a1 Rockefeller Foundation Field Staff Member, Visiting Professor, University of the Philippines
In the title to an essay written late in his life, Benedetto Croce referred to Machiavelli as “an enigma that perhaps will never be resolved.” The speculation—both scholarly and propagandist—of more than four centuries would appear to confirm this judgment on the character of Machiavelli's thought, even to the point of arguing for the elimination of Croce's qualifying “perhaps.” The Florentine Secretary has been variously interpreted as a diabolical figure, a patriotic saint, and a detached “scientific” observer of politics and history—to list only three of the principal viewpoints to be culled from the formidable body of literature that has built up around him. That literature has now attained proportions so vast as to defy the imagination. In 1936, Achille Norsa was able to account for 2,113 items in his bibliography. The size of Norsa's list would presumably have to be increased by several hundred titles today, for the period since the mid-thirties has been the occasion for a renewed spurt of writing about this famous Italian. Particularly in recent years has the scholarly literature been significantly enriched: one thinks of the distinguished studies of Baron, Butterfield, Felix Gilbert, Sasso, Whitfield, and many others. In 1954, Roberto Ridolfi's biography of Machiavelli appeared, to the accompaniment of wide critical acclaim. One has the impression that the period of the last twenty-five years has been the most felicitous phase in the entire history of Machiavellian studies, but in spite of all, Croce's “enigma” has seemed to remain undispelled. Advances have been made toward settling certain questions of historical detail, but these scholarly gains cannot obscure the fact that the larger questions relating to the substance of Machiavelli's thought, his intentions, and his place in the history of political thought are today as vexing as they ever were.
Dante Germino is a Rockefeller Foundation field staff member serving as Visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines. From 1955 to 1966, he was a member of the Political Science Department at Wellesley College. He is the author of a volume on Italian Fascism and of a number of articles on political theory.