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

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

CHAPTER X
THE PROBLEM OF ENGLISH MACHIAVELLISM
Modes of Civic Consciousness before the Civil War

[I]

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 vears 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 Italian republics failed to maintain their system of relationships against French and Spanish intruders. From these complex tensions we have noted two major outputs: Machiavelli's revision of the concept of virtù, finding its most controversial expression in the advice given to the principe nuovo and its most durable lessons in the theory of arms as essential to liberty; and a renewed and intensified study of the Aristotelian-Polybian theory of mixed government, in which Venice figured as both paradigm and myth and, in her capacity as antithesis to Rome, helped deflect attention from Machiavelli's military populism. The concepts of custom, apocalypse, and anakuklosis, based on the triad of use, faith, and fortune, have remained operable throughout, and we have noted only an observable tendency—of great importance to republican theory—to replace the concept of fortune with that of corruption: a means, it may be suggested, of introducing secondary causes into what was otherwise an image of pure randomness. In this respect there has been an intensification of historical selfunderstanding; but the medieval triad remains intact.

We have next to embark upon a study of how patterns of “Machiavellian” thought became operative in England, and at a later period in colonial and revolutionary America; and, as regards England at least, the greatest single difficulty we face is that there occurred in that culture nothing like the relatively simple options for vita activa, vivere

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