Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 6, 2011

First lesson taught at the Emily Higgins Ginet New School for Troublemakers and Malcontents

O.K. later we'll talk more about how this school will operate. First, though, I want to give away the first part of a mini-course on the Ciompi (unskilled wool workers) revolt in late 14th century Florence, for free, to all readers of this blog. This revolt is considered to be the first revolt of industrial workers in the Western world. Our primary source tonight is Laura Banfield and Harvey Mansfield's translation of Niccolo Machiavelli's Florentine Histories, Book III, Chapter 2:

"The power of the nobles having been tamed and the war with the archbishop of Milan ended, it appeared that no cause of scandal remained in Florence. But the evil fortune of our city and its own orders, which were not good, gave rise to enmity between the family of the Albizzi and that of the Ricci just as at first that between the Boundelmonti and the Uberti and afterwards that between the Donati and the Cerchi had done.... These families were full of hatred for each other, and each was thinking how it could crush the other so as to obtain primacy in the republic. They had not yet, however, come to arms but had only encountered each other in the magistracies and in the councils. Thus when the city found itself armed, a quarrel arose by chance in the Mercato Vecchio [Old Market]; and many people gathered, as they are wont to do in such unforeseen events..."

I know... you're saying: "Ulysses how are we supposed to make any sense of this stuff?!?? Give us a break!!"

I'll be giving you a break by filling in the historical context soon. For tonight, though, let's just observe a few general points from this short passage.

How did Machiavelli conceive of local city politics in medieval Florence? In these lines we find important clues as to his historical thinking.

The organizing principle that Machiavelli applies to interpreting medieval Florentine history is the same as that he used to analyze the politics of his own time. The key driver of events is the vendetta, or family feud.

Politics to Machiavelli is a lot like how many of us remember junior high-- cliques and factions always at odds, with the vague menace of violence ready to erupt at any time. In this instance it is the Albizzi and the Ricci squaring off against each other, But Machiavelli's Histories are full of countless rivalries involving dozens of powerful families.

How to think of this in modern terms? It would be a mistake to think of Kennedys and Bushes. Closer to the mark would be the Genovese, Gambino, Buonnano, Lucchese, and Colombo of New York. Politics and violence served up on the same platter. We'll read and analyze a little more tomorrow, Leftsiders. Hope y'all think this is fun!

1 comment:

Ulysses said...

The edition used here was published by Princeton University Press in paperback, 1990.