Front Page Titles (by Subject) Pocock\'s Structuralist History & Law - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
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Pocock's Structuralist History & Law - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Pocock's Structuralist History & Law
“Pocock and Machiavelli: Structuralist Explanations in History.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 17(July 1979):309–318.
Professor Geerken analyzes and criticizes the methodology of J.G.A. Pocock's The Machiavellian Moment. The word “moment” denotes a concern with structures of thought across time rather than developing or evolving through time. Unconcerned with intellectual or political history in the conventional sense, Pocock focuses on a concept that he thinks reappears throughout history. This concept deals with the problem of a republic remaining politically and morally stable within a steady flow of events which appeared to destroy all secular systems. In Machiavelli's era, this “moment” was related to Christianity's conception of time as essentially uncontrolled contingency which swept all non-universal phenomena away, particularly the republic. Whereas monarchies were seen as universal, outside of time, and thus as imitating the order of nature under God, republics were seen as subject to fate, fortune, and ultimately self-destruction.
Pocock defines the solution which humanists (who wished to revive the republican ideal) advanced was to relate particulars to universals by reintroducing Aristotelian political philosophy: specifically, the concepts of the polis, the classical citizen (zoon politikon), and the idea of inherent equality of rights. The idea of the polis was that it was a universal with regard to values but particular with regard to its spatial and temporal location. The polis was a universal in participation rather than in contemplation, which implied the idea of equality of rights inherent at birth and equal participation in governing and holding of office. Similarly, the idea of law underwent a shift in the republicans' hands: law possessed the universal aspects of rationality, deducibility, and generality combined with the particulars of custom and circumstances. All law had a universal essence and the key question to ask was: how well did the particular law fit the circumstances in this particular nation?
Geerken finds Pocock's structuralist explanation unconvincing. Roman law (the tradition which dominated continental legal thought and practice) did not begin with the individual or with inherent rights as a basic unit, but with a group or corporation which conferred rights and maintained liberty under law. The Roman idea was that liberty could exist under both an aristocracy and a republic, as long as freedom under law prevented arbitrary despotism. Because Pocock oversimplifies the relation of particularity (contingency) and universality, which Roman thinkers reintroduced, he cannot correctly interpret Machiavelli. Pocock considers Machiavelli ambiguous because he saw time (fortuna) as both constructive and destructive and similarly saw virtu as both a force within oneself for combatting fortuna and as a force which could create uncontrolled contingency through innovation. Pocock also reads The Prince as a “Hobbesian” work in which a new leader innovates in a world lacking any structure of law. In fact, says Geerken, Machiavelli saw the state as an organic body which in order to keep all the parts in order must vary its techniques. At times virtu requires force and coercion to deal with the bestial men (hence, The Prince); at other times the subtler coercion of law is all that is needed. This is a Roman viewpoint which regards law as an instrument; here Hobbesian categories are simply inapplicable. Thus virtu can sometimes help to tame fortuna, but since law is only an instrument, it can sometimes fail and push fortuna along; hence the destructive side of virtu.