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Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero
Yale University Press, 2008
496 pp., $30.00
Garibaldi: Citizen of the World: A Biography
Princeton University Press, 2007
456 pp., $49.95
Eugenio F. Biagini
Garibaldi Strikes Back
In his day Garibaldi was compared to George Washington, who stood up to stronger enemies and conquered them. In many respects, he was closer to his contemporary Abraham Lincoln, who, unlike Washington, was not a member of the gentry but a man sprung "from the people," an advocate of the oppressed, and one who fought for his country's national unity. In 1860, Garibaldi briefly ruled Italy's southern half, which he had single-handedly liberated from a sort of police-state a few months before, and led it to join the northern constitutional monarchy established by Cavour and Victor Emmanuel: with this merger a new nation state was born (though the differences between North and South were to plague the new country for the next 150 years). Unlike Lincoln or Washington, however, Garibaldi was primarily neither a statesman nor a soldier in the ordinary sense of the word but rather a self-made champion of national self-determination and worldwide democracy. Here we have a paradox: he spent most of his life fighting to liberate his country from foreign and domestic despots (including the pope), and, as a consequence became and has remained to this day—despite Benedict XVI's latter-day "Counter-Reformation"—one of modern Italy's few national heroes. Yet his "nationalism" was unusual in that one of its leading features was "cosmopolitanism," as the French utopian socialist Louis Blanc put it.
Perhaps cosmopolitanism ran in his veins, given that he was born a subject of Napoleon's multinational Empire before his native city reverted to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1814 (eventually Cavour was to cede it again to France in 1860, in exchange for Napoleon III's endorsement of Piedmont's annexation of Central Italy). He hailed from a family which had recently moved to Nice from Genoa. The latter was a hotbed of republican and democratic feeling and the home of Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), who, with Garibaldi and Cavour, was to become one of the three main architects ...