Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy (Paperback)
  • Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy (Paperback)
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Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy (Paperback)

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£23.95
Paperback 768 Pages
Published: 10/01/2023
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Winner of the Helen and Howard Marraro Prize
A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year

“Perhaps the greatest study ever written of Renaissance political thought.”
—Jeffrey Collins, Times Literary Supplement

“Magisterial…Hankins shows that the humanists’ obsession with character explains their surprising indifference to particular forms of government. If rulers lacked authentic virtue, they believed, it did not matter what institutions framed their power.”
Wall Street Journal

“Puts the politics back into humanism in an extraordinarily deep and far-reaching way…For generations to come, all who write about the political thought of Italian humanism will have to refer to it; its influence will be…nothing less than transformative.”
—Noel Malcolm, American Affairs

“[A] masterpiece…It is only Hankins’s tireless exploration of forgotten documents…and extraordinary endeavors of editing, translation, and exposition that allow us to reconstruct—almost for the first time in 550 years—[the humanists’] three compelling arguments for why a strong moral character and habits of truth are vital for governing well. Yet they are as relevant to contemporary democracy in Britain, and in the United States, as to Machiavelli.”
—Rory Stewart, Times Literary Supplement

“The lessons for today are clear and profound.”
—Robert D. Kaplan

Convulsed by a civilizational crisis, the great thinkers of the Renaissance set out to reconceive the nature of society. Everywhere they saw problems. Corrupt and reckless tyrants sowing discord and ruling through fear; elites who prized wealth and status over the common good; religious leaders preoccupied with self-advancement while feuding armies waged endless wars. Their solution was at once simple and radical. “Men, not walls, make a city,” as Thucydides so memorably said. They would rebuild the fabric of society by transforming the moral character of its citizens. Soulcraft, they believed, was a precondition of successful statecraft.

A landmark reappraisal of Renaissance political thought, Virtue Politics challenges the traditional narrative that looks to the Renaissance as the seedbed of modern republicanism and sees Machiavelli as its exemplary thinker. James Hankins reveals that what most concerned the humanists was not reforming institutions so much as shaping citizens. If character mattered more than laws, it would have to be nurtured through a new program of education they called the studia humanitatis: the precursor to our embattled humanities.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674278738
Number of pages: 768
Dimensions: 235 x 162 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

Magisterial…Humanist scholars in the Italian Renaissance were concerned with many of the same puzzles that obsess us today…Hankins shows that the humanists’ obsession with character explains their surprising indifference to particular forms of government. If rulers lacked authentic virtue, they believed, it did not matter what institutions framed their power. - Wall Street Journal

Puts the politics back into humanism in an extraordinarily deep and far-reaching way…This is certainly a landmark publication…For generations to come, all who write about the political thought of Italian humanism will have to refer to it; its influence will be—like that of virtue itself in the theories of the authors it studies—nothing less than transformative. - Noel Malcolm, American Affairs

Perhaps the greatest study ever written of Renaissance political thought. The breadth of James Hankins’s book surpasses that of the reigning incumbents, Hans Baron’s Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance and the first volume of Quentin Skinner’s classic Foundations of Modern Political Thought. It is also a book of bold argument and relevance. Hankins concentrates on the classic Italian Renaissance—Petrarch to Machiavelli…However, he escapes the conventional fixation on Florence and its chancellors. Leonardo Bruni and Machiavelli are here, but so too are the Roman jurist Mario Salamonio, the Greek translator George of Trebizond, the travelling ‘merchant scholar’ Cyriac of Ancona. Nor does Hankins limit himself to the familiar canon, but mines a deep vein of histories, biographies, letters, orations and treatises, both printed and scribally published. His mastery of the archive is astonishing. - Jeffrey Collins, Times Literary Supplement

Extraordinary…The central theme…is that Renaissance humanism was neither a superficial aesthetic movement nor a purely political one. At its core, it was a movement of moral reform…Hankins’s grasp of the Italian Renaissance is deeply learned and insightful…Virtue Politics demonstrates why Hankins has earned his place as one of the world’s best intellectual historians of that period. - Khalil M. Habib, New Criterion

A magisterial work by one of the world’s leading experts on the intellectual history of the Renaissance…One of the many strengths of Hankins’ volume is the great erudition with which he persuasively presents a different paradigm for understanding the Italian Renaissance. - Carl O’Brien, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

A work to celebrate…A major book which not only synthesizes much of his previous work, but develops it further in ways both pathbreaking and panoramic…As Hankins shows, the central project of humanism was political, to instill virtue in rulers; there was broad agreement on this one point, but fascinating disagreement on many others. Deeply scholarly but marvelously lucid and reader-friendly, this book will be the indispensable study of this whole topic. - Noel Malcolm, Times Literary Supplement

So timely…A book that is not only the fruit of a long and accomplished career but that also offers a rich and deep perspective on two time periods simultaneously: the Italian Renaissance and our own. Which is another way of saying that Virtue Politics gives readers a clear-eyed account of how the most creative minds of the Italian Renaissance addressed the permanent problems of human nature, virtue, tyranny, and political decay. - Washington Examiner

Magisterial… Hankins has piled up evidence more than sufficient to make his case. He has, moreover, opened up a new field of study…Whatever the course of future scholarship, it will have been Virtue Politics that opened up the field and set the agenda for those who came after. - Paul A. Rahe, Claremont Review of Books

[A] magnum opus…A history of the political thought of the Italian Renaissance: from Petrarch in the middle of the 14th century to Machiavelli in the early 16th…Hankins is a stylish and sensitive guide to these men and their works, acutely aware that the political questions with which they grappled—what made a tyrant? Could a good man serve him?—were, for them, far from purely theoretical…Readers of Virtue Politics will close the book not only with a richer understanding of the Renaissance, but with a sense of how very differently we might think about politics today. - Standpoint

A bold new argument about the nature and significance of Renaissance political thought and a sweeping new vision of humanism itself…An exceptional scholarly accomplishment—a tour-de-force defense of the aspiration to improve character, a survey of Italian humanism with a uniquely wide recognition of the range of issues it encompassed, and a provocative reinterpretation of Machiavelli’s thought that makes modernity’s dark prophet appear positively naive in comparison with Petrarch, all accompanied by lucid forays into contemporary political theory and philosophy. For students of early modern political thought and philosophy, Hankins’s book will be an essential point of departure for some time. - Mark Jurdjevic, Journal of Modern History

[A] masterpiece…It shows—with erudition, diligent scholarship, and great intelligence—how the Renaissance humanists, beginning with Petrarch, became convinced that the viciousness and lawless violence of fourteenth-century Italy was not, as previous thinkers had suggested, a problem that could be solved through drafting better laws. Instead, they argued that the eight centuries of peace, stability, and unity under the Romans were a reflection not of that state’s laws but of the moral qualities of its rulers. - Rory Stewart, Times Literary Supplement

Wide-ranging and magisterial…If a greater focus on character education based on classical virtue does come about in our own time, it’s reasonable to think that this shift will take its bearings and example from the past. Hankins’s history of the Renaissance humanists offers a useful starting place for discovering what that kind of cultural rejuvenation might look like. - Ian Lindquist, Education Next

An accomplished study of the Renaissance humanists’ political thought…We are unlikely to see soon another book that combines such extensive and precise learning with such a mature and subtle grasp of important matters. We are fortunate to have it. - Mark Blitz, Law & Liberty

Investigates how [Renaissance humanists] explored a whole range of political issues. These included questions of wealth and economic injustice, the legitimacy of imperial rule, whether states should freely accept migrants and how to deal with debilitating partisanship… This work should prompt us to ask profound questions about the current culture of politics…A landmark piece of scholarship that will influence the study of political thought in the Renaissance for years to come. - Bijan Omrani, Literary Review

Virtue Politics gives an impressive and thorough tour of Renaissance humanism from Petrarch to Leonardo Bruni to Machiavelli…[It] puts on display the detailed investigation of sources that can only come with decades of thought and research. - Amanda Madden, Renaissance and Reformation

James Hankins is one of the most important scholars at work today in Renaissance intellectual history, so a new monograph from him demands attention…Virtue Politics will reset the discussion of Renaissance political thought for the next generation. - Craig Kallendorf, Neo-Latin News

An enormous, sprawling work, providing rich and detailed but nonetheless succinct encapsulation of much of classical and medieval as well as, of course, Renaissance political theory…[A] rich and deeply erudite discussion of the Italian Renaissance. - Jesse Russell, VoegelinView

Virtue Politics…is both intellectual history and an intervention into contemporary education and political culture…[Hankins’s] sensitive and erudite readings of an impressively broad array of humanist texts make important contributions to our knowledge and understanding of humanism during Italy’s long fifteenth century. - Charles F. Briggs, Intellectual History Review

Gives Renaissance political thought the place it deserves within the history of Western political thought. - Tommaso De Robertis, Bibliotheca Dantesca

A magnificent and major reinterpretation of Italian Renaissance political thought, and of the Italian Renaissance itself…It is a pleasure to spend time with this text…Anyone teaching the Renaissance or the history of political thought should have this volume readily at hand. - Stephen Varvis, Fides et Historia

Virtue Politics is suffused with eloquence, and truly innovative. James Hankins argues that Renaissance humanists worked for political regimes of vastly different types. What was important to them was that leaders put the interests of the state—its stability, peace, and flourishing—before their own more immediate enrichment, or desire for power, or other selfish imperatives. In short, they believed that you could and should judge the moral character of a state and of the people who ran it. The concept of ‘virtue politics’ offers a helpful corrective to prior attempts to situate Renaissance thinkers into teleologically conceived narratives of the history of political theory. Not only is this one of the most important books written on humanist political thought, it is in many ways the first, given the unique way Hankins frames his project. It will change the way scholars conceive of the history of political thought. - Christopher Celenza, author of Machiavelli

James Hankins’s masterwork takes us from Petrarch’s struggles against a decadent academic clerisy to Machiavelli and Confucius. But the central narrative thread never loosens: that character and virtue are the anchors of all healthy political systems, whether democratic or not. The lessons for today are clear and profound. - Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Revenge of Geography

A tour-de-force revisionist account of Italian humanism, and a courageous effort to revive the humanist practice of moral education for political leaders in our own day. Machiavelli thought that he lived in an age of historically unprecedented corruption among political leaders. If he were to survey the behavior of so-called leaders in our contemporary world…he might very well concede that at least a measure of Hankins’s moral virtue must accompany his own realist virtue if good government were to have any chance of being achieved today. - John P. McCormick, University of Chicago

James Hankins is one of the world’s most distinguished authorities on the political thought of the Italian Renaissance, and Virtue Politics is a truly monumental work of scholarship, destined to leave its imprint for decades to come. It is—to a quite remarkable degree—a history of newly discovered things: new writers, new texts, new ideas, new connections. - Peter Stacey, University of California, Los Angeles

[The] magnum opus of a consummate intellectual historian. James Hankins is the living authority on Italian fifteenth-century neo-Latin literature…Hankins understands that by breathing new life into a beleaguered Renaissance movement, one can also come to the rescue of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritages, now under fire, on which the Renaissance drew, in order to understand the currently debated legacy of Western modernity. Inviting readers into the midst of an ongoing fray, Virtue Politics reminds us that we all have high stakes in this game. - Rocco Rubini, European Legacy

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