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Understanding the views and philosophies of niccolo machiavelli

Barred from public office in Florence as an insolvent debtor, Bernardo lived frugally, administering his small landed property near the city and supplementing his meagre income from it with earnings from the restricted and almost clandestine exercise of his profession. He learned Latin well and probably knew some Greek, and he seems to have acquired the typical humanist education that was expected of officials of the Florentine Chancery. In a letter to a friend in 1498, Machiavelli writes of listening to the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola 1452—98a Dominican friar who moved to Florence in 1482 and in the 1490s attracted a party of popular supporters with his thinly veiled accusations against the government, the clergy, and the pope.

On May 24, 1498, Savonarola was hanged as a heretic and his body burned in the public square. How so young a man could be entrusted with so high an office remains a mystery, particularly because Machiavelli apparently never served an apprenticeship in the chancery. He held the post until 1512, having gained the confidence of Piero Soderini 1452—1522the gonfalonier chief magistrate for life in Florence from 1502.

Anticipating his later Discourses on Livy, a commentary on the ancient Roman historian, in this work he contrasts the errors of Florence with the wisdom of the Romans and declares that in dealing with rebellious peoples one must either benefit them or eliminate them. Machiavelli also was a witness to the bloody vengeance taken by Cesare on his mutinous captains at the town of Sinigaglia December 31, 1502of which he wrote a famous account.

In 1512 the Florentine republic was overthrown and the gonfalonier deposed by a Spanish army that Julius II had enlisted into his Holy League. There he wrote his two major works, The Prince and Discourses on Livy, both of which were published after his death. Machiavelli was first employed in 1520 by the cardinal to resolve a case of bankruptcy in Lucca, where he took the occasion to write a sketch of its government and to compose his The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca 1520; La vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca.

Later that year the cardinal agreed to have Machiavelli elected official historian of the republic, a post to which he was appointed in November 1520 with a salary of 57 gold florins a year, later increased to 100.

In the meantime, he was commissioned by the Medici pope Leo X reigned 1513—21 to write a discourse on the organization of the government of Florence.

Machiavelli criticized both the Medici regime and the succeeding republic he had served and boldly advised the pope to restore the republic, replacing the unstable mixture of republic and principality then prevailing. In June 1525 he presented his Florentine Histories Istorie Fiorentine to the pope, receiving in return a gift of 120 ducats.

The Great Philosophers: Niccolò Machiavelli

Now that Florence had cast off the Medici, Machiavelli hoped to be restored to his old post at the chancery. But the few favours that the Medici had doled out to him caused the supporters of the free republic to look upon him with suspicion. Denied the post, he fell ill and died within a month.

Writings In office Machiavelli wrote a number of short political discourses and poems the Decennali on Florentine history. They are distinguished from his other works by the fact that in the dedicatory letter to each he says that it contains everything he knows. The two works differ also in substance and manner. Every thoughtful treatment of Machiavelli has had to come to terms with the differences between his two most important works.

The Prince The first and most persistent view of Machiavelli is that of a teacher of evil. The German-born American philosopher Leo Strauss 1899—1973 begins his interpretation from this point. This second, amoral interpretation can be found in works by the German historian Friedrich Meinecke 1862—1954 and the German philosopher Ernst Cassirer 1874—1945. But Machiavelli also advises the use of prudence in particular circumstances, and, though he sometimes offers rules or remedies for princes to adopt, he does not seek to establish exact or universal laws of politics in the manner of modern political science.

Machiavelli divides principalities into those that are acquired and those that are inherited. In general, he argues that the more difficult it is to acquire control over a statethe easier it is to hold on to it. The new prince relies on his own virtuebut, if virtue is to enable him to acquire a state, it must have a new meaning distinct from the New Testament virtue of seeking peace.

Niccolò Machiavelli

Thus, a prince should not be concerned if he is held to be stingy, as this vice enables him to rule. Virtue, according to Machiavelli, aims to reduce the power of fortune over human affairs because fortune keeps men from relying on themselves.

Machiavelli cannot simply dismiss or replace the traditional notion of moral virtue, which gets its strength from the religious beliefs of ordinary people. His own virtue of mastery coexists with traditional moral virtue yet also makes use of it. A prince who possesses the virtue of mastery can command fortune and manage people to a degree never before thought possible.

He calls for a redeemer, mentioning the miracles that occurred as Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, and closes with a quotation from a patriotic poem by Petrarch 1304—74. The final chapter has led many to a third interpretation of Machiavelli as a patriot rather than as a disinterested scientist. One view, elaborated separately in works by the political theorists J. Republics need the kind of leaders that Machiavelli describes in The Prince.

Nor do those who are left alone feel grateful. To reform a corrupt state presupposes a good man, but to become a prince understanding the views and philosophies of niccolo machiavelli a bad man.

Good men, Machiavelli claims, will almost never get power, and bad men will almost never use power for a good end. Yet, since republics become corrupt when the people lose the fear that compels them to obey, the people must be led back to their original virtue by sensational executions reminding them of punishment and reviving their fear.

The apparent solution to the problem is to let bad men gain glory through actions that have a good outcome, if not a good motive. In the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli favours the deeds of the ancients above their philosophy; he reproaches his contemporaries for consulting ancient jurists for political wisdom rather than looking to the actual history of Rome. He argues that the factional tumults of the Roman republic, which were condemned by many ancient writers, actually made Rome free and great.

Moreover, although Machiavelli was a product of the Renaissance—and is often portrayed as its leading understanding the views and philosophies of niccolo machiavelli e. His emphasis on the effectual truth led him to seek the hidden springs of politics in fraud and conspiracy, examples of which he discussed with apparent relish.

It is notable that, in both The Prince and the Discourses on Livy, the longest chapters are on conspiracy. Throughout his two chief works, Machiavelli sees politics as defined by the difference between the ancients and the moderns: The moderns are weak because they have been formed by Christianity, and, in three places in the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli boldly and impudently criticizes the Roman Catholic church and Christianity itself.

But Machiavelli leaves it unclear whether he prefers atheism, paganism, or a reformed Christianity, writing later, in a letter dated April 16, 1527 only two months before his death: His history, moreover, takes place in a nonhistorical context—a contest between virtue and fortune.

The Art of War and other writings The Art of War 1521one of only a few works of Machiavelli to be published during his lifetime, is a dialogue set in the Orti Oricellari, a garden in Florence where humanists gathered to discuss philosophy and politics. Fabrizio, though a mercenary himself, inveighs against the use of mercenaries in modern times and presents the Roman army as his model of military excellence.

The dialogue was later praised by the Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz 1780—1831 and has achieved a prominent place in the history of writings on war. The former is a sketch of Castruccio Castracani 1281—1328the Ghibelline ruler of Lucca a city near Florencewho is presented as the greatest man of postclassical times.

  1. Secondary Literature Anglo, S. Thus, we should take nothing Machiavelli says about moral conduct at face value, but instead should understood his remarks as sharply humorous commentary on public affairs.
  2. He argues that the factional tumults of the Roman republic, which were condemned by many ancient writers, actually made Rome free and great.
  3. Yet few firm conclusions have emerged within scholarship. Since at the end of the play everyone gets what he wants, the lesson is that immoral actions such as adultery can bring happiness—out of evil can come good.

In it a foolish old jurist, Messer Nicia, allows himself to be cuckolded by a young man, Callimaco, in order to produce a son he cannot beget himself. His wife, Lucrezia, is persuaded to comply—despite her virtue—by a crooked priest, and the conspiracy is facilitated by a procurer. Since at the end of the play everyone gets what he wants, the lesson is that immoral actions such as adultery can bring happiness—out of evil can come good. Since his own name was infamous, there is little of the former kind.

Early life and political career

Nonetheless, his works were read by all the modern philosophers, though only a few of them were brave enough to defend him: One may suspect that some used his doctrines even while joining in attacks on him. One such scholar, for example, was the Italian philosopher Giovanni Botero 1540—1617who was among the first to establish the idea of a moral exemption for the state.

There is no modern science in Machiavelli, but the Baconian idea of the conquest of nature and fortune in the interest of humanity is fully present. So too are modern notions of irreversible progress, of secularismand of obtaining public good through private interest. Whether Machiavelli could have had so grand an ambition remains controversial, but all agree on his greatness—his novelty, the penetration of his mind, and the grace of his style.