What Makes the Obdurate Man Obdurate?
September 20, 2009

I've been thinking about Machiavelli's obdurate man, Walter de Brienne, the Duke of Athens who ruled Florence in 1342 and became the proverbial immovable ruler of Renaissance thought. What made him obdurate? As Machiavelli tells it in the Florentine Histories, there is an improvisational quality to the Duke's rule until he is challenged by the aristocracy over his plan to compel the appearance of every Florentine, nobles as well as commoners, in the Piazza of Santa Croce. Before this, the same aristocrats were not so exercised by the Duke's plans to execute members of certain prominent families nor by his other dictatorial acts. Once they hear of his plans to make "all the people" appear before him, the aristocrats appeal to the Duke's respect for their historic tradition of civic freedom, and an inexorable process begins: they challenge him, he remains obdurate, and the standoff between the two positions damages the polity and eventually brings the Duke's rule to an end.

What makes the obdurate man obdurate? In the Machiavellian view, does resistance to something improvised and arbitrary lead to real oppression? Do oppression and resistance exist apart from one another—or do they construct and validate each other?

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