty years, whether against absolute governments or the aristocracy of birth, has been attempted in the name of the Rights of Man and of Liberty, as the means of that well-being which has been regarded as the end and aim of life. All the acts of the great French Revolution, and of all of those revolutions which succeeded and imitated it, were a consequence of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man." All the works of those philosophers, whose writings prepared the way for that Revolution, were founded upon a theory of Liberty, and of making known to every individual his Rights. The doctrines of all the Revolutionary schools preached that man was born for happiness; that he had a right to seek happiness by every means in his power; and that no one had a right to impede him in that search; while he had a right to overthrow whatever obstacles he met in his path towards it.

[8] And all those obstacles were overthrown; liberty was achieved. In many countries it lasted for years; in some it exists even yet.

[9] Has the condition of the people improved? Have the millions who live by the daily labour of their hands acquired any, the smallest amount, of the promised and desired well-being? No; the condition of the people is not improved. On the contrary, in most countries it has even deteriorated; and here, (8)especially, where I write, the price of the necessaries of life has continually augmented, the wages of workingmen in many branches of industry have progressively diminished, while the population has increased. In almost all countries the condition of the workingman has become more uncertain, more precarious, while those crises which condemn thousands of workingmen to a certain period of inertia have become more frequent.

[10] The annual increase of emigration from country to country, and from Europe to other parts of the world, and the ever-increasing number of benevolent institutions, of poor's rates, and other precautions against mendicity, suffice to prove this. They indicate that public attention is continually being attracted to the sufferings of the people; but their inefficiency visibly to diminish those sufferings demonstrates an equally progressive augmentation of the misery of the classes in whose behalf they endeavour to provide.

[11] And nevertheless in these last fifty years the sources of social wealth and the mass of material means of happiness have been continually on the increase. Commerce, surmounting those frequent crises which are inevitable in the absolute absence of all organization, has achieved an increase of power and activity, and a wider sphere of operation. Communication has almost everywhere been rendered rapid and secure, and hence the price of produce has decreased in proportion to the diminished cost of transport. On the other hand, the idea that there are rights inherent (9)to human nature is now generally admitted and accepted - hypocritically and in words at least - even by those who seek to withhold those rights. Why, then, has not the condition of the people improved? Why has the consumption of produce, instead of being equally distributed among all the Members of European Society, become concentrated in the hands of a few, of a class forming a new aristocracy? Why has the fresh impulse given to industry and commerce resulted, not in the well-being of the many, but in the luxury of a few?

[12] The answer is clear to those who look closely into things. Men are the creatures of education, and their actions are but the consequence of the principle of education given to them. The promoters of revolutions and political transformations have hitherto founded them all on one idea, the idea of the rights pertaining to the individual. Those revolutions achieved Liberty - individual liberty, liberty of education, liberty of belief, liberty of commerce, liberty in all things and for all men.

[13] But of what use were rights when acquired by men who had not the means of exercising them? Of what use was mere liberty of education to men who had neither time nor means to profit by it? Of what use was mere liberty of commerce to those who possessed neither merchandise, capital, nor credit?

[14] In all the countries wherein these principles were proclaimed, Society was composed of the small number of individuals who were possessors of the land, of capital, and of credit, and of the vast multitude who possessed nothing but the labour of their hands, and were compelled to sell that labour to the first (10)class on any terms, in order to live. For such men, compelled to spend the whole day in material and monotonous exertion, and condemned to a continual struggle against hunger and want, what was liberty but an illusion, a bitter irony?

[15] The only way to prevent this state of things would have been for the upper classes voluntarily to consent to reduce the hours of labour, while they increased its remuneration; to bestow an uniform and gratuitous education upon the multitude; to render the instruments of labour accessible to all, and create a credit for workmen of good capacity and of good intentions.

[16] Now, why should they have done this? Was not well-being the end and aim of life? Was not prosperity the one thing desired by all? Why should they diminish their own enjoyments in favour of others? "Let those help themselves who can. When Society has secured to each individual the free exercise of those rights which are inherent in human nature, it has done all it is bound to do. If there be any one who, from some fatality of his own position, is unable to exercise any of these rights, let him resign himself to his fate, and not blame others."

[17] It was natural they should speak thus, and thus in fact they spake. And this mode of regarding the poor by the privileged classes soon became the mode in which individuals regarded one another. Each man occupied himself with his own rights and the amelioration of his own position, without seeking to provide for others; and when those rights clashed with the rights of others, the result was a state of war - a war, not of blood, but of gold and craft; less (11)manly than the other, but equally fatal; a relentless war in which those who possessed means inexorably crushed the weak and inexpert.

[18] In this state of continual warfare, men were educated in selfishness and the exclusive greed of material well-being. Mere liberty of belief had destroyed all community of faith; mere liberty of education generated moral anarchy. Mankind, without any common bond, without unity of religious belief or aim, bent upon enjoyment and naught beyond, sought each and all to tread in their own path, little heeding if, in pursuing it, they trampled upon the bodies of their brothers - brothers in name, but enemies in fact. This is the state of things we have reached at the present day, thanks to the theory of rights.

[19] Rights no doubt exist; but when the rights of one individual happen to clash with those of another, how can we hope to reconcile and harmonize them, if we do not refer to something which is above all rights? And when the rights of an individual, or of many individuals, clash with the rights of the country, to what tribunal shall we appeal?

[20] If the right to the greatest possible amount of happiness exist in all human beings, how are we to solve the question between the workingman and the manufacturer? If the right to existence is the first inviolable right of every man, who shall demand the sacrifice of that existence for the benefit of other men?

[21] Will you demand it in the name of the country, of Society, of the multitude, your brothers?


[22]Your first duties - first as regards importance - are, as I have already told you, towards Humanity. You are men before you are either citizens or fathers. If you do not embrace the whole human family in your affection; if you do not bear witness to your belief in the Unity of that family, consequent upon the Unity of God, and in that fraternity among the peoples which is destined to reduce that Unity to action; if, wheresoever a fellow-creature suffers, or the dignity of human nature is violated by falsehood or tyranny - you are not ready, if able, to aid the unhappy, and do not feel called upon to combat, if able, for the redemption of the betrayed and oppressed - you violate your law of life, you comprehend not that Religion which will be the guide and blessing of the future.

[23] But what can each of you, singly, do for the moral improvement and progress of Humanity? You can from time to time give sterile utterance to your belief; you may, on some rare occasions, perform some act of charity towards a brother-man not belonging to your own land - no more. But charity is not the watchword of the Faith of the Future. The watchword of the faith of the future is Association and fraternal cooperation towards a common aim; (58)and this is far superior to all charity, as the edifice which all of you should unite to raise would be superior to the humble hut each one of you might build alone, or with the mere assistance of lending and borrowing stone, mortar, and tools.

[24] But, you tell me, you cannot attempt united action, distinct and divided as you are in language, customs, tendencies, and capacity. The individual is too insignificant, and Humanity too vast. The mariner of Brittany prays to God as he puts to sea; "Help me, my God! my boat is so small and Thy ocean so wide!" And this prayer is the true expression of the condition of each one of you, until you find the means of infinitely multiplying your forces and powers of action.

[25] This means was provided for you by God when He gave you a country; when, even as a wise overseer of labour distributes the various branches of employment according to the different capacities of the workmen, he divided Humanity into distinct groups or nuclei upon the face of the earth, thus creating the germ of nationalities. Evil governments have disfigured the Divine design. Nevertheless you may still trace it, distinctly marked out - at least as far as Europe is concerned - by the course of the great rivers, the direction of the higher mountains, and other geographical conditions. They have disfigured it by their conquests, their greed, and their jealousy even of the righteous power of others; disfigured it so far that, if we except England and France, there is not perhaps a single country whose present boundaries correspond to that design.

[26] These governments did not, and do not, recognize (59)any country save their own families or dynasty, the egoism of caste. But the Divine design will infallibly be realized; natural divisions and the spontaneous, innate tendencies of the peoples will take the place of the arbitrary divisions, sanctioned by evil governments. The map of Europe will be redrawn. The countries of the peoples, defined by the vote of free men, will arise upon the ruins of the countries of kings and privileged castes, and between these countries harmony and fraternity will exist. And the common work of Humanity, of general amelioration, and the gradual discovery and application of its Law of life, being distributed according to local and general capacities, will be wrought out in peaceful and progressive development and advance. Then may each one of you, fortified by the power and affection of many millions, all speaking the same language, gifted with the same tendencies, and educated by the same historical tradition, hope even by your own single efforts to be able to benefit all Humanity.

[27] 0, my brothers, love your Country! Our country is our Home, a house God has given us, placing therein a numerous family that loves us, and whom we love; a family with whom we sympathize more readily and whom we understand more quickly than we do others; and which, from its being centred round a given spot, and from the homogeneous nature of its elements, is adapted to a special branch of activity. Our Country is our common workshop, whence the products of our activity are sent forth for the benefit of the whole world; wherein the tools and implements of labour we can most usefully (60)employ are gathered together; nor may we reject them without disobeying the plan of the Almighty, and diminishing our own strength.

[28] In labouring for our own country on the right principle, we labour for Humanity. Our country is the fulcrum of the lever we have to wield for the common good. If we abandon the fulcrum, we run the risk of rendering ourselves useless not only to Humanity but to our country itself. Before men can associate with the nations of which Humanity is composed, they must have a national existence. There is no true association except among equals. It is only through our country that we can have a recognized collective existence. [29] Humanity is a vast army advancing to the conquest of lands unknown, against enemies both powerful and astute. The peoples are the different corps, the divisions of that army. Each of them has its post assigned to it, and its special operation to execute; and the common victory depends upon the exactitude with which those distinct operations are fulfilled. Disturb not the order of battle. Forsake not the banner given to you by God. Wheresoever you may be, in the centre of whatsoever people circumstances may have placed you, be ever ready to combat for the liberty of that people, should it be necessary, but combat in such wise that the blood you shed may reflect glory, not on yourself alone, but on your country. Say not I, but We. Let each man among you strive to incarnate his country in himself. Let each man among you regard himself as a guarantor, responsible for his fellow-countrymen, and learn so to govern his actions as to cause his country to be loved and respected (61)through him. Your country is the sign of the Mission God has given you to fulfill towards Humanity. The faculties and forces of all her sons should be associated in the accomplishment of that mission. The true country is a community of free men and equals, bound together in fraternal concord to labour towards a common aim. You are bound to make it and to maintain it such. The country is not an aggregation, but an association. There is, therefore, no true country without a uniform right. There is no true country where the uniformity of that right is violated by the existence of caste privilege and inequality. Where the activity of a portion of the powers and faculties of the individual is either cancelled or dormant; where there is not a common Principle, recognized, accepted, and developed by all, there is no true Nation, no People; but only a multitude, a fortuitous agglomeration of men whom circumstances have called together and whom circumstances may again divide. In the name of the love you bear your country, you must peacefully but untiringly combat the existence of privilege and inequality in the land that gave you life.

[30] There is but one sole legitimate privilege, the privilege of Genius when it reveals itself united with virtue. But this is a privilege given by God, and when you acknowledge it, and follow its inspiration, you do so freely, exercising your own reason and your own choice. Every privilege which demands submission from you in virtue of power, inheritance, or any other right than the Right common to all, is a usurpation and a tyranny which you are bound to resist and destroy.

[31] Be your country your Temple: God at the summit; a people of equals at the base.

[32] Accept no other formula, no other moral law, if you would not dishonour alike your country and yourselves. Let all secondary laws be but the gradual regulation of your existence by the progressive application of this Supreme law. And in order that they may be such, it is necessary that all of you should aid in framing them. Laws framed only by a single fraction of the citizens, can never, in the very nature of things, be other than the mere expression of the thoughts, aspirations, and desires of that fraction; the representation, not of the country, but of a third or fourth part, of a class or zone of the country.

[33] The laws should be the expression of the universal aspiration, and promote the universal good. They should be a pulsation of the heart of the nation. The entire nation should, either directly or indirectly, legislate.

[34] By yielding up this mission into the hands of a few, you substitute the selfishness of one class for the Country, which is the union of all classes.

[35] Country is not only a mere zone of territory. The true Country is the Idea to which it gives birth; it is the Thought of love, the sense of communion which unites in one all the sons of that territory.

[36] So long as a single one amongst your brothers has no vote to represent him in the development of the national life, so long as there is one left to vegetate in ignorance where others are educated, so long as a single man, able and willing to work, languishes in poverty through want of work to do, you have no (63)country in the sense in which Country ought to exist - the country of all and for all.

[37] Education, labour, and the franchise, are the three main pillars of the Nation; rest not until you have built them thoroughly up with your own labour and exertions.

[38] Be it yours to evolve the life of your country in loveliness and strength; free from all servile fears or sceptical doubts; maintaining as its basis the People; as its guide the principles of its Religious Faith, logically and energetically applied; its strength, the united strength of all; its aim, the fulfillment of the mission given to it by God.

[39] And so long as you are ready to die for Humanity, the life of your country will be immortal.

Return to the syllabus.
Return to the History Department.