Walker’s Machiavelli

"Walker's Machiavelli," review of Discourses of Niccolò Machiavelli, ed. L. J. Walker, Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 6, No. 3 (March 1953).


Walker is not the first to contend that Machiavelli’s achievement consists chiefly or exclusively in the discovery of a new method. In fact, it would appear that the view about Machiavelli which predominates today is a vague compromise between the view which Walker adopts and the historicist interpretation of Machiavelli’s thought which Walker rejects. At any rate, these two interpretations, the interpretation of
Machiavelli as a “scientist” and the historicist interpretation, constitute today the most massive obstacles to an under standing of his thought. Walker himself writes that “Machiavelli says expressly very little” about method (135). On the basis of the evidence adduced by Walker, it would be more accurate to say that Machiavelli says nothing about method. The only passage quoted by Walker which might be thought to refer to a new method is a statement in the Preface to Book I of the Discorsi which our translator renders as follows: “I have decided to enter upon a new way; as yet untrodden by any one else,” and which he interprets to mean “a new way and a new method” (82). But the “way” which Machiavelli has decided to take is as little a “method” as was the way on which Columbus embarked in search of unknown seas and lands. Machiavelli set out to discover, not “new ways and methods,” as Walker translates, but modi ed ordini nuovi. Modus et ordo is the Latin translation of Aristotle’s taxis (cf. Thomas on Politics, i289a2-6, liber IV., lectio I). Machiavelli then sets out to discover, not a new method of studying political things, but new political “arrangements” in regard to both structures and policies. Walker will perhaps urge the irrelevancy of Machiavelli’s saying nothing or next to nothing about his method, and the novelty of his method, on the ground that  Machiavelli was not a philosopher (93). I have no legitimate means of knowing what Walker understands by
a philosopher. But he will certainly admit that Machiavelli was a man who must be assumed to have known what he was doing.