Machiavelli's Democratic Civil Religion in the Discourses on Livy


Religion and Politics
Democratic theory
History of Political Thought
Early Modern Political Thought

How to Cite

Machiavelli’s Democratic Civil Religion in the Discourses on Livy. (2024). The Political Science Reviewer, 48(1), 113-145.


This paper offers a reading of Machiavelli’s discussion of religion in the Discourses on Livy which unveils the democratic purpose of the institution in his popular republicanism. I argue that religion is a powerful tool that both the elite and the people use to force their class adversaries to abide by their oaths, respect the laws, and contain their disputes within public channels. In performing these functions, religion is a source of authority that does not solely rely on individual strength or virtue. Machiavelli argues that this makes it particularly useful for the people because they are relatively less virtuous, that is, less powerful. Ultimately, religion aids republican politics not by making men moral, but by enhancing the publicly accountable social and political forces that can be used to keep both the people and the elite honest. This makes religion particularly important to the conflict-ridden conditions of Machiavelli’s politics in which the threat of corruption looms large.