Machiavellian Rhetoric: From the Counter-Reformation to Milton

Machiavellian Rhetoric: From the Counter-Reformation to Milton

Machiavellian Rhetoric: From the Counter-Reformation to Milton

Machiavellian Rhetoric: From the Counter-Reformation to Milton

Synopsis

Historians of political thought have argued that the real Machiavelli is the republican thinker and theorist of civic virtu. "Machiavellian Rhetoric argues in contrast that Renaissance readers were right to see Machiavelli as a Machiavel, a figure of force and fraud, rhetorical cunning and deception. Taking the rhetorical Machiavel as a point of departure, Victoria Kahn argues that this figure is not simply the result of a naive misreading of Machiavelli but is attuned to the rhetorical dimension of his political theory in a way that later thematic readings of Machiavelli are not. Her aim is to provide a revised history of Renaissance Machiavellism, particularly in England: one that sees the Machiavel and the republican as equally valid--and related--readings of Machiavelli's work.

In this revised history, Machiavelli offers a rhetoric for dealing with the realm of de facto political power, rather than a political theory with a coherent thematic content; and Renaissance Machiavellism includes a variety of rhetorically sophisticated appreciations and appropriations of Machiavelli's own rhetorical approach to politics. Part I offe

Excerpt

This book is about how Machiavelli was read in the Renaissance, what Machiavelli came to symbolize in Renaissance culture, and why. I argue that Machiavelli offered Renaissance writers a rhetoric for thinking about politics, and that once we recover the ways Machiavelli was read, we gain a deeper understanding of how Renaissance thinkers conceptualized and responded to contemporary crises of political and religious authority. Machiavelli was reviled, approved, misrepresented, and appropriated precisely because his work spoke to many of the central concerns of the age: the legitimacy of de facto political power, the role of persuasion in acquiring and maintaining that power, the relationship of force to ethics, and of dispassionate political analysis to criticism of the status quo. In a justly famous book, J.G.A. Pocock defined "the Machiavellian moment" of early modern political thought as the moment when the secular political agent confronts the difficulties of acting in time and the republic confronts its own "temporal finitude" (MM, viii). I contend that the Machiavellian moment of Renaissance culture is a rhetorical moment rather than a moment of specifically secular self-consciousness, and that this insight has implications for the way we think about Renaissance political thought and culture in general. In particular, it requires us to revise many of the usual assumptions regarding the incompatibility of humanist rhetoric and serious political analysis, the secularism of Renaissance republicanism, and the irrelevance of the Machiavel to the history of Renaissance political and religious thought.

This book is the counterpart to my earlier work, Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance. In that book I was concerned with the humanists' reception of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and with the ways in which the humanists' deliberative rhetoric (argument in utramque partem, or on both sides of a question) was designed to reflect and to educate the reader's prudential judgment or practical reason. Describing what I now understand as merely one strain of Renaissance humanism, I argued that dialogue and argument on both sides of a question were assumed to foster social and political consensus. Thus while Cicero recognized that such argument in utramque partem could take the form of irony if both sides or points of view were maintained at the same time, for many humanists the ambiguity of irony was held in check by rhetorical and social constraints. For example, Giovanni Pontano, an important humanist at the court of Naples in the fifteenth century, saw Socrates' ironic indirection not as an instance of rhetoric that threatens the possibility of community, of shared meaning and action, but rather as a rhetorical invi-

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