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

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

CHAPTER II
THE PROBLEM AND ITS MODES
B) Providence, Fortune and Virtue

IT IS A DIALECTICAL PARADOX that while the Christian doctrine of salvation ultimately made the historical vision possible, for centuries it operated to deny that possibility. The Greek and Roman intellects saw little reason to expect anything very new to happen in the human future, and doctrines of cyclical recurrence or the supremacy of chance (tyche or fortuna) arose and interpenetrated—though we must beware of exaggerating or simplifying their importance—to express this lack of expectation, which sometimes occasioned world-weariness and ansst.1 Within these empty-seeming schemes, however, there was room for much acute study of political and military happenings, and the actions of men did not lose interest—rather, perhaps, the reverse— when it was thought that they would some day, in the ordinary or the cosmological course of things, be repeated. The advent of the savior monotheisms, however, reorganized and transformed time by making it an aspect of events whose significance was in eternity. God had covenanted with men, and the covenant would some day be fulfilled; man had been created, he had fallen, God had begun action intended to bring about his redemption, and this process would at a point in time to come be carried to its final completion. All these propositions denoted temporal events; the past or the future tense must be used in stating them; and yet the significance of every one of them was extrahistorical in that it denoted a change in the relations between men and that which was outside time altogether. Time was organized around the actions which an eternal agent performed within it; these actions formed a sequence whose meaning appeared in time and gave time meaning; but since the meaning of the actions lay outside time, it followed that time acquired meaning from its relation to the eternal. It might even seem that man entered time at his departure from Eden, and that the sequence of acts which constituted sacred history were

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1
See n. 3 to ch. I, above. On fortuna as a goddess and the object of an actual cult, see John Ferguson, The Religions of the Roman Empire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970).

-31-

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