James Hankins

presents

Virtue Politics:
Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy

This event includes a book signing

Date

Feb
28
Friday
February 28, 2020
3:00 PM

Location

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Tickets

This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes Harvard Professor of History JAMES HANKINS for a discussion of his latest book, Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy.

About Virtue Politics

Convulsed by a civilizational crisis, the great thinkers of the Renaissance set out to reconceive the nature of society. Everywhere they saw problems. Corrupt and reckless tyrants sowing discord and ruling through fear; elites who prized wealth and status over the common good; military leaders waging endless wars. Their solution was at once simple and radical. “Men, not walls, make a city,” as Thucydides so memorably said. They would rebuild their city, and their civilization, by transforming the moral character of its citizens. Soulcraft, they believed, was a precondition of successful statecraft.

A dazzlingly ambitious reappraisal of Renaissance political thought by one of our generation’s foremost intellectual historians, Virtue Politics challenges the traditional narrative that looks to the Renaissance as the seedbed of modern republicanism and sees Machiavelli as its exemplary thinker. James Hankins reveals that what most concerned the humanists was not reforming laws or institutions so much as shaping citizens. If character mattered more than constitutions, it would have to be nurtured through a new program of education they called the studia humanitatis: the humanities.

We owe liberal arts education and much else besides to the bold experiment of these passionate and principled thinkers. The questions they asked—Should a good man serve a corrupt regime? What virtues are necessary in a leader? What is the source of political legitimacy? Is wealth concentration detrimental to social cohesion? Should citizens be expected to fight for their country?—would have a profound impact on later debates about good government and seem as vital today as they did then.

Praise for Virtue Politics

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, mandato—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
James Hankins

James Hankins

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.

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

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