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

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

CHAPTER I
THE PROBLEM AND ITS MODES
A) Experience, Usage and Prudence

[I]

A SUSTAINED INTENTION throughout this book will be that of depicting early modern republican theory in the context of an emerging historicism, the product of the ideas and conceptual vocabularies which were available to medieval and Renaissance minds—such as C. S. Lewis called “Old Western”1—for the purpose of dealing with particular and contingent events and with time as the dimension of contingent happenings. The republic or Aristotelian polis, as that concept reemerged in the civic humanist thought of the fifteenth century, was at once universal, in the sense that it existed to realize for its citizens all the values which men were capable of realizing in this life, and particular, in the sense that it was finite and located in space and time. It had had a beginning and would consequently have an end; and this rendered crucial both the problem of showing how it had come into being and might maintain its existence, and that of reconciling its end of realizing universal values with the instability and circumstantial disorder of its temporal life. Consequently, a vital component of republican theory—and, once this had come upon the scene, if no earlier, of all political theory—consisted of ideas about time, about the occurrence of contingent events of which time was the dimension, and about the intelligibility of the sequences (it is as yet too soon to say processes) of particular happenings that made up what we should call history. It is this which makes it possible to call republican theory an early form of historicism, though we shall find that many of the connotations of our word “history” were at that time borne by other words and their equivalents in various languages—the words “usage,” “providence,” and “fortune” among them. Well-developed conceptual vocabularies existed in which the implications of these and other terms were expanded, and these vocabularies to some extent cohered with one

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1
“De Descriptione Temporum,” in Selected Literary Essays (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

-3-

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