5. Skinner contra Skinner. Civic Discord and Republican Liberty in Machiavelli’s ‘Mature’ Texts

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Mauricio Suchowlansky


The purpose of this work is to question the extent to which Skinner and other scholars working on the methodological premises of the Cambridge approach have considered the intellectual development of Niccolò Machiavelli between his early and late texts. First, by positing a contextual reading of the concept of civic discord as introduced in the Florentine Histories and the Discursus Florentinarum Rerum, I claim that Skinner has misrepresented some of Machiavelli’s late or mature texts and hence has conceived and created a ’myth of coherence’ in terms of the republican thought of the author—mostly influenced by Skinner’s own reading of the Discourses on Livy. I consider the differences that appear between the early and late Machiavelli’s texts as belonging to different conceptual and situational contexts, which reveal both changes of intention and actual changes of mind on the part of the author. Secondly, I claim that Machiavelli did not maintain the same understanding of the concept civic discord throughout his intellectual life. By the late texts, the means that Machiavelli employs to represent the various social groups, their conflicts and the difficulty of managing such structural dilemmas are the result of a different conceptual paradigm in which no group is labelled ‘guardians of liberty’; instead, all societal sectors are considered as equally ambitious and consequently equally dangerous for the maintenance of the vivere libero. Contrary to Skinner’s observations, the late Machiavelli considers the safeguard of liberty as a result of the dispersal of authority throughout watertight councils that institutionalise, and make ineffective, the potentially corrosive ambizione of all social groupings of the city.


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