Machiavelli's Gospel

Machiavelli's Gospel

The Critique of Christianity in "The Prince"

William B. Parsons

eBook for Handhelds

University of Rochester Press



A new reading of The Prince, arguing that the classic text is neither a scientific treatise on politics nor a patriotic tract but rather an artful, elaborated critique of the dominant religion of his time
The leading interpretations of The Prince focus on Machiavelli's historical context, but they give little attention to the source on which the moral and political thought of Machiavelli's sixteenth century was based, the Christian Bible. In this study of The Prince, William Parsons plumbs Machiavelli's allusions to the Bible, along with his statements on the Church, and shows that Machiavelli was a careful reader of the Bible and an astute observer of the Church. On this basis Parsons contends that Machiavelli's teaching in The Prince is instructively compared with that of the Church's teacher, Jesus Christ.

Parsons thus undertakes what recent interpreters of The Prince have not done: contrast Machiavelli's advice with the teaching of Christ. The result is a new reading of The Prince, revealing in Machiavelli's political thought a systematic critique of the New Testament and its model for human life, Christ. In this commentary on one of the greatest works on politics ever written, Parsons not only challenges the most recent interpretations of The Prince but also sheds new light on the classic interpretation that Machiavelli was a teacher of immorality.

William Parsons is associate professor of political science at Carroll College.

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286 pages
9x6 in
Hardback, 9781580464918, May 2016
eBook for Handhelds, 9781782047339, May 2016
University of Rochester Press
BISAC POL010000, PHI019000, PHI037000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Christianity, Christ, and Machiavelli's The Prince
Christianity's Siren Song
Christ's Defective Political Foundations
Hope Is Not Enough
The Prince of War
Machiavelli's Unchristian Virtue
Christ's Ruinous Political Legacy
The Harrowing Redemption of Italy
Conclusion: Machiavelli's Gospel
Works Cited


This book is a well-written, well-organized effort to uncover the textual sources of Machiavelli's understanding of Christianity. It offers a close and nuanced reading of the relevant texts. Whether or not one agrees with its perspective or with its conclusions, it is an excellent piece of scholarship. RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY

This is the work of a lifetime. Parsons gives exhaustive commentaries on all the important texts, but chiefly The Prince and the Discourses, to substantiate his deliberately shocking thesis. He has produced a work that every serious student of Machiavelli will henceforth have to engage. HEYTHROPE JOURNAL

Machiavelli's Gospel provocatively delineates and deciphers biblical allegories in Machiavelli's political writings, especially The Prince. [. . .] Parsons provides exciting new interpretive twists on figures such as Savonarola and Cesare Borgia, whom Machiavelli clearly meant to serve as symbolic proxies for Christ. Parsons also sheds fresh light on the Christological (or anti-Christological) elements of Machiavelli's depictions of other figures such as Philip V of Macedon, Philopoemen of the Achaean league, and Piero Soderini, Machiavelli's patron and the gonfalonier of justice in the Florentine Republic. REVIEW OF POLITICS

Parsons offers in great detail a Machiavelli to which careful readers have always had access. PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICS

Machiavelli's Gospel makes a unique and substantial contribution to the scholarly literature on Machiavelli. William Parsons's mastery of both Machiavelli's texts and the New Testament is impressive, and he executes the confrontation between Machiavelli and Christianity with remarkable thoroughness and subtlety. --Nathan Tarcov, University of Chicago

In this provocative book, William Parsons makes a strong case for reading Machiavelli's Prince as a radical -- and often audacious -- critique of Christianity. No previous study has so thoroughly examined Machiavelli's complex engagements with the Bible, especially the New Testament. By comparing lessons from the Gospels with passages from the Prince and Discourses that seem to subvert the teaching of Christ, Machiavelli's Gospel introduces readers to a fascinating and underexplored terrain. --Erica Benner, Yale University