Alexander Schmidt

Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany 


Amor Patriae and Ratio Status: The Morality of Patriotic Actions in Late-Humanist Political Thought




Amor patriae (love of country) denoted the highest devotion to the fatherland (i.e. the city, the republic or state) in various strands of humanist political thought (including Machiavelli’s).  Humanist authors were well acquainted with the patriotic rhetoric of Cicero but also with the ancient examples of (Roman) fathers and (Spartan) mothers slaying their children for the sake of the patria.  This raises the question of the moral limits of patriotic love.  Machiavelli famously argued that when the safety of the country is at stake “no attention should be paid either to justice or injustice, to kindness or cruelty” (Discorsi, III, 41). Thus the well-known problem of reason of state resurfaced in the context of a seemingly different discourse.  This paper analyses to what extent a number of (German) late-humanist authors were aware of and reflected on the tension between one’s obligations towards the patria on the one hand and justice (and other moral rules) on the other.  This tension was already present in Cicero, the source of much of the patriotic standard formulas within (late-)humanist thought.  Here, I will particularly focus on the debate about just war and resistance theory.  As a corollary, I shall challenge Maurizio Viroli’s claim that Machiavelli’s equation between amor patriae and love of liberty was restricted to republics.