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Gioberti: The Forgotten Traditionalist of the Italian Risorgimento | Jake Muscat

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Although the Italian Risorgimento is known for its numerous liberal figures such as Camillo Cavour, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and of course Giuseppe Mazzini, an individual who,

in my opinion, seems to not be given the respect and recognition as the individuals mentioned above is Mazzini’s ideological rival known as Vincenzo Gioberti.

Despite his works being some of the most widely read during his time, Gioberti is seldom remembered at all today. He exalted religion yet was condemned by some of his contemporary religious authorities. He was initially part of several revolutionary groups yet was an ardent monarchist.

To set the picture, Vincenzo Gioberti was an Italian statesman, philosopher and clergyman. He was born on April 5th, 1801 in Turin where studied Theology, obtained a doctorate, and subsequently became professor in the theological college. Initially his political beliefs were liberal oriented, being inspired by the works of Rosmini and also contributing articles to Giuseppe Mazzini’s Giovane Italia. Due to his initial involvment with Mazzini, Gioberti was expelled from the country and went to Paris. He would eventually become a teacher of philosophy at a private school in Brussles where most of his works were published. He returned to Italy in 1848 by which time he had long ceased to be part of the Giovane Italia.

His idea for a unified Italy contrasted Mazzini’s liberal – republican views as his idea was to have a federal Italy with the Pope as its head and with the princes of the Italian states governing themselves rather than have a revolutionary republic.While the revolutionaries of his time looked to freemasonary to create a new religious synthesis in Italy, Gioberti believed that it was only the Catholic Church under the leadership of the Papacy that was uniquely qualified to unify the Italian people. He believed that, as in the past when the Italian states would have been united for a common cause under the leadership of the Pope, the risorgimento was an opportunity to establish a formal and permanent version of that which had existed in the past.

The philosophical ideas of Gioberti showed a harmony with the Roman Catholic faith which caused the French philosopher Victor Cousin to state that “Italian philosophy was still in the bonds of theology”. His philosophy was a mix of pantheistic ontologism with Platonism and traditionalism. He believed that eternal truth, as far as human intuition can grasp it, is God Himself. He utilises the theory of memesis and methexis to justify the immortality of the human soul. He argues that the very notion of the idea of being is the foundation of moral obligation which in turn gives rise to the moral law which has the aim of bringing the perfect union between existences and being. Gioberti also argues that man endowed with freedom can choose to either approach or keep away from being; hence the origin of evil.

Furthermore, according to Gioberti, the object of religion was the supernatural and the superintelligible, meaning the essence of being revealed by means speech. He also identifies religion with civilisation, and in his treatise Del primato morale e civile degli Italiani he comes to the conclusion that the Church is the axis on which the well – being of human life revolves. He argues that civilisation is a conditioned mediate tendency to perfection, to which religion is the final completion.

Gioberti would eventually have a falling out with King Vittorio Emanuele II and would be sent to Paris on diplomatic mission from which he never returned. He died on October 26th, 1852 from an apoplexy.

In conclusion, we can say that Gioberti’s conception of the nation is unique in the case of Italy: fervent Catholic and monarchist but at the same time a supporter of the national cause of the risorgimento. He was not afraid to criticise clericalism, yet he still believed in Papal supremacy. His overall view of politics can be best described as Neo-Guelphist, complimenting his ontological philosophical views. He represents an alternative political line of thought to enlightenment driven republicanist and anti-Catholic sentiments.

All writings reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the views of CYOE.

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