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

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

CHAPTER VII
ROME AND VENICE
A) Machiavelli's Discorsi and Arte della Guerra

[I]

J. H. WHITFIELD has rightly warned students of Machiavelli against commencing their interpretation of his thought with Il Principe and confining it to the Principe and the Discorsi.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 to that history; and the enterprise is selective, in the sense that it does not commit us to interpreting the totality of his thought or the totality of its development. “The Machiavellian moment” entails less a history of Machiavelli than a historical presentation of Machiavelli, and within the context that has so far been established, the Principe and Discorsi are selected—as Guicciardini's discorsi and Dialogo have been selected—because they may be used to present those aspects of his thought which tell us most about the context and about his role in it. The test of this method is its ability to narrate a process actually taking place in the history of ideas, and to show that Machiavelli and Guicciardini were, and are to be understood as, major actors in it; the aim is not to provide a complete intellectual biography—if such a thing can be written—of either man.

This inquiry, then, which has long been principally concerned with the politics of time, has assumed the further shape of an investigation of the concept of virtue. We have distinguished two meanings of the term, each of which has something to do with time and something to do with the Aristotelian concept of form. By the institutionalization of civic virtue, the republic or polis maintains its own stability in time and develops the human raw material composing it toward that politi

____________________
1
J. H. Whitfield, Discourses on Machiavelli (above, ch. IV, n. 63), pp. 17, 43, 57–58, III, 141–42.

-183-

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