bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Lecture III: Machiavelli and Civic Humanism

Machiavelli and Florentine Civic Humanism

Civic humanism

term coined by Hans Baron (1930s; Crisis of Early Italian Renaissance published 1966)

main protagonist: Leonardo Bruni (1370 – 1444) – Laudatio Florentinae Urbis / Praise of the Florentine City

The Laudatio is translated in Kohl & Witt, Earthly Republic.

Useful recent studies include:

Q. Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge, 1978), i, cc. 4 – 6.
J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton, 1975), esp. cc. 6 & 7.
J. Hankins, ‘Humanism and the origins of modern political thought’ in J. Kraye ed., The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (Cambridge, 1996).
J. Hankins ed., Renaissance Civic Humanism (Cambridge, 2000).

The Constitution of a city and achieving human potential

Bruni on the constitution of Florence:

We use that form of constitution which, of all forms, is most directed to liberty and equality of citizens is called ‘popular’ … Truly, everyone has an equal hope of gaining honour, as long as they prove themselves industrious, mentally able and serious-minded… This is true liberty, this is civic equality, to have no fear of force or unjustice, to have equality before the law for all citizens. But this can not happen in the rule of either one or a few. For those who prefer royal rule seem to imagine a king with such virtue that no one ever could actually have… And, indeed, this ability to achieve honours which a free people have is an amazing spur to the talents of the citizens. Given the hope of honour, men rouse themselves and set to work; denied that hope, they decline into inertia…

L. Bruni, Oration on the Death of Nanni Strozzi (1428) [Latin text at id., Opere Letterarie e Politiche, ed. P. Viti (Torino, 1996), pp. 703 – 749 at pp. 716 – 18].

Compare praise of the constitution of Venice: yseful passages provided in J. Kraye ed., Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts, ii (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 115 – 145.

Defending the city: internal harmony and citizen militia

Bruni, De Militia (1421)

C. C. Bayley, War and Society in Renaissance Florence (Toronto, 1961).

Francesco Guicciardini (1483 – 1540) on Rome’s successes and failures:

[I believe] that the military organization of the Romans, which was the foundation of their greatness, was extremely well set up. I also think that the administration of their domestic affairs was so disorderly and turbulent that without their military vigour and prowess, their republic would have collapsed many times.

F. Guicciardini, Dialogue on the Government of Florence (Cambridge, 1994), p. 145.

Civic humanism and the active life

vita contemplativa – Petrarch writes to long-dead Cicero

vita activa – in 1394, Cicero (actually Pier Paolo Vergerio) writes back to recently-dead Petrarch

otium / negotium

Chancellors of Florence: Leonardo Bruni and Poggio Bracciolini (1380 – 1459)

Q. Skinner, ‘Political Philosophy’ in C. B. Schmitt & Q. Skinner ed., The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 389 – 452, esp. pp. 408 – 442.

Guicciardini as a reader of Machiavelli

On discord: ‘to praise discord is like praising a sick man’s illness because of the virtues of the remedy applied to it.’

On human nature: ‘it is propounded too absolutely that “men never do any good except out of necessity” and that whoever organizes a republic should presume everyone to be bad, because there are many who, even when they have the power to do evil, do good, and all mankind is not wicked.’

On Machiavelli: ‘The writer always shows excessive fondness for extraordinary and violent measures.’

All quotations taken from Guicciardini’s Considerations on Machiavelli’s Discourses, available in English in both F. Guicciardini, Selected Writings, ed. C. Grayson (Oxford, 1965) and N. Machiavelli & F. Guicciardini, The Sweetness of Power, trans. J. B. Atkinson & D. Sices (Dekalb, Ill., 2002).

For recent discussion, see S. Anglo, Machiavelli – the first century (Oxford, 2005), pp. 85 – 90.

David Rundle


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