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From Defensor pacis to Defensor minor: the problem of empire in Marsiglio of Padua

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When read as Marsiglio asks us to read it, the Defensor minor looks a great deal less like a change of heart on its author's part than an extension and application of the principles that he had formulated fifteen years earlier in the Defensor pacis. The inconsistency some scholars have detected turns out to be based on a sort of false expectation about Marsiglio's political theory, namely, that it must ultimately advocate a single system of government or form of rule in preference to others. For most other political theorists of the Latin Middle Ages this expectation would be warranted. But just as in so many other instances, Marsiglio frustrates our expectations: his approach is distinctive among his contemporaries for exactly the ‘generic’ quality of its argument. This ‘generic’ feature of his thought did not change with time. The Defensor minor illustrates how the ‘generic’ framework can be applied as required in order to lend polemical support to a given temporal ruler.

This means, quite simply, that the Defensor minor does not reflect any great change of heart about or pragmatic renunciation of Marsiglio's ‘true’ republican principles. Certainly, Marsiglio's generic account of politics could be adapted in support of a republican regime, such as existed in many of the medieval Italian cities.

Keywords: Defensor minor; Defensor pacis; Marsiglio of Padua; political theory; republican regime

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Arizona.

Publication date: 1995-03-01

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