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The Machiavellian Moment

The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition

With a new afterword by the author J.G.A. Pocock
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 648
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  • Book Info
    The Machiavellian Moment
    Book Description:

    The Machiavellian Momentis a classic study of the consequences for modern historical and social consciousness of the ideal of the classical republic revived by Machiavelli and other thinkers of Renaissance Italy. J.G.A. Pocock suggests that Machiavelli's prime emphasis was on the moment in which the republic confronts the problem of its own instability in time, and which he calls the "Machiavellian moment."

    After examining this problem in the thought of Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and Giannotti, Pocock turns to the revival of republican thought in Puritan England and in Revolutionary and Federalist America. He argues that the American Revolution can be considered the last great act of civic humanism of the Renaissance. He relates the origins of modern historicism to the clash between civic, Christian, and commercial values in the thought of the eighteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2462-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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    (pp. vii-x)

    THIS BOOK is in two main parts, and the complexity of its theme must be the justification of its length. In the first half—subdivided into Parts One and Two—I attempt a treatment of Florentine thought in the era of Machiavelli, which groups him with his contemporaries and peers—Savonarola, Guicciardini, Giannotti, and others—in a manner not previously attempted in English; and I do this by seeking to situate Florentine republicanism in a context analyzed in the three chapters composing Part One. I here presume that the revival of the republican ideal by civic humanists posed the problem...

  2. PART ONE. Particularity and Time: The Conceptual Background

    • CHAPTER I THE PROBLEM AND ITS MODES A) Experience, Usage and Prudence
      (pp. 3-30)

      A SUSTAINED INTENTION throughout this book will be that of depicting early modern republican theory in the context of an emerging historicism, the product of the ideas and conceptual vocabularies which were available to medieval and Renaissance minds—such as C. S. Lewis called “Old Western”¹—for the purpose of dealing with particular and contingent events and with time as the dimension of contingent happenings. The republic or Aristotelian polis, as that concept reemerged in the civic humanist thought of the fifteenth century, was at once universal, in the sense that it existed to realize for its citizens all the...

    • CHAPTER II THE PROBLEM AND ITS MODES B) Providence, Fortune and Virtue
      (pp. 31-48)

      IT IS A DIALECTICAL PARADOX that while the Christian doctrine of salvation ultimately made the historical vision possible, for centuries it operated to deny that possibility. The Greek and Roman intellects saw little reason to expect anything very new to happen in the human future, and doctrines of cyclical recurrence or the supremacy of chance(tycheorfortuna)arose and interpenetrated—though we must beware of exaggerating or simplifying their importance—to express this lack of expectation, which sometimes occasioned world-weariness andangst.¹ Within these empty-seeming schemes, however, there was room for much acute study of political and military happenings,...

    • CHAPTER III THE PROBLEM AND ITS MODES C) The Vita Activa and the Vivere Civile
      (pp. 49-80)

      IT CAN BE ARGUED that the ideal of the citizen implied a totally different conceptualization of the modes of political knowledge and action from that implicit in the scholastic-customary framework which we have so far studied. Within the limits of that framework, the individual employed reason, which disclosed to him the eternal hierarchies of unchanging nature and enjoined him to maintain the cosmic order by maintaining his place in that social and spiritual category to which his individual nature assigned him; he employed experience, which disclosed to him immemorial continuities of traditional behavior and could only counsel him to maintain...

  3. PART TWO. The Republic and its Fortune: Florentine Political Thought from 1494 to 1530

    • CHAPTER IV FROM BRUNI TO SAVONAROLA Fortune, Venice and Apocalypse
      (pp. 83-113)

      THE SCHEME OF VALUES and problems outlined in the last chapter was clearly not the sole ethos by which the Florentine citizen articulated his sense of civic patriotism. There were other languages, derived from Roman law and from the practical operation of Florentine institutions, in which this might be done and a set of active and participatory values put into words; and it has understandably been the intention of Riesenberg¹ and others to question whether the concept of “civic humanism” is needed at all to explain the rise of a civic consciousness and its articulation. In civil law and municipal...

    • CHAPTER V THE MEDICEAN RESTORATION Guicciardini and the Lesser Ottimati, 1512–1516
      (pp. 114-155)

      IT HAS BEEN THE ARGUMENT of this study so far that late medieval thought was limited by an epistemology of the particular event, decision, institution, or tradition, which defined the means which men at that time believed themselves to possess of rendering intelligible secular phenomena as they existed in time. So sharply limited were these means that it was possible to feel that the temporal flux evaded men’s conceptual control: that it was under the dominion of an inscrutable power, which manifested itself as providence to men of faith and as fortune to men of none. After the advent of...

    • CHAPTER VI THE MEDICEAN RESTORATION B) Machiavelli’s Il Principe
      (pp. 156-182)

      MACHIAVELLI, beginning work onIl Principein 1512, does not in this treatise consider innovation from the aspect of its impact on citizenship; that topic is reserved for his work on republics. That is to say, he identifies himself neither with theottimati,struggling to retain their character as a citizen elite, nor with those—Alamanni in 1516 would group them with the Savonarolans—who demanded the restoration of the Council and widespreadparticipazione. Il Principeis not a work of ideology, in the sense that it cannot be identified as expressing the outlook of a group. It is rather...

    • CHAPTER VII ROME AND VENICE A) Machiavelli’s Discorsi and Arte della Guerra
      (pp. 183-218)

      J. H. WHITFIELD has rightly warned students of Machiavelli against commencing their interpretation of his thought withIl Principeand confining it to thePrincipeand theDiscorsi.¹ The present study, which is indeed confined as regards Machiavelli to the two works named, may seem to ignore Whitfield’s warning as it ignores much more in recent Machiavelli scholarship; but there is a reason for this. We are engaged in an attempt to isolate “the Machiavellian moment”: that is, to isolate the continuous process in the history of ideas which seems the most promising context in which to treat his contribution...

    • CHAPTER VIII ROME AND VENICE B) Guicciardini’s Dialogo and the Problem of Aristocratic Prudence
      (pp. 219-271)

      UNLIKE THE WRITINGS of Machiavelli, those of Guicciardini are always specifically related to the context of Florentine politics and lack the older man’s theoretical and speculative freedom. This is an index not merely to Guicciardini’s greater concern with the actual and the practicable, but also to his aristocratic conservatism. The specific and particular world, almost by definition, could be known and controlled only with a considerable admixture of experience, and at the heart of Guicciardini’s thinking we shall always find the image of theottimatias a politically experienced inner ring who could govern because they knew by experience the...

    • CHAPTER IX GIANNOTTI AND CONTARINI Venice as Concept and as Myth
      (pp. 272-330)

      DONATO GIANNOTTI (1492–1573) is known, if at all, to readers of English as “the most excellent describer of the commonwealth of Venice” (the phrase is Harrington’s 1656)¹ and by less specific statements to the effect that he was the intellectual heir of Machiavelli and the last major thinker in the Florentine republican tradition. No detailed study of his thought has yet been written in English,² but we have gone far enough in the present analysis to have uncovered an anomaly in his received reputation: it is odd, on the face of it, that the same man should have been...

  4. PART THREE. Value and History in the Prerevolutionary Atlantic

    • CHAPTER X THE PROBLEM OF ENGLISH MACHIAVELLISM Modes of Civic Consciousness before the Civil War
      (pp. 333-360)

      IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS we have been engaged upon an exploration of a mode of thought which may be termed “Machiavellism,” and consisted in the articulation of civic humanist concepts and values under the stresses of the Florentine predicament in the years 1494 to 1530. A conceptual world dominated by the paradigms of use, faith, and fortune was subjected to strain by the republican decision to pursue universal values in a transitory form, and this strain was intensified by happenings in the world of experience after 1494, when the Florentine republic failed to maintain itself against Medicean reaction and the...

    • CHAPTER XI THE ANGLICIZATION OF THE REPUBLIC A) Mixed Constitution, Saint and Citizen
      (pp. 361-400)

      ON 21 JUNE 1642, WITH ABOUT TWO MONTHS to go before the formal beginnings of civil war, two of Charles I’s advisers—Viscount Falkland and Sir John Colepeper—drafted, and persuaded him to issue, a document in which the king, not parliament, took the step of declaring England a mixed government rather than a condescending monarchy.His Majesty’s Answer to the Nineteen Propositions of Both Houses of Parliament,as has been emphatically and correctly asserted by Corinne C. Weston,¹ is a crucial document in English political thought, and among other things one of a series of keys which opened the...

      (pp. 401-422)

      IN THE TWO PRECEDING CHAPTERS we have examined the emergence and establishment of civic and Machiavellian modes of understanding politics in the language and thought of Stuart and Puritan England. The conceptual universe which obtained there was very different from that of Florence, and we had to go a long way about to understand why it became necessary to envisage England as a classical republic at all; but it may still be described as the same universe, dominated by the same paradigms, as those employed in constructing the model which has guided this book. The world of particular events was...

    • CHAPTER XIII NEO-MACHIAVELLIAN POLITICAL ECONOMY The Augustan Debate over Land, Trade and Credit
      (pp. 423-461)

      THE HALF-CENTURY FOLLOWING the Revolution of 1688 is a period till recently little studied, but nevertheless of great importance, in the history of English political thought—not least because, strictly speaking, it witnesses the latter’s transformation from “English” to “British” in the year 1707. Between the Englishman John Locke at the beginning of the period so designated, and the Scot David Hume commencing his work as it closed, no political theorist or philosopher to be ranked among the giants emerged in Anglophone culture; and yet the period was one of change and development in some ways more radical and significant...

      (pp. 462-505)

      THE DEBATE WE HAVE UNCOVERED—that between virtue and passion, land and commerce, republic and empire, value and history—underlay a great part of the social thinking of the eighteenth century. In the two remaining chapters an attempt will be made to display its role in the American Revolution and the formation of American values, and to depict this part of the story in a wider context of the development of European thought, so that Jefferson and Hamilton may emerge in a broadly discernible relationship to Rousseau and Marx. It can be shown both that the American Revolution and Constitution...

    • CHAPTER XV THE AMERICANIZATION OF VIRTUE Corruption, Constitution and Frontier
      (pp. 506-552)

      DURING THE NINETEEN-SIXTIES, a number of important works of scholarship appeared which have sharply altered our perception of the mind of the Revolutionary generation in America.¹ They have shown, first, that the mental processes which led to revolution involved a drastic rearticulation of the language and outlook of English opposition thought; second, that through this they were, as we already know, anchored in that Aristotelian and Machiavellian tradition which this book has studied; third, that the experience of the War of Independence and the constitution-making which followed it necessitated a further revision of the classical tradition, and in some respects...

    (pp. 553-584)

    SINCE THIS BOOK, published in 1975, commands after nearly thirty years enough readers to justify a new edition, it clearly stood in no need of a new introduction. The text of 1975 may still speak for itself, and only confusion could have resulted from an attempt to shape it in the light of the perceptions of a new century. Now that the public of 2003 has had opportunity to read it and form its own responses, however, it may be interesting and even valuable if I supply an account of its reception, the controversies in which it has been involved,...