1997 was the bicentennial of the birth of the Italian priest, theologian, political reformer, and philosopher, Antonio Rosmini. During a time marked by ferment against the established order, Rosmini dedicated his life to reconciling Roman Catholic teaching with modern philosophical and political thought. He sought to harmonize old and new ideas by showing how any true development depends on growth from basic, immutable principles. His bold project made him a controversial figure both inside and outside the church.
Rosmini firmly grounded law and politics in the dignity of the human person. According to him, freedom and private property were necessary consequences of man’s dignity and therefore needed to be protected. Rosmini considered freedom to be the power each person has to use all of his talents and resources, and property to be the union of goods with human personality, physically, intellectually, and morally.
Such ideas led Rosmini to praise the conclusions of his contemporary, Alexis de Tocqueville, concerning democracy in America and to support the liberal elements of the Italian nationalist movement. He tried, to no avail, to persuade Pope Pius IX of the movement’s merits. Eventually, he fell into disfavor with the pope and with invading Austrian troops.
But time has led to his rehabilitation. A new Italian series on “The Great Liberals” has devoted its first edition to him–he will be followed by Mises, Hayek, and Tocqueville–and Pope John Paul II introduced his cause for canonization, the first step in what might eventually lead to his being declared a saint.
Sources: Rosmini: Priest, Philosopher, Patriot by Claude Leetham (Longmans, Green and Co, 1957), and The Life of Antonio Rosmini-Serbati by G. B. Pagani (Routledge & Sons, 1906).
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