3
The Power of Words

Machiavelli composed all his political works, and above all The Prince, in the manner of the rhetorician following the rules illustrated by the Roman masters of rhetoric, particularly Cicero, Quintilian, and the anonymous author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium. ( To Gaius Herennius: On The Theory of Public Speaking) He did not write to explain a scientific or a moral truth, but to persuade and to impel to act. Yet, students of Machiavelli's political thought have been quite unaware of this important feature of his language, or, when they have noticed it, have not studied it with sufficient care. As a result, we still do not know the kind of texts we are reading. We have failed to understand not only how Machiavelli composed his works, but also what he meant to say, particularly what he meant to say on the much-contested issues of political ethics. We have yet fully to appreciate both Machiavelli's distinctive way of practising political theory, and his conception of political action--two aspects of his intellectual legacy that could greatly help us to improve our political theory.

The rhetorical nature of Machiavelli's works is so obvious that scholars' silence on it is perhaps one of the most spectacular examples of misinterpretation of texts of the past. But even more astonishing are the comments of the scholars who have noticed the embarrassing presence of a typical rhetorical piece like the 'Exhortation to Liberate Italy' at the end of The Prince--that is, at the end of the text which has been celebrated as the foundation of the modern scientific study of politics. To this effect, some have concluded that Machiavelli the scientist does not go very well with

-73-

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Machiavelli
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations x
  • 1 - Machiavelli's Philosophy of Life 11
  • 2 - The Art of the State 42
  • 3 - The Power of Words 73
  • 4 - The Theory of the Republic 114
  • 5 - The Passion of Liberty 148
  • Notes 175
  • Further Reading 231
  • Index 235
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