Military history



The Liberal Achievement

GARIBALDI’S DEATH, TEN years after Mazzini’s, marks a fitting end to this survey of the era of liberal revolutions inaugurated by the minutemen of Massachusetts more than a hundred years earlier. Most future revolutionaries, whether of the right or the left, would be more extreme in their methods and beliefs. But whatever their orientation, generations of rebels to come would learn from the liberals’ use of propaganda as a powerful weapon of war. It would continue to grow in importance until the present day when Osama bin Laden would declare, not implausibly, that the “media war” constituted 90 percent of his entire battle.177 The percentage was lower in the nineteenth century but much higher than it had been in the countless centuries of largely apolitical guerrilla warfare that preceded it.

Liberal insurgents scored their most impressive victories in the New World, where, with a few small exceptions, by 1825 the writ of European colonialists no longer ran. Louis Napoleon tried to install a puppet regime in Mexico in the 1860s, but his chosen ruler, the Austrian archduke Maximilian, was killed and his government overthrown by liberal forces, including guerrillas led by Benito Juárez. In Europe the most successful uprisings were in Greece and Italy. Constitutional monarchies were also established in Belgium and France in 1830, but these upheavals, like the French Revolution of 1789, were the product of “people power” in the streets rather than of guerrilla warfare. There were many more revolutionary failures, from the Chartists in Britain to the Decembrists in Russia. But even unsuccessful revolts could exert a powerful influence by persuading rulers to grant some of the rebels’ demands in order to assuage their supporters. Thus most of Europe was moving in a more liberal direction in the nineteenth century—even states such as Russia, Germany, and Austria that remained absolute monarchies.

Ironically the consequences of liberal revolts were in some ways the least satisfactory in the places where they had ostensibly succeeded. The French Revolution started with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and ended in war and terror. The Greek revolt did not usher in a “Great Age” and “another Athens,” as imagined by philhellenes such as Shelley, but rather rule by an imported Bavarian prince who was overthrown by a coup in 1862.178 Haiti’s liberation was followed by a “general massacre”179 of the remaining whites and an instability that persists to the present day. Spain experienced repression and civil war after the expulsion of the French; it would not see the emergence of democracy until the 1970s. Italy was more peaceful, but Garibaldi, increasingly socialistic and pacifistic in his old age, was deeply discontented by the “misery of [his] country,” which he attributed to “the base and deceitful conduct of government and priests.”180 Even in the United States, a model of effective governance compared with Greece, Haiti, Italy, or Spain, most of the revolutionaries who had fought for freedom from Britain refused to grant freedom to African-Americans, whose humanity they denied.

José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, the liberators of Latin America, were even more disenchanted than Garibaldi with the consequences of their struggles. They had hoped to inaugurate an era of “peace, science, art, commerce, and agriculture” overseen by strong central governments operating under liberal constitutions.181 Instead they gave birth to caudillos, corruption, and civil strife—what Bolívar in his last years denounced as “this fearful anarchy.”182 Hard as it usually is to overthrow a regime, harder still is it to establish an enduring and successful successor. Many revolutionaries have discovered, along with San Martín and Bolívar, that ideals are simpler to fight for than to implement.

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