A Great and Wretched City

A Great and Wretched City

MARK JURDJEVIC
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wpq8d
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Great and Wretched City
    Book Description:

    Dispelling the myth that Florentine politics offered only negative lessons, Mark Jurdjevic shows that significant aspects of Machiavelli's political thought were inspired by his native city. Machiavelli's contempt for Florence's shortcomings was a direct function of his considerable estimation of the city's unrealized political potential.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-36899-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: The Florentine Question
    (pp. 1-15)

    Unlike many of his predecessors, such as Giovanni Villani or Leonardo Bruni, who idealized Florence without compromise, Niccolò Machiavelli’s relationship to Florence alternated between love and hate.¹ He frequently wrote witheringly scornful remarks about Florentine political myopia, corruption, and servitude yet also frequently wrote about Florence with pride, patriotism, and cultural chauvinism. As he memorably put it in book 2 of theFlorentine Histories, Florence was “truly a great and wretched city.”² Scholarship on Machiavelli has fully appreciated Florentine wretchedness—the failure of its political culture—in Machiavelli’s political thought. But it has not investigated seriously what Machiavelli understood by...

  4. 1 The Savonarolan Lens
    (pp. 16-52)

    To begin to appreciate the Florentine content of Machiavelli’s political thought and his later activist republicanism, we need first to reconsider the impact on his thinking of Savonarola’s ascendancy in Florence and of the Savonarolan currents that remained in the city after the friar’s death. More than any other moment in the city’s history, the Savonarolan moment and the political controversies it created raised questions that Machiavelli’s writings subsequently explored in detail—the political uses of religion, the role of prophecy in the foundation of new modes and orders, the composition and purpose of factions, and the necessity of possessing...

  5. 2 Roman Doubts
    (pp. 53-80)

    One of the primary reasons that some of the distinctive qualities of Machiavelli’s later republicanism, in particular the activist agenda of theFlorentine Histories, have remained obscure is the understandably widespread assumption that Machiavelli sought and found all his republican lessons in ancient Rome. The historical richness, complexity, and depth of hisDiscourses on Livy, combined with his frequent condemnation of the corrupt present in favor of the martial pagan past, have led many influential scholars to conclude that he advocated a complete and unqualified return to the principles of Roman republicanism. The few studies that focus on his commentary...

  6. 3 Nobles and Noble Culture in the Florentine Histories
    (pp. 81-102)

    What ever contradictions or apparent incongruities may exist between thePrinceand theDiscourses, these two texts share an identical vision of the contrasting nature of the people and the nobles. An axiomatic contrast between the immoderation of elites and the moderation of the people underpins many of the most important arguments in these early works of political thought. For that reason, the similarities between those two texts—for example, the recurring argument, whether for a prince or a republic, that it is necessary to ally with the people to constrain elites—tend to occur in passages in which Machiavelli...

  7. 4 A New View of the People
    (pp. 103-131)

    Book 2 of theFlorentine Historiesstudied the conflict between the nobles and people and ended with the destruction of the nobility. Given the generally abusive behavior of the nobles, we might expect that their destruction would have resolved Florence’s destabilizing internal conflicts. But Florentine political life continued to be plagued by dissension even after the triumph of the people. In books 3 and 4 of theHistoriesMachiavelli explained why, focusing his attention on the political problems associated with a regime dominated by the people.

    He declared the principal themes of his analysis in the conclusion to book 2...

  8. 5 The Albizzi Regime in the Florentine Histories
    (pp. 132-148)

    This chapter is the first of three that examine the way theFlorentine Historiesand theDiscourse on Florentine Affairsmade tactically similar arguments about Florentine politics and history. Machiavelli defended his radical republican proposal in theDiscourseon historical and practical grounds: Florentine history furnished recurring and detailed proof that the rival constitutional models currently circulating in Medici circles were doomed to fail. Recall that before outlining his solution to the problem of Medici power in Florence, he first elaborated a critique of the practical shortcomings of earlier regimes, hence discrediting arguments for their revival and paving the way...

  9. 6 The Virtues and Vices of Medici Power in the Florentine Histories
    (pp. 149-178)

    This chapter is the second of three that examine the way theFlorentine Historiesand theDiscourse on Florentine Affairsmade tactically similar arguments about Florentine politics and history. Machiavelli’s account of the Albizzi regime in theHistoriessubstantiated and amplified theDiscourse’s rejection of elite oligarchy as a viable constitutional model for Florence in the present and future. In theDiscoursehe assessed the prospects that the fifteenth-century Medicean model held for the present and future as equally dim.

    Whereas he considered implementing an Albizzean-style oligarchic model ill advised but nevertheless feasible, he considered the Medicean model impractical as impractical...

  10. 7 The Failure of Florentine Institutions
    (pp. 179-205)

    This chapter focuses on Machiavelli’s scathing analysis of the deep structural flaws that afflicted all Florentine political institutions, concentrating on a striking, sustained, and elaborate pattern of convergences between theFlorentine Historiesand theDiscourse on Florentine Affairs. This chapter argues that Machiavelli intended his synthetic vision of institutional failure in theHistoriesto justify and elaborate on the specific institutional proposals in his constitutional treatise. He acknowledged in that treatise the radical nature of his solution to the problem of stable Medici power in Florence, in particular his exhortation to abolish almost every existing institution and to rebuild from an...

  11. Conclusion: Machiavelli’s Republican Realism
    (pp. 206-214)

    During Machiavelli’s lifetime and several de cades beyond it, Italy witnessed the most intense, widespread, and searching inquiry into republican political theory in Western history. Although Machiavelli’s voice dominated that inquiry, he had many interlocutors who were all formidable thinkers and historians in their own right. He drew on themes and arguments first articulated before him by Savonarola. In his own day he productively sparred with his friend Francesco Guicciardini, himself a brilliant historian and Florence’s most eloquent advocate of aristocratic republicanism. And in the years that followed Machiavelli’s death the best minds in Italy grappled with his legacy and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-272)
  13. References
    (pp. 273-284)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 285-288)
  15. Index
    (pp. 289-295)