Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Luigi Taparelli D'Azeglio, S.J. (1793-1862) and the Development of Scholastic Natural-Law Thought as a Science of Society and Politics

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Luigi Taparelli D'Azeglio, S.J. (1793-1862) and the Development of Scholastic Natural-Law Thought as a Science of Society and Politics

Article excerpt

Luigi Taparelli, S.J. promoted the revival of scholasticism at the Collegio Romano in the 1820s, where the future Leo XIII was among his students. With his Theoretical Treatise on Natural Right Based on Fact, 1840-1843, he elaborated a natural-law approach to politics that became a hallmark of Catholic social doctrine. Among those whom Pius IX assigned to found the journal Civilta Cattolica in 1850, Taparelli's critiques of radical liberalism left him erroneously marked in public consciousness as an intransigent opponent to political liberalization in general. This reputation marginalized interest in Taparelli and obscured the relevance of his theoretical works to the development of the Catholic liberal tradition. Among other things, Taparelli elaborated the concepts of social justice and subsidiarity but with implications at times quite different from how these terms have been used historically.


Luigi Taparelli was a widely known Catholic polemicist in the heated mid-nineteenth-century era of social revolution in Europe and unification in Italy. Writing regularly in the Civilta Cattolica for twelve years, he had the added celebrity of being the Jesuit brother of one of the leading nationalists and liberal prime ministers of Piedmont, Massimo D'Azeglio. Even though Taparelli has been credited with inaugurating a Catholic sociology of politics and with coining the phrase "social justice," not even the recommendation of Pius XI in the 1930s that students should take up his works, right after those of Saint Thomas Aquinas himself, could stimulate more than sporadic interest--and that, predominantly from subsequent Jesuits associated with the journal Civilta Cattolica, cofounded by Taparelli in 1850. On the one hand, the opinion of the secular historical profession, mostly Italian, influenced generally by a superficial and unsympathetic reading of a few of his well-over two hundred articles on politics and culture in the Civilta, has tended to label Taparelli as a sophist and reactionary zealot. On the other hand, specialists interested in the history of the revival of Thomism and Scholastic philosophy have long recognized Taparelli's part in that history, with his tireless promotion of Aquinas and the later Scholastics dating already from the mid-1820s when he was the Rector of the refounded Jesuit seminary of Rome, and among his students was found the future Leo XIII. (1)

Taparelli's own account of his "conversion" to Thomism in 1825 leaves no doubt about his motivation: Metaphysical confusion was dangerous to sound theology and morality. (2) Taparelli argued that the post-Cartesian abandonment of the hylomorphism of Aristotle and Aquinas came at a steep cultural and political price. Unlike the natural sciences, where differences of opinion, Taparelli analogized, have no effect on the actual course of nature, mistaken metaphysical assumptions have a direct bearing on the direction of individual wills and lead to disorder in society. (3)

His proposals for the orientation of studies at the Collegio, submitted at the beginning of the 1827-1828 academic year argue for a return to the metaphysics of the Scholastics, to the "Ratio studiorum" of the Jesuits promulgated in 1586 as the antidote to the corrosive influence of Cartesian universal doubt on sound reasoning. (4) Taparelli offered his definitive remarks concerning the weaknesses of modern philosophy versus the strengths of the classical and Scholastic approach in an article in the Civilta Cattolica from 1853, "Di due filosofie:" (5)

We will demonstrate therefore that the philosophy of the Scholastics, as demonstrative, can be contrasted with modern philosophy, as inquisitive, in regard to four aspects: namely,

1. The former proceeded from certainty, the latter from doubt;

2. The proper scope of the former was evidence, of the latter certainty;

3. The former, in ascertaining its judgments, relied on any rational element whatsoever; the latter accepts only one, ratiocination;

4. …

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