Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

The Latin Invisible Hand: Machiavelli and Vico

Santori Paolo, LUMSA University

Among economists, Vico’s account of heterogeneity of ends contained in The New Science (3rd edition, 1744) is renowned, owing to the work of Hirschman (1977): “Legislations considers man as he is in order to turn him to good uses in human society. Out of ferocity, avarice and ambition, the three vices which run throughout the human race, it creates the military, merchant and governing classes, and thus the strength, riches and wisdom of commonwealths. Out of these three vices […] it makes civil happiness. This axiom proves that there is divine providence” (Vico 1948, 56). This paper argues that Vico was decisively influenced by Machiavelli’s account of ‘man as he is’ (l’uomo qual è). Moreover, it will be shown that a heterogeneity of ends process is present in the Discourses of Livy. There, describing the ‘tumults’ of the plebs, i.e. “their own ways of giving expression to their wishes” (modi con i quali il popolo possa sfogare l’ambizione sua), Machiavelli commented: “I affirm that those who condemn these dissension […] give more heed to the tumult and uproar wherewith these dissensions were attended, than to the good results which followed from them […] virtuous actions have their origin in right training, right training in wise laws, and wise laws in these tumults which many would thoughtlessly condemn” (Machiavelli in Bàrcenas 2015, 124). This process is described by Machiavelli also in other works. A poem dedicated to Luigi Guicciardini, Francesco’s brother, significantly entitled Capitolo dell’Ambizione (On ambition), furtherly describes the good unintended consequences which can derive when ambition passes through civil dynamics (Machiavelli 1843, 699). In a nutshell, the present paper inquires an old Latin tradition that started from Tacitus, passed through Machiavelli and received in Vico. In literature, this line of inquiry has not been considered yet, but it appears very promising for understanding the Latin origins of the Invisible Hand.


Keywords: Vico; Machiavelli; Invisible Hand; heterogeneity of ends