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The Question of Machiavelli's Modernity*

  • A. J. Parel

That Machiavelli is an innovator of political philosophy is universally acknowledged. The program of innovation is outlined in The Prince, chapter 15: he wants to depart from the orders of his predecessors. The goal of the new philosophy is “effectual truth,” and not the imagination of it. Actual states, not “imagined republics and kingdoms” are its real concerns. The distinction between how one lives and how one ought to live is still made, but only in order to point out that what is done should never be abandoned for what should be done. Preservation of the state has emerged as the new summum bonum, in the interest of which everything becomes permitted. The distinction between virtue and vice is no longer important; and the new type of ruler, if he is good, must learn how to be not good. The Preface to Discourses I also proposes a similar program: he is determined “to enter a path not yet trodden by anyone” and to introduce “new modes and orders.”

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1. All references to Machiavelli's writings are to Machiavelli, Niccolo, Tutte le opere, ed. Martelli, Mario (Florence, 1971); hereafter Martelli. I have given my own translation of Machiavelli's texts, but in doing so, I have consulted Gilbert's, Allan translation of Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others, 3 vols. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1965). Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius, hereafter Discourses.

2. Strauss, , Leo, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), p. xix; Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), pp. 178–79; What Is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies (Glencoe IL: Free Press, 1959), pp. 4147; Thoughts on Maehiavelli (Seattle, 1969), passim; On Tyranny (Ithaca: Cornell, 1963), PP. 24, 110–11, 196–97, 205; History of Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 296318.

3. Strauss, , History of Political Philosophy, p. 297.

4. Strauss, , Political Philosophy of Hobbes, p. xix; What Is Political Philosophy, p. 40.

5. Strauss, , On Tyranny, p. 24.

6. Strauss, , What Is Political Philosophy, pp. 4647.

7. Ibid., p. 47.

8. “…come se il cielo, il sole, li elementi, li uomini, fussino variati di moto, di ordine e di potenza, da quello che gli erono antiquamente” (Discourses, I. Preface, Martelli, p. 76).

9. Note Machiavelli's use of the notion of ancients and moderns here. “Modern things” (moderne cose) are recent or contemporary events that are understood and explained according to the principles of Christian culture, whereas “ancient things” are things that are understood and explained according to the principles of classical or pre-Christian culture. Christianity for Machiavelli is part of modernity. The contrast between ancients and moderns occurs very frequently in his writings.

10. Discourses, II. Preface, Martelli, p. 145.

11. Martelli, p. 738; for the parallel passage see The Golden Ass, chap. 5, Martelli, p. 967.

12. Discourses, I. 6, Martelli, p. 86.

13. Ibid.

14. Martelli, pp. 154–55.

15. For both the Italian and the Latin versions of this letter, dated 8 November 1504, see Martelli, p. 939.

16. “lo canterò l'italiche fatiche, /segùite già ne' duo passati lustri/ sotto le stelle al suo bene inimiche”(Ibid., p. 940).

17. History of Florence, I. 25, Martelli, pp. 649–50.

18. Ibid., III. 5, Martelli, p. 694.

19. Discourses, I. 11, Martelli, p. 93.

20. Discourses, I. 12, Martelli, p. 95.

21. Discourses, I. 12, Discourses, II, 2; The Prince, chap. 12, History of Florence, I. 9.

22. Girolomo Savonarola, Contra Astrologiam Divinatricem, Tract III, chap. 4. I have used the 1497 edition of this work, preserved at the Houghton Library of Harvard University.

23. Discourses, II. 2, Martelli, pp. 149–50.

24. Discourses, III. 1, Martelli, p. 195.

25. Discourses, III. 9, Martelli, p. 212.

26. Discourses, II. Preface, Martelli, p. 145.

27. See Thorndike, Lynn, History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York: Macmillan, 1934), 4: 107.

28. A case for full autonomy is made by Pitkin, Hanna in her Fortune Is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolò Machiavelli (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 7, passim.

29. See Mansfield, Harvey C. Jr., “Machiavelli's Political Science,” American Political Science Review 75 (1981): 294 n. 3 and 305 n. 55.

30. Strauss, , Thoughts on Machiavelli, p. 216.

31. The Prince, chap. 25, Martelli, , p. 296.

32. See The Prince, chap.7; Discourses, III. 9; and The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca.

33. See Ptolemy, , Tetrabiblos, ed. and trans. Robins, F. E., (London: The Loeb Classical Library, 1980), II. 1.

34. “E questo voglio basti avere detto quanto allo opporsi alla fortuna, in universali. Ma restringendomi più a' particulari, dico come si vede oggi questo principe felicitare, e domani ruinare, sanza averli veduto mutare natura o qualità alcuna” (Martelli, p. 295. Emphasis added).

35. Bloom, Allan, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 286.

36. Martelli, p. 81.

37. In the poem On Fortune, Machiavelli points out the connection of “occulta virtu” by which we are “governed” by heaven: see Martelli, p. 978.

38. For the text see Martelli, pp. 1082–83.

39. Ibid.

40. Ingegno here is the Italian of the Latin ingenium. Note Descartes's use of this word in Regulae ad directionem ingenii. The difficulty in translating this word into English may also be noted: Ross, G. R. T. translates it as both “intelligence” and “mind.” See Descartes: The Philosophical Works, trans. Haldane, Elizabeth S. and Ross, G. R. T. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 1: x and 1. Machiavelli uses the word ingegno here to refer to the cognitive power of human beings. But given his astrological natural philosophy, it should be understood that this power is not a power of the soul but of the body, and that it works in tandem with imagination.

41. Martelli, p. 1083.

42. Ibid.

43. See Martelli, p. 296.

44. The Prince, 25, Martelli, p. 296.

45. Discourses, III. 6, Martelli, p. 212.

46. Discourses, III. 9, Martelli, p. 213.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid.

49. Discourses, III. 22, Martelli, p. 228.

50. Discourses, III. 21, Martelli, p. 227; Ghiribizzi, 1083.

51. Martelli, p. 227.

* The Editors thank Oxford University Press for permission to publish this article which is to appear in Tom Sorell's Early Modern Philosophy (forthcoming).

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