Genovesi, Antonio

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Genovesi, Antonio (1713-1769): Italian Political Economist

Antonio Genovesi is renowned as the founder of the Neapolitan Enlightenment. Ordained in 1737, Genovesi left his seminary in Salerno for Naples in 1740. At 28, he became Professor of Philosophy at the University of Naples. Influenced by John Locke, Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, and Toland, John, he acquired a reputation for advanced, even heterodox, ideas that led to opposition on the part of Church authorities to his efforts to obtain a chair in Theology.

Disappointed by this failure, Genovesi’s interests turned to political economy. In 1753, he published his influential statement of enlightened ideals of reform and education Discourse on the True End of the Arts and Sciences. As a result of pressure from prominent personages, he was appointed in 1754 to the first chair in political economy ever established at a European university. Deeply shocked by the misery and starvation of the famine of 1764, he was made painfully aware of the sharp gap between rich and poor. He later published his Lessons on Commerce in two volumes in 1765 and 1767. Deeply concerned to end the divisions that persisted on the Italian peninsula, Genovesi taught and wrote in Italian as a means of promoting a national language and appealed to the middle class to serve as vehicle of reform

Genovesi’s views on political economy were an eclectic mix of mercantilist and free trade ideas that he believed suited the conditions of Italy in his time. He argued the removal of the feudal barriers and local rights that had inhibited economic development in the Kingdom of Naples and throughout the Italian peninsula. He also advocated the promotion of local manufactures, the establishment of agrarian societies to disseminate the latest techniques of agricultural production, and land reform to promote a more equitable distribution of ownership.

With the expulsion of the Jesuits and the confiscation of their property by the Bourbon in 1767, Genovesi became an advisor on education to the government of Naples. In 1768, he proposed using that confiscated wealth to establish a universal system of free public education. Genovesi’s proposed system included technical education to promote economic development as well as more traditional preparation for university studies. His far-sighted proposal for reform, however, was not adopted. Long a supporter of academic freedom, his criticisms of the Church became more strident with old age.

Further Reading:

Emiliana Pasca Noether, Seeds of Italian Nationalism 1700-1815, 1969.

Franco Venturi, Italy and the Enlightenment: Studies in a Cosmopolitan Century, 1972.

Kevin E. Dodson

Lamar University