Renaissance and Reformation Civic Humanism
by
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0234

Introduction

Civic humanism is one of the more interesting and important concepts in Renaissance studies, in part because of its unusually long afterlife, and in part because almost everything pertaining to it is controversial. There is general agreement that it involves a commitment to the active political life under the influence of classical models, but from that point on, scholarship divides. Are its origins in the political life of Florence at the turn of the 15th century or in the political thought of the 14th century? Does civic humanism predicate a commitment to the republic as we understand the term today, or only to active political engagement in general? When did it end: In Italy, in the 16th century? In England, in the 17th century? In the ideological debates of the American revolution? Or later? Since large blocks of postwar scholarship on the Italian Renaissance are a reaction to civic humanism, either directly or indirectly, any selection from among this much material becomes at least somewhat arbitrary, but the bibliography that follows should provide a basic orientation to the major issues involved, with an emphasis on how ideas about civic humanism have evolved rather than on restatements of earlier positions.

The Concept

Drawing on Aristotelian ideas about government, Roman Stoicism, and the political life of the Italian communes in the late Middle Ages, civic humanism is a form of classical republicanism that involves the fusion of participatory political engagement with classical learning as revived in the Renaissance. Moulakis 2011 offers a lucid, easily accessible definition of the concept, followed by a survey of its lengthy afterlife. Connell 2000 and Hankins 2000 can serve as introductions to the idea and scholarship about it, while Nederman 2000 provides a good warning about how complicated the issues connected to civic humanism really are.

  • Connell, William J. “The Republican Idea.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 14–29. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An interesting overview of some fifty years of scholarship on republicanism, offering an extensive bibliography supporting the idea that greater attention needs to be paid to historicizing the republican tradition and the changes that have taken place in it.

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  • Hankins, James. “Introduction.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 1–13. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An excellent starting point for assessing the definition and impact of civic humanism, offering a balanced assessment of how the ideas posited in Baron 1966 (cited under Hans Baron) have affected scholarship on periods from the Middle Ages to the present, and on how these ideas have been modified in response to later scholarship.

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  • Moulakis, Athanasios. “Civic Humanism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2011.

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    A broad overview, with a succinct treatment of Hans Baron placed into the context of German intellectual history and the reception of civic humanism in later European and American history, followed by an interesting coda on present challenges to the concept. The best rapid introduction to the subject.

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  • Nederman, Cary C. “Rhetoric, Reason, and Republic: Republicanisms—Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 247–269. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An interesting essay arguing that while there is a continuity in republicanism from antiquity through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, republicanism in each period was heterogeneous, producing “a diversity of approaches coexisting within an uneasy tension” (p. 248).

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Hans Baron

Hans Baron (1900–1988), a German emigré scholar who spent the majority of his professional career in the United States, created the concept of civic humanism. The germ of the idea appeared in his doctoral thesis (Baron 1924), and he first formulated and used the term “civic humanism” (in German) in his introduction to Bruni 1969 (cited under Texts, originally published in 1928). Baron then published several articles in the 1930s explaining how 14th-century Italians began to understand ancient texts as justifying a life of civic involvement or participation in the affairs of the state (Baron 1988). Baron 1955a and Baron 1955b explain how, where, and when the full concept of civic humanism emerged in the context of the crisis of 1402 when the Republic of Florence was at war against the princedom of Milan. Baron 1966 shortens and sharpens the argument of Baron 1955a and Baron 1955b, while Baron 1968 extends it to other humanist authors and texts. Fubini 1992 offers a trenchant analysis of the intellectual origins of Baron’s scholarship. Molho 2008 argues that Baron’s own experiences, viz., his forced departure from Germany in 1935 and move to the United States in 1938, brought him to understand the last piece of his argument about how civic humanism came into being. See also Bruni 1969 (cited under Texts).

  • Baron, Hans. Calvins Staatsanschauung und das Konfessionelle Zeitalter. Historischen Zeitschrift, Suppl. 1. Berlin and Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1924.

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    Baron’s doctoral dissertation, begun under Ernst Troeltsch and completed under Friedrich Meinecke, in which he locates the seeds of republican political ideals scattered among Calvin’s theological writings. Often overlooked, but an important harbinger of later themes.

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  • Baron, Hans. The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955a.

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    The full statement of “the Baron thesis,” that only in the political crisis of 1402 during the long Florence-Milan war did Florentine intellectuals fully accept the link between classical studies and the defense of republican liberty. Depends on a close reading and redating of several key texts written around 1402.

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  • Baron, Hans. Humanistic and Political Literature in Florence and Venice at the Beginning of the Quattrocento: Studies in Criticism and Chronology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955b.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674280922Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A volume of supplementary essays on the same themes as Baron 1955a, showing in detail how Baron’s careful efforts to identify and date various compositional strands in key works of Florentine and Venetian humanism lead outward to broader conclusions about the development of civic humanism.

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  • Baron, Hans. The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny. Rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.

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    A much shortened, one-volume version of Baron 1955a. It sharpens the argument, but omits much of the technical detail and scholarly apparatus.

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  • Baron, Hans. From Petrarch to Leonardo Bruni: Studies in Humanistic and Political Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

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    A collection of essays, some of which refine the conclusions of Baron 1966, and most of which show Baron’s method of genetic analysis in action. Includes an appendix containing a Latin text of Leonardo Bruni’s Laudatio Florentinae urbis, a key text in Baron’s formulation of civic humanism.

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  • Baron, Hans. In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism: Essays on the Transition from Medieval to Modern Thought. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

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    Reprints, slightly revises, and/or translates important articles, several first published between 1935 and 1938. The most important explain how 14th-century humanists reevaluated medieval ideals. The volumes also include Baron’s evaluation of Machiavelli as the republican citizen, and his own explanation (1965) of the development of his studies on Florentine humanism.

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  • Fubini, Riccardo. “Renaissance Historian: The Career of Hans Baron.” Journal of Modern History 64 (1992): 541–574.

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    A masterful, wide-ranging attempt, stimulated by the publication of In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism (Baron 1988), “to reconsider in more detail than previously attempted the particularly German roots of Baron’s thought” (p. 569), unraveling the ideological, political, and intellectual influences on the concept of Bürgerhumanismus (civic humanism) as Baron developed it.

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  • Molho, Anthony. “Hans Baron’s Crisis.” In Florence and Beyond: Culture, Society, and Politics in Renaissance Italy: Essays in Honour of John M. Najemy. Edited by David S. Peterson and Daniel E. Bornstein, 93–106. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008.

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    Postulates that Baron arrived at the final stage of “the Baron thesis” between 1942 and 1945, after his arrival in the United States, and that Baron’s own difficult life experiences led him to appreciate the interaction of politics and scholarship in early 15th-century Florence.

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Responses to Hans Baron

The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Baron 1955a, cited under Hans Baron) was recognized as a major work as soon as it was published, and over fifty years later, scholars continue to respond directly to it. Ferguson 1958 offers a typical early response, with Seigel 1966 surveying the same material as Baron did but from a different perspective. The fortieth anniversary of the publication of the book generated several important assessments of where the scholarly consensus stood at that point, with Hankins 1995 and Witt 1996 agreeing with the earlier argument of Sasso 1957 that some parts of the “Baron thesis” have held up better than others, although they do not always agree on which parts those are. Quint 1985 and Tylus 2003 represent responses that are in some measure typical of the concerns of their generations.

  • Ferguson, Wallace K. “The Interpretation of Italian Humanism: The Contribution of Hans Baron.” Journal of the History of Ideas 19 (1958): 14–25.

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    A balanced assessment, published shortly after the first edition of Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Baron 1955a, cited under Hans Baron), placing Baron’s ideas within Renaissance scholarship, noting their achievements, and drawing attention to their shortcomings. Baron replied in “Moot Problems of Renaissance Interpretation: An Answer to Wallace K. Ferguson,” Journal of the History of Ideas 19 (1958): 26–34.

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  • Hankins, James. “The ‘Baron Thesis’ after Forty Years and Some Recent Studies of Leonardo Bruni.” Journal of the History of Ideas 56 (1995): 309–338.

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    Argues, based on a masterful control of relevant scholarship, that Baron was wrong in making the Florentine humanists into fervent republicans, but right in emphasizing the civic orientation of the movement. Republished in The Renaissance: Italy and Abroad, (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).

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  • Quint, David. “Humanism and Modernity: A Reconsideration of Bruni’s Dialogues.” Renaissance Quarterly 38 (1985): 423–445.

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    A prize-winning article that rejects Baron’s identification of phases in the composition of the Dialogues but accepts it as a republican document highlighting a generational divide within early Florentine humanism that exposes the possibility that the historical rupture with the past might be unbridgeable—a very modern outlook.

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  • Sasso, Gennaro. “‘Florentina libertas’ e Rinascimento italiano nell’opera di Hans Baron (a proposito di due opere recenti).” Rivista storica italiana 69 (1957): 250–276.

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    An extended meditation on Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Baron 1955a, Baron 1966, both cited under Hans Baron), one that acknowledges freely the merits of Baron’s approach but also raises questions about it, including the discrepancy between humanist writings about Florence and the way in which political life in the city actually worked.

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  • Seigel, Jerome E. “‘Civic Humanism’ or Ciceronian Rhetoric? The Culture of Petrarch and Bruni.” Past and Present 34 (1966): 3–48.

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    First challenges Baron’s dating for key works of Leonardo Bruni, than argues that Bruni’s writings should be interpreted not as social or political statements, but as part of the rhetorical culture of Renaissance humanism. Baron replied in “Leonardo Bruni: ‘Professional Rhetorician’ or ‘Civic Humanist’?” Past and Present 36 (1967): 21–37.

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  • Tylus, Jane. “Charitable Women: Hans Baron’s Civic Renaissance Revisited.” Rinascimento 43 (2003): 287–307.

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    Noting that Baron 1966 (cited under Hans Baron) places civic humanism into the public lives of male citizens in republican Florence, Tylus uses Lorenzo de’ Medici to argue that practicing charity marks a female version of the active life that can complement Baron’s male paradigm but, in the end, looks quite different from it.

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  • Witt, Ronald G. “The Crisis after Forty Years.” American Historical Review 101 (1996): 110–118.

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    Concludes that Baron’s thesis requires some adjustments—his dating of key documents does not always hold up, there were medieval republican theorists, and civic humanism is not the only strand of humanist thought in the Renaissance—but agrees that Leonardo Bruni did change humanist discourse decisively after 1400.

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Eugenio Garin

Garin has acknowledged freely that he drew from Baron’s early articles in developing his concept of civic humanism, as Rubini 2014 notes, with Baron 1966–1967 and Garin 1971 offering further insight into the connection between the two scholars. For Garin, however, the term means something rather different than it does for Baron. Rather than a response to a specific historical event, Garin’s civic humanism involves more a fundamental philosophical outlook, which makes it more generally applicable to the Italian Renaissance outside early 15th-century Florence. For someone reading in English, Garin 1965 offers the clearest statement of his position, with Garin 1954 offering an expansion and refinement for those who read Italian comfortably.

  • Baron, Hans. “Review of Eugenio Garin, Italian Humanism: Philosophy and Civic Life in the Renaissance.” American Historical Review 72 (1966–1967): 631–633.

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    A brief review of Garin 1965, complaining that Garin’s approach to civic humanism becomes somewhat diffuse and unfocused, but in general a sympathetic analysis of a perspective that has much in common with Baron’s concept of civic humanism in Renaissance scholarship.

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  • Garin, Eugenio. Medioevo e Rinascimento: Studi e richerche. Biblioteca di cultura moderna 506. Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1954.

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    See esp. Pt. 1, chaps. 1 and 4, and Pt. 2, chaps. 1 and 5, for a clarification, not available in English, of Garin’s emphasis on humanism’s connection to the active life in a civic context.

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  • Garin, Eugenio. Italian Humanism: Philosophy and Civic Life in the Renaissance. Translated by Peter Munz. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

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    The clearest explanation in English of Garin’s belief that civic humanism involves a general orientation to life that depends on active political engagement under the guidance of the classics. Original Italian edition Bari: Laterza, 1952; English translation reprinted: Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975.

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  • Garin, Eugenio. “Le prime ricerche di Hans Baron sul Quattrocento e la loro influenza fra le due Guerre.” In Renaissance Studies in Honor of Hans Baron. Edited by Anthony Molho and John Tedeschi, lx–lxx. Florence: Sansoni, 1971.

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    A sympathetic appraisal of Baron’s work and its impact on Italian scholarship; short and a bit sketchy in places, but valuable in suggesting some of the intellectual links between the two most prominent scholars of civic humanism in the Renaissance. Copublished by Northern Illinois University Press.

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  • Rubini, Rocco. “The Italian Paradigm Continued: Baron’s ‘Civic Humanism’ Is Also an Existentialism.” In The Other Renaissance: Italian Humanism between Hegel and Heidegger. Edited by Rocco Rubini, 272–285. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

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    An interesting study of how Garin’s concept of civic humanism developed out of and alongside Baron’s, taking on a more philosophical dimension that was not rooted in early Quattrocento Florence alone, but extended through other areas of Italy and into the following century.

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Medieval Precursors

A major debate began at the end of the last century, and continues today, about whether a coherent, recognizable civic humanism can be identified in late medieval thought. As part of a larger discussion, Viroli 1992 surveys the major writers in whose works the concept might be found. Attention has centered on Ptolemy of Lucca, with Davis 1984a and Davis 1984b offering an early argument that Ptolemy was a civic humanist. La Salle and Blythe 2005 and Blythe and La Salle 2008 agree, adding that this was initially the conclusion of Hans Baron, who later changed his mind and pushed the origin of civic humanism forward. Blythe 2000 offers a good summary of where scholarly discussion on this debate stands.

  • Blythe, James M. “‘Civic Humanism’ and Medieval Political Thought.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 30–74. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    A thoughtful, detailed analysis of the medieval roots of civic humanism, arguing that the late medieval Scholastics had an extensively developed republican tradition, and that boundaries between such positions as republican and monarchical were fluid.

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  • Blythe, James M., and John La Salle. “Did Tolomeo Fiadoni (Ptolemy of Lucca) Insert Civic Humanist Ideas into Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Kingship? Reflections on a Newly Discovered Manuscript of Hans Baron.” In Florence and Beyond: Culture, Society, and Politics in Renaissance Italy; Essays in Honour of John M. Najemy. Edited by David S. Peterson and Daniel E. Bornstein, 93–106. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008.

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    Examines Baron’s claim, in an unpublished paper written about 1941, that Tolomeo Fiadoni (Ptolemy of Lucca) had become a civic humanist by 1300, and that he revised Thomas Aquinas’s De regno to include pro-republican sentiments, concluding that Baron’s argument is probably correct, but not regarding all the passages under discussion.

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  • Davis, Charles T. “Ptolemy of Lucca and the Roman Republic.” In Dante’s Italy and Other Essays. Edited by Charles T. Davis, 254–289. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984a.

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    Examines republican gestures in the works of Dante, Remigio de’ Girolami, and Ptolemy of Lucca, but concludes that only Ptolemy qualified as a real republican, a conclusion Davis uses to push civic humanism back before Petrarch. Originally published in Proceedings of the American Philosophic Society 118 (1974): 30–50.

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  • Davis, Charles T. “Roman Patriotism and Republican Propaganda: Ptolemy of Lucca and Pope Nicholas III.” In Dante’s Italy and Other Essays. Edited by Charles T. Davis, 224–253. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984b.

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    Argues that, notwithstanding his recognition of papal supremacy, “Ptolemy, in fact, was the first Italian republican who could justify his position in a theoretically competent way” (p. 225). Originally published in Speculum 50 (1975): 411–33.

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  • La Salle John, and James M. Blythe. “Was Ptolemy of Lucca a Civic Humanist? Reflections on a Newly Discovered Manuscript of Hans Baron.” History of Political Thought 26 (2005): 236–265.

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    Relying on the same unpublished manuscript studied in Blythe and La Salle 2008, the authors show that Baron initially saw Ptolemy of Lucca as a proto-civic humanist but then changed his mind, presenting him in Baron 1966 (cited under Hans Baron) as thoroughly medieval.

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  • Viroli, Maurizio. From Politics to Reason of State: The Acquisition and Transformation of the Language of Politics, 1250–1600. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511521485Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the origins of civic humanism back to the 13th century, when it arose to establish and preserve free cities against the threat of tyranny, and follows it through the end of the 16th century, when it gave way to reason of state, whose goal was the preservation of power.

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Civic Humanism in Renaissance Scholarship

The ideas of Baron, followed by those of Garin, quickly entered the mainstream of scholarly writing about the Renaissance. Rabil 1988 is an often-cited overview of early responses, while Skinner 1978 marks an important expansion of ideas about civic humanism. Witt 1990 offers a slight revision of the concept that overcomes an important objection to it, while Brown 2000 and Baker, et al. 2015 represent a trend in more recent scholarship that still accepts the importance of civic humanism but approaches it with considerable skepticism.

  • Baker, Nicholas Scott, Brian Maxson, and Oren J. Margolis, eds. After Civic Humanism: Learning and Politics in Renaissance Italy. Essays and Studies 35. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2015.

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    A series of essays examining the connection between learning and politics fifty years after Baron 1966 (cited under Hans Baron), settling on “a complex, ever-shifting mosaic of learned enterprises in which the well-examined civic paradigm emerges as just one of several modes” (p. 24). Notable for moving the discussion beyond Florence.

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  • Brown, Alison. “De-Masking Renaissance Republicanism.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 179–199. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An interesting revisionist essay that uses festivals and public shows as well as the usually cited writers to claim that the republican ideal was already losing credibility by the late 15th century, even though it maintained ideological force after the political realities of the day had been demasked.

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  • Rabil, Albert J., Jr. “The Significance of ‘Civic Humanism’ in the Interpretation of the Italian Renaissance.” In Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms and Legacy. Vol. 1, Humanism in Italy. Edited by Albert J. Rabil Jr., 141–179. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

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    A succinct statement of the positions of Baron and Garin, followed by an overview of reactions to these positions by a series of noted historians toward the end of the 20th century. Reprinted in The Renaissance in Europe: A Reader (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 31–54.

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  • Skinner, Quentin. The Foundations of Modern Political Thought. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

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    An influential work of scholarship that traces the ideological origins of the modern state. Skinner returns in several places to civic humanism, whose connections to Roman Stoicism are emphasized, as a central part of Renaissance political theory.

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  • Witt, Ronald G. “Civic Humanism and the Rebirth of the Ciceronian Oration.” Modern Language Quarterly 81 (1990): 167–184.

    DOI: 10.1215/00267929-51-2-167Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links the revival of Ciceronian oratory in the early Renaissance to civic humanism, which provided speakers and audiences with the proper training and an environment in which it could be exercised. An important counter argument to Seigel 1966 (cited under Responses to Hans Baron), which postulated rhetoric as antithetical to civic humanism.

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The Florentine State

If Baron’s approach to civic humanism works, it must explain life in Renaissance Florence, and a number of scholars set out after the 1950s to test out how this worked. Becker 1968, Brucker 1977, and Najemy 1982 integrate the rise of civic humanism into the changes in Florentine society and politics, while Hartt 1964 and Rubinstein 1995 link the explosion of art in a new style explicitly to civic humanism. Hörnqvist 2000 and Jurdjevic 1999 explain how the republican tradition could be compatible with two things, Florence’s imperialist aspirations and the rise of the Medici, that have often been seen as obstacles to it, while Najemy 2000 explores civic humanism as a myth, not a reflection of reality within the city.

  • Becker, Marvin B. “The Florentine Territorial State and Civic Humanism in the Early Renaissance.” In Florentine Studies: Politics and Society in Renaissance Florence. Edited by Nicolai Rubinstein, 109–139. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.

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    Argues that civic humanism in Florence arose because of internal political and economic developments, particularly the rise of a new political organism, the territorial state, whose demands were articulated in civic humanism and art. An interesting analysis by one of the leading postwar scholars of the Florentine Renaissance.

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  • Brucker, Gene. The Civic World of Early Renaissance Florence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

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    Anchors civic humanism into social change by integrating the crystallization of civic values into the transformation of Florentine political life. Brucker focuses on precisely the same years as Baron (1382–1430) and finds expressions of civic humanism in the debates of the Florentine government beginning about 1411.

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  • Hartt, Frederick. “Art and Freedom in Quattrocento Florence.” In Essays in Memory of Karl Lehmann. Edited by L. Freeman Sandler, 114–131. New York: New York University, 1964.

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    Links the sudden emergence of the early Florentine Renaissance style, as seen especially in the works of Masaccio and Donatello, explicitly to Baron’s concept of civic humanism and to the city’s efforts to find an appropriate artistic expression for the external threat to its liberty.

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  • Hörnqvist, Michael. “Two Myths of Civic Humanism.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 105–142. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Argues, in opposition to historians like Nicolai Rubinstein, that the civic humanist notion of Florentine liberty was based in the model of the Roman Republic, which supported an imperialist agenda of expansion abroad, a linkage that is documented by a careful examination of myth-making in Renaissance Florence.

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  • Jurdjevic, Mark. “Civic Humanism and the Rise of the Medici.” Renaissance Quarterly 51.4 (1999): 994–1020.

    DOI: 10.2307/2901833Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows that civic humanism continued to play an important role in Florence after the Medici came to power, by supplying a means to justify and legitimize the changes effected by Cosimo de’ Medici. Offers an important extension of the civic humanism concept to different constitutional forms and modes of power.

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  • Najemy, John M. “Epilogue.” In Corporation and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics, 1280–1400. Edited by John M. Najemy, 301–317. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

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    Explains that civic humanism arose out of a change in medieval Florentine guild politics, so that opportunities for political participation expanded while the actual leadership elite contracted.

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  • Najemy, John M. “Civic Humanism and Florentine Politics.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 75–104. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Argues that civic humanism did not reflect political reality in 15th-century Florence, but that it served as a civic myth to replace the older guild republicanism and to justify the rise to power of the new oligarchy.

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  • Rubinstein, Nicolai. The Palazzo Vecchio 1298–1532: Government, Architecture, and Imagery in the Civic Palace of the Florentine Republic. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

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    An exhaustive study of a key building in Florentine civic life that relates the building and its accompanying works of painting and sculpture to the ideological thrust of political and humanistic thought, where republican imagery came to prevail.

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Bruni, Guicciardini, and Machiavelli

Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Guicciardini, and Niccolò Machiavelli are crucial to understanding the emergence of civic humanism in Florence. Hankins 2000 suggests that Bruni’s thought was more complex than Baron had realized (see Baron 1966, cited under Hans Baron), while Moulakis 2000 claims that Guicciardini also bears a complicated relationship to civic humanism. Mansfield 2000 and Najemy 1996 stress the importance of a break between Bruni and Machiavelli that was deeper than Baron had believed. Bock, et al. 1990 and Pocock 1975 place Machiavelli firmly within the republican tradition, while Gilbert 1977 focuses on the development of Machiavelli’s thought, and Rahe 2000 finds him to have been fundamentally at odds with civic humanism.

  • Bock, Gisela, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli, eds. Machiavelli and Republicanism. Ideas in Context 18. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    An important and sometimes controversial collection of essays that places Machiavelli firmly into the republican context of civic humanism. The book is divided into sections on Machiavelli’s relationship to the republican experience, republican ideas, and the republican heritage.

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  • Gilbert, Felix. History: Choice and Commitment. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1977.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674368521Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contains several essays on Machiavelli that use a method similar to Baron’s to identify different strands of composition in key works, and then to place those works into Machiavelli’s evolving attitude toward the standard tenets of civic humanism.

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  • Hankins, James. “Rhetoric, History and Ideology: The Civic Panegyrics of Leonardo Bruni.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 143–178. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Argues that Bruni’s famous orations, an important foundation for civic humanist thought, were primarily propaganda vehicles aimed at foreign elites, and that Bruni’s political convictions were compatible with a range of regimes, provided that the rulers were virtuous.

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  • Mansfield, Harvey C. “Bruni and Machiavelli on Civic Humanism.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 223–246. Ideas in Context, 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An interesting essay that posits a break between Bruni and Machiavelli, two key figures in traditional civic humanist scholarship, to suggest that Machiavelli pulled away from Aristotle and Bruni to rely on an “effectual truth” (p. 229) that is quintessentially modern, neither civic nor humane.

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  • Moulakis, Athanasios. “Civic Humanism, Realist Constitutionalism, and Francesco Guicciardini’s Discorso di Logrogno.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 200–222. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Suggests that Guicciardini’s thought is best examined outside the republican tradition, as a manifestation of a “realist constitutionalism” (p. 201) that began with power and process and predicated the state as a work of art designed to provide security and liberty.

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  • Najemy, John M. “Baron’s Machiavelli and Renaissance Republicanism.” American Historical Review 101 (1996): 119–129.

    DOI: 10.2307/2169227Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Baron was essentially correct in dating Machiavelli’s works to show a progression toward, rather than away from, republicanism, but that Machiavelli’s critique of civic humanism stemmed from republican convictions that were deeper than Leonardo Bruni’s, which Baron did not see.

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  • Pocock, John G. A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975.

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    A controversial, often-cited book that focuses on Machiavelli to argue the existence of a continuous republican tradition with its roots in antiquity, its flowering in Renaissance Florence, and its afterlife extending into English and American politics through the 18th century, where it offered a counterpart to Lockean and Burkean constitutionalism.

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  • Rahe, Paul A. “Situating Machiavelli.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 270–308. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Argues that Machiavelli turns the tradition of classical republicanism upside down, substituting “institutions with teeth in them for the paideia [education] in moral and political virtue” (p. 305) that was the heart of civic humanism.

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Outside Florence

Since Venice was the other major Italian state that functioned as a republic, it offers an interesting test of how well civic humanism explains political life there; Bouwsma 1968, King 1986, and Muir 1981 take up this question from somewhat different, but complementary, perspectives. Hankins 2005 forces the consideration of a fundamental question: Can civic humanism exist in the signorial states of the Italian Renaissance as well? Nussdorfer 1992 offers a positive response from an unlikely source, the city of Rome in the 17th century.

  • Bouwsma, William J. Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the Counter-Reformation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

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    A history of Renaissance Venice that unfolds from the perspective of civic humanism. Bouwsma argues that Paolo Sarpi (b. 1552–d. 1623) defended Venetian republican values against the papacy and its supporters, as Bruni defended Florentine republican liberty against Milan.

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  • Hankins, James. “De republica: Civic Humanism in Renaissance Milan (and Other Renaissance Signories).” In I Decembrio e la tradizione della «Repubblica» di Platone tra Medioevo e Umanesimo. Edited by Mario Vegetti and Paolo Pissavino, 485–508. Conference proceedings. Naples: Bibliopolis, 2005.

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    A deliberately provocative essay that argues that virtue, patriotism, humane learning, and public spiritedness are not limited to republics, and that Renaissance humanism flourished under signories as well, although it is the republican model that is innovative and stands at the root of modern ideas about freedom and equality.

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  • King, Margaret L. Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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    Shows how the ruling patricians of Renaissance Venice absorbed the concept of civic humanism into an ideology of the state that stressed unity and stability within a distinctively Venetian culture.

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  • Muir, Edward. Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

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    Building on Bouwsma 1968 and Baron 1966 (cited under Hans Baron), Muir shows how civic rituals in Venice contributed to the construction of community life and values in Renaissance Italy’s second great republic. An often-cited book.

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  • Nussdorfer, Laurie. Civic Politics in the Rome of Urban VIII. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Suggests that, notwithstanding its unique status as the seat of papal absolutism, 17th-century Rome participated in the Italian civic humanism tradition, which rested in the right to be governed by locally initiated statutes, elections to fill offices, and the idea that holding civic office was honorable.

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Texts

For those who want to read some of the key texts on which the scholarly understanding of civic humanism in the Renaissance rests, Bruni 1969 offers a good start. English translations of relevant texts can be found in Bruni 1978; Griffiths, et al. 1987; and Watkins 1978. See also Baron 1968, cited under Hans Baron.

  • Bruni, Leonardo. Humanistisch-philosophische Schriften, mit einer Chronologie seiner Werke und Briefe. Edited by and with commentary by Hans Baron. Wiesbaden: Sändig, 1969.

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    The term “Florentine civic humanism” appears frequently in the introduction (pp. xi–xl), which states that Leonardo Bruni (b. c. 1370–d. 1444), Coluccio Salutati (b. 1331–d. 1406), and other Florentines combined classical studies with civic commitment. What follows are editions of some important short works of Bruni. Reprint of 1928 edition (Berlin: Teubner).

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  • Bruni, Leonardo. “Panegyric to the City of Florence.” Translated by Benjamin G. Kohl. In The Earthly Republic: Italian Humanists on Government and Society. Edited by Benjamin G. Kohl and Ronald G. Witt, 135–177. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.

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    Contains a translation of the text of Bruni’s speech praising the city of Florence, a key document for the articulation of Baron’s thesis on civic humanism.

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  • Griffiths, Gordon, James Hankins, and David Thompson, eds. The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni: Selected Texts. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 46; Renaissance Texts Series 10. Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1987.

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    Contains excerpts and complete texts of a good number of works by Leonardo Bruni, a key figure in the emergence of civic humanism; although the selections were made to bring out other aspects of his thought, the civic humanist elements are present as well. Published in conjunction with the Renaissance Society of America.

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  • Watkins, Renee N., ed. Humanism and Liberty: Writings on Freedom from Fifteenth-Century Florence. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978.

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    Contains a selection of translations of works by Leonardo Bruni, Leon Battista Alberti, Poggio Bracciolini, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Angelo Poliziano, Alamanno Rinuccini, and Girolamo Savonarola that illustrate the environment in which civic humanism arose.

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From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

Castiglione 2005 and Fink 1962 make the interesting, although debatable, argument that civic humanism persists in English thought through the 18th century. Robbins 1959 makes clear the connection with radical political thought in England, and Gibson 2007 uses an interesting specific example to unpack the relationship between political ideology and religion in this period. Van Gelderen and Skinner 2002 extend the argument beyond the Anglophone world.

  • Castiglione, Dario. “Republicanism and Its Legacy.” European Journal of Political Theory 4 (2005): 453–466.

    DOI: 10.1177/1474885105055993Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A lengthy review of van Gelderen and Skinner 2002, using the relationship between the history and theory of republicanism, the unity of the republican tradition, and the endurance of republicanism to show how civic humanism provided a language for political discourse from c. 1550 to 1800.

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  • Fink, Zera. The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth-Century England. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1962.

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    The classic survey of the influence of ancient ideas about the republic in the political and literary writings of the 17th century, with a special focus on John Milton as someone influenced by the ideas of civic humanism.

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  • Gibson, William. Religion and the Enlightenment, 1600–1800: Conflict and the Rise of Civic Humanism in Taunton. Oxford and New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

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    An interesting study of the town of Taunton, a bastion of Protestant Dissent, leading to the conclusion “that the enlightened values of civic humanism were promoted by religion, in this case Protestant Nonconformity” (p. 356).

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  • Robbins, Caroline. The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman: Studies in the Transmission, Development and Circumstances of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until the War with the Thirteen Colonies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674435728Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the continuity and development of radical political ideas, many of them derived ultimately from civic humanism, from the English efforts to resist tyranny in one century to American efforts in the next.

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  • van Gelderen, Martin, and Quentin Skinner, eds. Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    An important set of essays that traces classical republican and civic humanist themes from the mid-16th to the late 18th centuries, focusing on the rejection of monarchy, the republican citizen and constitution, political values, the rise of commerce, and the role of women in the republic. An important collection.

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The Cambridge School and its Critics

Although the nature and, indeed, the very existence of the Cambridge school have been questioned by a number of scholars, including those associated with it, it is generally understood that the afterlife of Renaissance civic humanism has been discussed by such historians as John G. A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner, who have used a contextualist approach that emphasizes the importance of ideas, the language used to express them, and the context in which they were formulated. Pocock 1985 and Skinner 2002 are the seminal texts here, along with Pocock 1975 (cited under Bruni, Guicciardini, and Machiavelli), Skinner 1978 (cited under Civic Humanism in Renaissance Scholarship), Bock, et al. 1990 (cited under Bruni, Guicciardini, and Machiavelli), and van Gelderen and Skinner 2002 (cited under From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment). Pettit 1997 and Spitz 1995 develop with sympathy what is often called the “Atlantic Republican Tradition” posited by the Cambridge school, while Jurdjevic 2001 and McKeon 2006 offer thoughtful critiques of this approach.

  • Jurdjevic, Mark. “Virtue, Commerce, and the Enduring Florentine Republican Moment: Reintegrating Italy into the Atlantic Republican Tradition.” Journal of the History of Ideas 62 (2001): 721–743.

    DOI: 10.1353/jhi.2001.0034Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Pocock misunderstood the relationship between republican ideology and the rise of commerce in Renaissance Florence, and that the harmonious relation between the two forces links Italian humanism to the English and American republican contexts.

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  • McKeon, Michael. “Civic Humanism and the Logic of Historical Interpretation.” In The Political Imagination in History: Essays Concerning J. G. A. Pocock. Edited by D. N. DeLuna, Perry Anderson, and Glenn Burgess, 59–99. Baltimore: Owlworks, 2006.

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    A closely argued critique of Pocock’s work on civic humanism, based in a skepticism about both the method that generated the work and about Pocock’s findings.

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  • Pettit, Philip. Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Oxford Political Theory. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

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    A survey of the republican tradition from ancient to modern times that places Renaissance civic humanism into a broader analysis of liberty as noninterference into individual activity, as active participation in a shared democratic will, and as nondomination by others.

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  • Pocock, John G. A. Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century. Ideas in Context 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511720505Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A series of essays that refine the arguments made in Pocock 1975 (cited under Bruni, Guicciardini, and Machiavelli), focusing on England, Scotland, and America between 1688 and 1789, with an emphasis on how the linguistic turn has led the author to move from a history of political thought to a history of political discourse.

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  • Skinner, Quentin. Visions of Politics. Vol. 2, Renaissance Virtues. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Argues in a number of essays within the volume that a distinctively republican idea of liberty that operates in different political periods can be traced back to ancient Rome.

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  • Spitz, Jean-Fabien. La liberté politique: Essai de généalogie conceptuelle. Léviathan. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995.

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    Anchors an argument that liberty requires a just recognition of the rights of others into a tradition of civic humanism that enters into dialogue with thinkers ranging from Rousseau to Skinner. A “big book,” in the French tradition.

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The American Experience

Although many scholars of American history have placed the intellectual origins of the American Revolution in Enlightenment thought in general, or Lockean constitutionalism in particular, an important approach arose in the 1960s that emphasized the importance of civic humanism. Bailyn 1967 and Wood 1969 are the generally cited early proponents of this approach, with Matthews 1987 offering an important assessment of where things stood with this approach a generation later, and Pangle 1990 and Rodgers 1992 expressing hesitations about overrating the importance of classical republicanism in early American thought.

  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1967.

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    A groundbreaking study that placed the origin of the American Revolution primarily within ideology, in the fear of a comprehensive conspiracy against liberty that grew out of the anti-authoritarianism of the English Civil War: “the primary goal of the American revolution . . . [was] the preservation of political liberty” (p. 19).

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  • Matthews, Richard K. “Liberalism, Civic Humanism, and the American Political Tradition: Understanding Genesis.” Journal of Politics 49 (1987): 1127–1153.

    DOI: 10.2307/2130789Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A review essay that surveys the American Revolution in the understanding of the founding of the American republic caused by the development of the civic humanist paradigm as it appeared in Aristotle and Machiavelli, which has challenged the traditional argument that the Founding Fathers were adherents of Lockean liberalism.

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  • Pangle, Thomas L. The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    Argues against the unity and importance of the classical republican strain in the ideology of the Founding Fathers (see especially pp. 28–39), insisting instead on the importance of John Locke as the source of the three major parts of the moral vision that led to the creation of the United States.

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  • Rodgers, Daniel T. “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept.” Journal of American History 79 (1992): 11–28.

    DOI: 10.2307/2078466Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Within the framework of a deep skepticism, Rodgers offers a survey of the rise and spread of republicanism among American historians, with trenchant observations along the way about how scholarly paradigms gain traction and about what needs were being met by the republican approach. A stimulating read.

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  • Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic: 1776–1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1969.

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    An often-cited study of the ideological framework of the American Revolution, placing classical republicanism into a context that included Whig theories from England and an expectation of social and moral reform. Direct links to the Renaissance are rare, but the intellectual environment of civic humanism is recognizable. Second edition, 1998.

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