ΩԸƽˮʹ罭ϣ
et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis

 

English Historical Review
Machiavelli's Virtue. / (book reviews)
Author/s: M. S. Kempshall
Issue: Sept, 1998

Harvey C. Mansfield's Machiavelli's Virtue (Chicago/London: U. of Chicago P., 1996; pp. xvi + 371. 23.95 [pounds sterling]) provides an insight into one particular school of interpretation of Machiavelli's political thought. All but one of its thirteen chapters have appeared before, the earliest in 1967. Collected into a single volume, the common thread is provided by their author's conceit that Machiavelli is himself a `prince' who has `ruled' subsequent generations of political philosophers but also, and perhaps more tellingly, by their author's subscription to the methodological and substantive claims of Leo Strauss's Thoughts on Machiavelli. In terms of approach, this affiliation is characterized by a meticulous but speculative reading of the text, an attempt to detect significant silences through which Machiavelli communicates an otherwise hidden meaning. In terms of content, the esoteric teaching which this method uncovers presents an unreconstructed `Old Nick', a teacher of evil who deliberately set out to recommend vice and tyranny as the necessary concomitants of personal glory and political power. Mansfield's Machiavelli is accordingly the champion of secularism, a philosopher whose goal was not just to reject Christianity but to appropriate its techniques as a means of freeing humanity from its debilitating hold; he is the prophet of modernity, a herald of the modern executive whose redefinition of nature and virtue (the first as necessity, the second as effectiveness of action) anticipated Hobbes and laid the foundations of modern political power. This is the Machiavelli of political science rather than of history. Indeed, Mansfield summons up precisely this polarization in order to proffer his work as a critique of those scholars who have, in his view, `squeezed' Machiavelli's thought into literary or historical contexts which render it `derivative and harmless rather than extraordinary and unsettling'. On this account rhetoric is a category of fraud rather than a complex series of argumentative techniques; Aristotle a proponent of approaches which are rejected (constructing an ideal regime, tracing the transformation of constitutions) rather than extended (analysing the difference between a good man and a good citizen, discussing the means by which tyrants can prolong their rule); theology a transhistorical doctrine of providence and sacrifice rather than a fourteenth-century debate about absolute power, ethical voluntarism and contingency in the created world. For Mansfield, it would appear, a contextualized Machiavelli is little short of a travesty. This does not mean that historians will be unable to benefit from this book, particularly where it investigates nuances of language, the value of exemplary punishment, and how the emergency powers of the Roman dictator can be used to harmonize the apparent discordance between the Prince and the Discourses. Nevertheless, by concentrating on `fundamental principles' rather than on context, on modern liberalism rather than Renaissance humanism, Mansfield has written for a specific constituency. To historians of political thought, Machiavelli's Virtue may reveal as much about Leo Strauss as it does about Machiavelli.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Addison Wesley Longman Higher Education

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group