Niccolo Machiavelli

Italian diplomat and political philosopher


Born: May 3, 1469
Died:  June 21, 1527


    Machiavelli was a Florentine. Savonarola dominated Florence when he was in his twenties. Immediately after Savonarola?s putting to death Machiavelli gets hold of a small position in the Florentine government (1498). He remained in its service until the re-reestablishment of the Medici in 1512. He was arrested, but set free, permitted to live in withdrawal near Florence. His most famous work, The Prince, was written in 1513, and dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent to win the favor of the Medici (but failed to conciliate). His longer work, the ?Discourses? is markedly more republican and more liberal.

    Principe (The Prince), a remarkably short book, tries to lay out methods or schemes how principalities are won, how they are held and how they are lost. In fifteenth century Italy few rulers were legitimate; even the popes, in many cases, secured election by fraudulent way. The Prince is very explicit in repudiating received morality where the conduct of rulers is concerned. A ruler will not survive if he is at all times good; he must be cunning and as violent. There is chapter (XVIII) entitled: "In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith." We learn that they should keep faith when it pays to do so, but not otherwise. A prince must on occasion be faithless.

    In Machiavelli there is no 'legitimate power' comprehension. Power is for those who have the skill to grab it in a free competition or rivalry. His preference for popular government is not resulting from any idea of "rights," but from the observation that popular governments are less cruel, unscrupulous, and inconstant than tyrannies.

    In his doctrine, there are three important political goods: national independence, security, and a well-ordered constitution. The best constitution is one that shares out legal rights among prince, aristocracy, and people in proportion to their real power (the idea is under such a constitution successful revolutions are hard and therefore stability is achievable). His political philosophy is scientific and empirical, based upon his own experiences. He holds that religion should have a leading place in the State, not on the ground of its truth, but as social make strength.




Related Links