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  • Langues et écritures de la République et de la guerre: Études sur Machiavel
  • John H. Geerken
Alessandro Fontana, Jean-Louis Fournel, Xavier Tabet, and Jean-Claude Zancarini , eds. Langues et écritures de la République et de la guerre: Études sur Machiavel. Genoa: Name edizione, 2004. 506 pp. index. €32. ISBN: 88-87298-54-8.

This is a volume of twenty-two papers in French and Italian presented at two international colloquia on Machiavelli held in Paris in 1998 and in Lyon in 2001. They fall largely into two groups: a historicist one focused on the question of Machiavellian language and discourse, labeled "political philology" by the editors, and a genealogical one that uses the Machiavellian oeuvre as a kind of tool chest for thinking about modern politics.

If, following Foucault, the intelligibility of history lies in its wars, strategies, and tactics, as the editors maintain, then the war in this volume that demands to be understood is the French invasion of Italy in 1494. The rude necessities of this war forced Machiavelli to ask new and insistent questions of both ancient and contemporary authorities. What he then developed was what the editors call a pensée contre, a body of thought critical if not always fully informed of the established doxa of his time. Virtù, fortuna, civiltà, libertà, tumulti, religione, arte dello stato, ordini, leggi, and costumi became more than concepts; they became tools of analysis for thinking about continuous warfare. Machiavelli thus established not a science of politics, but an ongoing critique of political action based on his continuous readings and ever-changing experiences. Fournel and Zancarini write of a "lexicon of action" which looks beyond such concepts as virtù and stato to action [End Page 842] verbs (such as ruinare and spegnere). Fedi's essay explores Machiavelli's use of paradox as his way of countering the public opinion of his time. Marietti, in a nicely nuanced paper, examines how moderation can lead to law as well as to the destruction of law; how liberty can be generative of conflict and how certain forms of conflict can be destructive of liberty. Other essays add insights into class conflict, women, wealth, education, and, of course, fortuna and virtù. On his way to reviewing virtù in Hegel, Kant, Spinoza, and Nietzsche, Fontana deploys two paradigms of the concept — one modeled on Cesare Borgia, the other on Julius II. And he further suggests that the "faith" of the Protestant reformers resembles Machiavelli's virtù if one acts as if everything depends on oneself, but believes as if everything depends on God. But this is a strange resemblance indeed. Did Borgia believe that everything depended upon God?

One of the most pressing questions addressed by several of the papers is that of a republic's death: how and why does a republic die? Marchand's paper focuses on the subversion brought about by change in institutions, laws, and morality. Pedullà's argues that Rome's military success removed all the external threats that constrained Roman citizens to preserve their hereditary virtues, so they gave in to luxuriousness. Another question is closely related: once corrupted, how does a once-free state transmute its corruption into virtuous care for the common good? For Skinner, Machiavelli finally opts for a legal system that is seen to be not a neutral framework within which private ends are privately pursued, but one in which law becomes a partisan agent of liberation.

The collection's third section contains three essays outlining Machiavelli's fortunes in the seventeenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Descendre explores Giovanni Botero's catholicizing use of Machiavelli's political and military language in developing his own discourse on "reason of state." Barbuto surveys how Machiavelli resonated among Hegel, Fichte, Foscolo, Leopardi, Manzoni, and others, who constituted "coordinates of criticism" for the young De Sanctis as he developed his "utopia of Machiavelli." And Tabet reviews debates concerning Machiavelli's modernity and his compatibility with fascist doctrine, noting how his reputation changed as fascism itself changed.

The volume ends with an editorial afterword, arguably the best essay in an anthology in which there are no bad or even mediocre essays. The editors cite...


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