Readers of this blog (Are there any?) may recall a post I did back in January on Thomas Jefferson’s and Luigi Taparelli’s conflicting views on the value of social diversity. Taparelli is virtually unknown in the Anglophone world (and most of the rest of the world too). Since I gave very little background about Taparelli in that post I thought I would make up for it here.
If you read Italian, there is an informative entry on Taparelli by Francesco Pappalardo in the Dizionario del pensiero forte, a project sponsored by the Istituto per la Dottrina e l’Informazione Sociale in Italy (— the pensiero forte of the title is apparently meant to contrast with the pensiero debole championed by Gianni Vattimo). You can also find an entry on him dating from 1912 by Charles Macksey in The Catholic Encyclopedia. There is some recent scholarly work on Taparelli in English by Thomas Burke and Thomas Behr. (Links to a number of online resources are included at the end of the post.)
Taparelli, a Jesuit of an aristocratic and politically involved Piedmontese family, was an intellectual leader of the Italian Counter-Risorgimento and co-founder of the Jesuit-sponsored journal La Civiltà Cattolica, whose first issue appeared in April 1850. Part of the reason for the existence of La Civiltà Cattolica, which had the full and enthusiastic support of Pius IX, was to present a Catholic alternative to the Risorgimento.
Taparelli’s magnum opus is his massive two-volume work Saggio teoretico di dritto naturale appogiatto sul fatto. The Saggio systematically outlines a Catholic social doctrine that is an alternative to the social doctrine of European liberalism and especially of Risorgimento liberalism. A later Jesuit, Antonio Messineo, who also wrote for La Civiltà Cattolica, dubbed Taparelli the “martello delle concezioni liberali,” that is, “the hammer of liberal ideas.”
Taparelli is perhaps best remembered for his contribution to the concept of subsidiarity and for coining the term “social justice” (giustizia sociale). His promotion of subsidiarity is evident in an 1848 essay “Legge fondamentale d’organizzaione nella società.” There Taparelli criticizes the centralism of the revolutionary and Napoleonic regimes that usurped the authority of organic lower level social configurations. “[T]hat tyrannical centralism,” he observes, “ground every social organism to dust.” Here is the problem:
Attempting to unify the social body by bringing every part under the direct control of the central government would be akin to attempting to unify the human body by taking away the unique power and tissue of each member, as if it would be possible for the soul to use any part for any function, breathing through the shin bones and seeing through the ears. Let the supreme ruler, therefore, leave to each lower level society the being and activity that are proper to it; then, and only then, can it contribute to the common good with that efficaciousness that can only be found in those things that operate according to their proper nature.
Turning to Taparelli’s concept of social justice, we see that it is not exactly the same as the common contemporary notion. Thomas Burke has this to say about Taparellian social justice:
It is one of the ironies of history that the quintessentially “liberal” idea of “social justice,” as it was to become (in American terminology), should have been originated by an ardent conservative … Unlike the conception of social justice generally accepted in our society at the present time, which is socialist and difficult, if not impossible, to harmonize with our ordinary conception of justice, Taparelli’s conception 1) is simply the ordinary and traditional conception of justice applied in a new area, namely the constitutional arrangements of society, 2) does not apply to states of affairs in society that could exist independently of human actions, 3) constitutes a defense of societal inequality, and 4) is conservative.
You can find the rest of Burke’s paper here. From Burke’s account one can see why Taparelli’s social thought has, even in Catholic quarters, fallen out of favor. It is a shame and a reevaluation of Taparelli’s work is long overdue.
Taparelli was also a key figure in the Italian Thomistic revival, a movement in which La Civiltà Cattolica too was instrumental. Aquinas was an essential guide for Taparelli in the composition of the Saggio. “To make sure that I had not erred,” Taparelli explains in a letter, “as my theories were born, I compared them with St. Thomas. He was the touchstone.” (Taparelli likewise cites Suarez, Bellarmine, and Vitoria as influences on the Saggio.)
Among Taparelli’s treatments of Aquinas is a long essay on Aquinas’s concept of beauty entitled “Delle ragioni del bello secondo la dottrina di san Tommaso d’Aquino,” published in several installments in La Civiltà Cattolica between 1859 and 1860.
I am not aware of any of Taparelli’s writings that have been translated into English. The obvious place to start a translation project would be the Saggio. If I weren’t a mere dabbler in social and political theory and in Taparelli, I would enjoy doing it myself. Hopefully someone more capable will come along to take up this worthy task.
Some authors argue that there are important liberal ideas in Taparelli too (see, e.g., Dario Antiseri’s paper below). There is no doubt that on many points Taparelli’s thought and political liberalism overlap, but that is true of paleoconservative thought and liberalism in general. And, in any event, it is impossible to find any system of thought that has nothing in common with other systems. A strong liberal revisionary reading of Taparelli, however, will inevitably come up against major problems. If you consider, for instance, his views on freedom of the press, religion, and conscience, on social diversity, or on the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church, you will see that it is quite difficult indeed to understand him as a liberal.
If you are hunting for Taparelli online, here are links to some primary and secondary sources (of the latter some are more scholarly and others more popular):
The edition of the Saggio linked to above has the advantage of the being the 5th edition of 1855, which (as I understand) was the last edition overseen by Taparelli himself, but it has the disadvantage of being hosted by the Hathi Trust, which is not as navigable as, say, Google Books or the Internet Archive. Earlier editions are available on both of those sites but I cannot find the 1855 edition on them. I would appreciate knowing from readers of a digitized version of the 1855 edition on a more navigable site.
Dario Antiseri, Cattolici Liberali (Italian)
Thomas C. Behr, Luigi Taparelli on the Dignity of Man
Thomas C. Behr, Luigi Taparelli and Catholic Economics
Thomas P. Burke, The Origins of Social Justice: Taparelli d’Azeglio
Charles Macksey, Aloysius Taparelli
Ryan Messmore, Real Social Justice
Francesco Pappalardo, Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio (1793-1862) (Italian)
Filippo Rizzi, L’altro D’Azeglio: gesuita contro l’Unità (Italian)
Stefano Solari and Daniele Corrado, Social Justice and Economic Order According to Natural Law
J.J. Ziegler, What is Social Justice?