Like many inhabitants of booming metropolises, Machiavelli alternated between love and hate for his native city. He often wrote scathing remarks about Florentine political myopia, corruption, and servitude, but also wrote about Florence with pride, patriotism, and confident hope of better times. Despite the alternating tones of sarcasm and despair he used to describe Florentine affairs, Machiavelli provided a stubbornly persistent sense that his city had all the materials and potential necessary for a wholesale, triumphant, and epochal political renewal. As he memorably put it, Florence was "truly a great and wretched city."
Mark Jurdjevic focuses on the Florentine dimension of Machiavelli's political thought, revealing new aspects of his republican convictions. Through The Prince, Discourses, correspondence, and, most substantially, Florentine Histories, Jurdjevic examines Machiavelli's political career and relationships to the republic and the Medici. He shows that significant and as yet unrecognized aspects of Machiavelli's political thought were distinctly Florentine in inspiration, content, and purpose. From a new perspective and armed with new arguments, A Great and Wretched City reengages the venerable debate about Machiavelli's relationship to Renaissance republicanism. Dispelling the myth that Florentine politics offered Machiavelli only negative lessons, Jurdjevic argues that his contempt for the city's shortcomings was a direct function of his considerable estimation of its unrealized political potential.
Wonderfully researched and deeply persuasive, this book offers us an entirely new vision of the Florentine chancellor as a man dedicated in his later years to radically reshaping his broken world. Jurdjevic not only reinterprets the man himself, but challenges our very understanding of the relationship between Renaissance individuals and the society around them.
Mark Jurdjevic’s A Great and Wretched City is a wonderful contribution to Machiavelli studies. It gives Machiavelli’s ‘Florentine writings’ their proper due, and appropriately tempers the ill-considered and much too prevalent overemphasis on Machiavelli’s admiration for Rome. The book is astoundingly erudite, penetrating analytically, and generally written with a confident elegance that makes it an unusually accessible piece of high-end scholarship.
Jurdjevic convincingly argues that two of Machiavelli’s late works, The Florentine Histories and Discourse on Florentine Affairs, constitute the culmination of a change in Machiavelli’s political thinking beginning with the Discourses on Livy. Pessimistic about the potential for individual action, Machiavelli concludes that collective structures and institutions, purposely designed to limit the impact of individual political activity, can create and preserve republican government.
- 312 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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