A Ritualist Approach to Machiavelli, History of Political Thought, Volume 30, Number 4, 2009 , pp. 575-595

A Ritualist Approach to Machiavelli, History of Political Thought, Volume 30, Number 4, 2009 , pp. 575-595
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  A RITUALIST APPROACH TO MACHIAVELLI  Nicole Hochner  1 Abstract:  The considerable interest with which Machiavelli treats public oaths, exe-cutionsandreligiousorciviccultsingeneralindicatesthemajorrolehegivestoritual-ized gestures in the fabrication of the political spectacle. This study argues thatMachiavelli’s conception of religion has tended to be analysed with the assumptionthat religion is a matter of faith — or that civic religion is a device of ideologicalindoctrination or propaganda. A ritual-oriented reading of Machiavelli, however, notonly demonstrates how political drama periodically transforms the ‘irksomeness of constraintintotheloveofvirtue’italsoemphasizesthefactthatMachiavellipromotesa ritualized polity without aiming to produce a religious or a political consensus. . . . full crazy is he who forbids the peopleCeremonies and their devotionsBecause from them in truth it seems that one harvestsUnity and good order, and on thatThen depends fortune good and happy ( The Ass ) 2 What does he think of doing, this poltroon of a villain?Does he think to scare me with this pomp?Does he not know that I am used to seeing the pomp of heavenandthefuriesofhell? (  Belfagor  ) 3 Pomp, splendour and luxury denounced as sinful by Reformation theologianswere not futile issues in the early sixteenth century. Aware of the need forself-promotion and charisma Machiavelli certainly does not avoid the ques-tion of magnificence and the duty of leaders to impress. Indeed, he showsgreatrespectforritualsandetiquettewhenatnightheperformshisownriteof passage, taking off his sullied clothes to wear his royal garments and cross thethreshold of his own miserable life to welcome his cherished ancient men. 4 Inthis article I would like to show how Machiavelli considered and explored thequestion of the spectacular and rituals. As Reformation Christianity came toemphasize credo rather than cult, or soul rather than body, most commenta-tors have considered Machiavelli’s writings on religion (or civic religion) HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT. Vol. XXX. No. 4. Winter 2009 1 Dept. of Political Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus,Jerusalem, 91905, Israel. Email: 2 Niccolò Machiavelli,  Opere , ed. Corrado Vivanti (Paris, 1997–2005), Vol. 3,pp. 67–8. 3 Quoted by Sebastian De Grazia,  Machiavelli in Hell  (Princeton, 1989), p. 333. 4 In his famous letter to Francesco Vettori (10 December 1513), in Machiavelli,  ThePrince , ed. Quentin Skinner and Russell Price (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 93–5. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2011For personal use only -- not for reproduction  from the point of view of convictions, motivations or patriotic zeal. Thenotion of religion has certainly attracted an incredible wealth of commentar-iesbutsurprisinglynosystematicreadingoftheauthorof  ThePrince hasbeenmade from the perspective of ritual theory. 5 The analysis of religion is usuallypreoccupied with commenting on Machiavelli’s condemnation of the Church,the papacy or of Christian values, on his praise of Numa and Roman religion,but it has tended to disregard his considerations on celebrations, pageants anddecorum.I claim that the question of rituals should be significant for readers of Machiavelli for at least three reasons. Firstly, in the political life of Republi-can Rome the status of the ceremonial is considerable. The duty to put on dis-play  fama  and honour was driven in an inextricable way by both political andreligious motives. Public performances were the true fulfilment of glory.Machiavelli encounters this very specific aspect of Roman culture in Livywho underlined the centrality of spectacle. According to Andrew Feldherr’s SpectacleandSocietyinLivy’sHistory ,theideathatceremoniescreatepowerand legitimacy is a fundamental axis in the Livian narrative. 6 As I shall show,Machiavelli will emphasize in particular the significance of the sight of cru-elty, of blood or of death, on the battlefield as well as within the urban space. 7 But Cicero, with whom Machiavelli is in constant dialogue, is also very well576 N. HOCHNER 5 SeeVickieB.Sullivan,  Machiavelli’sThreeRomes:Religion, HumanLiberty,and Politics Reformed   (DeKalb, 1996), p. 124. The literature on Machiavelli and religion isextensive,butseeinparticularLeoStrauss, ThoughtsonMachiavelli (Seattle,1969);DeGrazia,  Machiavelli in Hell ; Graham Maddox, ‘The Secular Reformation and the Influ-ence of Machiavelli’,  The Journal of Religion , 82 (2002), pp. 539–62; Samuel J. Preus,‘Machiavelli’s Functional Analysis of Religion: Context and Object’,  Journal of the HistoryofIdeas ,40(1979),pp.171–90;BenedettoFontana,‘LoveofCountryandLoveof God: The Political Uses of Religion in Machiavelli’,  Journal of the History of Ideas ,60(1999),pp.639–58;andJohnM.Najemy,‘PapiriusandtheChickens,orMachiavellion the Necessity of Interpreting Religion’,  Journal of the History of Ideas , 60 (1999),pp. 659–81. For further bibliographical orientation on Machiavelli and religion, seeMarcia L. Colish, ‘Republicanism, Religion, and Machiavelli’s Savonarolan Moment’,  Journal of the History of Ideas , 60 (1999), pp. 597–616. 6 I rely on Andrew Feldherr,  Spectacle and Society in Livy’s History  (Berkeley,1998), but the literature on Roman rituals is immense; see in particular Paul Veyne,  Le pain et le cirque, sociologie historique d’un pluralisme politique  (Paris, 1976);H.H. Scullard,  Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic  (Ithaca, 1981); FrankBernstein,  Ludi Publici: Untersuchungen zur Entstehung und Entwicklung der öffentlichen Spiele im Republikanischen Rom  (Stuttgart, 1998); Richard C. Beacham, SpectacleEntertainmentsofEarlyImperialRome (NewHaven,1999);andGeoffreyS.Sumi,  Ceremony and Power: Performing Politics in Rome between Republic and Empire  (Ann Arbor, 2005). 7 ButMachiavellihasverylittletosayontheviolentdisplayofgladiatorcontests,onthe organized public killing of slaves and criminals and the horrid slaughter of animalsafter the fall of the Republic, see Keith Hopkins,  Death and Renewal: SociologicalStudies in Roman History  (Cambridge, 1983). Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2011For personal use only -- not for reproduction  A RITUALIST APPROACH TO MACHIAVELLI 577aware of the power of ritualization in Roman life. He was himself personallyinvolvedin69 BC intheorganizationofspectaclesandgames. 8 Inhisworksheaddresses the choreographic rules of ‘Roman civic visibility’, 9 and affirmsthat an aedile has a duty of magnificence. 10 Secondly, the early sixteenth century is a crossroads for the notion of ceremonial. Not only does Castiglione’s courtesan illustrate the impact of gestures and appearances, but the whole post-Reformation era revisits andreassesses the validity of sacraments and the question of cult in the WesternChristian Church. Arguments are raised by contemporary theologians aboutwhetherasocietycanmaintainitselfatallwithoutceremony.PhilippMelanchton,inparticular,willclearlypointoutthesocialfunctionsofcults,givingtheritesthe equivalent purpose of a  vinculum  (a cord) binding together the membersof a community. 11 By the early sixteenth century, such a view is commonlyshared by court poets and theologians.Thirdly, for the author of   Il Principe  there is no doubt that a leader shouldallocate part of his energy and resources to his own  mise en scène . I shallargue, however, that cults are not for Machiavelli pure manipulatory toolsembeddedinfraudandcredulity;theyareessential,rather,fortheparadoxicalreasonthattheycansimultaneouslyembraceoathsanddeceit,orinthecaseof a republic sustain both a fervent love of the fatherland and tumult.The predominant enquiries into Machiavelli’s religion have led scholars toconsider the question of rites and cult as rather negligible when contrastedwith the issues of faith and credo. 12 I suggest, by contrast, that a ritualist read-ing of Machiavelli can highlight the central place that the ceremonial and thespectacular have in Machiavelli’s thought. One of the major conclusions of this study will show that public ceremonies are not a theatrical spectacle pas-sively observed. Even when public pageants or public executions are wit-nessed by a few, their impact affects all. Often, soldiers and citizens actively 8 According to Pliny it even included a show with lions, see Pliny,  Natural History 8:20,quotedinCicero,  LesDevoirs ,trans.MauriceTestard(Paris,1970),Vol.2,p.154.See also Cicero,  In Verre , 5:36 where he explains the duty of his charge. 9 A.J.E. Bell, ‘Cicero and the Spectacle of Rome’,  Journal of Roman Studies , 87(1997), pp. 1–21. 10 Cicero,  DeOfficiis ,2.16,57 ‘ utsplendoraedilitatumaboptimisuirispostuletur’,in  Les Devoirs , 2, p. 45. 11 In relation with the  Cena  Philipp Melanchton (1497–1560) talks about ‘congre-gationisvinculumorvinculum[...]mutuaebenevolentiae’,quotedbyPhilippeBuc, The Danger of Ritual  (Princeton, 2001), p. 165 n. 4. 12 Quentin Skinner, however, admits that ‘the fundamental requirement, accordingto Machiavelli, is to enact a series of   ordini  designed to encourage religious belief, or atleast to compel the observance of religious practices’, in Q. Skinner, ‘Machiavelli on virtù andtheMaintenanceofLiberty’,in VisionsofPolitics,Vol.2:RenaissanceVirtues (Cambridge, 2002), p. 182. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2011For personal use only -- not for reproduction  participate in the construction of prestige or the ‘myth of power’ and directlyengagein oath making.FortheFlorentineSecretary,ceremoniesmustbedaz-zling, forceful and often violent and cruel (if not traumatic), otherwise theyfail to fabricate reputation (or shame) and fail to channel man’s ferocity intomilitary or civil excellence. 13 But public displays of controlled or uncon-trolled violence are not designed in Machiavelli’s opinion to resolve the coreconflictbetweentheeliteandthepeople(orthetwohumours),inotherwords,rites, for Machiavelli, have no cathartic purposes. I shall claim that rituals of rebellionandpublicsentenceare,onthecontrary,regulatorymechanismsthatreestablish limits and impose restraints, sometimes on the insolent nobility,sometimes on the disobedient masses, by equally feeding them with the fearof punishment (  D  1.29.3) and the love of virtue. Machiavelli, in brief, opts fora performative approach to ritual. 14 One of the very first experiences probably to have left a lasting impressionon Machiavelli was the spectacular sentence after the Pazzi’s conspiracy of 1478. 15 Machiavelli was nine years old when ‘over eighty men [were] hangedin a couple of days, including the archbishop clothed in Episcopal robes andmiter’. 16 The older Machiavelli gives a detailed description in the  Florentine Histories  of how Messer Jacopo who murdered Giuliano de’ Medici washanged and his corpse . . . dragged naked through the whole city by the noose with which he hadbeen hanged; then since no place on land had been found for his tomb, hewas thrown, by the same ones who had dragged him, into the Arno River,whose waters were then at their highest. Truly a very great example of for-tune, to see a man of such wealth and from such a very prosperous state fallinto such unprosperity with such ruin and such contempt! 17 This pitiful rite of disgrace was not only followed by the funerals of Giuliano but also by the gathering of ‘more than three hundred’ citizens who‘could not keep back their tears while Lorenzo was speaking’. 18 Such a dis-play of emotions by the elite was certainly worth recording. But my intentionhere is not to document how Machiavelli depicts public ceremonies or pag-eants (and certainly the trial and burning of Savonarola also left a578 N. HOCHNER 13 ‘To give itself reputation’,  Discourses on Livy , trans. Harvey C. Mansfield andNathanTarcov(Chicago,1996),Book2,ch.5,para.1(hearafter  D followedbythebook,chapter and paragraph numbers). 14 Stanley J. Tambiah, ‘A Performative Approach to Ritual’, in  Proceedings of the British Academy , 65 (Oxford, 1979), pp. 113–69. 15 I rely here mainly on De Grazia,  Machiavelli in Hell , pp. 9–14. 16  Ibid. , p. 11. 17 NiccolòMachiavelli, FlorentineHistories ,trans.LauraF.BanfieldandHarveyC.Mansfield, Jr. (Princeton, 1988), p. 327. 18  Ibid  ., pp. 328–30. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2011For personal use only -- not for reproduction  A RITUALIST APPROACH TO MACHIAVELLI 579considerable impression on the young Florentine Secretary), but to suggestwhy he gave them such weight. In order to do this, we must briefly leave theFlorence of Messer Jacopo and the Medici and turn our attention to Numa’sRome.According to Samuel J. Preus, Machiavelli adopts a functionalist percep-tion of religion. 19 Not only did religion ‘reorder the city’ (  D  1.13.1), it also‘served to command armies, to animate the plebs, to keep men good’ and‘bring shame to the wicked’ (  D  1.11.2). In contrast with his legendarycynicism and realism, Machiavelli speaks of   felicità , claiming that the paganreligion moreover is ‘among the first causes of the  happiness ’ of Rome(  D  1.11.4). 20 In truth, Machiavelli’s narrative enacts a story of srcins. Theferocious people under Romulus were closer to the state of nature (‘mountainmen’) than to civility, 21 Numa brings them to a state of law and self-restraint.Asifsociallifewasalmostnonexistentbeforehand,the  primitive Romansstillunpollutedbyurbancivillifeareeasilymanipulatedbytheirreverentialfears.Even if the whole conversion led by Numa has more to do with credulity andfallacies than with a civilizing process, Numa is to be eulogized as he con-vincingly ‘pretended to be intimate with a nymph who counseled him’(  D  1.11.2). In such a story, it is easy to assimilate Machiavelli to a stance thatprofesses that religion is necessarily a forgery, 22 but as propaganda, its effi-ciency is worth the pretence since religion keeps a republic good and united(  D 1.12.1).Readersof   IlPrincipe willhardlybesurprisedtoreadanargumentin favour of deceit.But Machiavelli goes further than simply concluding that Rome should bemuch more indebted to Numa than to Romulus (  D  1.10.1,  D  1.11.2). In factthe general rule that seems to be learnt from Roman history is that as long asthe sacrifices, the temples, the rites of devotion are revered, the greatness of republics and princes are ensured. 23 Accordingly, as soon as the ‘divine cult’is neglected and corrupted, ‘it is the cause of their ruin’ (  D  1.11.5). The besttestimony of such a rule is given by Machiavelli when he depicts Caesar’stimes. For not only were discordance, cruelty, affliction and misfortune char-acteristics of those days, but Rome was also subject to the very symptoms of  19 Preus, ‘Machiavelli’s Functional Analysis of Religion: Context and Object’. 20 My emphasis. 21 ‘Whoever wished to make a republic in the present times would find it easieramong mountain men, where there is no civilization, than among those who are used toliving in cities, where civilization is corrupt; and a sculptor will get a beautiful statuemoreeasilyfromcoarsemarblethanfromonebadlyblockedoutbyanother’,  D 1.11.3. 22 ‘Foxiness should be well concealed: one must be a great feigner and dissembler’,Machiavelli,  The Prince , ch. 18, p. 62. 23 ‘SoreligionmadetheSenateovercomethedifficultiesthatwouldneverhavebeenovercome without it’,  D  1.13.2. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2011For personal use only -- not for reproduction
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