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

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

CHAPTER XIII
NEO-MACHIAVELLIAN POLITICAL ECONOMY
The Augustan Debate over Land, Trade and Credit

[I]

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 even than those of the Civil War and Interregnum. Specifically it can be shown that this was the era in which political thought became engrossed with the conscious recognition of change in the economic and social foundations of politics and the political personality, so that the zoon politikon took on his modern character of participant observer in processes of material and historical change fundamentally affecting his nature; and it can be shown that these changes in perception came about through the development of a neo-Machiavellian, as well as neo-Harringtonian, style in the theory of political economy, in response to England's emergence as Britain, a major commercial, military, and imperial power. The processes observed, and the changes in language consequent upon the observation, were in a material and secular sense more revolutionary than anything to be detected in the generation of radical Puritanism; and among the phenomena will be found the appearance of Machiavellian thought as a criticism of modernity.

In studying this development in the history of thought, we shall allot a crucial role to neither the justification of the Revolution of 1688 itself, nor the political writings of Locke. The deposition of James II could of its nature give rise to little more than a reexamination of the conditionality of political authority, which in the Machiavellian tradition had always appeared as a feature of the contingent world, and a counter

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