Published Humanitas, Volume XXXV, Nos. 1 & 2, 2022

The Republic of Venice, by Gasparo Contarini, ed. Filippo Sabetti, trans. Giuseppe Pezzini with Amanda Murphy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019. 200 pp. $36.95.

A proper history of constitutional government has yet to be written. A substantial group of political scientists continues to assert that the American Constitution was created ex nihilo by demigods (or demons) imbued with the magical powers of “Enlightenment.” Others at least recognize the importance of the Greek and especially the Roman precedents cited by our constitutional framers themselves but go little further. Many British historians look to their own tradition of mixed and balanced government with sparse textual formalism as an unearned gift of history supposedly still with them or at least capable of resuscitation in a post-Brexit world. More Europeans see the growth of bureaucratic rule as tied to ordered liberty in a way more salutary than that of the strangling weight it actually is.

Meanwhile, developments during the Middle Ages and in the face of early modern centralization go largely unremarked and misunderstood save among a few specialists and autodidacts. The literature on early modern Europe is dominated by a discourse of state building, in which figures…

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