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The Origins of Social Justice: Taparelli d’Azeglio

Spring 2010 - Vol 52, No 2

THOMAS PATRICK BURKE is President of theWynnewood Institute in Wynnewood, PA

"Social justice"" has been mainly a religiousconception, in the sense that itoriginated in religious circles, underwent alarge part of its conceptual development inofficial statements of religious authorities,and has been adopted most enthusiasticallyby the members of religious organizations.Since 1931 it has been part of the officialteaching of the Roman Catholic Church.Philosophers seem to have come to it late:only since the publication of John Rawls'sA Theory of Justice in 1971 does it appearto have received much explicit attentionfrom them.2 Rawls's theory, whichdescribes itself as a theory of social justice,though it has occupied the center of thephilosophical stage since that time, representsonly one, idiosyncratic version of theidea. The idea has had a history, whichhas led it through numerous permutationsof meaning.

Originally, when the idea of ""social justice""was first developed in the 1840s, itwas a formal concept rather than a materialone. By this I mean the term was takento signify simply a branch of the ordinaryconcept of justice, analogous to ""commutativejustice"" or ""criminal justice,"" and didnot imply any particular content, philosophy,or view of the world. There couldbe, and was, a conservative conception ofsocial justice, a liberal conception of it, anda socialist conception of it, all equally entitledto call themselves ""social justice."" Inother words, the concept of social justicewas initially an extension of the existing,traditional idea of justice into a new area,that of society as a whole, so that it didnot require developing any content newto the idea, but just new conditions for itsapplication. This is what we find with theearliest users of the idea: Luigi Taparellid'Azeglio, the conservative who inauguratedit, Antonio Rosmini, the classicalliberal who publicized it, and the EnglishChristian Socialists. Since the SecondWorld War, however, ""social justice"" hascome to mean something very different.The socialist conception of it won out overits rivals and gained solitary possession ofthe field. The term now stands for a veryparticular view of what is right and wrongin society. It has become a material conceptrather than a formal one. My aim inthese pages is to begin to describe the processby which the concept itself originallycame about. First it will be helpful to saysomething about the historical circumstancesout of which it arose.

""Social justice"" owes its origin as a distinctconcept3 (giustizia sociale) to the ItalianRisorgimento of the nineteenth century.It was first used, to our knowledge, bythe Jesuit philosopher Luigi Taparellid'Azeglio in 18434 in the debates over thebeginnings of the Risorgimento's effortto unify the Italian peninsula politically.5Despite its many dialects the peninsula hadlong been recognized as a cultural unity,a fact attested to, among other things,by the 1523 founding of the Accademiadella Crusca in Florence, whose missionwas to study the vocabulary of the entirepeninsula. But in 1840 the territory wasdivided between a number of differentpowers, including Austria, which held thenorth, Piedmont in the northwest, the PapalStates across the middle, and the kingdomof Naples. Napoleon, however, had occupiedthe entire mainland, and, althoughhe divided it up into a number of republics,which he subsequently converted into""kingdoms,"" he named one of them the""Kingdom of Italy"" and treated the peninsulain some respects as an administrativeunity. For example, the Code Napoleonwas introduced everywhere. After Napoleon'sfall, the Congress of Vienna in 1815largely restored the earlier political entitiesthat had preceded Napoleon. But Napoleonhad left behind him the vision of aunified Italy, which in the wave of romanticnationalism that swept Europe in thenineteenth century possessed great inspirationalpower, especially for the educatedand liberal middle classes. It was not longbefore agitation began with the aim ofbringing about unification. Revolutionarymovements such as the Carbonari sprangup throughout the territory, but soonfailed. In January 1848, revolution brokeout in Sicily, leading to war between Piedmont,which aimed at unification, andAustria, which successfully resisted it.Eventually, through Cavour's efforts inPiedmont, Garibaldi's in the south, andothers', the unified Kingdom of Italy wasestablished in 1870.

This project of unifying Italy, drawn outover several decades, produced fierce debateabout fundamental questions of politicaland philosophical theory. On what foundationdoes the state rest? What is the originof its power? By what right does anyonepossess the authority to govern others? Ispolitical authority created simply by militarypower and received by inheritanceor conferred by a contract, as Locke hadargued? Unification was a liberal project,for the aim of most of its supporters was tosweep away the existing powers, still essentiallyfeudal and absolute, and replace themwith constitutional governments guaranteeingpersonal liberties. But nationalismwas a conservative emotion, and associatedwith the debate over unification wereother debates over whether the new formof government should be federal or centralized,a republic or a monarchy, andhere also there was room for conservatism.

Catholic opinion was conservative,especially under Pope Gregory XVI (r.1831–46), and explicitly condemned bothliberalism and democracy. Until the AmericanCivil War and the EmancipationProclamation, for example, Catholics generallysupported the institution of slaveryin principle, since it seemed to have beenaccepted by St. Paul in the New Testament.Gregory's successor, Pius IX, however,initially looked upon liberalism anddemocracy more favorably.

During the events of 1848–49 manyof the Italian states obtained constitutionsfrom their sovereigns. These were uniformlymodeled on the French constituionof 1789. Like their model, however, theyproved to be unstable. This was the immediatecontext that gave birth to the conceptof ""social justice.""

Luigi Taparelli d'Azeglio, S.J.

It is one of the ironies of history that thequintessentially ""liberal"" idea of ""social justice,""as it was to become (in American terminology),should have been originated byan ardent conservative. Prospero (his baptismalname) Taparelli was born in Turininto an aristocratic but nationalistic familythat would play a prominent role in theRisorgimento. His father, Cesare, Marquisof Azeglio in the Piedmont, was a soldierand devout Catholic who took his family toTuscany to escape Napoleon's armies andthere published the nationalist newspaperAmico d'Italia (Friend of Italy); his mother,Cristina, the Countess Morozzo, was thesister of Giuseppe Cardinal Morozzo. Hisyounger brother Massimo, after writing aseries of nationalistic novels, first turnedto politics as a nationalist pamphleteer andlater became premier of Piedmont; to thisday he remains an honored name in Italy.Prospero's cousin, Count Cesare Balbo,published a book Delle speranze d'Italia (Onthe Hopes of Italy), which aroused a strongsense of Italian nationalism. 6

The young Prospero studied at first thesecular thinkers prominent at the time,such as Condillac, famous for his sensationism,a form of extreme empiricism,and also for his advocacy of free trade, butthen discovered the French traditionalistsLamennais, Bonald, and de Maistre. WhenPope Pius VII summoned the Society ofJesus back into existence in 1814 (it hadbeen dissolved by Clement XIV in 1773),Prospero joined it without delay, takingthe name Luigi in honor of St. Aloysius(""Luigi"" in Italian) Gonzaga. He wasordained a priest in 1820, made rector ofthe novitiate in Novara in 1822, then in1824 of the Jesuit house of studies in Rome,the Collegio Romano, later to become theGregorian University.

As a thinker his chief concern from thefirst was with the state of political society,which he wished to influence in a conservativedirection, especially towards thepreservation of papal authority, which wasthen not only spiritual but also temporal,since the popes ruled the Papal States. Buthe realized that the intellectual reputationof the Church at the time left much to bedesired and was a serious obstacle to itseffective influence. The Church needed aphilosophical renewal. In Novara his attentionhad been directed to the medievalScholastics, in particular to the works ofSt. Thomas Aquinas. In Rome he nowseized on Thomas as the key to intellectualreform, and in 1827 and 1828 laid down acurriculum for the Collegio Romano onThomistic lines.7 Through these writingsTaparelli became one of the originatorsof neo-Scholasticism and neo-Thomism,although he does not seem himself to havestudied Thomas very intensely. He subsequentlyspent many years at the Vatican'sjournal Civiltà Cattolica, where one of hiscollaborators, on whom he had muchinfluence, was Gioacchino Pecci, a formerstudent of his, who became Pope Leo XIII.His 1879 encyclical, Aeterni Patris, canonizedThomism as the official philosophy ofthe Roman Catholic Church.

Taparelli's aim, however, to which neo-Thomism was meant to contribute, wasto develop a conservative and specificallyCatholic theory of society that would bean alternative to the liberal and laissezfairetheories of Locke and Adam Smith.In 1833 he was transferred to Palermoand remained there for sixteen years, duringwhich he wrote his principal work infive volumes, Saggio teoretico di dritto naturaleappoggiato sul fatto (A Theoretical Treatiseon Natural Law Resting on Fact). Thephrase ""sul fatto"" gives perhaps the mostdistinctive feature of his approach. TheLockean idea that political authority arisesout of some kind of contract is absurd, heargues, for such a thing has never actuallyhappened. The facts of history are that theright to govern has been obtained throughthe ""natural superiority"" of the ruler andof the ruling class: through their superiorvalor, knowledge, and wealth. This is theactual system created by divine providence.Whoever brings order into a society hasthe right to rule it. By ""order"" I take himto mean peace and the day-to-day administrationof justice.

Taparelli gives a parallel account of thedominance of some countries over others.Empires and hegemonies are created, notby virtue of any contract, but through thenatural superiority of a race or a peopleover others. This superiority establishesits power directly or indirectly, creating ahierarchy of relationships between the differentnations. It is a power independentof particular wills, he remarks, and imposesitself on individuals and peoples. In speakingof this superiority as ""natural,"" Taparellimeans, not ""nature"" in the sense of a species,for he considers that ""all men are equalin nature,"" but that superiority of character,knowledge, and wealth just mentioned.Men are ""unequal in their persons.""


The Creator has implanted in all men anatural tendency to seek the supreme goodand therefore to seek the lesser goods thatlead to it. Men do this more effectively bycooperating with one another, and thereforeit is God's will that they should livetogether in societies. But no society cansurvive without some authority to establishorder. ""A society cannot exist withoutan authority that creates harmony init."" This has been true since the beginningof human history. Therefore it is God'swill that there should be ""natural authority,""the authority that naturally arises inhuman society because some men are naturallybraver, more competent, more intelligent,wealthier, or better endowed withthe qualities of leadership than others.

When a particular authority grows sostrong that it has no superior it attains tosovereignty, and if it exists in a stable territoryit becomes a state. The right to governthe state, as we have just noted, belongs tothe person who has established order in it.This right is not given to him directly byuniversal human nature, but is the resultof his personal qualities and achievements.No one else has a true right to govern, andall others in the society are therefore subjectto his rule:

Here in a few words is the theory ofsocial existence based upon the factsof history, and likewise confirmedby those facts. The existence of associationsof men united by nature,equal to one another in their nature,unequal in their persons, free in theirpower of choice and therefore inneed of a principle of unity: these arethe chief facts of history to which wehave applied the universal principleof duty. The results of this applicationare that man needs always to begoverned, and so he is, in point offact; that he who governs is strongerand at the same time possessesauthority, and so he actually is; thatsubjects are not sovereigns, and inpoint of fact they are not. . . . Comparethis theory of the facts of historywith the hypotheses of the socialcontract where man is by nature freebut in fact is in chains; by right is sovereignbut in fact is a subject; createsthe society, but in fact is created byit; confers authority, but in fact hasno part of that authority; has made apact, but did no negotiating; did it tosecure all his rights, and meanwhilegave them away; believes every stateto be a republic, yet sees there aremonarchies; believes all men areequal, yet sees everywhere a hierarchy of classes; believes it gives consent,yet sees things happen despiteit; believes it gives laws, yet sees thatit receives them. . . . Compare thesetwo doctrines, I say, and judge whichof them is true! 8

The liberal theories of society are nothingmore than theories, mere speculation. Theyare not drawn from history and are insufficient to explain the realities of history.

Taparelli makes a distinction, whichwas to become influential in Catholicism,between ""the large society,"" the State, and""the small societies,"" the family and thelocal organizations and authorities that mencreate to further their local purposes. Thefoundation of society is not the large societybut the small ones. The large society is built,not from the top down but from the bottomup out of the small ones. Therefore the largesociety is in an important sense subordinateto the small ones. Each of these smaller societieshas its own end, its own authority, itsown principles of action, and its own rights.Like individuals generally, they have an obligationto work together for the commongood. Each lesser society must preserve itsown inner unity without threatening thatof the whole; and every larger society mustmaintain its unity without destroying theunity of the lesser societies.

This teaching eventually gave rise to theCatholic doctrine of the principle of subsidiarity,i.e. that social functions that canbe performed adequately by local authoritiessuch as the family or the town shouldbe assigned to them, not to higher or moreremote authorities such as the national government.It should be noted that this principleis distinctly conservative, although it isoften not recognized as such.

Taparelli's Conception
of Social Justice

Taparelli discusses justice and social justiceagainst the background of the FrenchRevolution of 1789 with its cry of equalityand brutal treatment of kings and aristocracies,and also of the revolution of 1830that installed Louis Philippe. The questionat issue for him, although Taparelli doesnot formulate it precisely in these terms, issomething like this: how should a societytreat its traditional rulers? Is the existenceof an aristocracy unjust? For ""distributivejustice governs public administrators in thedistribution of the offices ( funzioni) of thesociety."" His answer is that social justicerequires us to accept inequality.

Justice, he argues, is the habitual inclinationto level or balance accounts. Distributivejustice equalizes proportions inthe common good. Social justice is justicebetween man and man. But what proportionsexist between man and man? Consideringman in the abstract endowedsolely with the qualities of human nature,between man and man the relationshipthat exists is one of complete equality,for ""man and man"" signifies here nothingother than humanity replicated twice.What proportionate equality could begreater? Social justice should thereforelevel all men in regard to the rights givenwith their humanity, since the Creator hasequalized them by nature; man fulfills theintentions of his Maker by acting accordingto the norm of this justice.

But this is only half the picture in Taparelli'sview. Actual men are not simplyinstances of abstract human nature butconcrete individuals with particular qualities,and on the level of their individualitythey are unequal. For social justice, theirsocial rights and duties, that fact is decisive:

But slow. Where is this abstract man,this replicated humanity, the notionof which has suggested to me the firstlineaments of social justice? If thereexist men associated with other men,they always exist in the concrete, alwaysindividuated, always endowed withforces possessing definite qualities.But when I consider men from thisnew perspective, where is the equality?Compare age with age, intelligencewith intelligence, strength withstrength, etc.; everything is disparitybetween men: a disparity, furthermore,that derives from nature, sinceit is nature that forms the individualas it does the species; or rather, let ussay nature forms individuals, man perceivesspecies. I conclude correctly,then, that all individual human beingsare naturally unequal among themselvesin everything that pertains to theirindividuality, just as they are naturallyequal in all that pertains to the species.And so the activity of man will be justwhen it is appropriate to the differentrights of those with whom oneis dealing. Everything in individuals isinequality, even though the likeness oftheir natures be total.

This individual inequality does notcontradict their equality of speciesnature,for the qualities of the individualin relation to those of thespecies are an addition, and if you addunequal quantities to equal ones, arenot the sums unequal? For example,add to the species-property of manthe individuality of son, and you willfind it in regard to the father in a relationshipof debtor. For to be a sonmeans to have received one's existence,and to be a father means tohave given it. Now if the giver and thereceiver considered themselves only asendowed with humanity, they wouldbe equal and they would not owe oneanother anything reciprocally; but iftheir accounts are to be in balance inlight of the fact that one of the twoin becoming an individual has receivedfrom the other, this other has a rightto a repayment. Justice demands, then,that the son render to the father anequivalent of the existence he hasreceived from him.9

Not only does individual inequalitynot contradict species-equality, but it is aproduct of it. The demand that accountsbe balanced, and therefore that individualdifferences be taken into account, comesfrom their species-equality.

But why does justice demand that theaccounts be balanced? Precisely because theequal humanity in both of them requiresthe equalization as its right. The inequalitybetween the rights of the two individualswe are considering, far from standing incontrast to their species-equality, is rathera necessary consequence of it. The speciesequalityis the basis of all their inequalitiesas individuals, just as the one nature is thebasis of all the different individualities.

The consequence is that justice has verydifferent requirements for private goodsand common or social goods. In the onecase it requires a quantitative equality, butnot in the other.

If an individual receives so muchfrom another to whose goods hehad no previous right, he mustgive as much in return if he wishesto settle accounts according to justice.Justice between equals consiststherefore in a quantitative balancingor leveling; nor can justice be lessenedon one side by increasing theother, since the right of the personwho gave extends precisely to thething he gave, neither more nor less.Therefore this right is satisfied by anequivalent. But suppose instead thattwo or more individuals all seekinga common good (many sailors,for example, seeking to discover anunknown land, or many associatesrunning a public educational establishment)compete with one anotherto obtain a preeminence or an office:does the rule of justice require youto balance accounts between the twoof them?10 But no, that is a ridiculousthing even to say, impossible toexecute. But then what does equalitymean here? Equality consists herein equalizing the office to the person'scapacity, the recompense to themerit, punishments to demerit, andthe real order to the ideal proportionsof means to end. And each personshould be content to make thesame contribution as every other tothe common purpose.

On the basis of this natural equalityand natural inequality, which represent inhis view indubitable facts of our historicalexperience (the fatto of the subtitle of thebook), Taparelli considers it is possible togive a valid account of the particular socialrights and duties that apply in particularsocieties in a way that will show they ariseequally from human nature and the facts ofhistorical experience. The first principle ofmorality applied to social existence commandsus to procure the good of othersand therefore to abstain from impeding it.This implies a correlative right on the other'spart to procure his own good withoutbeing impeded by us, so long as he doesnot pose an obstacle to ours.

From this brief account certain importantthings should be clear about Taparelli'sconception of social justice. Unlikethe conception of social justice generallyaccepted in our society at the presenttime, which is socialist and difficult,if not impossible, to harmonize with ourordinary conception of justice, Taparelli'sconception 1) is simply the ordinary andtraditional conception of justice appliedin a new area, namely the constitutionalarrangements of society, 2) does not applyto states of affairs in society that couldexist independently of human actions, 3)constitutes a defense of societal inequality,and 4) is conservative.

Taparelli's conception of social justicehas been forgotten. But it, and indeedhis entire political philosophy, is a seriouscontribution to conservative thoughtthat ought to be better known than it is.Instead, he was to exert an influence onhistory through something entirely different,which he never labeled ""social justice,""and which scarcely corresponds toanything that might be known under thatname today, but which would neverthelesscome to be known by that name: his conceptionof morality in economics.

Taparelli on the Economy

When Taparelli was writing in the 1850s, theIndustrial Revolution, which had begun inEngland around 1770, had not yet reachedItaly. Indeed, it is a common opinion amongeconomic historians that properly speakingit never did, at least not until after the SecondWorld War. Rather, Italy experiencedonly something ""analogous"" to an industrialrevolution. Until the country was unifiedin 1870, the methods of production inthe various separate states were uniformlylabor-intensive, and trade was governed byguilds and restricted by heavy regulationand high tariffs. Protectionism reigned.The dominant industry remained agriculture.Until the end of the century, whenthe banking system was reformed, therewas little or no indigenous capital. However,the free-trade doctrines of AdamSmith and David Ricardo were known,as were the beginnings of the IndustrialRevolution in France.


Taparelli opposed in principle theentire liberal project, both political andeconomic, which he sometimes summarized under the two names, John Lockeand Adam Smith. A collection of his essaysbears the appropriate title Tyrannous Liberty.The reason for this opposition wasthat he saw liberalism as a product of theProtestant Reformation, which exaltedprivate judgment over the divine authorityof the Roman Catholic Church and therebyreplaced the Catholic sense of communitywith an emphasis on the self-interestof the isolated individual. He distinguishesbetween the ""heterodox"" or non-Catholiceconomy, then in the process of beingintroduced throughout Europe as the freetradedoctrines of Adam Smith took hold,and the Catholic or ideal economy. Thetheory of the secular economists such asSmith elevates the self-centered search forutility as the governing force of humanlife, he argues. The consequence of thisindividualism is that ""society is in a perpetualantagonism where each one offersthe minimum in order to obtain the maximum.""Because of competition, ""societyis a war of all against all: war among theproducers, war of the producers against thebuyers, war of one nation against anotherin order to absorb its wealth by means ofcustoms duties."" Since the wealth of thegovernment depends on the wealth of itscitizens, which it takes through taxes, ""thegovernment must inject itself into all privateenterprises, in order to press all its citizensto work for the public wealth."" Thelogical outcome of the society created byindividualism is a demand for redistribution,and so communism. At bottom theindividualistic economy is just anarchy.

By contrast, the ""Catholic economy""represents order. It is founded on belief inGod, submits to divine revelation, maintainsrespect for the human person and forthe Christian ideals of charity and selfsacrifice, and is alone capable of explainingwhat actually happens in economiclife. As against the ""iron law of wages,""for example, Taparelli argues that in practicean employer must pay wages sufficientto support not only the individual workerbut his family, and furthermore that thisis the right and Catholic thing to do—anargument that was to become a foundingdoctrine of official Catholic social teaching.But the Catholic economy as Taparelliunderstands it is by no means one that pursueseconomic equality. Taparelli does notbelieve in social equality, either in politicallife or the economy. He believes, as wehave seen, that there is a natural hierarchyamong men, and leadership in all spheresgoes rightly to those who create order.""[T]here is a big difference between thebroom wielded by the humblest workersand the pen held by the higher employees""of the divine Master. The Catholic spiritof cooperation in place of competition inthe economy ""adds to the sentiment ofcivic equality respect for the hierarchicalsubordination which is so natural betweenthose who serve the same Master."" In theCatholic economy, the highest value willbe given, not to the search for money andpleasure, but to honorable and honest conduct.""Hobbes's war of all against all willgive way to the universal cooperation ofindividuals, who are equal in regard totheir species-nature, but hierarchicallycoordinated in their labors under thesupreme Master."" In a true Catholic economy,those who carry out the functionsof government will do so at their ownexpense, as a public service performed outof love for their country; they will not bepaid salaries out of the public purse.

The difference between the Catholiceconomy, together with a Catholic disciplineof economics focusing on morality,on the one hand and the heterodox economywith its purely scientific economics onthe other is mainly, however, a differencein motivation. It is not a difference in publicpolicy. In the Catholic economy legalrestraints on the economy will be minimal,as numerous quotes from Taparelli show,

""Many of Bastiat's observations infavor of liberty of commerce squarewith the teachings of Catholic economics.""""We should not judge thatit is useless for a Catholic governmentto investigate the doctrine of the heterodoxeconomists on the productionand distribution of wealth. Thisscience of production will always benecessary as an auxiliary to the Catholicscience of ordering."" ""So a treatiseon the Catholic economy is onlya treatise on just economic liberty.""""An honourable liberty is the goaland utility is merely the means forevery good government.""

The Catholic economy does not imposerestrictions on the liberty of its citizensin order to enrich the government, for itis the freest economy that produces thewealthiest government. The role of justiceand charity is not to restrict liberty butto perfect it. ""Liberty is more perfect in astate where crime is repressed and honestpeople are protected than in one"" dominatedby the Camorra. In regard to publicpolicy Taparelli is essentially a liberal.

In the Catholic economy taxes will beminimal, and government will be carefulnot to adopt measures that injure capital.Government should know what kinds oftaxes will weigh least heavily on capital,what are the cheapest kinds of taxes,how to make the best use of capital notinvested, and how to use wisely the moneynecessary to buy the instruments of commerce.The poor will find themselves freeto lift themselves up to wealth. Taparellidoes not place care for the poor among theduties of government, but of individuals.It is the duty of those who have the goodsof this world to care for those who lackthem, and this should be reflected in thetheoretical account of how an economyworks successfully:

If economic science . . . wants toshow us how, through the power ofself-interest, wealth distributes itselfbetween the proprietor, the capitalist,the worker, and the tax collector, itought also to show us that whereCatholic charity reigns, the shares ofthe capitalist and the proprietor returnto a large extent into the hands of theworker as a balm, leveling throughgenerosity the inequalities of fortune.

For economics in his view is essentially amoral science, that is, one subordinated tomoral considerations.

The role of government, for its part, isto bring moral order or justice. It is ""toprotect weakness against force."" Justice,together with humane feeling (""tenderness""),is called to protect the order ofsociety both against the cruelty of thepowerful who crush the poor and alsoagainst the communism of the poor whorise up against the powerful.

So far as I have been able to discover,Taparelli never used the term ""social justice""with reference to economic questions.Social justice for him is the constitutionaljustice of a society, the justice that defendsright order in the constitutional arrangementsof the society. Its task at that junctureof history, he believed, was to defendthe inherited rights of the existing powers,the Church and the aristocracy, againstthe rising tide of democratic equality. Butmany of those who read him, includingPope Pius XI, leaving Taparelli's constitutionalviews and his doctrine of inequalityentirely aside, focused instead on hiseconomic doctrine and applied his term""social justice"" to that. Under that name,a concept of economic equality he did notespouse was to be his paradoxical legacy tohis church and the world.

Taparelli's Reach

Taparelli has a good claim to being thefather of Catholic social teaching. Oneof his students was the Jesuit Matteo Liberatore,who wrote the first draft of PopeLeo XIII's 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum(On the Condition of the Working Classes),the first papal statement on ""the socialquestion."" Leo himself, as we have noted,had been a student of Taparelli's, his collaboratorat the Civiltà Cattolica, and seemsto have been influenced by him. Pius XIused to recommend the study of Taparelli'sworks in conversations with hisfriends and colleagues. One of Liberatore'sstudents was Oswald von Nell-Breuning,S.J., who wrote Pius XI's 1931 encyclical,Quadragesimo Anno, which officiallyadopted ""social justice"" as part of Catholicdoctrine, but as an economic doctrinenotably stronger than Taparelli's: ""[T]heright ordering of economic life cannotbe left to a free competition of forces. Forfrom this source, as from a poisoned spring,have originated and spread all the errors ofindividualist economic teaching."" In 1932Franklin Delano Roosevelt quoted thisencyclical in a campaign speech before alarge crowd in Detroit, saying it was "" justas radical as I am"" and ""one of the greatestdocuments of modern times.""


  1. The author wishes to express his special gratitudeto Roger Scruton and Alberto Mingardifor their advice and assistance and the EarhartFoundation for its generous financial support.
  2. Unless we except John Stuart Mill's brief referencesto it in Utilitarianism.
  3. Edward Gibbonspeaks of ""social justice,"" but in a sense indistinguishablefrom ordinary justice in reference tothe punishment of crime. ""Every crime whichis punished by social justice, was practised asthe rights of war; the Huns were distinguishedby cruelty and sacrilege; and Belisarius aloneappeared in the streets and churches of Naplesto moderate the calamities which he predicted""(Decline and Fall, ch. 41). According to Hayek thiswas an occasional usage of the eighteenth century(Mirage, ch. 9, n. 2).
  4. Saggio teoretico di dritto naturaleappoggiato sul fatto, 5 vols. (Palermo, 1843).
  5. It is true that some commentators consider theterm ""justice"" to be used in the sense of ""socialjustice"" already by Pope Clement XIII in his1758 encyclical, A quo die, where he remarks that""[a]mong the fruits of justice, mercy to the poorshould certainly be considered the most important.That justice which comes from faith belongsto Jesus Christ . . . [the poor] require our generosityas their principal right."" Certainly the letterstresses the importance of mercy and generositytowards the poor. However, the pope refers tothese qualities not as justice, but as ""fruits"" of justice.The New Testament uses the term "" justice""(dikaiosune) for the right relationship of the soulto God, which the context here would support.The statement that the poor have a ""right"" togenerosity is a hapax legomenon that can be understoodin the sense that they have a claim to it; itis something we ought to do because of Christ'steaching. ""Social justice"" would have to wait tillthe Risorgimento.
  6. Charles F. Delzell at;WalterMaturi, ""D'Azeglio,"" Dizionario biografico degli Italiani(Rome, 1962).
  7. ""Osservazione sugli studidel Collegio Romano;"" ""Abbozzo del Projettodi Ordinazione intorno agli Studii Superiori.""
  8. The Saggio teoretico seems never to have beentranlated into English; the translations given hereare by the author.
  9. ""But in this case justice willnever be rigorously satisfied, it being impossiblefor the son to render back to the father the existencehe has received from him.""
  10. ""Torrete perregola di giustizia l'altrettanto?""