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Below is the second of five exclusive excerpts from Psycho-nationalism – Global Thought, Iranian Imaginations, by Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam. New excerpts will be posted Mondays for the next three weeks.

To learn more about the book, see the introductory post here.

Global Thought, Iranian Imaginations
by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

National Hysteria: Roma O’ Morte

Roma o’ Morte, Rome or death, proclaimed General Giuseppe Garibaldi in typical ‘psychonationalist’ parlance in the late nineteenth century, at once linking the ‘eternal city’ to notions of blood and sacrifice in order to consolidate the risorgimento or unification of Italy in the face of foreign invasion and internal strife. Similarly dramatic emotions were expressed by his contemporaries, in particular Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–72), probably Italy’s most famous nationalist. Sceptical of communist calls for a worker’s revolution in Italy – Karl Marx referred to him as a middle-class reactionary – the discourse used by Mazzini is typically emotional, imbued with themes such as God, sacrifice, love, death, blood, kinship and unity.[1] ‘Love your country’, he demanded from his listeners during a speech in 1848 in protest of the killing of Italian soldiers by Austrian forces.[2] ‘Your country is the land where your parents sleep, where is spoken that language in which the chosen of your heart blushing whispered the first word of love’. This romantic, almost poetic reference, which seems rather innocent at first sight, is immediately followed by a prescription to give blood for the nation: ‘It is your name, your glory, your sign among the peoples. Give to it your thought, your counsel, your blood. … Let it be one, as the thought of God’.[3]

Mazzini was certainly not a fascist, despite the appropriation of his thought by Benito Mussolini and some recent scholarship linking his ideas to the latter.[4] His nationalism was tempered given that he embedded it in a humanitarian discourse. But his constant reference to Europe as the pinnacle of civilisation and his repeated emphasis on blood sacrifice as a necessary ingredient in the making of nations, lent itself to abuse in post-unification Italy, including by the fascist movement. The mobilisation of the masses to safeguard the honour of the nation, his intense emphasis on the role of God, transmuted into a secular form of theo-politics. As a consequence, the national narrative was given a sacrosanct status which was readily exploited by those who claimed to work in the name of the nation and as its chaperone. Mazzini believed that Italy could only be adequately united through heroism, sacrifice and martyrdom, symbols and imagery that were very central to his dramatic reading of national regeneration. Once this task was accomplished, Mazzini promised, Italy would lead Europe to civilisational greatness. These are typically psychonationalist themes and they fed into the mythology of the fascist movement after World War I, when motives such as blood and sacrifice for the nation and unity in the name of a pure race became particularly dominant in the public psyche throughout Europe. As Il fascio, the Fascist’s main organ in Italy proclaimed in 1921: ‘The Holy Communion of war has moulded us all with the same mettle of generous sacrifice’.[5]

The German experience in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century is comparable. In Germany too, the themes appropriated by Mazzini – purity, blood, sacrifice, honour, unity – played a pivotal role in cementing the idea of a nation. Johann Gottlieb von Fichte (1762–1814) is probably the most famous forerunner to these themes that I have termed ‘psychonationalist’ because of their emotional charge and their cognitive power. … Again, quite similar to Mazzini, Fichte attributed theological greatness to the German nation which he deemed blessed by a godly (göttlich) spirit and a distinct (Eigentümlich) national character. Because of their special status, Germans had emerged as the Urvolk or archetype nation of humankind. The psychonationalist terminology is apparent here: godly, pure, national character (Volkstum), spiritual (geistig), death, blood, sacrifice. Fichte turned being German from a simple geographic designation into a matter of life and death, into a primordial and unique ‘identity’ with frightening cognitive force. In his own words: ‘(und dass) ein wahrhafter Deutscher nur könne leben wollen, um eben Deutscher zu sein und zu bleiben und die Seinigen zu ebensolchen zu bilden.‘ [(and that) a true German could only want to live, in order to be- and remain German, and to educate his own to be the same].[6] … In the German case, Fichte and to a lesser extent Herder and even Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian Duke who coined the famous militaristic credo Blut und Boden (blood and soil), were increasingly appropriated by Nazi sympathisers for ideological purposes. Indeed, the aforementioned Ernst Bergman used his professorship at the University of Leipzig to embrace Fichte as the main forerunner of National Socialism in Germany.[7] Comparable to Italy, war was a catalyst for radicalisation. Bergman wrote his first book about Fichte in the aftermath of World War I and Germany’s punishing defeat. Like Mazzini who was appropriated by the Italian fascists, Fichte became the poster-child for the Nazis because of his emphasis on blood, honour, national character, educational and physical perfection and national resurrection. Psychonationalism, then, carries a blood-stained genealogy that was readily exploited by the state. It was born in a period of immense global turmoil, war and revolutionary upheaval. Hence it is certainly not, even in its contemporary manifestations, a recipe for democracy, pluralism and social empowerment. Neither Mazzini, nor Fichte are good reference points for a functioning, inclusive and tolerant society.


[1] ‘Interview with Karl Marx, head of L’internationale’. Available at <> (accessed 21 February 2016).

[2] Giuseppe Mazzini, ‘To the young men of Italy’, in Lewis Copeland, Lawrence W. Lamm and Stephen J. McKenna (eds.), The World’s Great Speeches, Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999, p. 101.

[3] Ibid., p. 101

[4] See further Simon Levis Fullam, Giuseppe Mazzini and the Origins of Fascism, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 and Simonetta Falasca-zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy, London: University of California Press, 2000.

[5] In Mark Antliff, Avant-garde Fascism: The Mobilisation of Myth, Art and Culture in France, 1909-1939, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007, p. 38.

[6] In Felicity Rash, German Images of the Self and the Other: Nationalist, Colonialist and Anti-Semitic Discourse 1871–1918, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 41 (my translation).

[7] See Ernst Bergman, Fichte und der Nationalsozialismus, Breslau: Walter Gehl und Johann Koch, 1933, especially pp. 6–8.

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