Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/238

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

and explains is combined with the earnestness and the eagerness of the advocate who is pleading a cause. Aspiration and emotion were not foreign to the genius of Machiavelli, and at appropriate moments found impassioned utterance. Discussions of general principles of history and of the art of government are everywhere applied and enforced by examples of contemporary failures or successes, and the reasoning is thus brought home "to men's business and bosoms." In the Discourses on Livy the doctrinal and scientific interest predominated: in The Prince, which became the most influential of all his books, the local and temporary problems lay at the root of the whole discussion. It is therefore necessary to separate, within the limits of a legitimate analysis, the two elements found combined in his writings; and though no firm line can or ought to be drawn between the two parts, which at nearly every point touch and supplement each other, a divided discussion will best conduce to the clearness from which truth most quickly emerges.

The writings of nearly all the Florentine historians and publicists of the sixteenth century involve certain fundamental beliefs or hypotheses, upon which the whole structure of their reasoning rests; these are rarely stated totidem verbis in any passage, although implied in nearly all. The general body of their work forms a perpetual commentary upon a text, which is only incidentally enunciated; the method employed is expository only in appearance, but in reality genetic; the ultimate principles of the argument are the final result at which the reader arrives, and not a guide which he has with him from the beginning. Even with an author like Machiavelli, who was not averse to repeating himself, and less reticent than many others, it is not always easy to be certain that the latent hypotheses and scattered hints have been correctly elicited and grouped. Still, it is in any case clear that what controlled his views of the movement of events, whether in his own day or in earlier times, and of the lessons which they convey, was, in the last analysis, a specific notion of man's nature as a permanent force realising itself and imposing itself upon external things, shaping and subjecting them. The conception of human nature to which he adhered was used as the foundation for a definite theory of history as a whole. Then the process of reasoning was reversed, and from the collective activity of national life a return was made to the isolated unit or individual, and an ethical supplement added, thus completing a general conspectus of man both in the State and in society. For though Machiavelli inferred that ethics and politics are distinct, and that the art of government is out of relation to morals, he founded both upon the same assumptions. The ethical portion of his work is, of course, of little importance in comparison with the political, and is usually wholly ignored.

The conception which had the widest influence upon Machiavelli's teaching is that of the essential depravity of human nature. Men are