Machiavelli Revisited

Machiavelli Revisited

Machiavelli Revisited

Machiavelli Revisited

Synopsis

This work attempts to guide the reader through a maze of interpretations of Machiavelli's political opinions. The author demonstrates that Machiavelli was an anti-metaphysical empiricist who sought to free political thought from all theological preconceptions.

Excerpt

When scientists disagree with one another, they do so most often at the frontiers of knowledge, where growth is taking place; and in the long run a debated question is ordinarily settled by observation, experiment, or some other method that all accept. By way of contrast, the issues that divide Machiavelli scholars will never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Interpreting Machiavelli is not like participating in a technical exercise where finality can be confidently expected; it is more akin to engaging in an endless and inconclusive conversation about a topic of deep and unfathomable complexity. Naturally, all readers of Machiavelli believe that the interpretation which they derive from his works coincides with his intentions. But this would be so only if readers were essentially passive in their reception of the meaning originally embodied within his texts. Given the astonishing variety of interpretations to which Machiavelli has been subjected, it is clear that his readers are far from passive: they are evidently projecting their own values or preoccupations on to his works. In some measure this is inevitable. However, an acknowledgement of the fact that Machiavelli is open to a number of legitimate readings does not mean that all readings are equally faithful to the texts.

At present, the literature on Machiavelli is dominated by those who situate him squarely within the Florentine tradition of 'civic humanism' – a tradition devoted to ideals of patriotism, popular government and public service. From this perspective, he was merely developing an established mode of discourse; he was not – as is often supposed – a radical innovator, a herald of modernity, or a pioneer of modern political science. Still less was he an apologist for tyranny. What we have here is a 'sanitized' version of Machiavelli, similar to sanitized versions of Marx or Nietzsche. In all three cases, there is an exegetical tendency to gloss over or even ignore the thinker's more shocking or unfashionable utterances and to accentuate whatever might make him acceptable to progressive and humanistic academics. Thus the Machiavelli who emerges from much recent literature is a 'classical republican', or – to put it into today's language – a communitarian democrat, wedded to peace, popular participation and civil liberties.

My primary motive for writing this book was dissatisfaction with . . .

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