The Frauds of Humanism: Cicero, Machiavelli, and the Rhetoric of Imposture

Author: Zerba, Michelle
Title: The Frauds of Humanism: Cicero, Machiavelli, and the Rhetoric of Imposture
Review/Collection: "Rhetorica", 22, 3
Year edition: 2004
Pages: 215-240
Keywords: Héritage - Fortuna - Legacy
Description: [Abstract] Machiavelli’s advocacy of force and fraud in the conduct of politics is the key teaching that has secured his reputation as Machiavellian and that has led to the conception of The Prince as the first document in the Western tradition to lay bare the dark, demonic underside of civic humanism. But this interpretation overlooks the degree to which a politics of intense competition and personal rivalry inhabits the humanist vision from antiquity, producing an ethics of expediency and a rhetoric of imposture that seeks to mask its alertness to advantage behind the guise of integrity and service. This vision is nowhere more apparent than in Cicero’s De Oratore, which exerted a powerful influence on the Italian humanists of the quattrocentro in whose direct descent Machiavelli stands. Deception, to put it simply, is an acknowledged and vital element in civic humanism long before The Prince. The difference is that Cicero typically couches it in a sacrificial rhetoric that is euphemistically inflected while Machiavelli opts for a hard-edged rhetoric of administrative efficiency to make his case. But the stylistic differences, important as they are, should not mask the essential affinity between the Machiavellian doctrine of princely fraud and the Ciceronian ethics of gentlemanly dissimulation.
Author initials: Zerba 2004