The phrase “modes and orders” is rightly professed to be one of Niccolò Machiavelli’s most significant.1 Some commentators repeat the catchy phrase like a drumbeat to emphasize the newness of Machiavelli’s project and his break with the past.2 Others use the phrase as a kind of shorthand for Machiavelli’s enterprise or for modernity generally.3 Despite having become an important part of the vocabulary of Machiavelli scholarship, scholars have not given modes and orders the analysis they apparently deserve. When modes and orders are analyzed at all, newness is often the only feature ever observed about them. John H. Whitfield, to give one example, writes that modes seem “slightly vaguer” than orders, but then treats modes, orders, institutions, and statutes as all more or less “synonymous.”4 But is “modes and orders” just a loose catchphrase, or can one arrive at clearer ideas for “modes,” for “orders,” and for their relation? What are these new modes and orders? How do they differ from the old ones? And what is their significance for Machiavelli’s political thought? The following study tries to answer some of these questions with a kind of executive summary of how Machiavelli uses “mode” (modo), “order” (ordine), and a third term sometimes confused with both, the all-important “way” or “path” (via).
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- Understanding the Things of State: On Machiavelli’s Use of Modo, Ordine, and Via
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