Taparelli d’Azeglio: forgotten founding father of the Right

I’ve just discovered Dr. John Rao’s online book Theology of the Mystical Body, which examines the political writings of the nineteenth-century Jesuit periodical La Civilta Cattolica.  Having misused a fair amount of work time to read the whole thing, I am convinced that Dr. Rao has made an enormous contribution to the historiography of the Right.  Just about every history of the nineteenth (or any other) century that you or I have ever read has been written from a fundamentally liberal perspective, for whom people who criticize liberal principles are ipso facto unreasonable and stupid.  Dr. Rao doesn’t share this prejudice, so he actually bothered to read old copies of La Civilta and examine their arguments.  Rather than mindless intransigence, he discovered that the writers presented a profound and convincingly argued vision of the proper ordering of a society, and they presented an unsurpassed refutation of liberal errors.  Nor are Dr. Rao’s discoveries a mere curiosity, like the discovery of an isolated forerunner that nobody listened to (like Isaiah Berlin’s discovery of Vico).  La Civilta Cattolica was an widely-read magazine, and its writings influenced the papal statements on economic and political issues that formed the basis of Catholic social doctrine.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Rao’s book is that the conservative vision he relates doesn’t just predate many that we’re familiar with; it arguably surpasses them.  Not having read the primary sources myself, I can’t say whether or how Rao himself has deepened and clarified the materials he was given.  (Presumably some such systemization was necessary if he was to summarize decades-worth of articles by various writers in a single coherant statement.)  What he presents, though, is a really magnificent statement of corporatist conservative principles.

In some ways, it’s very similar to my Conservative Vision of Authority.  Rao emphasizes the role of corporate bodies in embodying truths, in making them visible, and in providing a context where the virtues make sense.  He points to the role of the Church in teaching each corporate body its true place: humbling it by teaching it to respect goods outside or above it, exalting it by giving it a role in leading souls to God.  A helpful distinction between patria and state is introduced to explain the Catholic opposition to nationalism.  All of this is tied to the doctrine of the Incarnation and a robust sense of the Church as the continuation of Christ’s presence on Earth.  It seems to me that the sociological points and the ecclesiological points could be treated separately, but La Civilta presumably didn’t do so, so Rao doesn’t either.

According to Rao, the “guiding light” behind La Civilta Cattolica‘s vision was the Italian Jesuit Luigi Prospero Taparelli d’Azeglio, whom he thinks has been shamefully neglected by historians.  This would make Taparelli a sort of forgotten founding father of the Right, perhaps someone in the same league as Burke, Bonald, de Maistre, and Hegel.

2 Responses

  1. […] Things discovers Taparelli By bonald Earlier, I called him a forgotten founding father of the Right.  A little while ago, First Things had an “On the […]

  2. […] is the reason that Donoso Cortes and Oliviera, as well as Taparelli, van Prinsterer, & also even someone like Althusius should be studied as models for practical […]

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