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Marco Minghetti

8 Novembre 1818 - 10 Dicembre 1886


Among the most important public figures of italian politics and of XIX century liberal thought, Marco Minghetti was, at the same time, an active man and a politician at european level, known – the studies dedicated to him agree with it – for his wide knowledge, elegance of spirit, variety of interests. In his youth, he travelled through the main european capital cities, guided by his uncle Pio Sarti, and got the occasion to meet many of the most famous italian exiles, such as the Bolognese Carlo Pepoli and Antonio Zanolini. Later, he met Mazzini and Pellegrino Rossi and he approached the political economy and philosophy of history thanks to Vico, Montesquieu, Sismondi, the German philosophers, arriving to the spiritualism and the liberal Catholicism inspired by Rosmini.

One of the founders of the Cassa di Risparmio of Bologna (1837), member of the Società Agraria of Bologna and, in 1847, director of its newspaper, “Il Felsineo”, where he wrote about economic, social and political problems. He was member of the Consulta di Stato and minister of Public Works of the Papal States for a short period (March – May 1848) before serving the Sardinian army during the war against Austria, when he took part in the battles of Goito and Custoza. During his frequent trips, after he resigned his office of deputy and refused to join the Roman Costituente, he met Cavour, becoming in this way the qualified spokesman of Romagne in the Piedmontese government. The political activity of this “european” Bolognese, nevertheless, couldn’t avoid to consider the speculative moment, always urged by the surrounding events: in 1859, he printed the treatise Della economia pubblica e delle sue attinenze colla morale e col diritto, a synthesis of his economic theory, articulated in a tough contrast between the masters of the classical economic thought and the european political culture. Inspired by a strong ethical tension, the work aims at demonstrating the institutions’autonomy from the economic dynamics, that have to be surrounded and subordinate to moral principles, since the real progress is situated not only in material development but in further civilization and in intellectual and moral improvement. Then, he passed through a clear refusal both of Illuminism, with its rationalist constructivism tending to reshape reality starting from abstract ideals, and of socialist ideas regarding equality; but also mistrust in absolute liberism and in the market automatism. Minghetti was always characterised by the “happy medium”, as it is shown by his sympathy towards England, country where society proceeded by degrees and not by “jumps”, “mirabile spettacolo di ordine e libertà” (“marvellous spectacle of order and freedom”).

In Italy, after the unification, he got access to the State highest offices, leader of the Right-wing, which would have reigned till Depretis’arrival in 1876; this was a period of big governative instability, during which thirteen governments followed one another; of these, only Lanza government and the two Minghetti ministries lasted more than one year’s time. Deputy of the italian Parliament since 1860, Minghetti was twice Prime Minister, from March 24, 1863 to September 28, 1864 and from July 10, 1873 to March 18, 1876; several times he undertook the office of minister (twice minister of the Interior, three times of Finances and once of Agriculture and Commerce), preferring those offices that would have let him handle the big “administrative matters” about the reordering of public finance – it’s known how Minghetti, during his last government, reached the budget balance – and of local autonomies, although, in this latter case, the project was bound to fail. Yet, during the years, the political and financial direction taken by the Right-wing government became the basis of a dissatisfaction Minghetti himself suffered from, mainly at local level: after having been beaten by the democratic Giuseppe Ceneri in the political elections of 1869, he no longer succeeded in making himself elect in Bologna’s constituency and, from that moment till his death, he was representative of Legnago’s constituency at the Chamber of deputies. After the “parliamentary revolution” of 1876, which he has always refused to call so, he gathered in the constitutional Association of Bologna and of the Romagne the sustainers of his principles: monarchy, liberal State, separation between State and Church, order, balance; according to Berselli’s words, “sul piano dell’azione politica concreta non si irrigidì mai; fu pronto a transazioni, concessioni, aperture, compromessi; seppe destreggiarsi anche troppo; fu aperto al dialogo, sereno, olimpico, duttile, talvolta debole e privo di quel che oggi si dice decisionismo, talvolta anche poco energico […]. Ma non accettò mai che venissero messi in discussione o intaccati o mistificati nella loro sostanza i valori fondamentali che lo legavano alla sua parte politica” (“at level of concrete political action, he never was too rigid; he was ready for transactions, concessions, (openings), compromises; he was capable to handle things even too much; he was open to dialogue, serene, (olympic), ductile, at times weak and lacking in what today we call (decisionism), at times even not very energetic […]. But he never accepted that the fundamental values which kept him connected with his political part were discussed, damaged or deceived in their substance”).

In these years, he wrote (broad-minded) works, like Stato e Chiesa (1878), fervent (advocate) of the principle of judicial separatism between the two institutions, that was based on the unsuccessful transformation of Catholicism into a religion adequate to the liberal society and the incompetence of the State about the religious-confessional topic. In the treatise I partiti politici e la ingerenza loro nella giustizia e nell’amministrazione (1881), he made an absolute distinction between parties and administration and the superior objectivity and impartiality of this latter in administrating the (republic); in general, we can notice in Minghetti’s works a theory of the State which is limited to its primary function of protection of individual rights and of general interests, without aiming, for this, at ethical or educative scopes. The approach to the (historical) Left-wing was inaugurated by the discourse held in May 1883, when Minghetti realized the growing (subduing) of the divisions of the two major parties and the converging of a common program meant to carry out all those reforms consistent with the (Statute) and to get the dangers of socialism, on one hand, and of clericalism, on the other, out of the way; the creation of this wide (project/platform) for the defence of the liberal system was the purpose of his last years of political fight till his death, which took place in Rome, December 10, 1886.