Vincenzo Gioberti, an Italian philosopher and political figure, was born in Turin on April 5, 1801, to a family of modest means. A diligent student, he obtained the baccalaureate in theology in 1823 and two years later was ordained a priest. He became professor of theology at the University of Turin and a court chaplain in 1831. He had ties in 1831 with a secret society known as the "Cavalieri della libertà," which advocated Italian freedom and independence. After that society dissolved, Gioberti continued to exercise his influence, especially on the younger clergy, in a republican direction. (This was revealed in his letter of 1833, "Della republica e del cristianesimo.") But he never joined Mazzini's Young Italy. The powerful Jesuit Order took a dim view of Gioberti and had him arrested in May 1833. Forced into exile, he went first to Paris, and then lived from 1834 to 1845 in Brussels, teaching and writing. Slowly he dissociated himself from republicanism.
In Brussels, he wrote Del Primato civile e morale degli Italiani (The civic and moral primacy of the Italians) (1842-43). In this lengthy and often turgid book, Gioberti ransacked history to espouse the myth of Italy's primacy. Having led the world twice in ancient and medieval times, Italy could do so a third time, in a civic and moral sense. He set forth a neo-Guelf program that called for reforms and a federation of existing Italian states, with the pope as president. He regarded this as more realistic than Mazzini's revolutionary republican program. Under this arrangement, the papacy would be able to find a meansfor adapting itself to modern culture and civil religion. Upon Gioberti's return to Italy, he was enthusiastic about the reforms that the new pontiff, Pius IX, launched in 1846 and the growing desire of Italians for constitutional freedoms. Appearing as the prophet of moderate, neo-Guelph goals that were feasible at last, he made a series of triumphal trips through Liguria, Tuscany, and Rome. Neo-Guelphism was now in the ascendancy in Italy and mobilizing wider sectors of opinion than Mazzini had ever reached. But Pius IX suddenly rejected the neo-Guelf program in April 1848. Thereafter, Gioberti abandoned federalism in favor of a unitary program for Italy.
After Sardinia-Piedmont became a constitutional monarchy in 1848, Gioberti served as minister of public instruction in the moderately liberal government of Count Gabrio Casati during the first war for independence (August 1848). On December 16 he became prime minister. Gioberti's project to gain French and British diplomatic support for Piedmontese military intervention in republican Tuscany to reinstate Grand Duke Leopold II (to be followed by intervention in republican Rome to reinstate Pius IX), lost him the support of Piedmontese democrats and forced him to resign on February 20, 1849. After the battle of Novara, King Victor Emmanuel II appointed him minister to Paris; but he quickly retired to private life because of differences with his government.
In Paris, Gioberti wrote an influential book, Del rinnovamento civile d'Italia (On the Civil Renovation of Italy) (1851). In this tome he decisively broke with conservative neo-Guelphism and advocated a laic and broadly liberal-democratic position that would open the way to far-reaching economic reforms. Vatican reactionaries quickly placed this publication on the Index. Gioberti's book also denounced republicanism and municipalism as too doctrinaire. The only way for Italy to achieve unity, he now contended, was under the leadership of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont and its army. The author now looked forward rather than backward, and he linked Italy's future closely to that of the rest of Europe.
Gioberti's political writings, which sought to lay the foundations for the nation's spiritual autonomy, were of much greater influence than his political actions. They were also closely linked to his ideas in pure philosophy. In this field he engaged in polemics with Antonio Rosmini over issues in metaphysics, but he failed to create a philosophical school. He focused his attention especially on the problem of the relationship between the universal and the individual, between the idea and the thing, and between spirit and reality. He came to be influenced by Hegelian idealism.
Recently scholars have also called attention to Gioberti's qualities as a literary critic. Many pages in Part II, chapter 7 of his Primato traced the evolution of Italian literature from Dante to Metastasio and anticipated the work of the literary historian, Francesco De Sanctis.
Gioberti died in Paris on November 26, 1852.
Charles F. Delzell
Adolfo Omodeo. Vincenzo Gioberti e la sua evoluzione politica (Turin, 1941).
A. Anzilotti. Gioberti (Florence, 1922).
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© 1998, 2004 James Chastain.