Quite strikingly, then, Machiavelli's reconstruction of the Roman Republic is a tale of two cities: within the one republic there is, on the one hand, a poorer, popular polity that shadows, on the other, an elite, wealthier one. The former serves as the latter's mirror, its negative image. The grandi deliberate policy in the Senate, the plebs in the concilium and both in the concioni.
The Senate influences the consuls to enact laws that it favors; when necessary, the people press the tribunes to veto them. The consuls wield the power of life and death, but the tribunes deliver plebeians from just such a threat. One might argue that the formal separation of these two polities within one republic allows the less dangerous one, the plebeian polity that wants only to avoid domination, to patrol the one that Machiavelli explicitly claims is more dangerous, the aristocratic polity that seeks perpetual oppression over others.
Indeed, Roman patricians often voiced consternation over the two polities that comprised their republic on precisely these grounds. There were echoes of this two-polities-in-one scenario in medieval Florence and throughout the other Italian republics of the thirteenth century. However, general election did not determine seats in Florence's Signoria or Priorate; class specification or, more precisely, occupational specification and randomization characterized the appointment process.
At its most widely and substantively participatory —48 and, especially, —82 , the republic went so far as to reserve two of the six seats in the Signoria for members of each of the three sets of politically recognized guilds, which were, in descending order of wealth and status, the major, minor, and minuti guilds. Without such quotas for middling and lower guildsmen, the rich popolani of the major guilds and the patrician magnates when permitted to enroll in the upper guilds would have consistently dominated offices in the Priorate.
Out of the latter were drawn the number of names conforming with the number of open seats in the Signoria and also satisfying the equal distribution requirement across higher, middling, and lower guilds. Unlike citizen-wide general elections, or even ward-based ones demarcated by neighborhood, this procedure ensured that lower tradesmen, artisans, and shopkeepers had a relatively equal chance of holding office with bankers and owners of large-scale production; guild-specific nominations preceded a lottery, the results of which met corporate quotas. Offices were distributed more widely among citizens, certainly more widely than they would have been distributed in a general election.
All the guilds supplied nominations and seats were allotted according to classes of guilds. On the one hand, the Florentine method differed from the general lottery characteristic of Athenian democracy; in Florence, the minority of wealthy citizens was guaranteed positions disproportionate to their number of the population due to the reservation of seats for members of the upper guilds. Successive waves of oligarchic or princely alterations undermined and then destroyed the guild basis of the early Florentine republics; 27 however, its corporate character or class specificity is very close to what Machiavelli attempts to revive through the tribunate in his neo-Roman model.
Socioeconomic specificity in political institutions better ensures participation by common citizens in government than do class-anonymous institutions and formally broad, general eligibility for office.
However, it is worth noting that Machiavelli's neo-Roman proposal for noble- and popolo -specific institutions in the Discourses avoids two major errors committed by popular republics in the history of Florence: on the one hand, losing the support of lesser guildsmen or the resident laborers and taxpayers not formally organized into guilds; and, on the other, making outright enemies of the magnate class above the guilds.
As for the first mistake: Machiavelli's lifelong campaign for a citizen militia, drawn not only from the residents of Florence but also from inhabitants of the surrounding countryside, if enacted, would have ensured the loyalty of the popolo minuti and the sottoposti and swollen the numbers of citizens available to the city as soldiers, taxpayers, and potential magistrates. A popular army would have integrated a greatly expanded and widely inclusive Florentine citizenry into the politics of the republic; the plan, however, was less than halfheartedly adopted in Machiavelli's own time due to aristocratic resistance.
Machiavelli's plans were consistently thwarted or scaled back by the republic's ottimati , who did not want to deal with an armed populace in the city—especially one that would serve at the disposal of a lifetime chief executive like Machiavelli's boss, Gonfalonier of Justice Piero Soderini.
Moreover, they refused to consider the population of the territory surrounding Florence as anything but subjects, certainly not as potential fellow citizens. As for the enmity of the Florentine magnates or grandi: the Florentine popolo disenfranchised them in an effort to halt their incessant acts of physical violence and political intimidation against common citizens.
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Moreover, it allows socially mobile upper popolo to integrate into the nobility without causing the demise of republican forms, rather than, as in Florence, encouraging the aristocracy to give up its military prowess as it attempts to integrate downward into the guilds embodying the wealthiest commercial strata of the popolo FH III. Indeed, by Machiavelli's own time the Florentine ottimati or grandi effectively fused old magnate families and newer, upper-guild popolani.
In short, Machiavelli's emendations of the Florentine model demonstrate his belief that if republics are to endure, the grandi must be granted a prominent place lest they perpetrate oligarchic or princely coups. In his reconstructed Roman Republic, Machiavelli calls these magistrates tribunes of the plebs; in his reformed Florentine Republic, he calls them provosts.
When Machiavelli proposes a constitution for a revived Florentine republic, he very subtly—indeed, almost surreptitiously—incorporates tribune-like offices, the provosts proposti , into his plan. In good Venetian rather than Roman fashion, then, Machiavelli's proposal seems to entrench the power of a life-termed executive committee and a senate of ottimati , and it apparently renders impotent the revived popular assembly that Machiavelli includes in the proposal.
However, Machiavelli will empower his provosts, drawn from the ranks of common citizens exclusively and rotated by lot into the Signoria and the senatorial council, to delay the decisions of such bodies and appeal them to the Great Council. In this way, Machiavelli's proposal leaves ample room for the Great Council, through the provosts, to constrain the actions of the upper organs dominated by Florence's socioeconomic elite and become the dominant institution of the republic. To avoid this situation, which provoked such ottimati to undermine or withhold their support from the regime, Machiavelli proposes a Signoria of sixty-five life-tenured citizens, likely to be men of Rucellai's and Alamanno's stature.
Machiavelli would divide this signorial class into two sets of thirty-two signors, each set containing the names of the individuals eligible to serve as priors in alternating years.
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The Gonfalonier of Justice, who would serve a two- or three-year term as head of state, would also emerge from the names making up this signorial class. Thus, at any particular moment, the Signoria, according to this plan, would be constituted by eight priors from among the set of thirty-two, who would serve for three months at a time alongside the Gonfalonier, who would be filling as much as a three-year term. Leo himself, according to Machiavelli, would determine the initial composition of these bodies. Machiavelli suggests that, initially, Leo may want to set the Great Council's membership at a manageable six hundred citizens before expanding it to a full membership of one thousand.
Machiavelli never broaches the possibility of restoring the Council to its original, incredibly large size of over three thousand citizens. However much of a sham the proceedings of the Great Council may be during the remainder of Leo's life, Machiavelli insists that after the pope's death, the Great Council and not Leo's amici must be the heart and soul of the republic: the Great Council, not the Pope's allies, will select replacement members of the Signoria and the Two Hundred, as well as elect all the other officers of the republic.
In fact, he implies that after Leo's death the pontiff's memory and glory better rests with the generality of the people than with his friends among the ottimati —a theme that rises to a crescendo toward the essay's conclusion DF —42, The Pope should consider actually shifting his alliance from the few to the many if he wants to be remembered as a great reformer, indeed as an illustrious refounder, of the republic. These Gonfaloniers of the Companies eventually evolved into one of the Signoria's formal advisory bodies. Machiavelli leaves open whether his reconstructed popular gonfaloniers will be selected each year by city ward, by the guilds, by the Great Council, or by Leo himself as long as he lives.
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But Machiavelli insists that these popular magistrates, however they are appointed, must not belong to the signorial class—the grandi , citizens eligible to hold life terms in the Signoria, must be excluded from its ranks DF Lottery will determine which of the popular gonfaloniers will serve short, week-, or month-long terms as provosts, attending the proceedings of the Signoria, sitting in on sessions of the Council of the Select and participating as full voting members in the Great Council. But Machiavelli soon insists that neither the Signoria nor the Council of the Select should be permitted to convene without provosts present DF Moreover, the provosts can delay enactment of decisions made by these bodies and appeal them to their more broadly popular, immediately subordinate councils.
A plausible reason is that sortition prevents the ottimati in the upper councils from gaining advance knowledge of exactly which popular gonfaloniers will be convocating with them as provosts, thereby thwarting any attempts on their part to corrupt or intimidate the provosts beforehand. Machiavelli expresses a clear desire that as many nonsignorial citizens as possible take part in this office, which effectively serves as the people's eyes and ears in both the republic's executive committee and senatorial council and that explicitly wields veto or referral power over the policies proposed within them.
In two important respects, then, Machiavelli's Florentine provosts can be understood as an improvement over the Roman tribunes. As Machiavelli himself acknowledges, the tribunes could be bribed or intimidated by the nobility, and, as Livy's history makes plain, the most prominent citizens among the plebeians were consistently elected to the tribunate. Machiavelli, however, designs the office of the provosts so that, on the one hand, they may perform their duties as free as far as possible from the influence of the ottimati , and, on the other, so that as many common citizens as possible serve in the office.
While the provosts clearly function as popular agents of elite accountability, they also provide common citizens with an invaluable political education. However, in taking from common citizens the offices they previously exercised at a disadvantage, when sitting alongside the ottimati , Machiavelli now reserves for them, exclusively, offices possibly more potent.
A persistent problem with the Florentine guild-based model for assigning seats in the Signoria was not only, as Machiavelli states explicitly, that the ottimati resented sharing political office with lower guildsmen but also that the former could readily intimidate, cajole, or corrupt the latter within the confines of the Signoria. In the Roman republic, the tribunate functioned as the plebeian answer to magistracies from which plebeians were formally excluded, initially, and which they then obtained only with great difficulty—the tribunate was a counter-consulship, if you will.
And the tribunes, in effect, were counter-consuls. Provoking the people by excluding them from the most powerful magistracies and then providing them a subordinate magistracy that is, nevertheless, theirs exclusively is Machiavelli's way of better empowering the people, both psychologically and institutionally, so as to make elites accountable.
On the one hand, common citizens will no longer suffer from the delusion that they are exercising, effectively, the higher offices that they regularly attain but within which they are marginalized.
On the other, they will not be overwhelmed by the ottimati within the new magistracies created for them alone; the manner in which they are appointed and the short terms they enjoy protect them from co-optation, coercion, and corruption by the ottimati. Letting a greater number of plebeian citizens than ascended to the Roman tribunate use offices reserved exclusively for themselves in an effort to check oppression by the grandi and, perhaps eventually, to reattain offices from which they are now formally excluded better empowers them than formal eligibility for all offices generally.
In the relationship between the provosts and the Great Council we can observe how closely aligned, for Machiavelli, elite accountability, a supposedly negative function, is with popular rule, an explicitly positive one. By enabling nonelite citizens to appeal all policy proposals of elite magistrates to the Great Council, Machiavelli provides a path by which the latter may become the dominant institution, and its members—common citizens—the dominant force in the republic.
Conceivably these expansions of power include enlarging the size of the Great Council and constricting those of the aristocratic bodies, not to mention altering the distribution of political authority between them. The plebeian-based Gonfaloniers of the Companies of the People and the lot-determined subset of them, the provosts, are the vehicles that will deliver these increases in power to the people assembled in the Great Council. A subtext of Machiavelli's memorandum is that a popular government without effective class-specific institutions like the provosts is barely a republic; such a government is, basically, a naked oligarchy.
As the first theorist to reconcile the aristocratic effect of elections with wide suffrage, Guicciardini deserves to be recognized as the intellectual forefather of modern representative government. Before engaging his analysis directly, allow me to provide some further background on Florentine electoral politics. The many different constitutions that Florence observed from the thirteenth through much of the fifteenth century attempted to neutralize antagonisms corresponding with external alliances, family rivalries, and the like.
The ottimati preferred a stretto or narrow regime in which a few prominent citizens from patrician families magnati or wealthy guilds popolano grasso rotated magistracies of long duration under short reeligibility stipulations. The people, lower guildsmen and workers not organized in guilds popolo minuti or sottoposti , desired a governo largo , a more widely participatory regime in which many more citizens held office due to relaxed property and residency requirements, shorter terms, and stricter limits on re-appointment. Rather, conflict ensued most intensely over the composition of the committees that scrutinized citizens for eligibility to hold office; the severity or laxness of the criteria they employed; and the question of whether or not positions in office would be reserved for less wealthy citizens from lower guilds.
Most often, the process for appointing seats in the Signoria functioned in this fashion: the names of all citizens whose taxes were paid and whose families had participated in governing the city going back several generations were placed in a bag [ borsa ], and the number of names corresponding with the number of open positions would be pulled at random.
On the other hand, the popolo would generally push for the heads of the major trade guilds to determine eligibility and request a much longer divieto. The ottimati consolidated power in the wake of the failed proto-proletarian rebellion, the Ciompi revolt, and by undermining a widely participatory republic that included members of the lower guilds — In both of these circumstances, the nominators would load the bags so that only the names of individuals who were pleasing to the oligarchs or the first family would be most likely to emerge.
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While the number of citizen officeholders expanded during these regimes, the policy independence of the offices was reduced by the excessive sway of the leading families. Writing during the republic established under the influence of Friar Girolamo Savonarola, following the expulsion of the Medici in , the young Guicciardini discusses election and lottery as means of nominating and appointing magistrates within a legitimate rather than a sham republic. In both his History of Florence ca. The presumably diverse set of candidates that results from this nomination process is then submitted to election, such that Guicciardini likely expects the most wealthy or notable individuals to have an advantage.
Having incorporated both democratic and aristocratic elements into the appointment process through the use of lottery and election up to this point, Guicciardini is ambivalent in the final stage about whether to use the democratic or aristocratic method to make the actual appointments. However, once he comes to observe how a method that combines lot and election actually works, he becomes much more skeptical of lottery and more enthusiastic about election as the decisive mode of selecting magistrates. Although a requirement that nominees gain an initial 50 percent vote of approval ensures against the emergence of candidates who would be completely unacceptable to the ottimati , 52 the citizenry assembled in the Council enjoyed the opportunity to vote at the nomination stage for a group of candidates with a wide range of personal qualities, social backgrounds, and political opinions.
We may conclude that the option to vote for more than one candidate somewhat neutralizes the impact of qualities like wealth and notability on the electorate when the citizens know they are leaving the ultimate selection of magistrate to chance, that is, to the outcome of a lottery.
In other words, Guicciardini may not mind employing lot to constitute political bodies that he hopes eventually to emasculate. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, lot plays no role in determining the composition of his proposed two-hundred-member Senate. More than half of the Senate would, in Guicciardini's plan, bypass the Council's central function of directly or indirectly appointing all magistrates.
Although the Great Council would regularly elect eighty citizens to finite terms as senators, in Guicciardini's plan as many as one hundred and twenty former magistrates and ambassadors would immediately assume lifetime membership in the Senate without a Council vote. Still, a more cynical reader might interpret the proposal as doubly oligarchic. Moreover, these elected members of the Senate are themselves outnumbered, in Guicciardini's scheme, by a grandfathered-in, permanent set of notables. The Great Council would play, however, some limited role in replacing permanent members of the Senate once they die or retire, according to Guicciardini's plan.
By majority vote, the Great Council would choose one of three replacement candidates who had been scrutinized by the Senate and nominated by that body on the basis of an internal two-thirds vote. In addition, Guicciardini's hypothetical Senate plays a decisive role in his recommendations for reforming the appointment of the lifetime Gonfalonier of Justice.
The first citizen to hold this office—at the time of Guicciardini's writing, Piero Soderini—had been elected directly by the Great Council in and proved to be a great disappointment to the ottimati. In Guicciardini's proposal, the ottimati might ensure the appointment of a more friendly chief executive in the future.
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I conclude the present section by emphasizing the fact, noted by Guicciardini, that an element of randomization in the magistrate selection process offsets the elite-enabling bias of elections. The constitutional reforms in Florence, described above and analyzed by Guicciardini, suggest that a popular government need not adopt wholesale the general scheme of lottery associated with Athenian democracy in order to minimize the advantages enjoyed by wealthy and notable citizens when it distributes offices. To review the logic of Machiavelli's revival and endorsement of Rome's class-specific institutions: the organs dominated by wealthy citizens, the Senate and consuls, enjoyed great agenda-setting and proactive authority.
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