Cover: Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy, from Harvard University PressCover: Virtue Politics in HARDCOVER

Virtue Politics

Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy

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Product Details


$45.00 • £36.95 • €40.50

ISBN 9780674237551

Publication Date: 12/17/2019

Academic Trade

768 pages

6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Belknap Press


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.The 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

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

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

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.The Washington Examiner

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

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