Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy

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Belknap Press
Publish Date
6.7 X 1.6 X 9.4 inches | 2.51 pounds
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About the Author

James Hankins is Professor of History at Harvard University and founder and General Editor of the I Tatti Renaissance Library. He is the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy and Renaissance Civic Humanism and is widely regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on humanist political thought.


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
The summation of a life's work, however magnificent, is seldom relevant once finally published. But James Hankins's Virtue Politics--his long-awaited, historically rich, philosophically profound investigation of Italian Renaissance political thought--could not have appeared at a more opportune moment. Hankins convincingly argues that the humanist movement was a pedagogical project intent on perfecting the souls of both citizens and leaders, thus facilitating a rich civic life conducive to liberty and justice. His recovery of the soulcraft and statecraft of Petrarch, Bruni, Boccaccio, Poggio, and others is indispensable--indeed, mandatory--reading in an age characterized by disaffected citizenries as well as ever more venal, craven, and malicious leaders.--John P. McCormick, author of Machiavellian Democracy
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
A worthy contribution to the field of Renaissance studies.--Publishers Weekly (10/15/2019)
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.-- (12/12/2019)
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.-- (12/27/2019)
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" (03/01/2020)