The Machiavelli Code: J.H. Hexter’s Analysis of ‘Lo Stato’ in Relation to Problems of Meaning in the History of Ideas


  • Matthijs Maas


The historiographical field of the ‘history of ideas’ seeks to chart the historical development and progression of human ideas—particularly regarding (political) philosophy—by identifying and tracing ‘strands’ of thought that appear to link together the works and themes of various eras into distinct and discrete philosophical ‘traditions’. However, such an integration of historically disparate terms within a single overarching anthology (viz. the ‘history of ideas’)—a project steeped in the Enlightenment—is heavily predicated on the assumption that all these ideas are semantically reducible to culturally universal ‘building-blocks’ which manifest as historically recurring ‘mono-themes’ such as ‘justice’, ‘peace’ and (political) ‘authority’. This article will seek to challenge this unwarranted faith in the historical transparency and in-principle commensurability of political theories. Through J.H. Hexter’s compelling re-interpretation of Machiavelli’s Il Principe, it will be demonstrated how his inconsistent and shifting use of terminology frustrates holistic or a-historical readings of semantic continuity, as it particularly undermines the validity of the modern translation (through historical and philosophical linking) of his seminal ‘Lo Stato’ with our ‘State’. This hints at significant hermeneutic limits to any interpretation or cultural translation that fails to consider the particular context (historical; cultural; authorial) within which a concept emerged.


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