5 April 2018

Vincenzo Gioberti - philosopher and politician

Writings helped bring about unification of Italy

Vincenzo Gioberti, who was a major  philosophical influence on Italians
Vincenzo Gioberti, who was a major
philosophical influence on Italians
Vincenzo Gioberti, a philosopher regarded as one of the key figures in the Italian unification, was born on this day in 1801 in Turin.

He became prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont in December 1848, albeit for only two months.

Although he was an associate of the republican revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini - and was arrested and then exiled as a result - he did not agree with Mazzini’s opposition to the monarchy and was not an advocate of violence.

However, he was staunchly in favour of a united Italy, particularly because of his conviction that Italians represented a superior race, intellectually and morally, and that by pulling together as one nation they could assert a profound influence on civilisation that would benefit the world.

Gioberti’s book Del Primato civile e morale degli Italiani (The civic and moral primacy of the Italians), which detailed examples from history to underline his theories about Italian supremacy, is said to have helped give momentum to the unification campaign.

Born into a family of modest means, Gioberti studied diligently, obtained the baccalaureate in theology and in 1825 was ordained a priest. He became professor of theology at the University of Turin and a court chaplain in 1831.

Gioberti was arrested over his association with revolutionaries such as Giuseppe Mazzini
Gioberti was arrested over his association with
revolutionaries such as Giuseppe Mazzini
However, his ties with a secret society known as the Cavalieri della libertĂ , his links with Mazzini and his sympathies with republican views were treated with suspicion within the church and he was arrested in 1833 on trumped up charges of conspiracy. After a four-month prison term he was forced into exile, first in Paris, then Brussels, where he lived from 1834 to 1845, teaching and writing.

It was in Brussels that Gioberti wrote Del Primato civile e morale degli Italiani, in which he also proposed his plan for the unification of the Italian people, based on co-operation between Turin and Rome.

Gioberti’s vision was an alliance between what he saw as the spiritual greatness of the Holy See with the secular greatness of the Royal House of Savoy.

He proposed that the princes of the Italian states govern themselves at local level but that the states should bind themselves together in a federation under the leadership of the Pope in order to have a common military, foreign policy, overseas colonies and a customs union.

He regarded this federation as more realistic than Mazzini's revolutionary republican plan and on his return to Italy made a series of tours in Liguria, Tuscany, and Rome in which he was able to swing more Italians behind his philosophies than Mazzini had ever reached.

The cover of the book that was banned from the Vatican Library
The cover of the book that was
banned from the Vatican Library
However, Gioberti seldom had the pope on his side at the same time as the monarchy and ultimately abandoned federalism in favour of a unitary programme.

An amnesty permitted Gioberti to return to Turin in 1847. Appointed president of the newly constituted Chamber of Deputies, he was also premier briefly from 1848 to 1849 until his proposal for military intervention in Tuscany in support of the deposed Grand Duke Leopold II lost him support and forced his resignation.

He retired from politics and in 1851 wrote a book Del rinnovamento civile d'Italia (On the Civil Renovation of Italy), which foresaw an Italy in which the power of the Pope was diminished. It was banned by the Vatican.

Gioberti died in Paris in 1852.

The monument to Gioberti in Piazza Carignano
The monument to Gioberti in Piazza Carignano
Travel tip:

A statue of Vincenzo Gioberti, created in 1859 by Giovanni Albertoni, stands on a monument erected in front of the magnificent Baroque Palazzo Carignano in the square of the same name, adjoining Palazzo Castello and just a short distance from the Royal palaces in the heart of Turin. The square became symbolic of Italy’s Risorgimento, as did the Ristorante del Cambio, established in the 18th century, where the united Italy’s first prime minister, Camillo Benso Cavour, and its first king, Vittorio Emmanuele II, were frequent diners.

The front facade of Palazzo Carignano
The front facade of Palazzo Carignano
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Carignano, a royal palace commissioned in the 17th century and designed by the architect Guarino Guarini,  now houses the Museo nazionale del Risorgimento italiano (the National Museum of the Risorgimento), the largest and most important of 23 museums across Italy dedicated to the history of the unification. Originally housed in the Mole Antonelliana, from which it moved in 1938, its exhibits include weapons, flags, uniforms, printed and written documents, among them the original manuscript of the song Il Canto degli Italiani, dated November 10, 1847 by Goffredo Mameli, now the Italian national anthem.


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