Not long out of prison, Machiavelli retreated to his small farm, distancing himself from the political world he had so long observed at close hand, but still thoughtful of how to use his knowledge of power to regain some position and influence in the body politic. The scene encapsulates many permanent features of the relationship between the man of letters, which Machiavelli now perforce became, and the man of power. The writer shows his anxiety to demonstrate that he is neither unacquainted with the world on which he is commenting nor inexperienced in its affairs; that his ideas are well-grounded in political reality. Implicitly, he acknowledges possible questions about his motives in writing, given his own ambitions to play some role in political life. Hume, in his essay ‘On History’, notes Machiavelli’s shifting angle of vision, our sense that he is split between the roles of ‘politician’ and ‘historian’, the first pulling him towards involvement and expediency, the second, allowing detachment and moral judgement.1 We see as well the vulnerability of the writer and the unpredictable nature of his power. The uses which will be made of his writings are beyond his control, with posterity, in Machiavelli’s case, compensating him for the disappointment of his immediate aim of recommending himself to the Medicean government by giving him more posthumous fame than he could well have imagined, his intuitions becoming an ambiguous model for political thought and conduct to the present day.


Political Life Political World Historical Knowledge Historical Reality Historical Understanding 
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© Lee Horsley 1990

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