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As If God Existed:
Religion and Liberty in the History of Italy
Maurizio Viroli
Translated by Alberto Nones

Hardcover | 2012 | $39.50/ £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691142357
376 pp. | 6 x 9 | SHOPPING CART

eBook | ISBN: 9781400845514 |
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Religion and liberty are often thought to be mutual enemies: if religion has a natural ally, it is authoritarianism--not republicanism or democracy. But in this book, Maurizio Viroli, a leading historian of republican political thought, challenges this conventional wisdom. He argues that political emancipation and the defense of political liberty have always required the self-sacrifice of people with religious sentiments and a religious devotion to liberty. This is particularly the case when liberty is threatened by authoritarianism: the staunchest defenders of liberty are those who feel a deeply religious commitment to it.

Viroli makes his case by reconstructing, for the first time, the history of the Italian "religion of liberty," covering its entire span but focusing on three key examples of political emancipation: the free republics of the late Middle Ages, the Risorgimento of the nineteenth century, and the antifascist Resistenza of the twentieth century. In each example, Viroli shows, a religious spirit that regarded moral and political liberty as the highest goods of human life was fundamental to establishing and preserving liberty. He also shows that when this religious sentiment has been corrupted or suffocated, Italians have lost their liberty.

This book makes a powerful and provocative contribution to today's debates about the compatibility of religion and republicanism.

Maurizio Viroli is professor of politics at Princeton University and professor of political communication at the University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano. His many books include Niccolò's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli, Machiavelli's God (Princeton), and The Liberty of Servants: Berlusconi's Italy (Princeton).


"In this thought-provoking book, Viroli contends that religion and liberty are not incompatible."--Choice

"[T]he book is a very welcome addition to ongoing debates and will remind readers of a strand of Italian history deserving of attention."--Ted H. Miller, Perspectives on Politics

"This book makes a powerful and provocative contribution to today's debates about the compatibility of religion and republicanism."--World Book Industry


"Religion and liberty, each often considered the main enemy of the other, stand together in Maurizio Viroli's thoughtful and daring book. Writing with his usual convincing charm, Viroli studies three highlights of Italian republicanism and finds a common clue to their fame in the formula 'as if God existed.' A must for lovers of Machiavelli--and Italy."--Harvey C. Mansfield, author of Machiavelli's Virtue

"Addressing a fascinating and controversial subject, this book is compellingly argued, brilliantly written, and provocative in the best sense of the word."--Eugenio Biagini, University of Cambridge

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    File created: 5/10/2015

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