Dear Signor Niccolò Machiavelli,
Thank you for submitting to the Journal of Civic Humanist and Republican Studies. Your MS has now received readers’ reports, and an editorial decision has been made. I regret to inform you that we will not be considering publication. Below I append referee comments for your information. I hope this does not deter you from seeking publication with the Journal in future.
The MS proposes to investigate the conditions of a successful republic in the context of Italian city-state independence, offering analyses of the notion of liberty, the composition of government, and strategies for achieving success domestically and internationally.
As well as being over-ambitious in what it can hope to achieve, the MS suffers from several debilitating problems. Although ostensibly a commentary on the first ten books of Livy’s Ab urbe condita, one quickly realises that the substance of the text is anything but. Rather than a work of history, it is clearly political theory in disguise. But political theory according to who? A roman influence is manifest. But is it Tacitus or Seneca the author takes his lead from? And then there is the question of Aristotle, whom one feels should feature but appears conspicuous by his absence – though, again, it is hard to tell. In sum, too much confusion is generated by the format.
I was perplexed by the author’s concept of liberty. We are told that citizens can only be free if they both rule themselves internally and are free from external domination. The author seems to think that this constitutes a distinctive position. But would even the most minimalist defender of negative freedom disagree? Where is the interesting, substantial point of difference? Surely it is conceptually downstream, at more refined levels of analysis the MS does not explore.
Similarly what is the instrumental value the author attaches to liberty? Is it valuable only for its own sake, or is it that free states are in the best position to conquer their neighbours, and will hence survive the longest? It is unclear whether this is a manifesto for civic freedom or a handbook for imperial conquest. The lengthy and tiresome digressions into military tactics do not help on either score.
Finally, the author is imprecise and careless with key terms. “Virtù” and “Fortuna” are frequently invoked, but we are never provided with a clear definition. The former in particular appears strikingly distinct from any received notion of virtue – but we are left guessing as to why exactly this is so. Similarly, empirical claims are made with too much sweep and lack of care. Is it really true that all republics are either conquering or defensive? What about those that trade? Even if the claim is granted, does it necessarily follow that because (another un-argued assertion) all republics eventually become corrupted and fall, the best way to delay the inevitable is to engage in martial conquest? Our author dislikes the republic of Venice. Small wonder: it seems a manifest counter-example to his basic views. Dismissing it with slander is not an argument, nor is it enough.
If the author wishes to improve, I suggest reworking these ideas in a clearer, well-established idiom. Why not a ‘mirror for princes’ work? Given the present state of Florentine politics, that would certainly have more relevance and interest to the Journal’s readership than the present effort.