Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Ethical Foundation of the Market Economy: A Reflection on Economic Personalism in the Thought of Luigi Sturzo

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Ethical Foundation of the Market Economy: A Reflection on Economic Personalism in the Thought of Luigi Sturzo

Article excerpt

Luigi Sturzo (1871-1959)--Sicilian priest, intellectual, and founder of the Italian Popular Party--produced a corpus of serious reflection on the moral foundation of the free economy. My intent here is to discuss four theoretical foundations that enable a link to be developed between classical liberalism, the market economy, and Catholic social thought: methodological personalism; the interdependence of moral, political, economic, and cultural liberty; the separation of powers; and the creative subjectivity of the human person. Each of these elements are found in the thought of Luigi Sturzo and John Paul II, who, in my view, contribute substantially to the development of economic personalism.

"What is liberalism? It is 'humanistic,' which means: It starts from the premise that the nature of man is capable of good and that it fulfills itself in 'community,' that his destination stretches beyond his material existence, and that we are debtors in respect of every individual, as man in his unicity, that forbids us to lower him to simply a means. It is therefore individualistic, or, if one prefers, personalistic."

--Wilhelm Ropke

"The basis of natural justice, or of natural rights, can be fixed in the coexistence of rights and the reciprocity of duties; and this transports the subjective value of rights and obligations of the human personality into its objective social order.... The personality of man, as far as it is rational, is not only the subject of rights but the source of rights, and neither society nor the State is the source of rights, as some think."

--Luigi Sturzo


The passages quoted above serve to make immediate the point of view that we intend to make our own in reflecting on the moral basis of the free market. Thanks to the stimulus from these two authors, we have already begun to think about the concrete possibility of reconciling some typical aspects of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church with certain characteristic aspects of that particular strand of modern liberalism represented by the Austrian School, also called "classic" or "Anglo-American." We will proceed in this way, dedicating particular attention to the reflections of an Italian thinker, the Sicilian priest and founder of the Italian Popular Party, Luigi Sturzo (1871-1959). Sociologist and philosopher, he was able, at the end of the last century, to inaugurate a new stage of Catholic political action: popolarismo. (1) In 1926, on account of his antifascism, he was forced to leave Italy and so to begin a long, sad, but providential exile that he led for twenty years: first in France, then in England, and finally in the United States.

It is my intention to discuss some of the ethical problems that attach to political and economic institutions--for example, the market and competition--following the work of this interpreter of Christian social thought, making him converse with some of the more relevant exponents of classical liberal thought.

One relevant bit of support for the task before us comes from Friedrich von Hayek. The Austrian economist, going over the salient "stops," on the long "march" of liberal thought in the history of humanity, in the footsteps of Lord Acton, called Aquinas "the first Whig"--the founder of the party of liberty. He also referred to Nicholas of Cusa and Bartolus of Sassoferrato at the beginning of his investigation into the first political schools that formulated the principle of the rule of law and of self-governing communities. (He was referring to the project of civil society or civic republicanism, dear to the Founding Fathers of the United States and springing substantially from the Christian principle of subsidiarity--civitas sibi princeps). "But in some respects Lord Acton was not being altogether paradoxical when he described Thomas Aquinas as the first Whig [and] a fuller account (of the history of liberalism) would have to give special attention to Nicolas of Cusa in the thirteenth century and Bartolus in the fourteenth century, who carried on the tradition. …

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