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Reviewed by:
  • Machiavelli and Empire
  • William J. Connell
Mikael Hörnqvist . Machiavelli and Empire. Ideas in Context 71. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xii + 302 pp. index. $75. ISBN: 0-521-83945-9.

At the heart of Hörnqvist's Machiavelli and Empire lies the important idea that the distinction between principalities and republics announced in the first chapter of Machiavelli's Prince has prevented scholars from appreciating fully the revolutionary endorsement of empire to be found in the Florentine's treatment of both kinds of regime. Thus, in a break with the usual Prince\Discourses dichotomy, Hörnqvist does an able job of tracing republican themes in The Prince and princely-imperial themes in the Discourses. His discussion of the development in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries of an ideology of Florentine libertas that involved suppressing the liberty of neighboring peoples is generally on target, and it provides the most thoroughgoing correction to date of a problem often noted in Hans Baron's thesis concerning Florentine civic humanism, namely Baron's mistaken belief that civic humanism was a principally defensive ideology when it came to foreign policy. Hörnqvist shows that civic humanists were imperialists, too. Better still, he argues that since Machiavelli was so much more overtly imperialist than they had been, he created a divide between himself and his humanist forerunners. [End Page 488]

Other scholars, including J. G. A. Pocock, Harvey Mansfield, Alison Brown, Patrick Coby, and the present reviewer, have treated the theme of empire in Machiavelli with more care than Hörnqvist admits, and a careful reading will show that they have come to conclusions that are not so far removed from his as he imagines. (On the question, and also on Pocock and Mansfield, for instance, compare my "Machiavelli on Growth as an End," in Historians and Ideologues: Essays in Honor of Donald R. Kelley, 2001.) But Hörnqvist deserves congratulations not only for being right on an issue of capital importance, but also for offering the first sustained book-length treatment of the role of imperialism in Machiavelli's chief works of political theory.

Yet if Hörnqvist is right on the big issue, there are a number of points on which one wants to challenge him. In a first chapter that finds good and bad things in the works of a series of English-language writers about Machiavelli, Hörnqvist cobbles together a contorted "double methodological approach" (19) that was perhaps not really needed to carry out the substantive work of the chapters that follow. Most curious is an attempt to distinguish between ideological and rhetorical methods in the history of political thought. The rhetorical approach, unlike the ideological, includes analysis of the audience, he says, which somehow leads him to the astonishing conclusion that Quentin Skinner's methodology is not rhetorical but "ideological" (17). Although there are many critics who have argued, contrary to his intention, that Skinner's work is in practice ideological, Hörnqvist evidently argues that Skinner intends it to be ideological, which is something of a stretch. (One supposes that as series editor for Ideas in Context, Skinner steers with a loose hand.)

With respect to historical matters, it is hard on the face of it to accept Hörnqvist's argument that Machiavelli's Prince urges the Medici to destroy Pisa in punishment for a rebellion, ended four years earlier, against the anti-Medicean Florentine Republic. If the strongest chapters of the book regard the history of civic humanism and Florentine imperialist ideology in the fifteenth century, the weakest chapter portrays a Machiavelli who was allegedly fascinated with triumphal imagery. A longish discussion of triumphalism (justly inspired by Starn and Partridge, Arts of Power) draws attention to Machiavelli's few discussions of Roman triumphs, but it is hard to follow Hörnqvist's argument that a "Triumph of Pompey," staged in Florence on 26 June 1513, influenced Machiavelli's discussion of liberality in chapter 16 of The Prince. The Medici lords of Florence no doubt opted for "The Triumph of Pompey" as an excuse for a parade of young people dressed (or undressed) as lubricious Orientals. Meanwhile, Machiavelli treated Caesar, the successful princeps, not Pompey...


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