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Religion and liberty are often thought to be mutual enemies: if religion has a natural ally, it is authoritarianism--not republicanism or democracy. But in this book, Maurizio Viroli, a leading historian of republican political thought, challenges this conventional wisdom. He argues that political emancipation and the defense of political liberty have always required the self-sacrifice of people with religious sentiments and a religious devotion to liberty. This is particularly the case when liberty is threatened by authoritarianism: the staunchest defenders of liberty are those who feel a deeply religious commitment to it. Viroli makes his case by reconstructing, for the first time, the history of the Italian "religion of liberty," covering its entire span but focusing on three key examples of political emancipation: the free republics of the late Middle Ages, the Risorgimento of the nineteenth century, and the antifascist Resistenza of the twentieth century. In each example, Viroli shows, a religious spirit that regarded moral and political liberty as the highest goods of human life was fundamental to establishing and preserving liberty. He also shows that when this religious sentiment has been corrupted or suffocated, Italians have lost their liberty. This book makes a powerful and provocative contribution to today's debates about the compatibility of religion and republicanism.
Italy is a country of free political institutions, yet it has become a nation of servile courtesans, with Silvio Berlusconi as their prince. This is the controversial argument that Italian political philosopher and noted Machiavelli biographer Maurizio Viroli puts forward in The Liberty of Servants. Drawing upon the classical republican conception of liberty, Viroli shows that a people can be unfree even though they are not oppressed. This condition of unfreedom arises as a consequence of being subject to the arbitrary or enormous power of men like Berlusconi, who presides over Italy with his control of government and the media, immense wealth, and infamous lack of self-restraint. Challenging our most cherished notions about liberty, Viroli argues that even if a power like Berlusconi's has been established in the most legitimate manner and people are not denied their basic rights, the mere existence of such power makes those subject to it unfree. Most Italians, following the lead of their elites, lack the minimal moral qualities of free people, such as respect for the Constitution, the willingness to obey laws, and the readiness to discharge civic duties. As Viroli demonstrates, they exhibit instead the characteristics of servility, including flattery, blind devotion to powerful men, an inclination to lie, obsession with appearances, imitation, buffoonery, acquiescence, and docility. Accompanying these traits is a marked arrogance that is apparent among not only politicians but also ordinary citizens.
To many readers of The Prince, Machiavelli appears to be deeply un-Christian or even anti-Christian, a cynic who thinks rulers should use religion only to keep their subjects in check. But in Machiavelli's God, Maurizio Viroli, one of the world's leading authorities on Machiavelli, argues that Machiavelli, far from opposing Christianity, thought it was crucial to republican social and political renewal--but that first it needed to be renewed itself. And without understanding this, Viroli contends, it is impossible to comprehend Machiavelli's thought. Viroli places Machiavelli in the context of Florence's republican Christianity, which was founded on the idea that the true Christian is a citizen who serves the common good. In this tradition, God participates in human affairs, supports and rewards those who govern justly, and desires men to make the earthly city similar to the divine one. Building on this tradition, Machiavelli advocated a religion of virtue, and he believed that, without this faith, free republics could not be established, defend themselves against corruption, or survive. Viroli makes a powerful case that Machiavelli, far from being a pagan or atheist, was a prophet of a true religion of liberty, a way of moral and political living that would rediscover and pursue charity and justice.The translation of this work has been funded by SEPS - Segretariato Europeo per le Pubblicazioni Scientifiche.
In Redeeming "The Prince," one of the world's leading Machiavelli scholars puts forth a startling new interpretation of arguably the most influential but widely misunderstood book in the Western political tradition. Overturning popular misconceptions and challenging scholarly consensus, Maurizio Viroli also provides a fresh introduction to the work. Seen from this original perspective, five centuries after its composition, The Prince offers new insights into the nature and possibilities of political liberation. Rather than a bible of unscrupulous politics, The Prince, Viroli argues, is actually about political redemption--a book motivated by Machiavelli's patriotic desire to see a new founding for Italy. Written in the form of an oration, following the rules of classical rhetoric, the book condenses its main message in the final section, "Exhortation to liberate Italy from the Barbarians." There Machiavelli creates the myth of a redeemer, an ideal ruler who ushers in an era of peace, freedom, and unity. Contrary to scholars who maintain that the exhortation was added later, Viroli proves that Machiavelli composed it along with the rest of the text, completing the whole by December 1513 or early 1514. Only if we read The Prince as a theory of political redemption, Viroli contends, can we at last understand, and properly evaluate, the book's most controversial pages on political morality, as well as put to rest the cliché of Machiavelli as a "Machiavellian." Bold, clear, and provocative, Redeeming "The Prince" should permanently change how Machiavelli and his masterpiece are understood.