Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Liberty in the Renaissance: Political

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_605-1


Liberty is an important issue in the Renaissance political thinking, yet it often remains implicit in the texts or, when explicit, is not addressed directly. The main contributions on this topic are those by Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni, Alamanno Rinuccini, Étienne de La Boétie, and, above all, Niccolò Machiavelli. These contributions are developed in works where history, politics, and literature are intertwined. The deepest roots of such contributions can be found in Greek authors, such as Aristides, Aristotle, Plato, Polybius, and Xenophon, as well as in Roman ones, such as Cicero and Livy. More recent roots can be found in Cola di Rienzo and Francis Petrarch. Liberty is conceived as city-state autonomy, and a free people is one that is sibi princeps, i.e., not under the jurisdiction of foreign powers and is living under its own laws. To maintain its freedom, a community needs to defend itself from foreign enemies. Salutati and Bruni defend Florence by celebrating its liberty and virtue as heir of the Roman republic. Liberty must be defended also from domestic enemies, i.e., from tyrants. Their works and those of others point to an intense Renaissance discussion of what a tyrant is and whether it is right to kill him. Within the discussion on liberty, an important role was played by Machiavelli. For Machiavelli, liberty consists in the ability of the people to make their own laws and to consent to government policy, promoting the common good. Liberty occurs within a republic, but not necessarily, and should be preserved at all costs.

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Primary Literature

  1. Bruni, Leonardo. 1974. Panegirico della città di Firenze. Firenze: La Nuova Italia.Google Scholar
  2. de La Boétie, Étienne. 1976. In Le Discours de la servitude volontaire., ed. M. Abensour. Paris: Payot.Google Scholar
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  8. Secondary Literature

    1. Baron, Hans. 1955. The crisis of the early Italian renaissance. Civic humanism and republican liberty in an age of classicism and tyranny. Vol. 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (rev. ed. 1966).Google Scholar
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    Further Reading

    1. Baker, Nicholas Scott. 2013. The fruit of liberty. Political culture in the Florentine renaissance, 1480–1550. Harvard: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
    2. Bellenger, Yvonne. 2008. Montaigne et la liberté. In Il concetto di libertà nel Rinascimento. Atti del XVIII Convegno Internazionale (Chianciano-Pienza 17–20 luglio 2006), ed. L. Secchi Terugi, 243–255. Firenze: F. Cesati.Google Scholar
    3. Berlin, Isaiah. 2013. The originality of Machiavelli. In Against the current: Essays in the history of ideas, 33–100. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
    4. Bouwsma, William J. 1995. Liberty in the renaissance and reformation. In The origins of modern freedom in the West, ed. R.W. Davis, 203–234. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
    5. Emerton, Ephraim, ed. 1925. Humanism and tyranny. Studies in the Italian Trecento. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
    6. Focher, Ferruccio. 2000. Libertà e teoria dell’ordine politico. Machiavelli, Guicciardini e altri studi. Milano: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
    7. Gilbert, Felix. 1965. Machiavelli and Guicciardini. Politics and history in sixteenth-century Florence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
    8. Giorgini, Giovanni. 2013. Five hundred years of Italian scholarship on Machiavelli’ prince. The Review of Politics 75: 625–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
    9. Hankins, James. 2012. Coluccio Salutati e Leonardo Bruni. In Il contributo italiano alla storia del pensiero, ed. Michele Ciliberto, 85–94. Roma: Treccani.Google Scholar
    10. Johnston, David, Nadia Urbinati, and Camila Vergara, eds. 2017. Machiavelli on liberty and conflict. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
    11. Kushner, Eva. 2008. Liberté et non-liberté dans quelques textes de Thomas More. In Il concetto di libertà nel Rinascimento. Atti del XVIII Convegno Internazionale (Chianciano-Pienza 17–20 luglio 2006), ed. L. Secchi Terugi, 685–693. Firenze: F. Cesati.Google Scholar
    12. Neu Watkins, Renée, ed. 1978. Humanism & liberty. Writings on freedom from fifteenth-century Florence. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.Google Scholar
    13. Rubinstein, Nicolai. 2004. In Florentina libertas, in Studies in Italian History in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Political Thought and the Language of Politics. Art and Politics, ed. Giovanni Ciappelli, vol. I, 273–294. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e letteratura.Google Scholar
    14. Skinner, Quentin. 1981. Machiavelli. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
    15. Špička, Jiří. 2008. La libertà politica in città e in campagna da Petrarca ad Alamanno Rinuccini. In Il concetto di libertà nel Rinascimento. Atti del XVIII Convegno Internazionale (Chianciano-Pienza 17–20 luglio 2006), ed. L. Secchi Terugi, 413–424. Firenze: F. Cesati.Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PaduaUdineItaly

Section editors and affiliations

  • David A. Lines
    • 1
  1. 1.Italian Studies, School of Modern Languages and CulturesUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK