Hankins, James, Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019. 768 pages. Hardcover, $45.00.
Harvard University Professor of History James Hankins has produced both the most comprehensive study of political thought in the humanist tradition and a scathing indictment of the current research paradigms of Renaissance Studies. Hankins begins Virtue Politics by carefully articulating the purpose of his work and the context in which it was created. In the introduction, the author explains that Virtue Politics began as an attempt to connect a series of lectures made over the past fifteen years on varying perspectives on the humanist tradition. While this would typically create an unnecessarily exhaustive approach, Hankins provides exact context for the work as a careful articulation of the cumulative weaknesses within Renaissance historiography. From that point, Hankins urges academics to look to past sources previously labeled as empty rhetoric for a deeper understanding of the cultural standards present in Renaissance Italy. Previous works had dismissed rhetoric as a hyperbolic conversation positioned as propaganda of the age. While Hankins acknowledges the underlying interpretation of the fallacies found in the hyperboles of the humanist tradition, he makes the argument that the dismissal of the extremes of the statements does not require their complete expulsion.
In order to support his plea, Hankins provides a near onslaught of examples of how different interpretations can be illuminated by the previously neglected sources. Virtue Politics is a work that can be grouped by stages of Hankins' argument. Hankins covers larger abstractions in the beginning of the work as a means to ease the reader into the idea of more specific interpretations later in the work. Virtue Politics begins with foundational figures in the humanist tradition, like Petrarch, and assumptions commonly made in reference to the political thought of the time. Hankins continues to navigate different abstractions such as the role of the state, or how to define the concept of the "republic." These are subjects with a wide range of accepted interpretations, making it simple to place another among them.