Carlo Francesco D’Agostino, faithful interpreter of Leo XIII’s socio-political programme

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the promulgation of the Encyclical Letter Rerum novarum, and the Observatory wishes to pay due tribute to such an important document of the Magisterium by hosting a  series of varied articles and reflections on the text of Leo XIII and on the Encyclical Letter Centesimus annus written by John Paul II 100 hundred years after Rerum novarum, and whose 25th anniversary is also being celebrated this year.

2016 is also the 110th anniversary of the birth of Carlo Francesco D’Agostino[1], and the bond is not just a question of dates; quite on the contrary, because this Catholic jurist and politician is the man who, during the second half of the 20th century, fought more than anyone else for national politics according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, and in particular according to the master plan of Leo XIII’s social Magisterium.

Mr. D’Agostino was totally faithful to the Magisterium of Leo XII, venturing beyond the letter of Rerum novarum alone to embrace the letter and the spirit of the Leonine Corpus as a whole. As so wisely remarked by Mr. Fontana, the director of the Observatory, Rerum novarum can only be understood within the mainstream of the entire Magisterium of Leo XIII, and in the horizon which the Supreme See had projected at that time in response to modernity understood in axiological terms.

Leo XIII’s response to modern ideology was neither by chance nor limited to any particular element. It was a total response that depicted another vision of the world in courageously recognized opposition to that offspring of the Revolution. In this sense, Aeterni Patris of 1879 must be acknowledged as the pillar underpinning all the social doctrine statements and positions. In fact, it was in opting for Christian realism according to the school of St. Thomas that the See of Truth bravely stood tall as a bastion to modern error.   

It was on the grounds of Thomist realism and metaphysics that Pope Leo XIII erected that mighty Corpus of doctrines that was to constitute the fundamental and ever-lasting nucleus of the Social Doctrine of the Church. This is why Rerum novurum can only be understood in the light of Thomist social ethics, of which it is a felicitous magisterial expression. There is even more than this which must be said: beginning with Quod Apostolici Muneris in 1878 and throughout his pontificate, Pope Pecci tackled the myriad of forms and expressions of political modernity, condemned its subversive ratio of the natural and Christian order, recalled and proposed anew the idea of res publica christiana in the full breadth and coherence of its organic unity. Rerum novarum must therefore be read together with Arcanum Divinae, Diuturnum Illud, ’Immortale Dei, Libertas, Sapientiae christianae, Graves de Communi and Leo XIII’s many teachings on the State, the family, socio-economic life, liberty, democracy and ideologies such as liberalism and socialism, etc. In brief, read as a whole all the way to Dum Multa in 1902, which condemned civil marriage in Ecuador.  In addition, as already mentioned, all this must be read against the philosophical horizon depicted in  Aeterni Patris.

This is what Carlo Francesco D’Agostino[2] did, investing his whole life for the cause of the res publica christiana in Italy. He was an attentive scholar of the social Magisterium of the popes[3], in particular Leo XIII, Pious IX and Pious XII, to which he aligned himself and from which he always drew inspiration in his thinking and his concrete political commitment. Beginning back in 1943 when he founded the Italian Political Center (CPI), he set for himself the ambitious objective of making the Kingdom of Italy a res publica cristiana, that is to say a political community guided according to justice, organically structured according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, and founded on recognition of the social kingship of Christ. This is abundantly evident in the programme thrust of the Italian Political Center, the Draft of the New Constitution of the Kingdom of Italy prepared by Mr. D’Agostino, all the documents of the CPI, as well as in all its founder’s socio-political writings.

From 1943 until his death Mr. D’Agostino waged the cultural battle that Leo XIII had led in such an august manner, deployed his every energy for an organic vision of societas cristiana so the State would be according to those principles set forth in the social Magisterium, for a classical-Christian comprehension of the political order, including the vast world of life lived in association, from the family to the regalis potestas, from Church-State relations to the economic order, and from the issue of ‘welfare’ to the foundations of positive legislation in the natural juridical order, etc.

The clash with the Christian Democratic party (CD) was furious to say the least, because, according to Mr. D’Agostino, the Christian Democrats had adopted the liberal-democratic paradigm and foresworn the reconstruction of Christianitas, and precisely because the CD’s programmed line of action was in the mainstream of modern politics and not in the horizon indicated by Leo XIII and his successors. Hence Mr. D’Agostino’s oft repeated accusation that the CD had betrayed the principles of Mr. Tonoli, and with them the social Magisterium of the Church.

Situated in this framework was the proposal for the regulation of the capital/work relationship which Mr. D’Agostino was to call ‘an associative economic endeavor’, as well as his social project[4]. This project is quite evidently Leonine and hence Thomist in the organic understanding of society, the ethical-legal comprehension of the economy, the recognized social centrality of the family and intermediary bodies, the affirmation of the naturalness of certain associative entities (e.g. municipalities, corporations, etc.) and hence the removal of their being (relative to both their existence and their essence) from the discretionary will of positive law.

Mr. D’Agostino was an original thinker and did not limit himself to the albeit worthy effort to make the social teaching of the pontiffs known and propose it. He drew up a social-economic model in the true sense of the term, looking on a company as an association of capital and labor where the those who supply the capital and the workers are associated in a common consortium with joint participation in company risk. The company thereby becomes an associative social body, and intra-company relations among its various components are encompassed within in the common entrepreneurial horizon where the particular good is shared by all the stakeholders.

He then reiterates the non State nature of welfare, restoring the entire ambit of social security and related services to the order of free organization among the intermediary bodies of civil society, beginning precisely from companies which must be based on justice strictly applied to all parties and guarantee what is right and just to each person.

The point of departure for Mr. D’Agostino’s detailed proposal for the regulation of the capital/labor relationship under the name of a “associative economic endeavor” is the reality of economic enterprise as depicted by Leo XIII in Rerum novarum, where we read that “capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital”[5]; in other words, the company’s quality of consortium and the natural collaboration of these two components in the economic process. What differs here in comparison with the liberal and Marxist schools of thought is the selfsame comprehension of reality. Mr. D’Agostino’s thinking is entirely within the realm of classic-Christian realism, as well as being Thomist, which is what Leo XIII wanted the thinking of Catholics to be in order to respond to the ideological violence of modernity.

In greater detail, many are the examples of Mr. D’Agostino’s efforts to propose anew the lesson of Rerum novarum: e.g., the condemnation of the liberal conception of salary-wages, the idea of just retribution calculated according to necessarium personae, the refusal of the class struggle approach insofar as conflicting with a collaborative and consortium understanding of economic life, the positioning of entrepreneurial initiative in the private sphere, the enhancement of intermediary bodies, etc.  Much more meaningful, however, is the general spirit driving his socio-political thought, which is completely and openly Leonine insofar as totally Thomist. Hence, discovering anew and capitalizing on his socio-political thinking necessarily becomes an enhancement and rediscovery of Leo XIII’s social magisterium and the best of scholastic social morals.

As an objective analysis of texts and historical events would seem to suggest, asserting that during the second half of the XX century Mr. D’Agostino was one of the few persons in Italy, if not the only one, to champion the ambitious socio-political horizon of the Leonine social corpus, and that after World War II there was no continuation and/or political translation of the great tradition of social Catholicism  embodied in such an enlightened manner in Mr. Toniolo, inevitably and sadly enough leads to serious questions about the correspondence of so-called XX century political Catholicism, from the PPI of Sturzo to the Christian Democratic Party of De Gasperi, Dossetti, Fanfini and the thousands of other souls of that political party, with the Social Doctrine of the Church.  

Mr. D’Agostino did nothing more than continue following the way mapped out by the Leonine Corpus, confirmed by Pope Pecci’s successors and travelled in such an exemplary manner by committed laypersons such as Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo. Throughout his life he fought for the instauration of the civitas cristiana so the diverse ambits of life would conform to that “philosophy of the Gospel” Leo XIII spoke about in Immortale Dei according to an organic and complete vision of society. The fact that as years went by he found himself all the more on his own, all the more on the outskirts, and this unto the conspiracy of silence inflicted upon him by the Catholic culture and the political Catholicism in power ever remains in the full magnitude of its disquieting eloquence.

As Archbishop Crepaldi writes, Mr. D’Agostino’s political thinking “is offered in its clear Catholic identity so different from both liberalism and socialism because it is the intelligent translation of the Catholic Truth and classic-scholastic ethics into the socio-economic sphere”[6] , and reminds us that the Christian ambition for man is complete, that is to say that the Social Doctrine of the Church embraces the entire horizon of the life of man in society according to an organic vision where the selfsame civitas, well above and beyond single, partial and private aspects, is being called to conformation to Christ. This is what the Church has always thought and what Leo XIII taught in opposition to that offspring of the Revolution known as modernity. Carlo Francesco D’Agostino was a good pupil of such a shining See.


Rev. Samuele Cecotti


[1] Carlo Francesco D’Agostino (1906-1999) was an attorney, a journalist and honorary praetor of Rome. In 1943 he founded the Italian Political Center, a political organization made up of Catholics holding eminent positions in the country (men of Court, senior officers, judges, diplomats, etc.), in order to make the Kingdom of Italy a “Catholic State in the universal Church”.  In that same year this Center received the seal of approval from the council of La Civiltà Cattolica that had been called to examine its Programme, from authoritative Cardinals and men of the Curia, and received the blessing of Pious XII. In 1944 Mr. D’Agostino had several discussions with the Lieutenant General of the Kingdom of Umberto di Savoia, and was even asked to submit a list of ministers for a hypothetical Catholic government “of the Lieutenant”. He refused to join the Christian Democratic Party and throughout his life denounced its philosophical and doctrinal errors, and this to the point of earning himself the name of “anti-De Gasperi”. He was the editor-in-chief of L’Allenza Italiana and wrote countless articles about socio-politics. Beginning in 1945 he developed his social project of “free associative economy”, defining the doctrine of “associative economic endeavor”.

[2] For more information about Carlo Francesco D’Agostino see in particular: D. CASTELLANO, De christiana republica, ESI, Napoli 2004; S. CECOTTI, Della legittimità dello Stato italiano, ESI, Naples 2012; IDEM, Associazionismo aziendale, Cantagalli, Siena 2013.

[3] To which he dedicated: C. F. D’AGOSTINO, L’Uomo, la Famiglia, lo Stato, la Chiesa, beni economici, lavoro, proprietà. Sintesi di Dottrina politica dei Romani Pontefici, Editrice L’Alleanza Italiana, Osnago s.i.d.; IDEM, Dottrina politica della Cattedra di Pietro, Editrice L’Alleanza Italiana, Rome s.i.d.

[4] Regarding D’Agostino’s social project, in addition to his many works by now off the market and practically impossibile to find, see: D. CASTELLANO, De christiana republica, cit., pp. 161-188 e S. CECOTTI, Associazionismo aziendale, cit.

[5] LEO XIII, Rerum novarum, 19

[6] G. CREPALDI, Preface, in S. CECOTTI, Associazionismo aziendale, op. cit., pg. 6.