Luigi Luzzatti was born into a prominent Venetian Jewish family. Raised an Orthodox Jew, he drifted away from his strict upbringing. He dedicated his time and energy to tackling social and economic issues, in order to better the conditions of the poor.
In 1863 Luzzatti received his degree in jurisprudence, but never practiced law. Instead, he preferred the science of economics and became a professor of economics and constitutional law. His passion for economics finally earned him acclaim as one of the greatest financiers and economists in Europe.
After his expulsion Luzzatti went from city to city studying the situation of the working class and looked for opportunities to start mutual benefit societies. He believed that these societies would assemble all men together as brothers. The societies, as he saw them would, “assure you a subsidy in case of illness, a pension fund provides for your old age, workmen’s associations enable you to acquire your own homes, cooperative warehouses provide food and other necessaries at a low price.”
Another scheme in which Luzzatti participated was the establishment of a people’s bank. The first one, comprising 180 small farmers, became a model for other banking institutions.
Luzzatti was called to Florence by the minister of agriculture, industry, and commerce to be his general secretary in 1869. However, he was not confirmed to the post until 1871 because he was too young to be elected to Parliament. Shortly after his thirtieth birthday he was confirmed by Parliament and officially began his political career as a parliamentarian. He served almost continuously for the next fifty years as a right-wing politician in the Chamber of Deputies. He spent his last year in politics in the Senate.
Luzzatti’s years in government were turbulent times in Italy. He saw the country’s transition from Italian union to fascism under Benito Mussolini.
In 1891-1892, Luzzatti served in the cabinet as treasury minister. He held the post three other times ( 1896-1898.1903-1906, and for a few months in 1920) in different governments. He was responsible for twenty-four commercial treaties, including the 1898 agreement which put an end to the tariff war between France and Italy.
Luzzatti joined the Sonnino cabinet in 1910 as the minister of agriculture, industry, and commerce. Together the two men managed to reduce the treasury deficit and secure conversion ol public debts, thus saving Italy from bankruptcy.
In 1910 Sonnino (whose father was Jewish) resigned and Luzzatti took over as prime minister and interior minister. Though his time as prime minister was short-lived, Luzzatti did manage to enact important legislation such as laws against pornography, white-slave traffic and cruelty to animals. The next year he was ousted by socialist and left-wing leaders.
During his many years in parliament, Luzzatti was also credited with initiating the law for compulsory accident insurance and many regulations regarding emigration. His contributions to the country were recognized in 1906, when he was given the honorary post of minister of state.
From 1906 until his death, during periods when he was not in the parliament, he resumed lecturing in constitutional law. He was also a well-respected economic adviser, receiving inquiries from political leaders throughout Europe.
While he had drifted away from the practice of his religion, Luzzatti always maintained a deep respect for Judaism. He was outspoken for the cause of European Jewry, demanding civil rights on behalf of Romanian Jews. He also supported Zionist activities in Palestine, especially the agricultural settlements.
Luzzatti’s support of oppressed groups also extended to the other religions, namely the Christian Armenians. Late in his life he wrote, “I am atheist without a particular church, and I defend all who are persecuted for their faith.”