Machiavelli, Humanism, and the Limits of Historical Knowledge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Machiavelli’s historical writings, notably the Discourses on Livy (1531) and the Florentine Histories (1532), continued the tradition of the humanist historical enterprise. They were informed by the humanist conviction that historical learning provided guidance for public activity and was therefore an important means of political education. However, a close examination of these works reveals internal strains and an undercurrent of skepticism concerning the value of historical knowledge. The article argues that these tensions and doubts are symptoms of a paradox inherent in humanist discourse: the paradox of historical distance. The humanist project of reviving classical antiquity was based on the premise that the past is different yet relevant to the present. But the very historical consciousness implied by this project threatened to reveal the opposite: that the past was alien and therefore irrelevant to the present.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)621-636
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Legacy
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Machiavelli
  • Renaissance humanism
  • historical distance
  • historical thought
  • humanist historiography

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Philosophy
  • History


Dive into the research topics of 'Machiavelli, Humanism, and the Limits of Historical Knowledge'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this