Mark Somos

University of Sussex, UK

Centre for Intellectual History


Utilitarian, didactic, or predatory deceit in Moses, Mohammed and other Machiavellians: correlating AMM with secularisation through the hermeneutico-political function of the religious esoteric



I hope to explore the structural similarities of secularisation and anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism through the prism of religious lawgivers. ‘Secularisation’ refers here to the historical process whereby religion was gradually detached from politics, often as an unintended consequence of neutralising specific issues – ranging from scriptural exegesis to right government – that acted as focal points of conflict at a given time and place. Secular, as opposed to secularising, statements fared poorly in a cultural environment unready for them, while reformulations of religious positions reproduced the irresolvable conflict. Secularisation had to be gradual and sometimes hidden to be effective.

Assessments of lawgivers who politically instrumentalised religion fall into three groups, based on whether a thinker ascribed utilitarian, didactic, or predatory intention to them. Utilitarian assessments sometimes, didactic always, predatory never allowed for the possibility that laws can be detached from religion by the discerning. Secularisers and utilitarian-didactic AMM readers on the one hand, and secularists and AMM attributors of predatory intent to religious law-givers on the other, share certain hallmarks, including a view of their own epistemic status, of the moral value of the law-givers’ arcana and deceit, of human perfectibility, stadial theories of progress (whether individual, societal or historical), and of the validity and truth content of revelation(s). Overlaying the maps of AMM and secularisation allows us to survey positions on these issues and separate those that are structurally integral to the writing strategy (secularisation and anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism, vs. secularism and Machiavellism) from those that are contingent upon historical conditions or the writer's political imagination.