Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/248

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important of his books, but his fame in later generations has rested almost wholly upon The Prince.

The contents of The Prince were little, if at all, affected by Machiavelli's altered fortunes, though he hoped that if the book was read by the Medici, they might employ him in some official position, for which his past life qualified him. This did not prevent him from developing, without any reserve, the conclusions which his studies and experience had enabled him to mature. He was primarily concerned neither with his own interests nor with the Medici family, but with the problems presented by the condition of Italy in 1513. Ten years previously he had written the words: "Go forth from Tuscany, and consider all Italy." His early writings, and in particular his diplomatic letters, are crowded with suggestions of the form which the conclusions would ultimately take. Slowly, through at least fourteen years, his mind had moved in one direction, and new ideas of a wide compass and a lofty range had taken shape and asserted their claims to recognition. He had been a Florentine of the Florentines, hating Pisa and exulting over Venice. By 1513 he was almost persuaded to become an Italian, to merge the local in the national. Yet, although enthusiastic and at times even visionary, he was under no permanent delusion; the hope of an ultimate unity for Italy could not under the circumstances assume for him any precise form; only as a far-distant aspiration, a pervasive thought, it formed the large background of his speculation. He knew that union was not possible then; but he held, in opposition to Guicciardini, that it was only through union that national prosperity becomes possible; "truly no country was ever united or prosperous, unless the whole of it passes beneath the sway of one commonwealth or one prince, as has happened in the cases of France and Spain." When, however, the possibility of such a thing in his own day was suggested to him, he was, he said, ready to laugh; no progress could be made in the presence of a disruptive Papacy, worthless soldiers, and divided interests. But if autonomy and independence of foreign control could be secured, the question would at once enter upon a new stage. Machiavelli did not mistake the problem; but he could not forecast the issues of the nineteenth century.

The Prince, though not a complete novelty, became for many reasons a work of primary importance. Machiavelli was the earliest writer who consistently applied the inductive or experimental method to political science. What was new in method produced much that was new in results. The earlier manuals of statecraft rested upon assumptions transmitted through the medieval Church. In Dante's time and long afterwards no man dared to discard the presuppositions of Christianity. Private judgment in politics, scarcely less than in theology, was disqualified, not because it might be incompetent, but as always ex hypothesi wrong, wherever authority is recognised. Abstract principles