Machiavelli's God

Machiavelli's God

Machiavelli's God

Machiavelli's God


To many readers of The Prince, Machiavelli appears to be deeply un-Christian or even anti-Christian, a cynic who thinks rulers should use religion only to keep their subjects in check. But in Machiavelli's God, Maurizio Viroli, one of the world's leading authorities on Machiavelli, argues that Machiavelli, far from opposing Christianity, thought it was crucial to republican social and political renewal--but that first it needed to be renewed itself. And without understanding this, Viroli contends, it is impossible to comprehend Machiavelli's thought.

Viroli places Machiavelli in the context of Florence's republican Christianity, which was founded on the idea that the true Christian is a citizen who serves the common good. In this tradition, God participates in human affairs, supports and rewards those who govern justly, and desires men to make the earthly city similar to the divine one. Building on this tradition, Machiavelli advocated a religion of virtue, and he believed that, without this faith, free republics could not be established, defend themselves against corruption, or survive. Viroli makes a powerful case that Machiavelli, far from being a pagan or atheist, was a prophet of a true religion of liberty, a way of moral and political living that would rediscover and pursue charity and justice.

The translation of this work has been funded by SEPS - Segretariato Europeo per le Pubblicazioni Scientifiche.


The idea of seeking out Machiavelli's God came to me as I read the writings of the political philosophers, the historians, and the poets who have reflected on the weakness of the civil and moral conscience of the Italians. Nearly all of them pointed to a bad religious education as the chief culprit and expressed their appreciation of Machiavelli as a supporter of a different religion, a full-fledged religion of liberty, capable of assisting in the rebirth of a republican fatherland.

I therefore set out to identify Machiavelli's God, convinced that it is in that God that lies the secret, and the cure, for Italy's moral problem. I am not entirely sure that I have found that God. I still believe, however, that Machiavelli had a God, and that around this God of his he developed a religion of liberty that played an important historical role in Italian political culture.

The excavation that I undertook around Machiavelli's God allowed me to bring to light the historic and ideal bond that links the civil religion that flourished in particular in America and the republican Christianity that was born in Florence and in the other free republics of Italy. To the best of my knowledge this theme has not yet been studied with the attention that it deserves, and it may be a direction for new studies.

The history of Machiavelli's God also invites us to think in new terms about the relationship between Christian religion and republican political thought, a theme that has been entirely—or almost entirely—overlooked, despite the fact that it is clearly evident that republican liberty was born and has prospered always with the aid of a particular interpretation of Christianity. Can that liberty survive, one is naturally prompted to wonder, without religion?

I must thank, and it is an agreeable duty, the friends who read the manuscript—in full or in part—and who helped me with their criticisms and suggestions; in particular, Quentin Skinner, Emanuele Cutinelli-Rèndina . . .

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