By Tighe, William
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life , No. 226
The Kingdom Suffereth Violence: The Machiavelli/Erasmus/More Correspondence and Other Unpublished Documents
BY PHILIPPE BENETON,
TRANS. BY PAUL J. ARCHAMBAULT
ST. AUGUSTINE'S PRESS, 304 PAGES, $30
This book consists largely of an imagined correspondence between Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More, and Niccolo Machiavelli. Most of the imagined material takes the form of letters (including a postmortem letter from Machiavelli to More from "Downstairs," and a reply from More, "Upstairs" at the vestibule of Heaven, awaiting St. Peter's summons to enter).
There are also two parts of a fictional treatise that "Machiavelli" wrote to a young disciple, sometimes explaining and sometimes refusing to explain the (deliberate) obscurities and contradictions in The Prince; an imagined addition to More's Utopia in which "More" attacks Machiavelli's ideas about successful rulership; and two letters that "Erasmus" wrote to a young disciple at the very end of his life about the art of writing, and, in particular, when to write clearly and when obscurely.
Beneton is a contemporary French political theorist, but his Machiavelli is largely the Machiavelli of Leo Strauss and Harvey Mansfield, intent on freeing "statecraft" from the constraints of philosophy and morality, and perhaps a covert religious skeptic. His Erasmus, less controversially, is the Christian humanist scholar and rhetorician intent on promoting by his work a moral reform of Christendom. More, whom Beneton considers the first European public intellectual, is painted as the complete disciple of Erasmus, but one who, unlike his "master," became actively involved in English government and politics. …