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

By J. G. A. Pocock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE MEDICEAN RESTORATION
B) Machiavelli's Il Principe

MACHIAVELLI, beginning work on Il Principe in 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 the ottimati, 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 widespread participazione. Il Principe is not a work of ideology, in the sense that it cannot be identified as expressing the outlook of a group. It is rather an analytic study of innovation and its consequences; but within that character, it proceeds straight to the analysis of the ultimate problem raised by both innovation and the decay of citizenship. This was the problem of fortuna, to which Guicciardini and the lesser ottimati had not yet addressed themselves, perhaps because the assumption that they belonged to an elite was still strong enough to carry the implication that they were relatively secure. Machiavelli led too vulnerable an existence to make any such assumptions concerning himself; but the theoretical exploration into which he was led was not inconsistent with the optimate intellectual position. If politics be thought of as the art of dealing with the contingent event, it is the art of dealing with fortuna as the force which directs such events and thus symbolizes pure, uncontrolled, and unlegitimated contingency. In proportion as the political system ceases to be a universal and is seen as a particular, it becomes difficult for it to do this. The republic can dominate fortuna only by integrating its citizens in a selfsufficient universitas, but this in turn depends on the freely participating and morally assenting citizen. The decay of citizenship leads to the decline of the republic and the ascendancy of fortuna; when this is brought about by innovation—the uncontrolled act having uncontrolled consequences in time—the point is underlined. Machiavelli's treatment of the “new prince”—the ruler as innovator—therefore isolates him from the desire of ottimati and others to continue acting as citizens, and considers him and those he rules as acting solely in their

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