The ways of Machiavelli and the ways of politics
The contemporary canon of what constitutes ancient political thought was fixed in the course of the nineteenth century by the then newly reigning discipline of the philosophy of history. It made little difference whether this discipline was positivistically or dialectically inclined. Whatever the methodological commitment there was general agreement that the sources of ancient wisdom on the nature and ends of social and political life were to be found in the political and ethical writings of Plato and Aristotle and, to a lesser extent, Cicero. Here Cicero was read, in part, as a repository of a Stoic political wisdom that had not survived in the original texts. According to this tradition, genuine, if not final, political wisdom is to be found in the reflections of these ancient thinkers -- not a totally unexpected conclusion to come from philosophers. For these nineteenth-century practitioners of Geistesgeschichte the essence of ancient experience is distilled in its inner life, its art, literature, religion, and above all in its philosophical speculation, but not, for instance, in its political experience as recorded in its history.