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

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

CHAPTER IV
FROM BRUNI TO SAVONAROLA
Fortune, Venice and Apocalypse

[I]

THE SCHEME OF VALUES and problems outlined in the last chapter was clearly not the sole ethos by which the Florentine citizen articulated his sense of civic patriotism. There were other languages, derived from Roman law and from the practical operation of Florentine institutions, in which this might be done and a set of active and participatory values put into words; and it has understandably been the intention of Riesenberg1 and others to question whether the concept of “civic humanism” is needed at all to explain the rise of a civic consciousness and its articulation. In civil law and municipal statute, they have shown, the citizen's position was expressed in actual rather than theoretical terms, which did not encounter the problems with which this book is becoming concerned. In the chapters which follow, however, it will be argued that a language for which the term “civic humanism” may appropriately be used can be traced, deriving from the assertion of a republican vision of history, and employed for a variety of purposes among which by far the most important was that of asking whether the vivere civile and its values could indeed be held stable in time. This purpose was consciously pursued by the great thinkers of the last years of the Florentine republic, among them Guicciardini who, though trained in both civil and canon law, made remarkably little use of jurisprudence in his studies of civic morality and political institutions; while there is evidence2 that in the daily delibera-

____________________
1
Peter Riesenberg, “Civism and Roman Law in Fourteenth-century Italian Society,” in Explorations in Economic History, vol. 7, no. 1–2 (1969), pp. 237–54. See also Lauro Martines (as cited above, ch. III, n. 14).
2
Felix Gilbert, Machiavelli and Guicciardini: Politics and History in SixteenthCentury Florence (Princeton University Press, 1965), ch. 1: “Florentine Political Institutions, Issues and Ideas at the End of the Fifteenth Century,” is a study of the language employed in the pratiche and other recorded debates which brings out the extent to which its terminology coincided with that of Machiavelli and Guicciardini. See also his “Florentine Political Assumptions in the Period of Savonarola and Soderini,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 20 (1957), 187–214.

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