Books Features

New Medieval Books: Political Meritocracy in Renaissance Italy

Political Meritocracy in Renaissance Italy: The Virtuous Republic of Francesco Patrizi of Siena

By James Hankins

Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780-674-27470-9

A biography and examination of the writings of Francesco Patrizi (1413-1494), once considered an important political philosopher but now largely forgotten in the modern world. The book aims to show that Patrizi’s thoughts and writings are important for both the Middle Ages and the modern world.


The thesis of this book is that Patrizi does not merit his present obscurity. Let me make this claim in a more provocative form: Patrizi deserves to be recognized as the most substantial and influential voice of Italian humanist political thought between the time of Francesco Petrarca in the fourteenth century and Niccolo Machiavelli in the sixteenth. In a recent book I have labeled that tradition of thought “virtue politics,” and if what I argue there is correct, it is Patrizi, not Machiavelli, who is the more authentic representative of Renaissance political thought. He was, indeed, specially chosen to fill that role by Pius II, the humanist pope, who charged the Sienese scholar with creating a synthesis of ancient political wisdom for the use of humanist reformers. What Patrizi produced in his two great treatises on republican and royal government were no mere compilations, but powerful statements of contemporary political ideals.


Who is this book for?

This book will be required reading for anyone interested in political thought from the late Middle Ages, and even those who look at the broader history of that topic. If Patrizi is indeed as important as the author claims, then many medievalists will want to better understand him and his writings. Those interested in politics more generally should also consider reading this book, as Hankins believes it can offer some useful lessons for today’s world.

The author:

James Hankins is a Professor of History at Harvard University. He describes himself as “a historian of philosophy and the history of political theory. Though I teach subjects ranging from the Pre-Socratics to the Enlightenment, my area of expertise is in Italian Renaissance humanism and Platonic thought.”


Hankins’ interest in politics and political thought includes writing for a wide variety of media, including Law & Liberty magazine. You can also follow him on X/Twitter @JamesWHankins1

There is also an online component to this book – The Patrizi Project offers more information about Francesco Patrizi and his works.

You can learn more about this book from the publisher’s website

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