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

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

CHAPTER III
THE PROBLEM AND ITS MODES
c) The Vita Activa and the Vivere Civile

[I]

IT CAN BE ARGUED that the ideal of the citizen implied a totally different conceptualization of the modes of political knowledge and action from that implicit in the scholastic-customary framework which we have so far studied. Within the limits of that framework, the individual employed reason, which disclosed to him the eternal hierarchies of unchanging nature and enjoined him to maintain the cosmic order by maintaining his place in that social and spiritual category to which his individual nature assigned him; he employed experience, which disclosed to him immemorial continuities of traditional behavior and could only counsel him to maintain them; and he employed a blend of prudence and faith on those occasions when the stream of contingent and particular events faced him with a problem so individual that neither reason nor syllogism, experience nor tradition, provided a readymade answer to it. Only on these occasions, it might be contended, did he behave like a decision-making animal (and even then, not infrequently, more like an apocalyptically guided true believer); for the rest his behavior was that of the inhabitant of what some theorists call a traditional society. To say so much would be to overargue the case; political processes often (some say always) go on within a received and inherited pattern of behavior, and the interpretation of tradition can be a complex and self-conscious political decision. Yet it remains true that a citizen, constantly involved with his fellows in the making of public decisions, must possess an intellectual armory which takes him beyond the perception of hierarchy and tradition, and gives him cause to rely on his and his fellows' power to understand and respond to what is happening to them. A customary community in one corner of an eternal order is not a republic of citizens. If they believe in tradition as the only appropriate response to the challenge of contingent happenings, they will not apply their collective powers of positive decision; if they think of prudence as the response of a few decision-makers to the marginally unique problem, their bias will be toward the accept-

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