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

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

INTRODUCTION

THIS BOOK is in two main parts, and the complexity of its theme must be the justification of its length. In the first half—subdivided into Parts One and Two—I attempt a treatment of Florentine thought in the era of Machiavelli, which groups him with his contemporaries and peers—Savonarola, Guicciardini, Giannotti, and others—in a manner not previously attempted in English; and I do this by seeking to situate Florentine republicanism in a context analyzed in the three chapters composing Part One. I here presume that the revival of the republican ideal by civic humanists posed the problem of a society, in which the political nature of man as described by Aristotle was to receive its fulfillment, seeking to exist in the framework of a Christian time-scheme which denied the possibility of any secular fulfillment. Further, I presume that the European intellect of this period was possessed of a limited number of ways of rendering secular time intelligible, which I discuss in the first three chapters and group under the headings of custom, grace, and fortune. The problem of the republic's existence in time had to be dealt with by these means and no others; and it is the way in which the Florentines of the first quarter of the sixteenth century—Machiavelli in particular—stated and explored the problem thus posed which gives their thought its remarkable character.

“The Machiavellian moment” is a phrase to be interpreted in two ways. In the first place, it denotes the moment, and the manner, in which Machiavellian thought made its appearance; and here the reader is asked to remember that this is not a “history of political thought,” whatever that might be, in the last years of the Florentine republic, or a history of the political experience of Florentines in that era, designed to “explain” their articulation of the ideas studied. The “moment” in question is selectively and thematically defined. It is asserted that certain enduring patterns in the temporal consciousness of medieval and early modern Europeans led to the presentation of the republic, and the citizen's participation in it, as constituting a problem in historical

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