Civic Humanism

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Civic Humanism is the duty of the good citizen in a republic.

See also Republicanism and Machiavelli

Pocock (1981) traces the Machiavellian belief in and emphasis upon Greco-Roman ideals of unspecialized civic virtue and liberty from 15th century Florence through 17th century England and Scotland to 18th century America. Thinkers who shared these ideals tended to believe that the function of property was to maintain an individual's independence as a precondition of his virtue. Consequently, in the last two times and places mentioned above, they were disposed to attack the new commercial and financial regime that was beginning to develop.[1]

The influential concept of civic humanism of German Renaissance scholar Hans Baron (1900–88) emphasized the male citizen's participation in the republic of Florence. He saw medieval religion as antithetical to this republicanism and denied religion any constitutive role in Renaissance culture. In medieval Thomism there is a broader concept of participation than that of Baron. Despite the supposed ignoring of religion by Jacob Burckhardt (1818–97), he asserted that Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–92) reclaimed medieval spirituality in his late writings. Lorenzo's writings point toward a broader definition of participation to include human associations that focused on charity, thereby including men and women in participatory roles in society.[2]

Najemi (1996) examines Hans Baron's ambivalent portrayal of Machiavelli. He argues that Baron tended to see Machiavelli simultaneously as the cynical debunker and the faithful heir of civic humanism. By the mid-1950s, Baron had come to consider civic humanism and Florentine republicanism as early chapters of a much longer history of European political liberty, a story in which Machiavelli and his generation played a crucial role. This conclusion led Baron to modify his earlier negative view of Machiavelli. He tried to bring the Florentine theorist under the umbrella of civic humanism by underscoring the radical differences between The Prince (which seems to recommend the Prince should doing evil) and the Discourses (which recommends the citizens should do good) and thus revealing the fundamentally republican character of the Discourses. However, Baron's inability to come to terms with Machiavelli's harsh criticism of early 15th century commentators such as Leonardo Bruni ultimately prevented him from fully reconciling Machiavelli with civic humanism.[3]

Further reading

  • Baron, Hans. The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny (2 vol 1955), highly influential, deep study of civic humanism (republicanism); 700 pp. excerpts and text search; ACLS E-books; also vol 2 in ACLS E-books
  • Baron, Hans. In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism (2 vols. 1988).
  • Baron Hans, "Machiavelli: The Republican Citizen and the Author of The Prince" in The English Historical Review 76 (1961), pp. 217–53. in JSTOR
  • Pocock, J.G.A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975; new ed. 2003), a highly influential study of Discourses and its vast influence; excerpt and text search; also online 1975 edition


  1. J. G. A. Pocock, "The Machiavellian Moment Revisited: a Study in History and Ideology.: Journal of Modern History 1981 53(1): 49-72.
  2. Jane Tylus, "Charitable Women: Hans Baron's Civic Renaissance Revisited." Rinascimento [Italy] 2003 43: 287-307. Issn: 0080-3073
  3. John M. Najemy, "Baron's Machiavelli and Renaissance Republicanism." American Historical Review 1996 101(1): 119-129.