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Politica e morale nella Francia dell'eta moderna.

Anna Maria Battista. Politica e morale nella Francia dell'et[grave{a}] moderna. Ed.

Anna Maria Lazzarino Del Grosso.

Genoa: Name, 1998. 303 pp. IL 33,000. ISBN: 88-87298-00-9.

Anna Maria Battista died in 1988, leaving to posterity a bold and challenging thesis reiterated in the essays that constitute this book. Following Eugenio Garin, she asserts that the humanist achievement was informed by a sense of community and a firm belief in the Aristotelian maxim that man is by nature a political and social animal. During the civil wars of later sixteenth-century France, she argues, respect for traditional values and institutions fell apart, the monarchy was set on its absolutist course, and the sense of community among the intellectual elite was replaced by a search for interior values and the rejection of the Aristotelian ethic. The state no longer provided an organic communitarian unity, and French society was seen as a disaggregated mass of groups and individuals. L'uomo sociale became l'uomo dissociato.

In the seventeenth century, libertines, sceptics, Neostoics, Neoepicureans and men of science illustrated the trend. So, too, did mystics, ascetics and Jansenists, who looked inwards to find a new spirituality. An Augustinian pessimism about corrupted human nature pervaded reformed Catholicism. Montaigne was the secular avatar of the new mentality, and provided the premises on which both Descartes and Pascal were to build. The term amour propre entered the language of morality through Sorbi[grave{e}]re's translation of Hobbes's De Cive (1651). According to Battista, citing Roman Schnur, Hobbes's own vision of humankind had been informed by the French context in which he formulated the ultimate theory of absolutism.

The opening chapters of Politica e morale concern the influence of Machiavelli in France. Battista traces the impact of the various French translations, showing that, before the Huguenot assault upon Machiavelli following the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572 (and even, to some extent, afterwards), Il Principe was regarded in court circles as a practical manual for effective rulership, its more radical implications being seldom understood. The author criticizes Vittorio de Caprariis (Propaganda e pensiero politico durante le guerre di religione, 1959) for his assertion that an unconscious machiavellianism lay behind Etienne Pasquier's apparent hostility to the Florentine. She also reviews denunciation of Machiavelli by the propagandists of the Catholic League, who often adopted the distorted version of his maxims earlier popularized by Huguenot writers. However, the best known Leaguer polemicist, Jean Boucher, is credited with a deeper understanding. A fourth essay on Machiavelli considers his continuing i nfluence in seventeenth-century France, and it is here that Battista sets out the overarching schema earlier described.

The ensuing five chapters repeat and elaborate this schema. The author was writing these essays during the debate of the 1960s and early 1970s about crisis in early modern Europe. She draws upon this literature in her endeavor to place her argument in the context of institutional and socio-economic change. Antonio Negri's article, "Problemi di storia dello Stato moderno: Francia 1610-1650" (Rivista critica di storia della filosofia, 1967: 182-220) is a particular stalking horse. For Negri the religious wars were a class conflict in which the bourgeoisie, defeated in its ambitions, sought consolation in venal office, and became an instrument of the absolutist state. This seems to be a variant of Boris Porchnev's more subtle interpretation of the popular uprisings of the time, for which Battista has some sympathy. She also rehearses the old theme of the price revolution and the supposition that it adversely affected the seigneurial order and favored bourgeois enterprise and social aspiration. Among the many au thors cited from the debates on these issues are Roland Mousnier, Robert Mandrou, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and Corado Vivanti. Battista picks her way astutely between thesis and counter-thesis, and concludes that the shift in values she postulates was not a passive reaction to institutional and social change. Ideas, she says at one point, are capable of changing social realities (187).

It is, perhaps, too schematic to reverse priorities so abruptly, especially when her primary evidence is the literary output of an intellectual elite. At the same time Battista is well aware of the complex problem of placing the history of ideas in its social and political context. She is obliged to brush aside received assumptions about Protestant individualism, and to deny the philosophical implications of Burckhardt's depiction of the Renaissance as the discovery of modern man. Nevertheless, she will be remembered for many fresh insights, especially those regarding Montaigne. Her combination of conceptual bravura and broad erudition make this a fascinating if at times controversial book. It is edited by Anna Maria Lazzarino Del Grosso, who provides a useful introduction.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:SALMON, J. H. M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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