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Secrets of the Discourses

post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 
I am giving these away for free. They are hard-won. No need to thank me.

In D I 6, "Sparta" = the classical best regime, i.e., Plato's "City in Speech" or Aristotle's "Polity." "Venice" = Epicureanism.

In D I 52, "Piero" vascilating between support for the Medici and support for "freedom" = philosophy's choice between the people (populace) and the great (nobles). "Piero," like medieval philosophy, made the right choice for the wrong reason, and so was ruined.
Edited by Manton - 3/21/13 at 9:37am
post #2 of 63
Thread Starter 
One of Machiavelli's aims is to smash Aristotelian metaphysics, above all the concepts of formal and final causes. A key tenet here is that what may be last in time or sequence may nonetheless by primary in the order of being, or "prior in nature" to that which temporally came before it. E.g., sex is the efficient cause of children but the family is the final cause; hence although sex must precede the family in time it is derivative in the order of being.

In I 4, Machiavelli discusses the tumults of ancient (republican) Rome, which "many inconsiderately damn." (He refers here seemingly to a common opinion among ancient historians and, to a lesser extent, philosophers.) He accuses these "many" of, first, condemning a seemingly bad "cause" (tumult) while not seeing its good effect (Rome's freedom). But worse, in not seeing the end, they assume either that the "end" (freedom) cannot be good when the "first cause" (tumult) is bad, or that if the end is good, then the bad apparent "first cause" must have had nothing to do with it. The mistake here is to assume that a good end cannot have a bad beginning.

Hence Machiavelli in effect accuses the ancients of getting things wrong even on their own terms. He as it were "speaks in their name," chiding them for not seeing the primary character of the end and instead focusing on what is first in sequence, calling that bad, and then assuming that whatever follows from it is bad. Order cannot arise from disorder, nor--especially--something good from something bad. He implicitly sweeps all that away, while appearing to be truer to their doctrine than they are. It's philosophic jujitsu, used to advance wholly modern and anti-ancient ends.
post #3 of 63
Thread Starter 
In I 5, he refers to Marius not by his proper Latin name but in the Italian vulgate, in order to entice the reader to think of the feminine counterpart. Marius => Mario => Maria.
post #4 of 63
Even though you asked not to, I still must thank you.
post #5 of 63
Thread Starter 
There are many notable things in I 7.

For instance, when Machiavelli refers to Soderini's trial before the Otto di Guardia, and says that this number of judges was "not enough", he makes one think back to his approval of popular assemblies in I 4 and wants the reader to think of two notable men who were tried and convicted by popular assemblies and, in his judgment, "had it coming." Which is to say, Jesus and Socrates.

The reference to Coriolanus is of course completely bolloxed by NM's flat denial that Coriolanus appealed to "outside forces" when in fact Coriolanus did exactly that in perhaps the most notable such example in all Roman history. NM means to suggest that he did not appeal outside of "this world". This is reinforced by the fact that he tells the rest of the Coriolanus story 22 and 99 chapters later. As NM learned from Augustine (City of God, XV 20), "eleven" is the number of sin because eleven transgresses the Ten Commandments.
post #6 of 63
Thread Starter 
In I 8, "Manlius Capitolinus" = Marsilius of Padua. Machiavelli pretends that Manlius' brutal end never happened out of "respetto" for his anti-clerical ally. (NM is however happy to tell the tale in I 24 in a different context where it suits his purpose.)
post #7 of 63
Thread Starter 
Also, re: "eleven," NM uses eleven (which traditionally stood for sin) to mean "religion" broadly. Hence Prince 11 is called "Of Ecclesiastical Principalities" and the eleventh chapter of the Discourses is called "Of the Religion of the Romans." II 11 is secretly about the pope, and so on.

Also, while this concerns the Prince, it becomes important in the Discourses later on. NM tells only two stories--both in the P, none in the D--that involve himself as a character. In Ch. 3 he writes of being told by the cardinal of Rouen that "the Italians do not understand war." Machiavelli retorts that "the French do not understand the state, because if they understood they would not have let the church come to such greatness."

The "Italians" are the philosophers, more specifically the ancient philosophers. "The French" are the scholastics and the Renaissance humanists. The Italians do not understand war = the ancients made a tactical mistake in siding with the great over and against the people. They left "the universality" (for in this world there is no one but the vuglar; P 18) prey to an ambitious tribune (Christ). But the French to do not understand the state, which is more fundamental than war. They made the STRATEGIC mistake of trying to collaborate with Christ and His heirs, thereby fatally compromising philosophy.

Machiaevelli himself represents the new philosophy that will avoid this tactical and the strategic errors of his predecessors.
Edited by Manton - 3/23/13 at 5:28am
post #8 of 63
Thread Starter 
The meaning of "outside forces" in D 5-8 = appeal to the supernatural.
post #9 of 63
Thread Starter 
There are 142 chapters, the same number as there are books of Livy. Plus, there is a dedicatory letter and two "proems" (one to Book I, the other to Book II; Book III has no proem). So, 145 "elements" in all.

The plan goes like this:

I: 1; 2-8; 9-10; 11-15; 16-18; 19-24; 25-27; 28-32; 33-45; 46-59; 60

II: 1-5; 6-10; 11-15; 16-18; 19-22; 23-25; 26-32; 33

III: 1-15; 16-34; 35-49

Many things are to be noted here but I will only mention a few now. The last section of all three books is about Machiavelli's own enterprise and his role therein. In Book I, a multiple of 13 is always the central chapter in a section. This continues a bit into Book II, until a new principle of ordering takes over. However it is sometimes repeated (e.g., III 26 is the central chapter of the central section of Book III). Multiples of 13 have to be counted from the beginning of the work and from the beginning of each book. They will have a different significance depending on where the count starts. Hence II 5 (the 65th chapter) is important by one reckoning while III 39 is important by another.

Note that in all three books, 16 always starts a new section. In a way so does 19, but in book III, 19 begins a "subsection." In all three cases, the section or subsection beginning with 19 is the key to that book in question.

It's also useful to look to parallels with The Prince. We have noted the parallel of "eleven." 16-18 in both Books I and II correspond (roughly) to Prince 12-14.
post #10 of 63
Thread Starter 
III 39 also corresponds to P 14. To be a "knower of sites" means the prince must get out and examine the countryside.
post #11 of 63
Originally Posted by Manton View Post

III 39 also corresponds to P 14. To be a "knower of sites" means the prince must get out and examine the countryside.

I thought this was more along the lines of a general having knowledge of the localities of where he is conducting war.
post #12 of 63
Thread Starter 
That is the surface. The true meaning is about science. P 14 is very condensed and metaphoric because Nick does not have the space. The theme is developed fully in D III 39.
post #13 of 63
Thread Starter 
I 9 presents a beautiful example of "argument" v. "action." It is taken for granted by most that Machiavelli wrote treatises. And so his works appear on the surface. But really there is an inner kinship between his books and Platonic dialogues. Both have characters, settings, dramatic action and so on, that obscure and at the same time clarify the true argument.

The "argument" of I 9 is that "it is necessary to be alone" if one wishes to successfully found or reform a republic. This turns out to be an excuse for Romulus' murders of his brother Remus and his later partner Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines. Machiavelli is often credited with saying that the ends justify the means, which he never said. But he does say in this chapter that "where the deed accuses the effect excuses." Note that there is a qualitative difference between “excuse” and “justify.”

But that aside, he goes on to give the example of Agis and Cleomenes. The former wanted to reform Sparta, which had gone bad but he was killed by the ephors (sort of like Senators). However he wrote down his plan and his successor Cleomenes read the plan and implemented it—after killing all the ephors. Sound like a great illustration of the teaching, right?

Wellllll….. except that shortly after he was defeated in battle by the Achaeans (Nick says the Macedonians) and eventually fled to Alexandria where he committed suicide.

So what is the “action” here? First, look back on what Nick says about Lycurgus, Sparta’s founder in I 2. He is emphatic that Lycurgus was such a great founder that Sparta’s laws remained in place uncorrupted for 800 years (Plutarch says 500). He contrasts that with Solon, founder of Athens, whose founding was so imperfect that Athens was a tyranny within Solon's own lifetime.

Well, now Nick says that Sparta badly needed reform back to the laws of Lycurgus. Lycurgus is suddenly not so great after all. His laws did NOT remain incorrupt. Was this because they were flawed in the first place or because of the natural political “entropy” that erodes all states?

Following the action further, we get an indication that the problem was the former. Cleomenes “renewed altogether” the laws of Lycurgus. OK, a faithful refounding. But look at the outcome. Cleomenes failed. Perhaps because those laws were not so great in the first place? Or did Cleomenes not get to complete his project, which “remained imperfect”? Doesn’t seem like that excuse will fly since it was “after such an order” that Cleomenes “found himself alone and inferior in strength.” But isn’t it necessary, and therefore good, “to be alone” to reform a republic?

Beyond this, I note that the chapter title, and later sentence within the chapter, refers to reforming a republic “altogether outside its ancient orders.” An exact copy of Lycurgus’ orders can hardly be said to be “altogether outside its ancient orders.” Cleomenes mistake was perhaps to make too literal and exact a copy. He did not innovate with the times. This is a rare and curious instance in Nick where a chapter title is actually more revealing of his true thought than the subsequent text.
Edited by Manton - 4/29/13 at 6:47am
post #14 of 63
Thread Starter 
Further thoughts on I 8. Speculating here. I know that Manlius Capitolinus = Marsilius (thank you, Harvey!).

So, I am guessing that Camillus = Machiavelli himself. Marsilius was a false or lukewarm friend of the people whereas Machiavelli is their true friend. Camillus' action (liberating Rome from "the French"; really the Gauls) was made necessary by a prior appeal to outside forces. Just as Machavelli's action is made necessary by the outside force par excellence, the Christian conquest of Rome and the West. Manlius calumniated the Senate for holding to itself certain treasure that rightfully belonged to the people. Just as Marsilius makes a feint to the people but fundamentally sides with the great, though against the Church. He does not wrest the treasures of the wise away from the great to give to the people, as Nick does. Machiavelli omits Manlius' spectacular death partly out of respect but partly to make the parallel more exact: Marsilius was excommunicated but died a free man honored in a Ghibelline court.

The crucial question here is calumnies v. accusation. Calumnies are false and private. They rely decisively on hearsay, not direct evidence or knowledge. Accusations to be valid must have someone standing behind them with the courage to take responsibility for what is said. "Calumny" = revelation, "accusation" = philosophy. Marsilius was willing to calumniate the Church but not make the decisive accusation against the faith. He was ultimately cowardly the same way that Manlius was cowardly when charged by the dictator. Machiavelli on the other hand accuses in his own name and with his own reasons.
post #15 of 63
Thread Starter 
Machiavelli consistently attacks ancient metaphysics in subtle ways without seeming too. For instance, in I 6 he famously says that “in all human things he who examines well sees this: that one inconvenience can never be suppressed without another’s cropping up.” The context here is whether a state wishes to live quietly or to expand. Now, this should not even be a question, since according to both the classical and medieval (Christian just war), expansion is never good for its own sake, rarely a good idea in any circumstance, and war is always for the sake of peace. Hence "quiet" is optimal. So just in raising the question, Nick is being subversive.

There is a necessary choice here, he says: one or the other. The implication is that there is no best regime. There is no one best that all should aim at. This is in keeping with his dismissal of "imagined principalities" in Prince 15. But he goes farther here. There he does not say anything about there being no inconvenience without another being taken up. Here he is not just denying the classical best regime, he is denying a foundation of classical metaphysics: the notion that there is an "idea" of good or that there can exist good simply. Machiavelli says no. There is nothing intrinsically and wholly good. Everything has an admixture of bad. To make sure you get the point he goes on to say that "nothing entirely clean and entirely without suspicion is ever found."
Edited by Manton - 7/11/13 at 9:32am
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