January 4, 2019
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v2.1 Reference

Social Justice and Subsidiarity

Luigi Taparelli and the Origins of Modern Catholic Social Thought

Luigi Taparelli, SJ, 1793-1862, in his Theoretical Treatise of Natural Right Based on Fact, 1840-43, presents a neo-Thomistic approach to social, economic, and political sciences grounded in an integral conception of the human person as social animal but also as rational truth seeker. His conceptions of social justice and of subsidiarity are fundamental to modern Catholic social teaching (CST). His work moves away from traditionalist-conservative reaction in favor of an authentically human, moderately liberal, modernity built on the harmony of faith and reason. He zealously deconstructs laissez-faire liberal ideology and its socialist progeny in scores of articles in the Civiltà Cattolica, the journal that he co-founded in 1850. His arguments figure prominently in the Syllabus of Errors (1864) of Pius IX. Though a moderate liberal himself, his reputation as anti-liberal reactionary and defender of Papal temporal sovereignty is the chief reason why Pope Leo XIII later sought to quiet Taparelli's contribution to the foundations and pillars of modern CST that began with the restoration of Thomistic philosophy in Aeterni Patris (1879), and the "magna carta" of modern Catholic social teaching, Rerum Novarum (1891). Pius XI relies heavily on Taparelli's concept of subsidiarity in Quadragesimo Anno (1931), and sought to advance interest in Taparelli studies. However, Taparelli's eclectic philosophical orientation and writing style have been a considerable stumbling block. In this present book, Taparelli's ideas are evaluated both for their philosophical character but also in their historical context. Taparelli's theories of the just society and ordered liberty, are as timely nowadays for reasoned political and ethical discourse as ever. The book includes an appendix of translated portions of the Theoretical Treatise of Natural Right Based on Fact that relate to subsidiarity.

About the Author

Thomas C. Behr is assistant professor and faculty director of liberal studies at the University of Houston.


"Nothing like this exists in English! Taparelli was a key figure in the Cahtolic counter-Risorgimento in Italy and had a significant impact on Catholic social teaching. Behr gives us an accessible introduction to Taparelli's social theory. -"—Joseph Trabbic, Ave Maria University

"Far from bringing us to an imagined end of history, the twenty-first century has revived the fundamental question of the nineteenth: What are the goods constitutive of the various communities to which we belong—family, small business, local community, corporation, nation-state, and Church—and how are those goods to be rightly ordered and sustained? Thomas Behr's study of Luigi Taparelli shows that this question is perennial and that the reflections of this founder of Catholic Social Teaching remain fruitful today."—Christopher O. Blum, Augustine Institute

"Behr's book sheds new light on the cultural roots of modern Catholic social thought through the analysis of an author, Luigi Taparelli (1793-1862), who had a decisive influence both on the pontifical magisterium and on all the Catholic thinkers of the mid-nineteenth and then twentieth century. In these pages the reader is invited to discover the ontological sense that lies at the foundation of Catholic social thought, that philosophical and sociological realism that opens the horizon of a new civil society, based on the fact that the reasoning of natural law is open to the material progressive potential of civilization, as well as subjective historical cultural contexts."—Pierpaolo Donati, University of Bologna

"Social Justice is one of the most controversial and misunderstood concepts of our time. Thomas Behr's research takes us back to the most important and original thinkers on the subject and draws conclusions that will surely force many to reconsider their understanding of what social justice is and demands from us. This is original and accessible scholarship at its best."—Samuel Gregg, Acton Institute

"Taparelli is one of the most important Catholic thinkers before the age of pontifical social doctrine inaugurated by Leo XIII. For the first time in English we have a scholarly book on his social philosophy. Behr helps us to understand this formative period of Catholic social theory and how the philosophical terms of art continue to reverberate in contemporary debates about natural rights, social justice, and subsidiarity."—Russell Hittinger, Warren Prof. (Emeritus) of Catholic Studies, University of Tulsa

9780813231181 : social-justice-and-subsidiarity-behr
260 Pages
$75.00 USD

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