- 2017-04-01 00:16:32
List of Illustrations
1 The Diplomat
2 The Adviser to Princes
3 The Theorist of Liberty
4 The Historian of Florence
Works by Machiavelli Quoted in the Text
I still think of Machiavelli essentially as the exponent of a neo-classical form of humanist political thought. I argue in addition that the most original and creative aspects of his political vision are best understood as a series of polemical--sometimes even satirical--reactions against the humanist assumptions he inherited and basically continued to endorse.
And I have held to my belief that Machiavelli's pivotal concept of virtú (virtus in Latin) cannot be translated into modern English by any single word or manageable series of periphrases. I have consequently left these terms in their original form throughout. This is not to say, however, that I fail to discuss their meanings; on the contrary, much of my text can be read as an explication of what I take Machiavelli to have meant by them.
Machiavelli died nearly 500 years ago, but his name lives on as a byword for cunning, duplicity, and the exercise of bad faith in political affairs. 'The murderous Machiavel', as Shakespeare called him, has never ceased to be an object of hatred to moralists of all persuasions, conservatives and revolutionaries alike. Edmund Burke claimed to see 'the odious maxims of a machiavellian policy' underlying the 'democratic tyranny' of the French Revolution. Marx and Engels attacked the principles of machiavellianism with no less vehemence, while insisting that the true exponents of 'machiavellian policy' are those who attempt 'to paralyse democratic energies' at periods of revolutionary change. The point on which both sides agree is that the evils of machiavellianism constitute one of the most dangerous threats to the moral basis of political life.
Chapter 1 The Diplomat
The Humanist Background
This concept of the studia humanitatis had been derived from Roman sources, and especially from Cicero, whose pedagogic ideals were revived by the Italian humanists of the fourteenth century and came to exercise a powerful influence on the universities and on the conduct of Italian public life.
It is probable, therefore, that it was owing to Adriani's patronage-together perhaps with the influence of Bernardo's humanist friends-that Machiavelli found himself launched on his public career in the new anti-Savonarolan government.
The Diplomatic Missions
As before, these confidential judgements on Borgia's character have since become famous through their incorporation into chapter 7 of The Prince. Machiavelli repeats that the duke 'made a bad choice' in supporting 'the election of Julius as pope', because 'he should never have let the papacy go to any cardinal whom he had injured' (34). And he recurs to his basic accusation that the duke relied too heavily on his luck. Instead of facing the obvious contingency that he might at some point be checked by a 'malicious stroke of Fortune', he collapsed as soon as this happened (29). Despite his admiration, Machiavelli's final verdict on Borgia--in The Prince no less than in the Legations--is thus
an adverse one: he 'gained his position through his father's Fortune' and lost it as soon as Fortune deserted him (28).
This account of the pope's progress reappears virtually unaltered in the pages of The Prince. Machiavelli first concedes that, although Julius 'proceeded impetuously in all his affairs', he 'was always successful' even in his most unrealistic enterprises. But he goes on to argue that this was merely because 'the times and their circumstances' were 'so in harmony with his own way of proceeding' that he never had to pay the due penalty for his recklessness. Despite the pope's startling successes, Machiavelli accordingly feels justified in taking an extremely unfavourable view of his statecraft. Admittedly Julius 'accomplished with his impetuous movement what no other pontiff, with the utmost
human prudence, would ever have accomplished'. But it was only due to 'the shortness of his life' that we are left with the impression that he must have been a great leader of men. 'If times had come when he needed to proceed with caution, they would have brought about his downfall; for never would he have turned away from those methods to which his nature inclined him' (91-2).
Machiavelli's portrait of the emperor in The Prince largely reproduces these earlier judgements. Maximilian is discussed in the course of chapter 23, the theme of which is the need for princes to listen to good advice. The emperor's conduct is treated as a cautionary tale about the dangers of failing to handle one's councillors with adequate decisiveness. Maximilian is described as so 'pliable' that, if ever his plans 'become generally known' and are then 'opposed by those around him', this throws him off course so completely that he is immediately 'pulled away from them'. This not only makes him frustrating to deal with, since 'no one ever knows what he wishes or intends to do'; it also makes him downright incompetent as a ruler, since 'it is impossible to rely' on any decisions he makes, and 'what he does one day he destroys the next' (87).
The Lessons of Diplomacy
The basic weakness they all shared was a fatal inflexibility in the face of changing circumstances. Cesare Borgia was at all times overweening in his self-confidence; Maximilian was always cautious and over-hesitant; Julius II was always impetuous and over-excited. What they all refused to recognize was that they would have been far more succcessful if they had sought to accommodate their personalities to the exigencies of the times, instead of trying to reshape their times in the mould of their personalities.
Unfortunately for Machiavelli and for Florence, his fears yielded better predictions than his hopes.
Machiavelli's own fortunes collapsed with those of the republican regime. On 7 November he was formally dismissed from his post in the chancery. Three days later he was sentenced to confinement within Florentine territory for a year, the surety being the enormous sum of a thousand florins. Then in February 1513 came the worst blow of all. He was mistakenly suspected of taking part in an abortive conspiracy against the new Medicean government, and after being put to the torture he was condemned to imprisonment and the payment of a heavy fine. As he later complained to the Medici in the dedication to The Prince, 'Fortune's great and steady malice' had suddenly and viciously struck him down (11).
Chapter 2 The Adviser to Princes
The Florentine Context
Greatly discouraged, Machiavelli withdrew to his little farm at Sant'Andrea, in order (as he wrote to Vettori) 'to be
at a distance from every human face' (C 516). From there he began for the first time to contemplate the political scene less as a participant than as an analyst.
Machiavelli's highest hope, as he confided to Vettori, was that his treatise might serve to bring him to the notice of 'our Medici lords' (C 305). One reason for wishing to draw attention to himself in this way--as his dedication to The Prince makes clear--was a desire to offer the Medici 'some token of my devotion' as a loyal subject (3). His worries on this score even seem to have impaired his normally objective standards of argument, for in chapter 20 of The Prince he maintains with great feeling that new rulers can expect to find 'that men whom they had regarded with suspicion in the early stages of their rule prove more reliable and useful than those whom they had trusted at first' (74). Since this contention is later flatly contradicted in
the Discourses (236), it is hard not to feel that an element of special pleading has entered Machiavelli's analysis at this point, especially as he anxiously repeats that 'l must not fail to remind any ruler' that men who were 'content under the previous regime' will always prove 'more useful' than anyone else (74-5).
the most important antithesis in the whole of his political theory, the antithesis around which the argument of The Prince revolves. New princedoms, he declares, are either acquired and held 'by one's own arms and virtus', or else 'through the power of others and fortuna' (19, 22).
The Classical Heritage
These goods themselves are variously described: Seneca emphasizes honours and riches; Sallust prefers to single out glory and power. But it was generally agreed that, of all the gifts of Fortune, the greatest is honour and the glory that comes with it. As Cicero repeatedly stresses in De Officiis, man's highest good is 'the attainment of glory', 'the enhancement of personal honour and glory', the acquisition of the 'truest glory' that can be won (11.9.31; 11.12.42; 11.44.48.).
With the triumph of Christianity, this classical analysis of Fortune was entirely overthrown. The Christian view, most compellingly stated by Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy, is based on denying the key assumption that Fortune is open to being influenced. The goddess is now depicted as 'a blind power', and hence as completely careless and
indiscriminate in the bestowal of her gifts. She is no longer seen as a potential friend, but simply as a pitiless force; her symbol is no longer the cornucopia, but rather the wheel of change which turns inexorably 'like the ebb and flow of the tide' (177-9).
钓雪按：the history of Fortune
Boethius's reconciliation of Fortune with providence had an enduring influence on Italian literature: it underlies Dante's discussion of Fortune in canto VII of The Inferno and furnishes the theme of Petrarch Remedy of the Two Kinds of Fortune. However, with the recovery of classical values in the Renaissance, this analysis of Fortune as an ancilla dei was in turn challenged by a return to the earlier suggestion that a distinction must be drawn between Fortune and fate.
A little later, we begin to encounter a widespread appeal to the far more optimistic view that-as Shakespeare makes Cassius say to Brutus-if we fail in our efforts to attain greatness, the fault must lie 'not in our stars but in our selves'.
By building on this new attitude to freedom, the humanists of fifteenth-century Italy were able to reconstruct the full classical image of Fortune's role in human affairs.
in the penultimate chapter of The Prince, his handling of this crucial theme reveals him to be a typical representative of humanist attitudes. He opens his chapter by invoking the familiar belief that men are 'ruled by Fortune and by God', and by noting the apparent implication that 'we have no remedy at all' against the world's variations, since everything is providentially foreordained (84). In contrast to these Christian assumptions, he immediately offers a classical analysis of liberty. He concedes, of course, that human freedom is far from complete, since Fortune is immensely powerful, and 'may be the arbiter of half our actions'. But he insists that to suppose our fate to be entirely in her hands would be 'to eliminate human freedom'. And since he holds firmly to the humanist view that 'God does not want to do everything, in order not to deprive us of our freedom and the glory that belongs to us', he concludes that roughly half our actions must be genuinely under our control rather than under Fortune's sway (84-5, 89).
As well as reiterating these classical arguments, Machiavelli gives them an unusual erotic twist. He implies that Fortune may actually take a perverse pleasure in being violently handled. He not only claims that 'fortune is a woman, and if you want to control her, it is necessary to treat her roughly'. He adds that she is actually 'more inclined to yield to men' who 'treat her more boldly' (87).
mantenere lo stato
As well as sheer survival, however, there are far greater ends to be pursued; and in specifying what these are, Machiavelli again reveals himself to be a true heir of the Roman historians and moralists. He assumes that all men want above all to acquire the goods of Fortune. So he totally ignores the orthodox Christian injunction (emphasized, for example, by St Thomas Aquinas in The Government of Princes) that a good ruler ought to avoid the temptations of worldly glory and wealth in order to be sure of attaining his heavenly rewards. On the contrary, it seems obvious to Machiavelli that the highest prizes for which men are bound to compete are 'glory and riches'-the two finest gifts that Fortune has it in her power to bestow (85).
The attainment of worldly honour and glory is thus the highest goal for Machiavelli no less than for Livy or Cicero.
For Machiavelli, the next-and the most-crucial question is accordingly this: what maxims, what precepts, can be offered to a new ruler such that, if they are 'put into practice skilfully', they will make him 'seem very well established' (83)? It is with the answer to this question that the rest of The Prince is chiefly concerned.
The Machiavellian Revolution
Machiavelli's advice to new princes comes in two principal parts. His first and fundamental point is that 'the main foundations of all states' are 'good laws and good armies'. Moreover, good armies are even more important than good laws, because 'it is impossible to have good laws if good arms are lacking', whereas 'if there are good arms there must also be good laws' (42-3). The moral-put with a typical touch of exaggeration-is that a wise prince 'should have no other objective and no other concern' than 'war and its methods and practices' (51-2).
So strongly does he feel this that he even adds the almost absurd claim that they will 'prefer to lose using their own troops rather than to conquer through using foreign troops' (49).
Arms and the man: these are Machiavelli's two great themes in The Prince. The other lesson he accordingly wishes to bring home to the rulers of his age is that, in addition to having a sound army, a prince who aims to scale the heights of glory must cultivate the right qualities of princely leadership.
It still remains, however, to consider what particular characteristics are to be expected in a man of virtuoso capacities. The Roman moralists had bequeathed a complex analysis of the concept of virtus, generally picturing the true vir as the possessor of three distinct yet affiliated sets of qualities. They took him to be endowed in the first place with the four 'cardinal' virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and temperance -the virtues that Cicero (following Plato) had begun by singling out in the opening book of De Officiis. But they also credited him with an additional range of qualities that later came to be regarded as peculiarly 'princely' in nature. The chief of these-the pivotal virtue of Cicero De Officiis-was what Cicero called 'honesty', meaning a willingness to keep faith and deal honourably with all men at all times. This was felt to need supplementing by two further attributes, both of which were described in De Officiis, but were more extensively analysed by Seneca, who devoted special treatises to each of them. One was princely magnanimity, the theme of Seneca On Clemency; the other was liberality, one of the major topics discussed in Seneca On Benefits.
The position in which any prince finds himself is that of trying to protect his interests in a dark world filled with unscrupulous men. If in these circumstances he 'does not do what is generally done, but persists in doing what ought to be done' he will simply 'undermine his power rather than maintain it' (54).
Machiavelli's criticism of classical and contemporary humanism is thus a simple but devastating one. He argues that, if a ruler wishes to reach his highest goals, he will not always find it rational to be moral; on the contrary, he will find that any consistent attempt to cultivate the princely virtues will prove to be a ruinously irrational policy (62). But what of the Christian objection that this is a foolish as well as a wicked position to adopt, since it forgets the day of judgement on which all injustices will finally be punished? About this Machiavelli says nothing at all. His silence is eloquent, indeed epoch making; it echoed around Christian Europe, at first eliciting a stunned silence in return, and then a howl of execration that has never finally died away.
By now it will be evident that the revolution Machiavelli engineered in the genre of advice books for princes was based in effect on redefining the pivotal concept of virtú. He endorses the conventional assumption that virtú is the name of that congeries of qualities which enables a prince to ally with Fortune and obtain honour, glory, and fame. But he divorces the meaning of the term from any necessary connection with the cardinal and princely virtues. He argues instead that the defining characteristic of a truly virtuoso prince will be a willingness to do whatever is dictated by necessity - whether the action happens to be wicked or virtuous - in order to attain his highest ends. So virtú comes to denote precisely the requisite quality of moral flexibility in a prince: 'He must be prepared to vary his conduct as the winds of fortune and changing circumstance constrain him' (62).
Machiavelli takes some pains to point out that this conclusion opens up an unbridgeable gulf between himself and the whole tradition of humanist political thought, and does so in his most savagely ironic style. To the classical moralists and their innumerable followers, moral virtue had been the defining characteristic of the vir, the man of true manliness. Hence to abandon virtue was not merely to act irrationally;
it was also to abandon one's status as a man and descend to the level of the beasts. As Cicero had put it in Book I of De Officiis, there are two ways in which wrong may be done, either by force or by fraud. Both, he declares, 'are bestial' and 'wholly unworthy of man' - force because it typifies the lion and fraud because it 'seems to belong to the cunning fox' (l-13-41).
To Machiavelli, by contrast, it seemed obvious that manliness is not enough. There are indeed two ways of acting, he agrees at the start of chapter 18, of which 'the first is appropriate for men, the second for animals'. But 'because the former is often ineffective, one must have recourse to the latter' (61). One of the things a prince therefore needs to know is which animals to imitate. Machiavelli's celebrated advice is that he will come off best if he learns to imitate 'both the fox and the lion', supplementing the ideals of manly decency with the beastly arts of force and fraud (61). This conception is underlined in the next chapter, in which Machiavelli discusses one of his favourite historical characters, the Roman emperor Septimius Severus. First he assures us that the emperor was a man of very great virtú (68). And then, explaining the judgement, he adds that Septimius's great qualities were those of 'a very fierce lion and a very cunning fox', as a result of which he was 'feared and respected by everyone' (69).
The New Morality
This leads Machiavelli to a closely connected question which he puts forward - with a similar air of self-conscious paradox - later in the same chapter: 'whether it is better to be loved than feared, or vice versa' (59). Again the classic answer had been furnished by Cicero in De Officiis. 'Fear is but a poor safeguard of lasting power', whereas love 'may be trusted to keep it safe for ever' (II.7.23). Again Machiavelli registers his total dissent. 'It is much safer', he retorts, for a prince 'to be feared than loved'. The reason is that many of the qualities that make a prince loved also tend to bring him into contempt. If your subjects have no 'dread of punishment', they will take every chance to deceive you for their own profit. But if you make yourself feared, they will hesitate to offend or injure you, as a result of which you will find it much easier to maintain your state (59).
Chapter 3 The Theorist of Liberty
the Orti Oricellari circle
The Means to Greatness
even fragmentary way
Of the three Books into which the Discourses are divided, the first is primarily concerned with the constitution of a free state, the second with how to maintain effective military power and the third with questions of leadership. While I shall follow these contours, however, it needs to be remembered that the effect of doing so will be to give the impression of a more neatly organized text than Machiavelli succeeded in creating or perhaps even wanted to create.
His aim, he says, is to discover what 'made possible the dominant position to which that republic rose' (192). What enabled Rome to attain its unparalleled greatness and power?
He states his reasons most emphatically at the beginning of the second Discourse. It is 'not individual good but common good' that 'makes cities great', and 'without doubt this common good is thought important only in republics'. Under a prince 'the opposite happens', for 'what benefits him usually injures the city, and what benefits the city injures him'. This explains why cities under monarchical government seldom 'go forward', whereas 'all cities and provinces that live in freedom anywhere in the world' always 'make very great gains' (329, 332).
Citing the case of Romulus' fratricide, he contends that 'though the deed accuses him, the result should excuse him; and when it is good, like that of Romulus, it will always excuse him, because he who is violent to destroy, not he who is violent to restore, ought to be censured' (218).
The image underlying this analysis is an Aristotelian one: the idea of the polity as a natural body which, like all sublunary creatures, is subject to being 'injured by time' (45). Machiavelli lays particular
emphasis on the metaphor of the body politic at the beginning of his third Discourse. He thinks it 'clearer than light that if these bodies are not renewed they do not last', for in time their virtú is certain to become corrupt, and such corruption is certain to kill them if their injuries are not healed (419).
Machiavelli's dilemma is accordingly this: how can the body of the people - in whom the quality of virtú is not naturally to be found have this quality successfully implanted in them? How can they be prevented from sliding into corruption, how can they be coerced into keeping up an interest in the common good over a sufficiently long period for civic greatness to be attained? It is with the solution to this problem that the rest of the Discourses is concerned.
The-Laws and Leadership
So the fundamental question still remains: how can the generality of men - who will always be prone to let themselves be corrupted by ambition or laziness - have the quality of virtu implanted and maintained in them for long enough to ensure that civic glory is achieved?
It is at this juncture that Machiavelli begins to move decisively beyond the confines of his political vision in The Prince. The key to solving the problem, he maintains, is to ensure that the citizens are 'well ordered' - that they are organized in such a way as to compel them to acquire virtu and uphold their liberties. This solution is immediately proposed in the opening chapter of the first Discourse. If we wish to understand how it came about that 'so much virtu was kept up' in Rome 'for so many centuries', what we need to investigate is 'how she was organised' (192). The next chapter reiterates the same point. To see how the city of Rome succeeded in reaching 'the straight road' that led her 'to a perfect and true end', we need above all to study her ordiniiher institutions, her constitutional arrangements, her methods of ordering and organizing her citizens (196).
Religion can be used, that is, to inspire - and if necessary to terrorize - the ordinary populace in such a way as to induce them to prefer the good of their community to all other goods.
As always, Rome furnishes the clearest example: it was because she managed to evolve a 'mixed government' that she finally rose to become 'a perfect republic' (200).
The Prevention of Corruption
The Quest for Empire
The pursuit of dominion abroad is thus held to be a precondition of liberty at home.
Chapter 4 The Historian of Florence
The Purpose of History
The entire History of Florence is thus organized around the theme of decline and fall. Book I describes the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west and the coming of the barbarians to Italy. The end of Book I and the beginning of Book II relate how 'new cities and new dominions born among the Roman ruins showed such virtú' that 'they freed Italy and defended her from the barbarians' (1233). But after this brief period of modest success, Machiavelli presents the rest of his narrative-from the middle of Book II to the end of Book VIII, where he brings the story to a close in the 1490s-as a history of progressive corruption and collapse. The nadir is reached in 1494, when the ultimate humiliation occurred: Italy 'put herself back into slavery' under the barbarians she had originally succeeded in driving out (1233).
The Decline and Fall of Florence
The Final Misfortune
Some of Machiavelli's earliest critics, such as Francis Bacon, felt able to concede that 'we are much beholden to Machiavelli and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do'. But the majority of Machiavelli's original readers were so shocked by his outlook that they simply denounced him as an invention of the devil, or even as (Old Nick, the devil himself. By contrast, the bulk of Machiavelli's modern commentators have confronted even his most outrageous doctrines with an air of conscious worldliness. But some of them, especially Leo Strauss and his disciples, have unrepentantly continued to uphold the traditional view that (as Strauss expresses it) Machiavelli can only be characterized as 'a teacher of evil'.
The business of the historian, however, is surely to serve as a recording
angel, not a hanging judge. All I have accordingly sought to do in the preceding pages is to recover the past and place it before the present, without trying to employ the local and defeasible standards of the present as a way of praising or blaming the past. As the inscription on Machiavelli's tomb proudly reminds us, 'no epitaph can match so great a name'.
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