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

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

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

Jerónimo de Zeballos, alderman of Toledo and jurist, dedicated his Arte real para el buen gouierno de los reyes y principes de sus vasallos (Royal Art for the Good Government of Kings, Princes, and Their Subjects),79 published in 1623 to Philip IV and the Duke of Olivares, chief minister of the King from 1621 to 1643. By addressing the latter, it appears that Zeballos hoped that his treatise would be read by the most powerful people in the Spanish Empire after the king. Zeballos himself did not have direct knowledge of Machiavelli’s works; his portrayal of the Florentine is a reworking of previous works in the Spanish reason of state tradition.80 Perhaps this is why, in Document 18 of the Arte real, on “where the Kings are warned of the power of justice that their subjects possess, in case of public necessity,” Zeballos presents us with what amounts to a concise summary of the anti-Machiavellian views on the events surrounding the plot to kill Jesus for reasons of state:

Even better, as Saint Thomas [Aquinas] says, the prince has no superior, but only God and the reason with which he is to regulate human acts… And this is good reason of state… Because the reason of state that deviates from justice is no reason of state, but a state without reason, with shadow and fraud for justice… From such reason of state, the Jews conceived the idea to murder our lord Jesus Christ. Si dimittimus eum sic omnes credent in eum et venient Romani et tollent gentum [sic] et locum nostrum. “The Romans will come and will take away from us the command and power that we have.”81

  1. Política de Dios y gobierno de Cristo by Francisco de Quevedo

Until now we have been dealing with authors who, to greater or lesser extents, have been largely forgotten to history. Not so with Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas (1580–1645), the picaresque novelist, politician, satirist, and foremost poet of the baroque style known as conceptismo. Quevedo’s mastery of the Spanish language is far and away unparalleled by the writers we have been dealing thus far. The verbal dexterity, wit, hyperbolic vehemence and passionate writing for which he is famous are all prominently present in one of his most devout and undoubtedly his most important political work: Política de Dios, Gobierno de Cristo (Politics of God, Government of Christ), published between 1626 and 1655. The work became hugely popular, yet contained few original ideas.82 Borges has echoed the scholarly consensus on the matter by writing that the political works of Quevedo do not put forth a new interpretation of the political values, their value being mostly rhetorical.83 This lack of originality certainly extends to his treatment of anti-Judaism and anti-Machiavellism, where Quevedo, through his own unequaled masterful prose, retells the motifs we have been dealing with thus far.

Simply put, Política de Dios, Gobierno de Cristo was intended as the blueprint of an ideal system of government based on Christianity, and specifically, on the words and deeds of Jesus-Christ. As is already hinted at in the title – “Politics of God” – the work argues that the political and the divine discourses are to be understood as linked and analogous, so that the political should be seen as divine and vice versa. The greatest enemy of this sacralization of politics is, as expected, Machiavelli, whose name is associated with such diverse concepts as “reason of state,” “infernal politics,” tyranny, atheism etc.84 Echoing the writers of the “reason of state” tradition, Política de Dios, Gobierno de Cristo differentiates between the “politics of God” and the “infernal politics” of Satan’s tyranny, which Quevedo describes as locked in a cosmic battle.85 The Jews – as may be expected – are associated with the latter, and thus play a significant role in Quevedo’s system. Yet, once again, we will confine our analysis to their role as representatives of Machiavelli and his reason of state.

Chapter V, on the “customs of the palaces and the bad ministers; and what the king suffers because of them,” is comprised of political interpretations of sections of the New Testament that center mainly on the malicious slanders directed against Jesus, his arrest, and his appearance on Caiaphas’ court. As is the case throughout the book, the aim is to provide advice for rulers. Thus, Quevedo urges those who insolently rebuke their kings to consider the “great injuries” perpetrated by Jews when they accused Jesus of being a glutton (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34) and of being possessed by a demon (Matthew 12:22-32, Luke 11:14-23). Similarly, Quevedo asks the reader to consider how the false witnesses sought by Caiaphas to indict Jesus should serve as a warning of the harm that results from unjust tribunals and wicked judges.86 However, these examples pale into insignificance when compared to the Jews’ physical abuse of Jesus:

They mocked Him, covered his eyes, spat on Him and slapped his face, asking Him to tell them who was the one that hit Him. This, Sir, is the treatment given by the Jews to the kings they snare. And if they did so with their King, who will they forgive? They make a mockery of their kings: they open their mouths to spit on them, they cover their eyes so that they will not see. If they give their kings anything, it is nothing but slaps and insults… In Christ, our Lord, this treat did not work out well for them; for if they spat on Him it was, as they say, like he who spits in the air and will have it fall back on his face… It is well known that the Jews are blind. The danger, Sir, is that the kings of this earth, when they let their eyes be covered, will not be able to discern who slaps and spits at them. They do not see: they cannot discern; thus they govern by groping and they live in the dark. All bad ministers are disciples of these Jews and their princes.87
“Bad ministers,” “kings of this earth” who “let their eyes be covered” – the allusion to Machiavelli and false reason of state is obvious,88 and there is no better and more powerful negative example than the one provided by the Jews in their political relation to Christ, “their King”. Once again, the Jews are presented as both evil subjects and as failed Machiavellians, who spit in the air only to have it fall back on their faces.

These motifs are further developed in chapter VI, dealing among other things with “reason of state,” defined as “the greatest enemy of Christ.”89 Quevedo’s dual attack on Judaism and ungodly politics now centers on Jesus’ trial, specifically on the Jewish leaders’ reply to Pilate on (taken from John 19:12, “if you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar”):

Pilate prided himself in being a great politician: he was concerned with dissimulation and incredulity, which are the two eyes of atheism. The Jews knew him; thus, due to their diligence against Christ, they tempted Pilate by means of reason of state, saying: “If you let one go, you are no friend of Caesar; because anyone who claims to be a king, contradicts Caesar.” As soon as he heard the word “Caesar” and that he would be his enemy, he had Christ sentenced to death. Thusly, the most efficient means ever devised against Christ, God and true Man, was the reason of state.90
This accusation of deicide by “reason of state” appears again in chapters XIV and XV, dealing, respectively, with what may be licitly requested from a king by his vassals, and with unjust councils and assemblies.91 In a passage that closely echoes Ribadeneyra’s Tratado, and Zeballos’s Arte real para el buen gouierno, Quevedo interprets John 11:45-53 along anti-Machiavellian lines:
The priests and Pharisees thus convened a council, and said: “What shall we do, this man does many wonders? If we let him be, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our land and people. One of them, called Caiaphas, who was the priest for that year, told them: “You know nothing, and neither do you realize that it is convenient that a man shall die for the people in order that the whole nation will not perish.”92
It is precisely here that, according to Quevedo, “the reason of state began persecuting and condemning Christ.”93 And while “the man named Caiaphas is no more… there will always be men to whom this name may be given.”94 In chapter VI, however, Quevedo explains that “reason of state” behind the Jewish plot to kill Christ was not of human origin: it was invented by Lucifer in order to avenge God’s taking away his state and honor.95

By this point, Quevedo’s vitriolic and opprobrious language may cause one to forget that Politica de Dios y gobierno de Cristo is neither a diatribe against the Jews nor a Christian polemic against Judaism, but a political treatise written against “perverse politicians” who have made of the reason of state “a god above every deity, a law superior to all [laws].”96 Hence, despite their centrality to Quevedo’s argument, Jews and Judaism are no more than pedagogic and rhetorical building blocks used to build an ideal vision of politics as divine and not earthly – that is to say, as fundamentally un-Jewish.

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