Machiavelli's God. By Maurizio Virali. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. xxü + 3 1 Opp. $45.00.
The title of the original Italian edition of Maurizio Viroli's book, ? Dio di Machiavelli e il problema morale dell'Italia (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 2005), reveals more of its purpose and spirit than the shortened version preferred for this translation. Publisher and author may have assumed that anglophone readers would be more interested in Machiavelli's ideas about religion than in how those ideas, as Virali contends, have served and might still serve as an antidote to what he calls "the weakness of the civil and moral conscience of the Italians" (p. ix).
This book has two chief arguments. The first is that religion was fundamental to Machiavelli's understanding of republican liberty: not the Christianity of humility, suffering, and servitude, but a tough "republican Christianity," whose god wants citizens to love and defend their country. Machiavelli's critique of traditional Christianity and invocation of a god who rewards patriots are widely recognized. Virali presents Machiavelli's belief in this god as a genuine conviction inherited from a long tradition linking Christian caritas with Roman republican virtù. But when Virali asserts that Machiavelli's god "wants us ... to achieve his plans even at the cost of committing evil" (p. 63), some may wonder if this deity should be considered Christian.
Viroli's second argument, elaborated in the last chapter, is that Machiavelli's alleged belief in the religious foundation of civic liberty persisted from the sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century among Italian thinkers who grappled with the dilemmas of liberating Italy from foreign rule, constructing a nation state, and rescuing it from fascism. Viroli's ultimate concern, however, is today's Italy. The extent to which the current "weakness" of Italy's "civil and moral conscience" hovers over this book becomes evident when Virali laments "the lack of a profound and powerful moral awareness that prevented, and still prevents Italians, from being a truly free people" (p. 211). Yet he also traces an enduring aspiration for "moral and religious reform" from civic humanism to Machiavelli, which "continues right up to the present day and can be seen in the way of thinking and feeling of those who are unwilling to resign themselves to the idea of living in a country that laughs at corruption and has no sense of shame" (p. 21 1)- an obvious allusion to the pernicious legacy of Silvio Berlusconi.
Machiavelli's God is less a rigorous analysis of Machiavelli's ideas on religion (which are more …