Machiavelli, a Latter Day Gnostic?

by George Anastaplo

(Conference on Niccolo Machiavelli – Basic Program Weekend – The University of Chicago – May 1, 2010)

Niccolo Machiavelli is to the great philosophical tradition of the West what theological conjectures like the Gospel of Judas are to the great Judeo/Christian Biblical tradition.  Judas Iscariot, alone among the twelve Disciples of Jesus (we are reassured), sensed how radical their Master was, even calling into question the ultimate sovereignty of the God of the Bible.

The Gospel of Judas (as it has been reconstructed in our own time) seems to have been in the Gnostic mode, itself an adventurous variation upon the sober philosophical enterprise in the Western World.   Judas, in this account, is seen not as a Betrayer to be condemned but rather as a specially enlightened Agent of Jesus in ushering in new modes and orders, at least for the most enlightened human beings.  Machiavelli, too, can be seen by some not as a traitor to the great philosophical movement but rather as its realistic fulfillment.

The Jesus of the Gospel of Judas, dramatically unlike the Jesus of the Bible that we have inherited, laughs frequently, rather than suffering and weeping.  Machiavelli, too, it can be noticed, is temperamentally more inclined to comedy than to tragedy, perhaps even calling into question thereby the solemn philosophic tradition that he had inherited, a tradition that had proved to be useful (at least on its surface) to what he evidently considered the questionable Established Theologians of his day.

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