A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
GUICCIARDINI

COMPARISON between the views of Machiavelli and the expressed opinions of his younger contemporary, Francesco Guicciardini, is instructive.1 It at least illustrates the fact that Machiavelli's outlook was by no means exceptional in the Italy of his time. Of all the critics of Machiavelli in the first half of the sixteenth century, Guicciardini, diplomatist, administrator, statesman and historian, was at once the best equipped and by far the most able. All the more illuminating is his criticism because his outlook was so like that of Machiavelli. Cynical in the extreme, greedy of power, honours and money, scheming and unscrupulous, he might have served as a model to Machiavelli, had he been a Prince instead of a minister of princes. 'Three things,' he wrote, 'I should like to see before I die; but I fear that even if I live long, I shall not see one of them: a well-established republican life in our city, Italy freed from the barbarians and the world freed from the rascally priests.'2 But, for the greater part of his active life, he served the Papacy which he detested, and the Medicean 'tyrants' of Florence. As expressive of his outlook on politics he has left us only fragments and indications. These fragments, however, are fairly explicit and these indications are clear so far as they go. There is the early Discorsi Politici, written during his embassy in Spain, the dissertation on Machiavelli's Discorsi, the Dialogo del Reggimento di Firenze and the illuminating Ricordi Politici e Civili, a note-book collection of observations, of which many of the later repeat the earlier. There is also the Istoria Fiorentina and the great Istoria d'Italia, in both which Guicciardini's way of seeing men and institutions is clearly indicated.3 It may perhaps be regretted that he did not give us a regular treatise on politics. He had all the intellectual detachment and analytic power necessary. He might have left something which would have diminished the reputation of Machiavelli both for good and

____________________
1
Guicciardini was born in 1482 and died in 1540.
2
Ricordi Politici e Civili, 236.
3

None of these writings was published in the sixteenth century, or indeed till the nineteenth, except the Istoria d'Italia.

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