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

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

CHAPTER VIII
ROME AND VENICE
B) Guicciardini's Dialogo and the Problem
of Aristocratic Prudence

UNLIKE THE WRITINGS of Machiavelli, those of Guicciardini are always specifically related to the context of Florentine politics and lack the older man's theoretical and speculative freedom. This is an index not merely to Guicciardini's greater concern with the actual and the practicable, but also to his aristocratic conservatism. The specific and particular world, almost by definition, could be known and controlled only with a considerable admixture of experience, and at the heart of Guicciardini's thinking we shall always find the image of the ottimati as a politically experienced inner ring who could govern because they knew by experience the city they had to deal with, and because they knew by experience that they could not do too much with it. Yet there could be no greater mistake than to treat Guicciardini as the mere mouthpiece of his class; if he regarded the ottimati as the keystone of the governing structure, he had no illusions whatever about the way they would behave if allowed to monopolize power and office. The minimum which he allows to the other political classes—even if he generally allows them no more than that minimum—is the role of providing the structure within which the virtues of the aristocracy, namely practical experience and the pursuit of honor, may remain uncorrupt and efficacious.

It follows also from his determination to anchor his thought within the context of an actual historical Florence that the highly abstract universal concepts, easy to discern in Il Principe and the Discorsi, do not meet the eye in the Dialogo del Reggimento di Firenze.1 Fortune and innovation, matter and form, are not the objects of regular allusion and it is not easy to uncover their implicit presence; the degree of abstraction is less than that dictated by Machiavelli's decision to deal with republics and principalities, innovation and corruption, as general topics and does not call for the same degree of categorization. Guic-

____________________
1
The text used here is that of Palmarocchi's Dialogo e Discorsi (D. e D.), pp. 3–174; see above, ch. V, n. 12.

-219-

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