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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - Machiavelli's Populist Turn

Summary

Niccolò Machiavelli was no doubt many things, but a classical republican he was not. The classical republican argument, familiar to all in antiquity but articulated most fully in the works of Aristotle and Cicero on the basis of their observation of Greek and Roman practice, was grounded in the conviction that the distinctive human feature is man's capacity for reasoned speech (lógos). By this, its exponents meant that, in contrast with the other animals, man possesses more than mere voice (phōnē) – that he can do more than communicate his feelings and appeal to the passions of his listeners. For Cicero, as for Aristotle, lógos is something more refined than the capacity to introduce private feelings and passions into the public arena: it enables the human being to perform as no other animal can; it makes it possible for him to perceive and make clear to others through reasoned discourse the difference between what is advantageous and what is harmful, between what is just and what is unjust, and between what is good and what is evil. It is the sharing of these things, they insist, which constitutes the household and the political community, each as a moral community (koinōnia).

This emphasis on man's capacity for moral and political rationality eventuated in an understanding of politics and the common good that transcended the simple pursuit of material interest.

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