Stephen J. Milner

title.none: Hörnqvist, Machiavelli and Empire (Stephen J. Milner)

identifier.other: baj9928.0510.009 05.10.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Stephen J. Milner, University of Bristol,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Hornqvist, Mikael. Machiavelli and Empire. Series: Ideas in Context, vol. 71. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 302. $75.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-521-83945-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.10.09

Hornqvist, Mikael. Machiavelli and Empire. Series: Ideas in Context, vol. 71. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 302. $75.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-521-83945-9.

Reviewed by:

Stephen J. Milner
University of Bristol

Amidst the enormous output, which constitutes the field of Machiavelli studies, it is noteworthy that it has taken quite so long for a full-scale study to appear which places the concept of empire at the heart of its analysis. Often stereotyped as the father of "realpolitik," the secretary of spin, Machiavelli's embracing of dissimulation as a necessary political evil in the attainment, maintenance, and expansion of power should have seen him placed at the epicentre of the kind of historical analysis which focuses upon the role of the symbolic and the representational in socio-political conflict and the establishing of cultural hegemony. In some ways the whole field of postcolonial studies can be read as an exposé of the coercive aspects of the kind of classically inspired hegemonic practices counseled by Machiavelli: the erasure of indigenous cultural traditions, the seduction or silencing of subjected others, and the use of religion as a means of ideological domination. According to such a reading, these practices, synonymous with the rationalizing impulse of an acquisitive Western modernity, can all be seen as part of a civilizing process which took the classical tradition as its touch stone in seeking to consign so-called barbarism to history. It is in the face of such a tradition that postcolonial studies has encouraged the Empire to write back.

In this context, therefore, the authoring of a volume specifically entitled Machiavelli and Empire raised expectations that this notable gap might be partially plugged and Machiavelli's writings subjected to the kind of analysis which deploys a wider cultural perspective than that traditionally assumed by those working within, and around, the Cambridge political thought tradition inspired by Skinner, Pocock, Dunn et al. Their readings of Machiavelli have sought to evaluate the political works of the Florentine Secretary in terms of his role in establishing the foundations of modern (western) political thought and his place within the genealogy of Atlantic republicanism. In focusing on questions of liberty, civic participation, and deliberative democracy, less attention has been paid to the coercive characteristics of the civic republican tradition, characteristics that recent political events have served to throw into sharp relief. Although not tackling these larger issues head-on, Hörnqvist's volume represents a welcome beginning to such debates, for what this volume seeks to do is set Machiavelli's writings in The Prince and Discourses within a Florentine tradition of what he terms 'imperial republicanism.'

What Hörnqvist offers is a modification of previous readings which have seen Machiavelli's two classic texts as contradictory and set within different literary traditions: The Prince within the genre of Mirror of Princes writing and the Discourses within the enduring tradition of classical republicanism. Hörnqvist, by contrast, examines Machiavelli's discussion of territorial acquisition in both The Prince and the Discourses within what he identifies, in the second chapter entitled "The republic's two ends," as a tradition of acquisitive republicanism: liberty at home and expansion abroad. An important consequence of this assertion is his ability to sidestep the historiographical debate over Machiavelli's status as either apologist for princely rule or defender of republican government. As he states "the contrast between The Prince and the Discourses should be understood as a difference in audience, strategy, and emphasis, but not in aim" (284).

In chapters three and four this shared aim is described as a combination of "offensive alliances, and swift and decisive action" (112), a model based on the example of ancient Rome and Machiavelli's own experiences gleaned from his diplomatic experiences in the Second Chancery prior to 1512. To an extent these chapters seem to rehearse arguments made some time ago. That Machiavelli's approach to political action in foreign affairs differed from the Florentine tendency to temporize and hedge was demonstrated by Felix Gilbert in his 1957 article on political assumptions at the time of Savonarola and Soderini, while Pocock's analysis of both The Prince and the Discourses in "The Machiavellian Moment" focus almost exclusively upon the agency of "virtù" as an attribute of leadership in effecting and managing innovation and territorial aggrandizement. To my mind it is interesting that Hörnqvist's analysis in these chapters is undertaken without discussing the concept of "virtù" in both texts. For it is surely of prime significance as the motivating force behind expansionist ambitions whether practiced by a prince, a law giver, or as embedded within specific forms of social ordering. That the following chapter identifies the Roman figure of the "triumphator" as the embodiment of imperial republicanism renders this occlusion even more puzzling. For one of the key differences between The Prince and the Discourses , no matter how similar new princes and founders of republics might be, lies in their differing approach to the embedding of "virtù" within institutional orders and its transfer to a community with a strong sense of its collective identity and mission. The glory of the "patria" extends beyond the glory of any single person.

Whilst there are undoubted similarities in the policies Machiavelli counseled for both new princes and founders of republics, Hörnqvist's reading collapses both texts and makes The Prince a sort of "proemio" to the Discourses : "By fashioning his princely reader as a tyrant in the classical sense of the term, and by creating a series of scenarios that play on the tyrant's desire for glory and greatness and his fear of assassination and loss of power, the Florentine [Machiavelli] creates a new prince who will unwittingly serve as an instrument for a Roman-inspired republican development, acting as founder and embodying the acquisitive spirit that will promote and fuel the future growth of the republic" (227). Machiavelli's The Prince thus becomes the dissimulating text par excellence, seemingly encouraging the dynastic ambitions of the Medici whilst actually seeking the establishment of a firm platform for future republican greatness. While certainly an innovative reading, it poses more questions that it answers and demands that both texts be read exclusively within a Florentine political context.

The question of how Hörnqvist is reading these texts is addressed in both the first and final chapters, where he lays out his critical stall identifying three "levels" of meaning: the theoretical, the ideological, and the rhetorical. While clearly acknowledging his debt to the Cambridge political thought tradition, Hörnqvist claims to move beyond Skinner's approach, which he terms "ideological," in undertaking his own "rhetorical reading" of the text. This he defines as the text's "engagement with, and embeddedness in, the local and historically contingent political and practical context of interacting particulars." There is some confusion here about the interrelation of these three terms which in part arises from the debates held back in the late 1960s and 1970s about the theoretical underpinning of political thought as a distinct field of study. To a readership schooled after the cultural turn in the humanities, however, such differentiations are not so easily made. Consequently, despite Hörnqvist's repeated assertions that Machiavelli's political writing demonstrates a strong concern with the "here and now," the affective power of the texts seems to be confined to the kind of agency granted by Austin's speech act theory which underpins Skinner's methodological writings: namely texts as actions or events in terms of their interrelation to and differentiation from other textual traditions. In this instance both texts are simply read within the literary context of imperial republicanism rather than the respective traditions of civic republicanism and advice books to princes. Such an approach is wholly in keeping with the manifesto of the Ideas in Context series within which this volume appears, but markedly different from the sort of historicist contextualization provided in studies like John M. Najemy's Between Friends: Discourses of Power and Desire in the Machiavelli-Vettori Letters of 1513-1515 (Princeton, 1993), an incisive examination of the circumstances which gave rise to and conditioned the composition and subject matter of The Prince . In this volume there is little sense of the texts' dialogue with the extratextual world--or what might now be described as its ideological aspect--beyond the provision of a general summary of the secondary literature on the growth of the Florentine territorial state in the hundred and fifty years prior to the composition of Machiavelli's texts.

In offering a "rhetorical reading," what is marked in this case is the absence of rhetorical analysis of the texts themselves or acknowledgement of the conditioning effect Renaissance rhetorical frameworks had upon what, and how, Machiavelli could articulate any discourse of empire. In the current context, for example, one of the most suggestive insights of Virginia Cox's article "Machiavelli and the 'Rhetorica ad Herennium': Deliberative Rhetoric in The Prince " (Sixteenth Century Journal 28 [1997]: 1109-41) is that the pseudo-Ciceronian rhetorical text, in making a sharp distinction been causes that were "honestum" and causes that were "utile" furnished a template for the defense and justification of territorial acquisition, in other words for the composition of rhetorics of empire. Such insights are not taken up in Hörnqvist's "rhetorical reading," the status and methodological underpinning of which remains unclear. One of the defining characteristics of all forms of classical rhetoric is their adversarial nature: to prosecute or defend; to do or not to do; to praise or blame. As suggested earlier, what a rhetorical reading of Machiavelli's texts would reveal when discussing questions of empire would be the role of language and spectacle in establishing hegemony and the means whereby other voices are silenced and repressed. For Machiavelli's rhetoric of empire to be properly critiqued we need to give a voice back to those who were assimilated and contained by imperial republicanism. That would then allow us to think more subtly about expansive republicanism and its rhetoric of freedom.

Editorially the lack of a bibliography, select or otherwise, is unfortunate and compounded by some omissions in terms of recent, and not so recent, scholarship both on Machiavelli and on the Florentine territorial state. Whilst Ricardo Fubini's name is cited in passing in the main body of the text (43), there is no note referring readers to his seminal 1990 article "La rivendicazione di Firenze della sovranità statale" and no mention is made of two key studies relating to Florentine state building in the Quattrocento: Patrizia Salvadori's Dominio e patronato (Florence, 2000) and Sam Cohn's Creating the Florentine State (Cambridge, 1999). In a similar vein William J. Connell's work on Pistoia is referenced through citing his 1989 Ph.D dissertation rather than his more readily available monograph La città dei crucci (Florence, 2000), while no reference is made to the extensive published proceedings of the 1997 conference held in Florence and Pisa Cultura e scrittura di Machiavelli (Rome, 1998). Another consequence of the lack of a bibliography is the repetition of full publication details in the footnotes of each chapter, which makes for a clumsy format. Some notes, on the other hand, contain no references at all but rather extensive textual discussion that would be better placed in the main body of the text.

Overall this is a detailed study of the imperial aspect of Machiavelli's writing set within the classic political thought tradition. Hopefully it will act as a catalyst for further consideration of this much-neglected dimension of Renaissance political discourse, which so clearly throws the rhetoric of the western political thought tradition into focus.