Claude Lefort, one of the most prominent political philosophers of the twentieth century, reads Dante’s Monarchia and demonstrates the surprising relevance of this radical fourteenth-century treatise defending the necessity of a universal monarchy independent from the Church. Written to accompany a new French translation of Dante’s treatise in 1993 and appearing here for the first time in English, Lefort’s essay exemplifies his signature method of taking political philosophy in new directions by reframing key works from the history of political thought. Dante’s Monarchia was attacked early on by the Church, burned as heretical in 1329, and remained on the Vatican’s index of prohibited works until 1881. With trenchant insight and his characteristic attention to detail, Lefort pursues the often hidden influence of Dante’s long suppressed treatise on the politics and political thought of subsequent centuries. He also challenges us to explore its still unrealized potential by disentangling Dante’s notion of universal sovereignty from its historical links to imperialism and nationalism. Drawing out the provocation of Dante’s treatise for contemporary debates, Lefort’s essay presents readers of Dante with a remarkably fresh account of an oft-neglected yet crucial part of the author’s oeuvre.
In her extensive interpretive essay, Judith Revel submits Lefort’s encounter with Dante to a transformative mis/reading and shows the importance of Dante’s text for Lefort’s conception of political philosophy. She carefully reconstructs its radical legacy, all too frequently reduced to a postmarxist turn or even mistaken for an affirmation of liberal democracy.
The two essays are accompanied by a note from their translator, Jennifer Rushworth, and a preface by Christiane Frey.