Judaizing Machiavelli: anti-Judaism in the Spanish anti-Machiavellian tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries

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Dear colleagues,

The following working paper is based on a seminar that was handed in last quarter. As of now, it is titled “Judaizing Machiavelli: anti-Judaism in the Spanish anti-Machiavellian tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries.”

If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, you can skip sources 2 (Diez lamentaciones…) and 4 (Arte real); if it’s still too much, you can also skip sources 3 (Tesoro de la lengua…) and 6 (Perfecta raçon de estado).

In addition to improving the structure and style of the paper, I’m also looking for additional study-cases in which Judaism (however understood) was employed as a tool of political theology in early modern Europe (and beyond). More importantly, I’m looking for secondary literature with which to elaborate on the broader implications of the paper’s findings.

I look forward to our discussion on Monday!


B. Bar-Lavi


Introduction 3

Anti-Judaism in Early Modern Europe 7

The Reception of Machiavelli in 16th Century Spain 12

The Origins of the Spanish anti-Machiavellian Tradition 14

1.Tradado de la Religion by Pedro de Ribadeneira 17

2.Diez lamentaciones del miserable estado de los ateístas de nuestro tiempo by Gracián de la Madre de Dios 31

3.Tesoro de la lengua castellana o Española by Sebastián de Cobarrubias 34

4.Arte real para el buen gouierno de los reyes y principes de sus vasallos by Jerónimo de Zeballos 38

5.Política de Dios y gobierno de Cristo by Francisco de Quevedo 38

6.Perfecta raçon de estado contra los politicos atheistas by Juan Blázquez de Mayoralgo 43

Concluding Remarks 45


The subject matter studied in this paper – namely, the crucial and formative role played by certain negative perceptions of Jews and Judaism in the Spanish reason-of-state tradition – emerged out of the confluence of two very different phenomena that, nevertheless, turned out to be natural partners. One of them, anti-Machiavellism, was novel and unprecedented, reacting to a challenging and fearsome current that swept across Europe. The other, anti-Judaism – ancient, familiar and almost intimate – was a well-established component of the Spanish (and for that matter Christian) intellectual tradition. This paper will attempt to trace and understand the way in which these two independent and seemingly dissimilar phenomena became symbiotically intertwined to such an extent that it came to seem natural for the writers of the Spanish “reason of state” tradition to think of Jews as Machiavellian, and to think of Machiavellism as Jewish.

However, this is neither a work on Judaism or Machiavellism per se. It is not my intent to discuss Machiavelli’s thought or the history of Machiavelli’s reception in early modern Spain – subjects that have already been dealt with quite extensively – but only insofar as they help elucidate the central role played by Judaism in the Spanish anti-Machiavellian tradition. This tradition should not be conceived of as an attack on Machiavelli and his “real” doctrines – whatever those may be – but as a very broad and general critique of certain ideas understood as Machiavellian, especially the doctrine of the supremacy of the reason of state. Indeed, many of the writers we will be dealing with did not even read Machiavelli, yet this did not prevent them from formulating an attack on what they understood to be his doctrines. And, for example, while the notion of “reason of state” became practically equated with Machiavelli and his doctrines, the Florentine himself never mentioned it in any of his writings.

Another case in point is that of Ferdinand of Aragon. The Catholic King, as we will see, is presented as an ideal anti-Machiavellian ruler who did not succumb to false reasons of state, as when, for example, he expelled the Jews without considering the economic impact that this would have on his reign.1 Compare what Machiavelli, in fact, wrote about this very “anti-Machiavellian” sovereign in chapter 21 of The Prince:

…through fame and glory he has transformed himself from a petty ruler to the foremost king among the Christians. If you consider his actions, you find them all very great and some of them extraordinary…. Beside this, for the sake of engaging in greater enterprises, he continually availed himself of religion, for he turned to a pious cruelty, hunting down and clearing out of his kingdom the Marranos; no memorable act could be more pitiable than this or more extraordinary. Under the same cloak of religion, he invaded Africa; he then undertook his expedition to Italy… and so always he performed and planned great actions, which kept the minds of his subjects always in suspense and wonder… These actions have in such a way grown one from another that between one and the next never has he given people any interval of leisure for working against him.
Whatever Machiavelli may have thought of Ferdinand’s “pious cruelty” in the moral sense, it is quite clear that few post-Classical rulers could match the Florentine’s admiration for the political dexterity of the Catholic King.2 Indeed, Ferdinand was pretty much an ideal “Machiavellian.”

As we can already grasp, the “Machiavellism” against which the Spanish anti-Machiavellians of the reason-of-state tradition fought so dedicatedly was certainly not equivalent with the doctrines of the Florentine. More often than not, these writers were dealing with what amounts to an imaginary figure of Machiavelli. To quote Edmond Beame on the subject of French anti-Machiavellism, “Machiavelli did not create Machiavellism.”3 Rather, such Machiavellism was the product of various anti-Machiavellian writers across Europe who used the label of Machiavelli or Machiavellism principally as a device by which to attack and slander their adversaries.4

Yet Machiavellism was not the only concept to shift its “real” or “original” meaning by metamorphosing into a largely imaginary but powerful term of opprobrium. As we shall see, this process is very much reminiscent of the role that Judaism played in the intellectual history of Christian Europe (and beyond). The Jews and Judaism that inhabit the pages of the writers we will be dealing with were certainly not equivalent any “real” Jews, a subject to which we will return in the next chapter. In fact, when the works analyzed in this paper were composed (1595-1646) there were, officially, no real Jews in the Spanish Empire.

This paper is, moreover, not an attempt to catalogue all the instances in which a work by the Spanish anti-Machiavellians portrayed Jews or Judaism – however these were understood – in a negative light. Rather, my objective has been to analyze the instances in which “Judaism” was used as a tool to identify, understand and combat “Machiavellism” and the supremacy of the reason of state – however these were understood. Thus, for example, while Politica de Dios y gobierno de Cristo by Quevedo is saturated with anti-Judaic (and downright anti-Semitic) references, only those that relate to his critique of “reason of state” will be discussed. Moreover, works such as El gobernador cristiano, deducido de las vidas de Moisés y Jesucristo by Juan Márquez, in which anti-Judaism plays a prominent role that is, nevertheless, not relevant for our purposes, will not be dealt with at all.

Now that we have established the contours of our subject-matter, let us deal with the structure of the paper. We will begin by discussing very briefly the phenomenon of Christian anti-Judaism from its inception and up to the early modern period. Subsequently, we will deal with the reception of Machiavelli in Spain, and specifically of the way in which this reception turned hostile following the rise of anti-Machiavellism in France and the inclusion of Machiavelli’s works in Quiroga’s Index of 1583-84.5 Only then will we be in a position to analyze the different primary sources, which will be dealt with according to the order in which they were published. We will conclude by attempting to categorize the different ways in which anti-Judaism was employed throughout the documents discussed…

[Expand on structure…]

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