Writing in 1852, Mazzini served as a national figure, advocating for the nationalism of Italian democracy. He saw Europe not as a unified whole, but a fractured state full of violence and crises. For Mazzini, they key to peace was unity. In his eyes, Europe was taking two two forms: social and nationalities. “I say, which all have agreed to call social, because, generally speaking, every great revolution is so far social, that it cannot be accomplished either in the religious, political, or any other sphere, without affecting social relations […]” Mazzini notes that no tangible change can be made in society without, first, a social change. While other philosophers we’ve read have offered ideas of non-violent changes and revolutions, Mazzini insinuates a more palpable declaration of this notion. He states; “The question there is now, above all, to establish better relations between labour and capital, between production and consumption, between the workman and the employer.” Mazzini proposes social changes that will directly affect they way people live, cooperate with one another, and the ways in which society conducts itself. He offers social changes that would not only be felt on a national level, but also on an intimate and personal level.
After reading Darton’s “Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Severin”and Kilvelson’s “Through the Prism of Witchcraft: Gender and Social Change in Seventeenth-Century Muscovy,” I was struck by the common thread between the two: that the phenomena they examine are not taken at face value, but are rather viewed as expressions of social angst.
For the journeymen of the Parisian print shop discussed by Darnton, this angst was directed at their master and his wife. The deterioration of the apprenticeship model mean that their job security and chance at upward mobility were being undermined, both by the shrinking number of higher positions and the influx of cheap laborers, or alloues. Cats, it seems, were merely the easy and culturally appropriate targets of their anger.Thus ritual and revolt were fused in the cat massacre. It’s an event infused with symbolism as well as one that, Darnton hints, might have foreshadowed the French Revolution in some ways.
Similarly, the witchcraft trials in Russia that occurred about a century before also reveal a sort of social unrest. Kivelson shows how both the allegations and the forced confessions of the accusers and the accused reveal their respective motivations. Of the relatively few women accused of witchcraft, it seems that more than one attempted sorcery in order to influence masters or in-laws. The accusers’ reasons are even more indicative: men cried witchcraft when they found their masculinity and authority threatened, whereas women did so to (temporarily) gain more attention and power.
Both pieces clearly show that we shouldn’t regard odd and seemingly irrational events of the past as just weird things that past cultures did. Indeed, through careful investigation and thoughtfulness, historians are able to decipher the symbolism of these events and therefore uncover the logic of past peoples.