The Origins of Liberal Wilsonianism: Giuseppe Mazzini on Regime Change and Humanitarian Intervention.

The Origins of Liberal Wilsonianism: Giuseppe Mazzini on Regime Change and Humanitarian Intervention.

In: Just and Unjust Military Intervention: European Thinkers from Vitoria to Mill, edited by Stefano Recchia and Jennifer Welsh (Cambridge UP, 2013).

Anglo-American scholars of international relations (Waltz, 1959; Vincent, 1974; Wight, 2005) have long viewed Giuseppe Mazzini as the archetype of the crusading liberal interventionist—someone who justified and indeed called for military intervention by powerful liberal states to spread freedom and democracy abroad. This chapter reviews Mazzini’s writings on international politics and finds that this interpretation is largely unfounded. Mazzini developed a still surprisingly topical critique of regime change achieved through foreign military intervention: he was convinced that democracy had to grow internally, from a genuine domestic political struggle, and believed that self-government achieved with the help of foreign armies would not be genuine and could not be lasting. That being said, Mazzini was certainly not a pacifist. He saw armed insurrection against despotic governments as a legitimate last resort, and he played a key role in the democratic uprisings of 1848-49. His ultimate goal was a reorganization of the European political order on the basis of two principles that he saw as inextricably linked: democracy and national self-determination. Yet he justified direct military intervention only in two circumstances: first, as liberal counter-intervention, to re-balance the situation on the ground when troops from another foreign country have already intervened in support of the local despot; and second, as humanitarian intervention to stop large-scale violence against ethnic or religious minorities.

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