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

(New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1898)

Hanover Historical Texts Project

Chapter 1 - Introduction

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.

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 [Page 6] is a crime condemned alike by Heaven and earth.

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 edution, rather than of material well-being?

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.

"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."

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 [Page 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.

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.

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

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, [Page 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.

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.

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 [Page 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?

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.

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?

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 [Page 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?

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.

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."

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 [Page 11] manly than the other, but equally fatal; a relentless war in which those who possessed means inexorably crushed the weak and inexpert.

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.

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?

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?

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

What is their country to those who hold the theory I describe, if it be not the spot wherein their individual [Page 12] rights are most secure? What is Society but an assemblage of men who have agreed to bring the power of the many in support of the rights of each?

And you, who for fifty years have been preaching to the individual that Society is constituted for the purpose of securing to him the exercise of his rights, how can you ask him to sacrifice them all in favour of that Society, and submit, if need be, to ceaseless effort, to imprisonment or exile, for the sake of improving it? After having taught him by every means in your power that the end and aim of life is happiness, how can you expect him to sacrifice both happiness and life itself to free his country from foreign oppression, or to produce some amelioration in the condition of a class to which he does not belong? After you have preached to him for years in the name of material interest, can you pretend that he shall see wealth and power within his own reach and not stretch forth his hand to grasp them, even though to the injury of his fellow-men?

* * * * * *

Who shall persuade the man, believing solely in the theory of rights, that he is bound to strive for the common good, and occupy himself in the development of the social idea? Suppose he should rebel; suppose he should feel himself strong enough to say to you: "I break the social bond; my tendencies and my faculties invite me elsewhere; I have a sacred, an inviolable right to develop those tendencies and faculties, and I choose to be at war with the rest;" what answer can you make him within the limits of the Doctrine of Rights? What right have you, merely as a majority, to compel his obedience to laws which do [Page 13] not accord with his individual desires and aspirations? What right have you to punish him should he violate those laws?

The Rights of each individual are equal; the mere fact of living together in Society does not create a single one. Society has greater power, not greater rights, than the individual. How, then, will you prove to the individual that he is bound to confound his will in the will of his brothers, whether of country or of humanity?

By means of the prison or the executioner?

Every Society that has existed hitherto has employed these means.

But this is a state of war, and we need peace; this is tyrannical repression, and we need Education.

EDUCATION, I have said, and my whole doctrine is included and summed up in this grand word. The vital question in agitation at the present day is a question of Education. We do not seek to establish a new order of things through violence. Any order of things established through violence, even though itself superior to the old, is still a tyranny. What we have to do is to propose, for the approval of the nation, an order of things which we believe to be superior to that now existing, and to educate men by every possible means to develop it and act in accordance with it.

The theory of Rights may suffice to arouse men to overthrow the obstacles placed in their path by tyranny, but it is impotent where the object in view is to create a noble and powerful harmony between the various elements of which the nation is composed. With the theory of happiness as the primary aim of [Page 14] existence, we shall only produce egoists who will carry the old passions and desires into the new order of things, and introduce corruption into it a few months after. We have, therefore, to seek a Principle of Education superior to any such theory, and capable of guiding mankind onwards toward their own improvement, of teaching them constancy and self-sacrifice, and of uniting them with their fellow-men, without making them dependent either on the idea of a single man or the force of the majority.

This principle is DUTY. We must convince men that they are all sons of one sole God, and bound to fulfill and execute one sole law here on earth; that each of them is bound to live, not for himself, but for others; that the aim of existence is not to be more or less happy, but to make ourselves and others more virtuous; that to struggle against injustice and error (wherever they exist), in the name and for the benefit of their brothers, is not only a right but a Duty; a duty which may not be neglected without sin; the duty of their whole life.

Workingmen! Brothers! Understand me well. When I say that the consciousness of your rights will never suffice to produce an important and durable progress, I do not ask you to renounce those rights. I merely say that such rights can only exist as a consequence of duties fulfilled, and that we must begin with fulfilling the last in order to achieve the first. And when I say that in proposing happiness, well-being, or material interests, as the aim of existence, we run the risk of producing egoists, I do not say that you ought never to occupy yourselves with these; but I do say that the exclusive endeavour after material interests, [Page 15] sought for, not as a means, but as an end, always leads to disastrous and deplorable results.

When the ancient Romans, under the emperors, contented themselves with bread and amusements, they had become as abject a race as can be conceived; and after submitting to the stupid and ferocious rule of their emperors, they vilely succumbed to and were enslaved by their barbarian invaders. In France and elsewhere it has ever been the plan of the opponents of social progress to spread corruption by endeavouring to lead men's minds away from thoughts of change and improvement through furthering the development of mere material activity. And shall we help our adversaries with our own hands?

Material ameliorations are essential and we will strive to obtain them; not, however, because the one thing necessary to man is that he should be well housed and nourished, but because you can neither acquire a true consciousness of your own dignity, nor achieve your own moral development, so long as you are engaged, as at the present day, in a continual struggle with poverty and want.

You labour for ten or twelve hours of the day: how can you find time to educate yourselves? The greater number of you scarcely earn enough to maintain yourselves and your families: how can you find means to educate yourselves? The frequent interruption and uncertain duration of your work causes you to alternate excessive labour with periods of idleness: how are you to acquire habits of order, regularity, and assiduity? The scantiness of your earnings prevents all hope of saving a sum sufficient to be one day useful to your children, or to provide for the support [Page 16] of your own old age: how can you acquire habits of economy? Many among you are compelled by poverty to withdraw your children - I will not say from the instruction, for what educational instruction can the poor wife of a workingman bestow upon her children? - but from the mother's watchfulness and love, in order that they may gain a few pence in the unwholesome and injurious labour of manufactories: how can children so circumstanced be developed under the softening influence of family affection?

You have no rights of citizenship, no participation either of election or vote, in those laws which are to direct your actions and govern your life: how can you feel the sentiment of citizenship, zeal for the welfare of the State, or sincere affection for its laws?

Your poverty frequently involves the impossibility of your obtaining justice like the other classes: how are you to learn to love and respect justice? Society treats you without a shadow of sympathy: how are you to learn sympathy with Society?

It is therefore needful that your material condition should be improved, in order that you may morally progress. It is necessary that you should labour less, so that you may consecrate some hours every day to your soul's improvement. It is needful that you should receive such remuneration for your labour as may enable you to accumulate a sufficient saving to tranquillize your minds as to your future. And, above all, it is necessary to purify your souls from all reaction, from all sentiment of vengeance, from every thought of injustice, even towards those who have been unjust towards you. You are bound, therefore, to strive for all these ameliorations in your condition, [Page 17] and you will obtain them; but you must seek them as a means, not as an end; seek them from a sense of duty, and not merely as a right; seek them in order that you may become more virtuous, not in order that you may be materially happy.

If not so, where would be the difference between you and those by whom you have been oppressed? They oppressed you precisely because they only sought happiness, enjoyment, and power.

Improve yourselves! Let this be the aim of your life. It is only by improving yourselves, by becoming more virtuous, that you can render your position lastingly less unhappy. Petty tyrants would arise among yourselves by thousands, so long as you should merely strive to advance in the name of material interests or a special social organization. A change of social organization is of little moment while you yourselves remain with your present passions and selfishness. Social organizations are like certain plants which yield either poison or medicine according to the mode in which they are administered. Good men can work good even out of an evil organization, and evil men can work evil out of good organizations.

No doubt it is also necessary to improve the classes who now oppress you, but you will never succeed in doing this unless you begin by improving yourselves.

When, therefore, you hear those who preach the necessity of a social transformation, declare that they can accomplish it solely by invoking your rights, be grateful to them for their good intentions, but be distrustful of their success. The sufferings of the poor are partially known to the wealthier classes; known but not felt. In the general indifference resulting [Page 18] from the absence of a common faith; in the selfishness which is the inevitable result of so many years spent preaching material happiness, those who do not suffer themselves have, little by little, become accustomed to regard the sufferings of others as a sorrowful necessity of social organization, or to leave the remedy to generations to come. The difficulty lies, not so much in convincing them, as in rousing them from their inertia, and inducing them, when once convinced, to act; to associate together, and to fraternize with you, in order to create such a social organization as shall put an end - as far as human possibilities allow - to your sufferings and their own fears.

Now, to do this is the work of Faith; of faith in the mission which God has given to his human creature here on earth; in the responsibility which weighs upon all those who fail to fulfill that mission; and in the Duty imposed upon all, of continual endeavour and sacrifice in the cause of truth.

Any conceivable doctrine of Right and material happiness can only lead you to attempts which, so long as you remain isolated and rely solely on your own strength, can never succeed; and which can but result in that worst of crimes, a civil war between class and class.

Workingmen! Brothers! When Christ came, and changed the face of the world, he spoke not of rights to the rich, who needed not to achieve them; nor to the poor, who would doubtless have abused them in imitation of the rich; he spoke not of utility nor of interest to a people whom interest and utility had corrupted; he spoke of Duty, he spoke of Love, of [Page 19] Sacrifice, and of Faith; and he said that they should be first among all who had contributed most by their labour to the good of all.

And the words of Christ, breathed in the ear of a society in which all true life was extinct, recalled it to existence, conquered the millions, conquered the world, and caused the education of the human race to ascend one degree on the scale of progress.

Workingmen! We live in an epoch similar to that of Christ. We live in the midst of a society as corrupt as that of the Roman Empire, feeling in our inmost soul the need of reanimating and transforming it, and of uniting all its various members in one sole faith, beneath one sole law, in one sole aim - the free and progressive development of all the faculties of which God has given the germ to his creatures. We seek the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven, or rather, that earth may become a preparation for Heaven, and society an endeavour after the progressive realization of the Divine Idea.

But Christ's every act was the visible representation of the Faith he preached; and around him stood apostles who incarnated in their actions the faith they had accepted. Be you such, and you will conquer. Preach duty to the classes above you, and fulfill, as far as in you lies, your own. Preach virtue, sacrifice and love; and be yourselves virtuous, loving, and ready for self-sacrifice. Speak your thoughts boldly, and make known your wants courageously; but without anger, without reaction, and without threats. The strongest menace, if indeed there be those for whom threats are necessary, will be the firmness, not the irritation, of your speech.

[Page 20] While you propagate amongst your brothers the idea of a better future, which will secure to them education, work, its fitting remuneration, and the conscience and mission of Men, strive also to instruct and improve yourselves, and to educate yourselves to the full knowledge and practice of your duties.

At present this is a labour rendered impossible to the masses in many parts of England. No plan of popular education can be realized alone; a change both in the political and material condition of the people is also needed; and they who imagine that an educational transformation may be accomplished alone, deceive themselves.

A few among you, once imbued with the true principles on which the moral, social, and political education of a people depend, will suffice to spread them among the millions, as a guide on their way, to protect them from the sophistries and false doctrines by which it will be sought to lead them astray.

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Hanover College Department of History
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