Virtue in the Age of Neo-Machiavellianism: a review of Political Meritocracy in Renaissance Italy: The Virtuous Republic of Francesco Patrizi of Siena by James Hankins (Reviewed by Jesse Russell, 3/10/24, University Bookman)

One of the strongest currents in American literature and film is the interlacement between hard boiled detective novels and film noir. With such literary figures as Raymond Chandler and the more recent (perhaps too risqué) James Ellroy as well as such classic films as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Third Man (1949), the bleak world of noir revealed the allegedly corrupt underbelly of the American century. Noir is, of course, one of Machiavelli’s (and St. Augustine of Hippo’s) misguided offspring. But film noir, like all works in the Machiavellian tradition, does contain an accurate picture of how the world sometimes works. However, rather than giving into the bleakness of how things can be, it is perhaps better to heroically strive for moral goodness and political peace and order, and in Political Meritocracy, James Hankins provides a qualified but much needed road map for human flourishing.

Or, as Chandler put it:

“down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. […]

“The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”