Redeeming “The Prince”: The Meaning of Machiavelli’s Masterpiece
?by maurizio viroli
?princeton, 208 pages, $26.95
In Redeeming the Prince, Maurizio Viroli, professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University and now at the University of Texas, adopts a bold strategy: He dares to take Machiavelli at his word.
Viroli says that the most important chapter in The Prince is the last, “Exhortation to Seize Italy and to Free Her From the Barbarians.” Here, Machiavelli calls for a leader to rise up against foreign oppressors to create an Italy whole and free. This is the project of the Prince, Viroli argues, and it is a project so beautiful that any means are appropriate to secure it.
This is an audacious claim because the Exhortation is usually regarded as the worst and least interesting chapter in the book. For those who love Machiavelli for his cynicism, the fervor, patriotism, and piety in the Exhortation is puzzling. Was Machiavelli forced to include it? Was he merely shilling for a job? Is this some kind of trick? Is somebody being esoteric?
Viroli says no. When a book is as spare and carefully constructed as The Prince,it is unwise to dismiss any of it as superfluous. It’s especially unwise to dismiss its final chapter as meaningless, because, of course, this is the book where Machiavelli advises all men to “look to the end” for ultimate guidance.
“Looking to the end” is the literal translation of what has become the bumper-sticker version of Machiavelli, the assertion that “the ends justify the means.” Looking to the end is not permission to do anything: It demands consideration of the worthiness of the goal. The worthiness of Machiavelli’s goalItalian liberationis what redeems the prince, in Viroli’s view, and so he argues that The Prince is not a guidebook for evildoers.
Machiavelli is indeed a great admirer of liberators, and he doesn’t promote slaughter for slaughter’s sake. Nevertheless, a prince must “know how to enter into evil” when necessary. But Viroli does not do that. He mostly skips the darker inner workings of Machiavelli’s book.
But here the wickedness in The Prince is all the more conspicuous for its absence. If you want to make the argument that the book is primarily good and not objectionable, you must address what is objectionable in it, forcefully. You would need to reach down, wrestle with its most fetid parts, and rip them out for all to see. Because it declines to do this, Redeeming the Prince fails to live up to its task.
Viroli emphasizes that Machiavelli’s ideal is not the tyrant but the liberatorsuch men as Moses, Cyrus, and Theseus. Of course these men are the ideal, just as Machiavelli says it is ideal “to be both loved and feared.” But you can’t always have everything.
Redeeming the Prince is a worthy history of Machiavellian criticism, and Viroli rightly insists that Machiavelli’s passionate desire for a liberated Italy animates the entire text. But The Prince is a captivating book because of its ugliness. To sanitize the barbarity within it robs it of its power. It contains what tyrants know and the rest of the world ignores at its peril: the undeniable efficacy of unopposed evil.
Kate Havard is a research analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The Hope of the Family: A Dialogue with Gerhard Cardinal Müller?
by gerhard ludwig müller?
edited by carlos granados
?ignatius, 86 pages, $10.95
Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller has resisted attempts by his fellow cardinals to allow divorced and remarried Catholics communion. A German prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Rome’s “doctrine czar,” as the media often crudely describe him), Müller is, like his predecessor Joseph Ratzinger, painted as a fanatical Panzerkardinal.
In the short but brilliant Hope of the Family, a book-length interview with Spanish journalist Carlos Granados, Müller shows that in the case of divorce, Catholic doctrine mercifully protects the most vulnerable: the children. He notes provocatively that, while Pope Francis often (rightly) discusses material poverty in developing countries, the “orphans of divorce” in Europe and America suffer a spiritual poverty that may be even more painful.
Müller discusses how young people today, fearing commitment, eschew marriage and parenthood. Müller quotes Francis’s humorous but spot-on comment that couples today prefer puppies to children. Müller does not condemn these youths. He feels compassion for them, understanding that they’re skeptical regarding marriage not out of ill will but because they have seen their own parents’ marital relationships fail.
In the Catholic Church’s recent discussion on divorce and remarriage, some cardinals have mentioned that, as Woody Allen observed in Annie Hall, “love fades.” Müller offers an answer. Love is not about dopamine-fueled emotions but about solidarity in suffering. He rightly notes that the cross is Christianity’s symbol of love
After a social crisis is diagnosed, a solution must be put forward. In this respect, The Hope of the Family is a manifesto on how to repair both the culture of divorce and the de-Christianization of Western societies. Müller discusses his experience as shepherd of Regensburg, where he introduced liturgies for whole families (rather than “children’s Masses”), emphasizing that faith is something that is transmitted together in the family. He also proposes that parishes provide children and youth years-long catechesis and preparation for married life, an alternative formation to the one created by the culture of divorce. He believes that stronger families will lead to stronger local churches. The Vatican recently established a committee to simplify annulments; it should also consider creating one to promote Müller’s pastoral program in the universal Church.
Recently, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod of bishops, suggested that the teachings of St. John Paul II on marriage and family are out of date. By contrast, Müller enthusiastically recommends John Paul’s biblical theology of the body as a “remedy for many of the defects” of a divorce culture. The growing numbers of theology-of-the-body study groups that have sprung up across North America and inspired strong families and marriages and renewed parishes suggest that Müller, not Baldisseri, is correct.
In recent months, much has been said of the “Kasper Doctrine” of Cardinal Walter Kasper, Müller’s countryman, who proposes that divorced and remarried Catholics whose first spouses are still living be admitted to Communion. The Hope of the Family must lead one to ask which approach will lead to a renewal of Church and family life: the “Kasper Doctrine,” which emphasizes laxity and accommodates itself to a culture of divorce that has caused tremendous social and psychological trauma, or the “Müller Doctrine,” which proposes a Copernican revolution that would reintroduce the West to principles including fidelity, perseverance, and our accountability for the effect that our actions have on children?
Filip Mazurczak has written for The European Conservative, Visegrad Insight, and Tygodnik Powszechny.
Faithful Passages: American Catholicism in Literary Culture, 18441931?
by james emmett ryan?
wisconsin, 258 pages, $29.95
American Catholics were writing prolifically throughout the nineteenth century, publishing novels, essays, book reviews, and devotional literature. Yet while authors such as Emerson, Melville, and Dickinson were defining the American literary canon, Catholics of this era produced no literature of significant artistic merit or lasting cultural influence.
Why? James Emmett Ryan, associate professor of English at Auburn University, takes up this apparent incongruity in Faithful Passages, his sociological study of Catholic print culture in the mid-nineteenth century. The literary shortcomings of Catholics in this era, he suggests, were due to an often combative and excessively didactic posture, which obscured human and artistic engagement with religious questions. “Religious function,” Ryan suggests, following Marcel Gauchet’s analysis in The Disenchantment of the World, needed to leave behind its role as a heavy-handed instrument of conversion and be “metabolized,” or drawn into an “aesthetic repertoire” infused with “Catholic ways of knowing and habits of being,” before Catholic authors could have a serious impact on American literature.
Orestes Brownson and Fr. Isaac Hecker, for example, both saw the potential of Catholic literature as a tool for combating anti-Catholic prejudice and educating the rapidly growing population of American Catholics. They imagined enormous possibilities for evangelization in the burgeoning printing industry, calling for a Catholic literature that would provide an education in the doctrines of Catholicism while instilling moral values, hoping to counter the influence of the wildly popular sentimental novels and scurrilous romances of the era.
While neither Brownson nor Hecker was successful in reaching a large audience, the novels of Jedidiah Huntington and Anna Hanson Dorsey, and the devotional writings of Cardinal James Gibbons, did become somewhat popular, even on par with the sentimental-didactic fiction of their Protestant contemporaries. Ryan points out that all three of these authors can attribute their relative success in part to their willingness to integrate into their fiction the literary themes and conventions to which readers of such fiction were accustomed. Huntington’s attention to the female emotional experience, for example, and his use of romance made his Catholic themes and stories engaging and accessible to a broad audience.
Turning finally to a consideration of the novels and short stories of Kate Chopin and Willa Cather, he suggests that their religious views, like those of many other American authors of the early twentieth century, were of secondary importance to their willingness to engage personally, artistically, and critically with the American Catholic experience. Such authors allowed the traditions of Catholicism to inflect and color their lives and work, though they did not consider themselves subject to evangelical aims or purposes. Ryan’s claims are intriguing, and his analysis is exacting, but his methodology cannot account for orthodoxy itself as a potentially positive, rather than negative or simply neutral, factor in an artist’s work. However, the relationship between theology and aesthetics is a complex one, with a long history that, as Ryan explains at the outset, is beyond the purview of his book.
Rose Tomassi is a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center ?in Manhattan.
Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation?
by robert bartlett?
princeton, 808 pages, $39.95
In 1981, in a slim volume called The Cult of the Saints, Peter Brown called for an honest reappraisal of the cult, and his book sparked an interest in the ways in which early Christians honored the saints. With Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Robert Bartlett, a professor of medieval history at the University of St. Andrews, contributes to a growing body of work on the cult and shows how far historians have come in recognizing its central role in the history of Christianity.
Post-Enlightenment critics such as Gibbon and Hume attempted to portray the cult of the saints as a vulgar accommodation of paganism within Christianity. Bartlett’s book offers a helpful critique of this position. Educated bishops and their less-educated laity had comparable levels of enthusiasm for the cult. Criticism of the cult existed from time to time in the Middle Ages, and this early criticism often pointed out similarities with pagan cults. Functional similarity, however, is not the same as continuity. The Christian cult of the saints begins from different presuppositions.
The cult of the saints started with the martyrs. Christianity has a unique fascination with the dead. Pagan Greeks and Romans considered dead bodies defiled. Cemeteries lay outside the city limits, and cremation was a typical form of burial. Cremation symbolized the soul’s ascent and the dissolution of the body. The death of Christian martyrs, however, testified to faith in the resurrection, and the Christian community testified to their own faith in the resurrection by caring for the martyrs’ remains. Miracles attended these remains, and the saints began to function as patrons to the Christians who frequented their graves.
For early Christians, the veil between life and death was a flimsy one, which Christ’s resurrection had torn. The dead in Christ were not so dead that the prayers of the living on their behalf would have no effect. The saints were special dead, because they did not need the prayers of the living. Instead, the living asked for their prayers; they asked the saints to intercede on their behalf.
The Protestant Reformation, however, changed everything. The reformers taught that Christ himself is the only intercessor needed by a Christian; the saints are ineffective. Half of Christendom gave up the cult of the saints, while the other half maintained its efficacy. This difference provided Europe with a tangible distinction between Protestants and Catholics.
Bartlett shows that understanding the development of the cult is necessary for understanding the development of Christianity as well as the development of its art, literature, and architecture. One of the strengths of his work is that he provides for sainthood a new definition, one that is historically viable but also theologically sensitive. A saint is not a particular type of dead person. A saint is a dead person treated in a particular way because sainthood depends on the community that honors the saint. Even after the papacy took over the process of canonization, sainthood still began with how the people treated the candidate. One of the prerequisites for papal canonization was that a community must have already begun a cult.
This history is of particular relevance because, as Bartlett notes, “The ‘age of canonization’ is not to be sought in the Middle Ages at all, but in the late twentieth century.” The Church’s canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II demonstrates that the age of the saints hasn’t ended. Bartlett reminds his readers about the history of the holy dead. A history that is still alive and well.
Collin Garbarino is assistant professor of history at Houston Baptist University.
The Book of Job: A Biography?
by mark larrimore
?princeton, 296 pages, $24.95
The book of Job has served as a philosophical Rorschach blot for its most outspoken interpreters, from the Talmudic rabbis and Church Fathers through their medieval philosophical successors and down to modern philosophers, theologians, and creative writers. The individual characters in whose elusive speech the narrative unfoldsGod, Satan, Job himself, his three interlocutors, the belated guest Elihutend to become stock representatives of philosophical positions or exemplars of religious judgment.
Mark Larrimore has undertaken the daunting task of capturing this two-thousand-year record of interpretation. He spends significant time on the pseudepigraphic Testament of Job, in which Satan is a ubiquitous agent of temptation while Job remains pious throughout. Larrimore implies that this work is a reaction to the rebellious Job of the biblical book and that the proverbial “patience of Job” in the Epistle of James is influenced by the Testament.
For Larrimore the medieval and early modern periods mark the rise of the Book of Job as disputation, with Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, and Calvin as his chosen representatives. These writers see the book through the prism of the question of evil. Maimonides is the first of them to ascribe specific philosophical views to Job and to the other speakers in the dialogue. For the sake of argumentative consistency and focus, Maimonides dismisses many powerful emotional passages as philosophically irrelevant digressions. Other theologians, in the service of Job’s pious image, play down his pungent sayings. Calvin, for whom Job is a vehicle for communicating the transcendence and inscrutability of God, cites some of Eliphaz’s utterances as if they were Job’s, assuming, as did other Jewish and Christian writers, that all Scripture delivers the same message, irrespective of the speaker.
With the modern problem of theodicy, the readings of Job that attract Larrimore’s attention are increasingly embedded in larger philosophical, literary, or academic projects. Perhaps the most thought-provoking element in this book is Larrimore’s emphasis on the importance of Kant, more than Leibniz, as the hinge around which the history of theodicy revolves.
The last chapter, “Job in Exile,” is a bit heterogeneous. It contains a sampling of twentieth-century Bible criticism, mostly attempts to rearrange the text or speculations about interpolations, but also includes post-Holocaust ruminations, with much space dedicated to Elie Wiesel.
There are limitations. Dostoevsky does not appear in the index, though Ivan Karamazov is mentioned and there is a fleeting reference to Fr. Zosima’s retelling of Job, Larrimore offering no indication of its influence on philosophical discussion. There are two apt citations of Kierkegaard’s Repetition but none of the two “upbuilding discourses” on Job 1, all of them published the same day. Chesterton gets his due, perhaps because he has attracted the attention of iek.
In particular, there is no space for either analytic philosophy or the traditional kind of literary criticism, practiced by Robert Alter or Harold Fisch, that concentrates on the poetic imagery and the narrative contours of the book. Larrimore uses the word “polyphony” a couple of times, and a footnote refers to Carol Newsom’s commentary that, in my opinion, most instructively approaches Job from a Bakhtinian perspective. These omissions are regrettable, because detailed literary analysis may afford the best opportunity of redeeming the full register of voices and moods in Job from the temptation either to attribute to the book a uniform message or to reduce it to a series of obscure fragments.
Shalom Carmy is editor of Tradition, the theological journal of the Rabbinical ?Council of America.