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Nicollò Machiavelli 1469–1527

(Full name Niccolò di Bernardo Machiavelli.) Italian essayist, dramatist, historian, biographer, novella writer, and poet.

The following entry provides critical discussion of Machiavelli's writings on political theory.

A Florentine statesman and political theorist, Machiavelli remains one of the most controversial figures of political history. Although his writings address a wide range of political and historical topics, he has come to be identified almost exclusively with his highly controversial manual of state Il principe (1532; The Prince). This straightforward, pragmatic treatise on political conduct and the application of power has, over the centuries, been variously hailed, denounced, and distorted to such an extent that Machiavelli's name has become synonymous with ruthless and unscrupulous political tactics. Seldom has a single work generated such divergent and fierce commentary from such a wide assortment of writers. Commenting on Machiavelli's colorful critical heritage, T. S. Eliot has remarked that "no great man has been so completely misunderstood."

Biographical Information

Machiavelli was born in Florence, in what is present-day Italy, to an established, though not particularly affluent, middle-class family whose members had traditionally filled responsible positions in local government. While little of the author's early life has been documented, it is known that as a boy he learned Latin and that he quickly became an assiduous reader of the classics. Among these, he highly prized his copy of Livy's history of the Roman Republic. Machiavelli's first recorded involvement in the volatile Florentine political scene occurred in 1498, when he joined the political faction that deposed Girolamo Savonarola, then the dominant religious and political figure in Florence. Machiavelli was subsequently appointed to the second chancery of the republic. As chancellor and secretary to the Ten of Liberty and Peace, a sensitive government agency dealing chiefly with warfare and foreign affairs, Machiavelli participated both in domestic politics and in diplomatic missions to foreign governments. These posts afforded him innumerable opportunities over the next fourteen years to closely examine the inner

workings of government and to meet prominent individuals, among them Cesare Borgia, who furnished the young diplomat with the major profile in leadership for The Prince. Machiavelli's political stature and influence increased quickly and by 1502 he was a well-respected assistant to the republican gonfalonier, or head of state, Piero Soderini. In 1512, however, the Florentine political climate changed abruptly when Spanish forces invaded Italy. The Medici—for centuries the rulers of Florence, but exiled since 1494—seized the opportunity to depose Soderini and replace the republican government with their own autocratic regime. Machiavelli was jailed and tortured for his well-known republican sentiments, and finally banished to his country residence in Percussina, where he spent his enforced retirement writing the small body of political writings that insured his literary immortality. Completed between 1513 and 1519, Discorsi … sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (1531; Discourses on Livy) and The Prince were not published until after Machiavelli's death, though both works circulated in manuscript. Around 1518 he turned from discursive prose to drama. Like the author's other writings, Comedia di Callimaco: E di Lucretia (1518; The Mandrake Root) is firmly predicated on an astute, unsentimental awareness of human nature as flawed and given to self-centeredness. The play was popular with audiences throughout much of Italy for several years. His next effort, a military treatise entitled Libro della arte della guerra (1521; The Art of War), was the only historical or political work published during Machiavelli's lifetime. After several attempts to gain favor with the Medici (including dedicating The Prince to Lorenzo), Machiavelli was appointed official historian of Florence in 1520 and subsequently entrusted with minor governmental duties. His prodigious Historie di Nicolo Machiavegli (1532; The History of Florence) carefully dilutes his republican platform with the Medicean bias expected of him. In 1525 Pope Clement VII recognized his achievement with a monetary stipend. Two years later, the Medici were again ousted, and Machiavelli's hopes for advancement under the revived republic were frustrated, for the new government was suspicious of his ties to the Medici. Disheartened by his country's internal strife, Machiavelli fell gravely ill and died, his dream of an operational republic still unrealized.

Major Works

Commentators have found it ironic that the fiercely republican Machiavelli should have written a handbook advising an autocratic leader how best to acquire and maintain power and security. Machiavelli was acutely aware of foreign threats to Italian autonomy and thus deemed it necessary for a strong prince to thwart French and Spanish hegemony. Hence The Prince, addressed to the ruling Medici. Machiavelli believed that a shrewd head of state, exemplified by Borgia, was essential to sublimating self-interest to common welfare. Since handbooks of conduct meeting monarchal needs had become immensely popular by the 1400s, the external form of The Prince was neither startling nor particularly remarkable to Machiavelli's contemporaries. Yet, from its initial appearance, The Prince proved no mere manual of protocol nor, for that matter, of even conventional strategy. In its chapters, Machiavelli delineated a typology of sovereignties and the deployment of available forces—military, political, or psychological—necessary to acquire and retain them. Many of the ideas contained in The Prince were and continue to be quite shocking. For example, Machiavelli suggested that a prince should not categorically omit murder as an option if it serves his purposes; that a prince only needed to appear virtuous; and that a leader need only keep promises and alliances as long as these served the interests of the state. The Prince is the first political treatise to divorce statecraft from ethics. As Machiavelli wrote: "How one lives is so far removed from how one ought to live that he who abandons what one does for what one ought to do, learns rather his own ruin than his preservation." Adding to his unflinching realism the common Renaissance belief in humanity's capacity for determining its own destiny, Machiavelli posited two fundamentals necessary for effective political leadership: virtu and fortuna. Virtu refers to the prince's own abilities (ideally a combination of force and cunning), and fortuna to the unpredictable influence of fortune, or luck. In a significant departure from previous political thought, the designs of God play no part in Machiavelli's scheme. On issues of leadership hitherto masked by other political theorists in vague diplomatic terms, Machiavelli presented his theses in a direct, candid, and often passionate manner, employing easily grasped metaphors and structuring the whole in an aphoristic that which lends it a compelling authority. For sheer volume and intensity, studies of The Prince have far exceeded those directed at Machiavelli's Discourses, though the latter work has been acknowledged an essential companion piece to the former. All of the author's subsequent studies treating history, political science, and military theory stem from this voluminous dissertation containing the most original thought of Machiavelli. Less flamboyant than The Prince and narrower in its margin for interpretation, the Discourses contains Machiavelli's undisguised admiration for ancient governmental forms, and his most eloquent, thoroughly explicated defense of freedom and republicanism, sentiments which would not have been popular among the many monarchical, absolutist rulers of the Renaissance period. Commentators have noted the presence of a gravity and skillful rhetoric that at times punctuate The Prince but are in full evidence only in that work's final chapter, constituting a memorable exhortation to the Medicis to resist foreign tyranny. The Discourses also presents that methodical extrapolation of political theory from historical documentation which is only intermittent in The Prince. Max Lerner has observed that, "if The Prince is great because it gives us the grammar of power for a government, The Discourses are great because they give us the philosophy of organic unity not in a government but in a state, and the conditions under which alone a culture can survive."

Critical Reception

Reaction to The Prince was initially—but only briefly—favorable; Catherine de Medici is said to have enthusiastically included it among other of Machiavelli's writings in the educational curriculum of her children. But within a short time the book fell into widespread disfavor, becoming viewed as a handbook for atheistic tyranny. The Prince, and Machiavelli's other writings as well, were placed in the Papal Index of Prohibited Books in 1559. Further denigrated toward the close of the sixteenth century in Discours sur les moyens de bien gouverner et maintenir en paix un royause, ou autre principaute. Contre Nicolas Machiavel, florentin, by Innocenzo Gentillet in France, The Prince was held responsible for French political corruption and for widespread contribution to any number of political and moral vices. Gentillet's interpretation of The Prince as advocating statecraft by ruthlessness and amoral duplicity was disseminated throughout Britain through the works of such popular, highly influential dramatists as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. In the Prologue to Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (1589?), "Machevil" addresses the audience at length, at one point encapsulating the Elizabethan perception of Machiavelli by saying, "I count religion but a childish toy, / And hold there is no sin but ignorance." Here and in the works of Marlowe's contemporaries, Machiavelli was depicted as an agent of all that Protestant England despised in Catholic, High-Renaissance Italy. Hostile English interpreters so effectively typified Machiavelli as an amalgam of various evils, which they described with the still-used term "Machiavellian," that fact and fabrication still mingle today. Rarely, until the nineteenth century, did mention of The Prince elicit anyting other than unfounded and largely unexamined repugnance, much less encourage objective scrutiny of its actual issues. As Fredi Chiappelli has aptly summarized: "Centuries had to elapse before the distinction between moral moment and political moment, between technical approach and moralistic generalities, and even between the subject matter of the book and the author's person were finally achieved." Modern critics, noting these crucial distinctions, have engaged in a prolonged and animated discussion concerning Machiavelli's intent in The Prince. A seventeenth-century commentator, philosopher Pierre Bayle, found it "strange" that "there are so many people, who believe, that Machiavel teaches princes dangerous politics; for on the contrary princes have taught Machiavel what he has written." Since Bayle's time, further analysis has prompted prolonged and animated discussion relating to Machiavelli's purpose in writing the work. Was the treatise, as Bayle suggested, a faithful representation of princely conduct which might justifiably incriminate its subjects but not its chronicler? Or had Machiavelli, in his manner of presentation, devised the volume as a vehicle for his own commentary? A single conclusion concerning the author's motive has not been drawn, though patterns of conjecture have certainly appeared within Machiavelli's critical heritage. Lord Macaulay, in emphasizing the writer's republican zeal and those privations he suffered in its behalf, has contended that it is "inconceivable that the martyr of freedom should have designedly acted as the apostle of tyranny," and that "the peculiar immorality which has rendered The Prince unpopular … belonged rather to the age than to the man." Others have echoed this suggestion, examining the work in its historical context. Many have urged that Machiavelli intended the treatise as a veiled satiric attack on the methods of Italian tyranny or, by abstruse methods, its converse—a paean to patriotism and sensible government, grounded in a clear-sighted knowledge of the corrupt human condition. While ultimately unable to agree on the underlying purpose of The Prince, nearly all critics have nonetheless been persuaded of its masterful composition, even when unwilling to endorse its precepts. Macaulay has affirmed that the "judicious and candid mind of Machiavelli shows itself in his luminous, manly, and polished language." And Francesco De Sanctis has determined that "where he was quite unconscious of form, he was a master of form. Without looking for Italian prose he found it." A decided influence on the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Sir Francis Bacon and on the thought of such modern political theorists as Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, Georges Sorel, and Robert Michels, Machiavelli has been called the founder of empirical political science, primarily on the strength of the Discourses and The Prince. Taken in historical perspective, it is understandable that The Prince should have dwarfed Machiavelli's other works. For with this slim treatise the author confronted the ramifications of power when its procurement and exercise were notably peremptory—not only in his own country but throughout Europe as well. Commentators have come to weigh the integrity of Machiavelli's controversial thought against the pressing political conditions which formed it. Some, like Roberto Ridolfi, have endeavored through their studies to dislodge the long-standing perception of Machiavelli as a ruthless character: "In judging Machiavelli one must… take account of his anguished despair of virtue and his tragic sense of evil…. [On] the basis of sentences taken out of context and of outward appearances he was judged a cold and cynical man, a sneerer at religion and virtue; but in fact there is hardly a page of his writing and certainly no action of life that does not show him to be passionate, generous, ardent and basically religious."

Principal Works

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Comedia di Callimaco: E di Lucretia [The Mandrake Root] (drama) c. 1518

Libro della arte della guerra [The Art of War] (essay) 1521

La clizia [Clizia] (drama) 1525

*Discorsi di Nicolo Machiavelli … sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, a Zanobi Buondelmonte, et a Cosimo Rucellai [Discourses on Livy] (essay) 1531

Historie di Nicolo Machiavegli [The History of Florence] (history) 1532

Il principe di Niccholo Machivello [The Prince] (essay) 1532

§La vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca … Il modo che tenne il Duca Valentino per ammazar Vitellozo, Oliverotto da Fermo il S. Paolo et il Duca di Gravini Orsini in Senigaglia [The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca and The Meanes Duke Valentine Us'd to Put to Death Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto of Fermo, Paul, and the Duke of Gravina] (biography and essay) 1532

Favola: Belfagor arcidiavolo che prese moglie [A Fable: Belfagor, the Devil Who Took a Wife] (novella) 1559

The Literary Works of Machiavelli (drama, poetry, and novella) 1961

Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others. 3 vols, (essays, history, dramas, biography, and prose) 1965

*This work was written between 1513 and 1519.

†This work is also known as Istorie Florentine.

‡This work was written in 1513 and circulated in manuscript before being published.

§La vita di Castruccio Castracani … and Il modo che tenne il Duca Valentino … were appended to and originally appeared in print with the first edition of The Prince.

M. D. Petre (essay date 1917)

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SOURCE: "Machiavelli and Modern Statecraft," in The Edinburgh Review, Vol. 226, No. 461, July, 1917, pp. 93–112.

[Below, Petre presents an overview of the main characteristics of Machiavelli's thoughts on dipolmacy and government as exhibited in The Prince.]

The work by which Nicholas Machiavelli is best known is Il Principe: a treatise popularly regarded as the standard manual of unscrupulous diplomacy. The word Machiavellism, like its counterpart Jesuitism, is a current term with a definite meaning: the former may be employed by an admirer of Machiavelli, as the latter by a lover of the Jesuits. It signifies a philosophy of pure expediency; the subordination of every moral and human consideration to the political needs of the hour.

The Prince is a work as characteristic of its author as any of the others; though we may add that it will be best understood by those to whom it is not the only one with which they are acquainted. Some students of Machiavelli have, indeed, tried to place this book in a special category: they have regarded it as ironical; or as a description of the vices of princely rulers cast into the illusory form of a treatise for their guidance; or even as just a time-serving effort to enter into grace with the Medicis, when thus alone its author could hope to obtain public employment.

This last motive may, indeed, have had something to do with the actual form of the work; but as for the other interpretations they are surely uncalled for. If ever a writer was clear and consistent and characteristic throughout his works, it is Machiavelli; we may not always like his meaning, but we can never mistake it. Some of the most unscrupulous passages from The Prince could be set beside others from the Discourses on Livy though the first is on tyrannical and the second on popular government. Thus in chap, xviii. of The Prince having given reasons why a prince cannot always keep his word, Machiavelli concludes that a prudent ruler 'neither can nor ought to keep faith when to do so would be to his disadvantage, and when the motives for which he made his promise are no longer existent.'

But in the Discourses on Livy Machiavelli applies the same principle of expediency to the conduct of the loyal citizen:

'No sensible person will reproach anyone for however extraordinary an action that is directed to the well-ordering of a kingdom or the founding of a republic'

And in another place: 'When the salvation of our country is at stake all questions of justice and injustice, of mercy and cruelty, of honour and dishonour must be set aside; every other consideration must be subordinated to the one aim of saving her life and preserving her honour.'

We need not multiply examples. The consensus of opinion is that, whatever else he also was, Nicholas Machiavelli was Machiavellian: as Machiavellian as Bismarck; as Machiavellian as the German General Staff; as Machiavellian as the rest of us, and the best of us, in the realm of diplomacy, unconsciously or protestingly, are to some extent bound to be.

Machiavelli was a diplomat: a statesman in so far as his position permitted of it; and, in all his strivings, a state-builder. He was in love with ancient Rome, with all her works, and all her pomps; with her wisdom and her perfidy; her magnanimity and her ruthlessness. He studied, with passion and admiration, the story of her political evolution; of the emergence of a self-governing people from the warfare of conflicting sects. He held that men changed but little in the course of history, and that what had been done could be done again. He dreamed of a modern Florence fashioned according to the lessons of Livy: a free, strong, democratic and austere republic. But with Latin sincerity he set forth his doctrine of ways and means, and in that doctrine is the philosophy of Machiavellism, though, as we shall see, there is also something besides.

But once again, just because he was a thorough Latin, his subject interested him for its own sake, apart from its practical bearings. Thus in dealing with the question of tyrannical government, even had there been no living tyrants with whom he had to reckon, the subject would have interested him for its own sake, and he would have set forth the rules that should guide the conduct of a prince, who aimed at despotic power for purely selfish ends, just as calmly and fully as though he were advocating tyranny as his own ideal.

To the ordinary English mind this moral detachment is perplexing and misleading, like much else in the Latin temperament. The Englishman is more truthful than the Latin, but he is not so great a lover of truth. The Latin thinks it and speaks it as his intellect moves him to do, the Englishman speaks it because he holds that he ought to do so; his moral life is more vigorous, his intellectual life is not so keen. Hence the quiet indifference with which a Latin will declare certain actions—to have been admirably fitted to the attainment of their own end, without uttering or implying further comment: the manner, for instance, in which Machiavelli describes the clever trapping and murdering of his enemies, Vitellozzo Vitelli and three others, by the Duke of Valentinois, will confuse the Anglo-Saxon, but not the Latin, to whom it is the fact, and not its moral bearings, that presents the main intellectual interest.

But even with this proviso Machiavellism remains a distinct code of action, of ethical as well as intellectual import: a statement of politics and diplomacy not originated by its namesake, but by him put into work and system. Therefore, the first thing we want to understand in Machiavelli is his Machiavellism, and its relation to modern statecraft; only then can we see whether, and how far, Machiavelli is greater than Machiavellism, just as we can also, by a frank estimate of our own Machiavellism, best appreciate how far our own policy is set towards higher ends.

One of the first and most fundamental characteristics of Machiavellism is its estimate of human nature. The majority of men are mean, cowardly, and self-interested; this is the primary fact with which the statesman has to deal. He may start with another view if he likes, but he does it at his own risk and that of his country.

It may be said of men in general [he writes in The Prince] that they are ungrateful, plausible, deceitful, cowardly, and avaricious; so long as you benefit them they are yours—they offer you their blood, their possessions, their life, their children, while danger is distant; but when it comes too near, they turn. And then the Prince, who has made no other provision than his trust in them, is ruined.' (Ch. xvii.)

There are two ways of dealing with men, he tells us in the next chapter: by law and by force. Law is properly for men, and force for beasts; but since human beings are in part beasts, the prince must be fox and lion as well as man. It is a fine thing to keep faith, but only with those who are correspondingly loyal. Mutual distrust is a primary principle of sound diplomacy.

The next guiding principle of Machiavellism is the avoidance of half measures. 'He who would be a tyrant, but slays not Brutus, and he who would free his country, but slays not the sons of Brutus, is doomed to failure.' (Discorsi, Bk. III. ch. iii.)

Nor is it enough to kill some of the children of Brutus and leave others; all must go. Machiavelli often refers to the downfall of his friend Piero Soderini, one time Gonfaloniere of Florence, as the consequence of an admixture of human with political motives; while the Duke of Valentinois (Cesare Borgia) was, even from the humanitarian standpoint, more successful, in virtue of his swift and ruthless action.

Krieg ist Krieg; for Machiavellism there is no other conception of war. For war is, indeed, the supreme occasion in which it is man as beast, and not man as man, with whom we are dealing. Law, as Machiavelli has already stated, is for man; force is for the brute. If, between ruler and people, occasions arise on which the bestial and not the human element is to be taken into count, how much more is this the case when it is with avowed enemies that we have to deal. We have yet to see if, in the philosophy of Machiavelli, there be any hint of pacifist tendencies; but in war itself he allows no place for half-measures. For him peace was peace, and war was war:

'You cannot call it peace,' he says, 'when States are continually falling on one another with armies; nor can you call it war when men are not killed, cities are not ravaged, governments are not destroyed.' And he adds regretfully that war at one time became so decadent, 'that it was undertaken without fear, waged without danger, and concluded without loss.' (Istorie Florentine, Bk. V.)

To be thorough, and also to be fearless and to be swift: this is Machiavellian wisdom. The Pecca fortiter of Luther, which has been so wholeheartedly adopted as a German motto, is in perfect consonance with this principle of moral fearlessness. Machiavelli relates, with pity and contempt, how Giovampagolo Baglioni, having the opportunity of murdering Pope Julius II. and a number of his cardinals through the rashness of the former, failed to take advantage of it. Machiavelli would not have blamed him had he been a good man, deterred from the crime by conscientious motives. But, as he explains:

It was not his goodness nor his conscience that restrained him; there was no room for considerations of duty in the breast of a wicked man who lived with his own sister, and had murdered his cousins and nephews in order to reign; but the fact is that few men are capable of being honestly bad or perfectly good, and, when a bad deed demands a certain measure of greatness and generosity, they are incapable of it (Discorsi, Bk. I. ch. xxvii.).

Machiavelli implies, in this chapter, that Julius II. proved himself in every sense the greater, and the stronger, and even the better man, by daring his lesser adversary to commit a crime whose greatness appalled him, though its actual wickedness would have counted but little. Baglioni desired the end, but he shrank from the means; and no greater sin can be committed against the principles of Machiavellism.

Yet this same doctrine of the means to the end as consistently reprobates useless daring as it commends that which can be successful. No vain sacrifices, in the name of courage and honour, can find place in Machiavellian policy. To die for your country—yes, a hundred times if need be—but only provided your death truly saves her. A military expedition, however desperate and daring, when necessity demands it, and when there is some hope of success; but no sheer waste for however honourable a cause. The good of the country is the supreme end; 'whether by glory or by humiliation she is to be served and saved.' (Discorsi, Bk. III. ch. xii.)

It is in this chapter that he refers to the advice given by Lentulus to the Roman Army trapped within the Caudine Forks; surrender might be ignoble, and those who advocated it might be accused later on of regard for their own skins, but in this way alone could Rome be saved. A good end, according to Machiavellism, may justify questionable means; but the best of ends cannot justify hopeless and inadequate measures.

Machiavellism manifests that kind of respect for religion which we have seen advocated in recent years by a modern French school. 'Princes and republics that would preserve their State from corruption must, above all things, maintain the ceremonies of religion incorrupt, and treat them with veneration; for there is no more emphatic sign of the ruin of a province than the contempt of divine worship.' (Discorsi, Bk. I. ch. xii.)

And the next chapter is entitled: 'How the Romans made use of religion for the good order of the city, for the success of their enterprises and the suppression of tumults.'

But, at the same time, the character of the Christian religion may prove dangerous to the State, for whereas in Pagan religions the brute element of man had its share, in the Christian religion the human and the divine elements are supreme:

They [i.e. ancient religions] lacked neither pomp nor magnificence of ritual, but to these was added the practice of bloody and ferocious sacrifices, in which multitudes of animals destroyed one another; which awful sight inspired similar sentiments in the beholders. Also ancient religions only beatified men full of worldly glory—such as military captains and political leaders. Our religion has glorified the humble and contemplative rather than the energetic. It has placed the highest good in humility, abjection, and the contempt of human things; while pagan religion aimed at greatness of soul, strength of body, and everything that contributed to velour. And though our religion would have us strong, yet it asks of us rather to suffer than to act as though we were strong. This manner of life appears therefore to have weakened the world and left it the prey of wicked men, who can easily control their fellow beings, seeing that the majority of the latter, for the sake of Paradise, are more ready to support illtreatment than to revenge themselves. (Discorsi, Bk. II. ch. ii.).

SS. Francis and Dominic, who, in the view of Machiavelli, saved Christianity from utter extinction, by reanimating its early fervour, also, incidentally, encouraged the vices of prelates; for they taught the people 'that it is evil to speak evil of the bad, and that it is better to live in obedience, and 'leave the punishment of wicked superiors to God; as a result of which doctrine these latter have done the worst they could, since they had no dread of a punishment they neither saw nor believed in.' It may be remarked, in passing, that the contemporary Pope and prelates, who allowed the writer of this passage to go by unchastised, must, in spite of the vices of their day, have exercised a tolerance of which our own age does not always show examples.

Yet Machiavelli will not allow that this is the last word in the matter. He was a cynical Churchman, but a believing Christian; and he goes on to say, after the former of these two passages:

Though it would therefore appear as though the world were effeminate and heaven disarmed, this result arises, in reality, from the meanness of men, who have been influenced by sloth, and not by virtue, in their interpretation of religious teaching. For if they remembered how our religion permits us to glorify and defend our country they would see that she expects us to love and honour it, and make ourselves such that we are able to defend it.' (Discorsi, Bk. II. ch. ii.).

As Machiavellism distrusts men in general, so also it contains special warnings against the danger to the State of over-powerful individuals. On this point Machiavelli treats princes and republics to the same advice: not because he esteems them equally, but because their case and its dangers are the same. Men are out for their own ends, and the individual is out for individual ends: this is the teaching of Machiavellism, then as now. Hence king and republic must jealously watch their own best servants, and must put an end to them, whatever their claims to gratitude, if they are taking advantage of their credit for the satisfaction of their private ambition.

There is, in one case he introduces, a curious similarity to one of recent occurrence in our own country. The Florentines had made the mistake of sending two envoys to treat with France of the restitution of Pisa. Giovambattista Ridulfi was the better known man, and consequently the chief; Antonio degli Albizi was the more really capable. But this second, seeing that the other overshadowed him, took refuge in silence, and did nothing for the good of the mission. As Machiavelli remarks, he gratified his vanity and ambition not by opposition, but by silence and disdain; and only exerted his superior powers when the other man was withdrawn.

Machiavelli, as was natural in those days of mercenary armies, was particularly alive to the danger accruing to a ruler from a successful general. It is painful to kill the man who has led his armies to victory; it is happier for him if the same should die in a natural manner; but, on the whole, there is but one way of avoiding the dilemma, and that is for the prince to lead his expeditions himself. We shall see, later on, in what way a republic was to avoid the same danger.

We are reminded once more of things that have taken place in a neighbouring country when Machiavelli warns statesmen of the need of suspecting even pious and charitable works, which may contribute to the excessive power of those who direct them.

Last among the main principles of Machiavellism which we will select for its better definition, may be placed its deep sense and acknowledgment of Fate; of the restriction of human power by the great Hinterland of uncontrollable forces and circumstances. Fate, or Fortune, as Machiavelli calls it, limits the attainable and narrows the domain of conscience and ethics. In by no means the best of worlds neither can a man always do his best. The ought and the must are to be measured by the can. Men may 'follow fortune, but not oppose her; they can weave her webs, but not break them.' It is the fool, and not the wise man, who, ignoring 'the just bounds of hope, and looking not to what can be done, but to what he would wish to do, is brought to ruin.'

Machiavelli's description of the ever recurring round of good and evil in human life almost suggests the 'Ewige Wiederkehr' of Nietzsche.

Nature [he says] allows not of rest. So soon as earthly things have attained perfection they begin to sink, because they can rise no further; and when, through disorder, they have fallen as low as they can, not being able to descend further, they begin again to rise and thus they swing perpetually from good to bad and from bad to good. For virtue begets tranquillity, tranquillity sloth, sloth disorder, and disorder ruin; and similarly, from ruin springs order, from order virtue, and from virtue happiness and glory. (Istorie Florentine, Bk. V.)

So much for some of the main principles of Machiavellism. It is hard to resist the temptation of giving much fuller quotations from the mass of shrewd wisdom, truly Italian wisdom, which the works contain. In the more intellectual days of English life, when the young man with pretensions to a good education made his tour of Europe, the works of French and Italian wisdom were more familiar to our country than they now are. The keen Latin intellect had its share in moulding the richer Anglo-Saxon mind and clarifying its power of utterance. We are more left to our own intellectual resources in these days, though we are now looking forward to better times, of fuller intellectual community.

And now we have to see whether Machiavelli can teach us anything besides Machiavellism. That he systematised the policy that bears his name is undoubted; but that his philosophy also contains principles that morally and spiritually transcend it, will be, I think, to any careful student of his works, equally positive. And for those who believe that nearly all statecraft yet contains its admixture of Machiavellism, this will be a question of high interest; for what we shall want to know is whether an unavoidable blend of Machiavellism precludes, in any State philosophy, the hope of eventual development into a more human system from which such elements may be finally eliminated.

'In what,' asks Cosimo Rucellai of Fabrizio Colonna, 'would you have us copy the ancients?'

Fabrizio replies that he would have the modern State 'honour and reward virtue; not despise poverty; respect the methods and laws of military discipline; compel citizens to love one another, to avoid factions, and to set the public above the private good.'

The speaker goes on to maintain that such ideals are not mere dreams, but have only to be rightly set forth in order to be accepted. 'Their truth,' he says, 'is so evident that the most ordinary intelligence can perceive it. And to labour for such an end is to plant trees under which mankind could rest with greater peace and joy than the present state of things can afford.' (Arte della Guerra, Bk. I.)

In the same work, speaking of that very Cosimo, Machiavelli says of him, as the highest praise he could bestow: 'I know not what thing that belonged to him, not even excepting his own soul, he would have refused to his friends; I know not what enterprise would have daunted him if he had seen in it some good to be achieved for his country.'

The statesman that planned for his city such an ideal of well-being, and planned it even while composing a treatise on war, aimed at something more than mere Machiavellian prosperity. This man, diving amidst that turmoil to which one of the fairest and most intellectual lands of Europe had been reduced by the quarrels of her neighbours, and the rival ambitions of Pope and Emperor, kings and small princes, cast a yearning glance back through history to the days of Roman greatness and liberty. Not even an American president, in these democratic days, can be more convinced that the greatest menace to 'peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments, backed by organised force which is 'controlled wholly by their will and not by the will of the people,' than Machiavelli, who believed that in freedom alone could political salvation be found. A republic was, for him, the highest form of government; but his was too unprejudiced a mind not to see that liberty has been consistent also with the well-constituted government of a monarch. And this was to him a truth of considerable moment; for his aim was practical and immediate, not abstract and remote: he wanted the good of his own beloved Florence; and if he could not have it, in the best way, by means of a republic, he would have it in the second best way, by forming good rulers. He distinctly sets forth in one place (Discorsi, Bk. I. ch. ix.) his belief that, for certain crises of growth or transformation, the' government of one man is best; though for the continuance of the State the republican form is alone satisfactory.

In one of his most eloquent passages he invites reigning princes to look back on the days of Nerva and Marcus Aurelius, to compare them with those that went before and those that came after, and to ask themselves in which time they would have chosen to live and reign. In those days of good rulers you may see

a prince secure amidst a secure people, a world filled with justice and peace. You will behold the Senate established in authority and magistrates in honour. The rich there enjoy their own riches; virtue and nobility are exalted; peace and goodness prevail; rancour, licence, corruption and ambition are extinguished. Those were the golden times in which each one could hold and defend his own opinion. Then did the world triumph, for the prince was full of reverence and glory, the people of love and confidence. Glance, then, at the state of things under the other emperors, and you shall see terrible wars, discords and seditions; cruelty in peace and in war; princes slain by the sword, civil dissensions, foreign wars; a sorrowful Italy torn by misfortune, with her cities ravaged and ruined. You shall see Rome burnt, the Capitol destroyed by the citizens, the ancient temples desolate, their ceremonies neglected, the town filled with adulterers, the sea covered with exiles, her rocks stained with blood…. You shall see informers rewarded, slaves seduced against their masters, servants against their patron while those who have no enemies are persecuted by their friends. Then you will know what Rome, Italy, and the world owed to Caesar…. Indeed, if a prince seek worldly glory he should desire to rule a corrupt city: not to spoil it like Caesar, but to re-order it like Romulus.
(Discorsi, Bk. I. ch. x.)

And later on: 'The true salvation of a republic or a kingdom is not to have a prince who rules it wisely in his lifetime, but one who orders it in such manner that it goes on well after his death.'

But such princes are rare, and, in the opinion of Machiavelli, the hereditary principle is fatal to the chances of finding them. 'That the sins of the people are caused by their princes,' is the title of one chapter of the Discorsi, in which he goes on to warn princes that they have no right to complain of the faults of their people, which arise from their own negligence or from similar faults in themselves. In another chapter he tells us that the people are wiser and more constant than princes; in the following one that republics keep faith better than kings.

Thus Machiavelli would have endorsed a recent utterance, according to which 'a steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by the partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants.'

In chapter xviii. of The Prince his very counsels lightly cloak his intimate conviction that the government of one man is too unavoidably selfish to be really clean and honourable. That it is praiseworthy in a prince to keep faith and practice honesty rather than fraud is obvious. Nevertheless, we see by the experience of our own day that those princes have done best who made light of their promises.'

Elsewhere he describes the misery that a prince is forced to inflict upon the State over which he would tyrannise. He must change everything, upset all peace and happiness; behave not only as an enemy of Christ but as the foe of mankind. 'It were surely better,' he adds, 'to live as a private citizen, than to rule at the cost of so much human misery;' but there is no middle course. The despot must renounce his ambition or take the necessary means to its fulfillment. Machiavelli hated tyrants; but he more than hated—he despised—the man who tried to satisfy his conscience as well as his greed: an attempt that ended in greater misery to others as well as personal failure. Rather would he follow such a man as the Duke of Valentinois than a pious tyrant. Knowing too well the selfishness of man to suggest to the Medicis, at a certain crisis in Florentine affairs, that they should actually free the city, he submitted to Leo X. a scheme that would, he hoped, satisfy both objects. They were to prepare the State, during their lifetime, for the exercise of republican freedom, into which it was to enter at their death. But the scheme was, of course, too noble for their moral reach.

As to the individual citizen, he would, in the ideal State, enjoy freedom and happiness, but it would be at the price of loyal and devoted citizenship.

Machiavelli speaks little of the rights and much of the duties of citizens in a free State: their glory is in the service they can render and not in the power they can exercise. It was not of his age to lay stress on the claims of the individual: it is not, perhaps, of any age with strong idealistic tendencies. Freedom for him was of a corporate and not a private character; and the main privilege of free citizenship was co-operation to the good of the State. He lauds the great Roman dictator generals, who faced danger in the moment of national emergency, and, after their hour of glory, returned to their little farms. 'Restored to private life, they became frugal, humble, careful administrators of their modest possessions, obedient to the magistrates, reverent to their betters; it was indeed a marvel to see one man capable of sustaining two such different lives.'

A story is told of General Joffre that is not unworthy of this passage. When after the battle of the Marne, some one said to him 'General, you have gained a great victory!' his reply was 'I hope that I have gained the right to return to my country farm.'

To maintain this character of true citizenship Machiavelli regarded poverty as essential. The austere ideal of Roman republicanism was ever before him. And as the true citizen was to serve, but not for reward, so he was 'to forget private injuries for the love of his country.'

In Machiavelli's days the notion of a 'concert of peace' would have been an anachronism. Furthermore, in the actual waging of war Machiavelli is thoroughly Machiavellian. For him, indeed, war was war, and he would not have attached much importance to the greater or less ferocity with which it was carried on. Yet he was, even in those savage days, no militarist; and if he could not advocate universal peace yet he dealt a solid blow at the idea of war for war's sake by his endeavour to substitute a national for a foreign and mercenary army. This was a really remarkable effort at that time. Europe was ploughed up by a professional and mercenary soldiery, as deadly, in the end, to those who employed them as to those against whom they were led. Owing to the hopelessness of his circumstances Machiavelli's attempt was unsuccessful, but it was a noble failure.

Not only did he aim at the formation of a national army, but he would have had it constituted on territorial lines: the soldiers were to be well acquainted with one another and with their leaders; for only amongst those who have been born and have lived in the same place does there exist that confidence which makes for success.

Though he wrote a treatise on The Art of War yet he opens it with a protest against regarding war as an art; for it is by so doing that war becomes prized for its own sake, and creates the demand for a professional soldiery. Professional soldiers, he says, 'are scandalous, idle, undisciplined, irreligious, fugitives from paternal rule, blasphemers, gamblers, badly educated, … which characteristics are the very opposite of what is needed for a strong and efficient army.' And to those who feared an armed people his advice was to govern them well, and then there would be nothing to apprehend.

Though war admits of fraud, yet such fraud must only be practiced 'against those who do not trust you '; to break faith with those who believe in you may indeed be profitable, but it is inglorious.

Also there is such a thing as magnanimity in victory. Like the old Roman leader, the general must be too proud to take advantage when the enemy is at his feet. He cites from Livy the words put in the mouth of Scipio, who granted to Antiochus, after a further defeat, the very terms he had previously refused; for 'Romani, si vincuntur, non minuuntur animis, nec si vincunt insolescere solent.'

In religion he was cynical, as those must have been who saw their country ruined by the ambition of the Church. And yet the sum of his charge, in one remarkable chapter, is not that the Church has directly ruined the State, but that her ambition has ruined religion, and thereby, indirectly, weakened and corrupted the State.

He speaks first of the piety and reverence of ancient Rome; of the strictness with which she upheld all religious laws and ceremonies. Had the Christian Church protected religious observance in the same way—

Christian republics would be happier and more united than they are. Nor can we better gauge the decline of religion than by seeing how those countries that are nearest to the Roman Church, the head of our religion, are the least religious….

And whereas some maintain that the good of Italy depends on the Roman Church, I will refute this view by the arguments that occur to me.

The first is that, through the evil example of that Court, this country has lost all her piety and religion, which is the cause of immense inconveniences and disorders…. So that the first obligation we Italians owe the Church and her priests is to have become through them irreligious and bad; but there is yet another and a greater one, the true cause of our ruin—that is, that the Church has kept, and still keeps, our country in a state of division…. Not being powerful enough to hold Italy herself, nor allowing any other power to hold her, the country has not been able to come under one rule….

This is what we Italians owe to the Church, and to no one else. And if any would prove the matter, and were strong enough to send the Roman Court to dwell in Switzerland, with the same power that it possesses in Italy, they would soon see how in that land, where at present the people live, both in religious and military matters, most like the ancients, there would result greater disorders from the evil customs of that Court than could arise from any other cause. (Discorsi Bk. I. ch. xii.)

In sum, the ideal State of Machiavelli was one in which the people should be self-governing, but should sacrifice private aims to the welfare of their country; one in which property should be protected, but in which the citizens should be poor and austere. The highest privilege of their freedom would be the right to serve their country while co-operating in her government. They should be fully equipped for her defence, but should defend her themselves at the cost of their own peace and comfort, with no mercenary army to suggest war for its own sake or for purely ambitious ends. Yet in his Machiavellism its author faces the un-ideal state of things that actually existed: he takes count of the selfishness of mankind; and gives precepts as to how, given the psychological and physiological facts of human nature, the bark of the State is to be steered with safety and success.

Thus do we find in Machiavelli, first of all Machiavellism in the most cold-blooded and inhuman sense of the word; but afterwards the germ and promise of a state-craft inspired by more human and spiritual ideals. To Machiavelli the former was a necessary constituent of the latter, and in his highest flights of idealism he would not have denied those maxims of selfish, worldly wisdom, simply because to have done so would have been, for him, not to deny an immoral principle, but to deny a non-moral fact.

Actually, is not all state-craft even yet in the same predicament? Can statesmen, of whatever country, safely and patriotically act on the assumption that men in general are good and unselfish and disinterested? Can a diplomatist successfully eschew all vulpine wisdom? Can a general restrain, in himself or his soldiers, all that savours of the ferocity of the lion? Can war be waged without fraud and violence or without the sacrifice of the innocent and helpless? Must a government put blind trust in even the best of its own citizens? Must not the most gentlemanly of our politicians sacrifice, at times, their own high code to the exigencies of diplomacy? Do not half-measures prove as fatal now as they did in the days of Machiavelli? Is not a disregard for unpleasant and immoral facts as disastrous as ever in its results? Is not ruthlessness, now as then, sometimes more merciful in its results than a half-hearted severity? To sum up these questions in one, Can or does any State, even in our more civilised days, behave in its corporate capacity as a man of perfectly noble character can behave in his individual capacity? Can it exercise meekness, altruism, brotherly love in its dealings with neighbouring States, or even with its own citizens? Can a State behave like a perfect Christian or even like a perfect gentleman?

We know quite well what is the only truthful answer to such a question, but what we are persistently unwilling to admit is that, in so far as state-craft precludes the acceptance of an unreservedly human and a wholly Christian1 ideal, so far also does it necessitate an admixture of Machiavellian principles and practice.

That another political attitude is possible and imperative is the claim of Christian idealists, first among whom may be named Tolstoi, who has followers, nowadays, amongst the genuine conscientious objectors.2 To this school the human ideal so entirely transcends all claims of mere patriotism that they would ask of their country, as they would ask of an individual, the sacrifice of life for so noble a cause. The early Christians were, in the opinion of Roman politicians, a danger to the State from their contempt of the State religion. Therefore the State endeavoured to exterminate them, as it would now exterminate those who prize their own moral judgments above their duties of citizenship. The early Christians proved that men could be good citizens, and even good soldiers, without belief in the Pagan religion of the State; but the misgivings of their rulers were justifiable, for indeed Rome, without her religion, was bound to become, at last, another Rome. Christianity was an enemy to the Pagan State.

So, too, is the full spirit of Christianity hostile to the modern State, and the Tolstoyan, or genuine conscientious objector, is a proof of the fact. The State cannot do with him, for the State is not wholly Christian; it has as much right to persecute him as he has a right to maintain his own principles at the cost of his life as a citizen.

Yet the conscientious objector, or the unqualified pacifist, is probably not the one who does best for the promotion of his own ideals. Good is not worked in isolation, and there are truer forms of humanism, humbler forms of Christianity, more hopeful forms of pacifism, which do not wholly deny the fact and the duties of citizenship; which accept the moral resulting obligations of having drawn life and education and nurture from a certain country; and which therefore admit of the corresponding necessity to share the moral inadequacies, even the sins of that country.

'Justum est bellum quibus necessarium, et pie arma quibus nisi in armis nulla spes est.' Such pacifism will not allow of abstention in the hour of our country's need; though it will unrestingly endeavour to transform the politics of the world in accordance with its ideal.

But, on the other hand, I would urge that pacifists, whether of the former or of the latter category, are consistent: just as those who admit that the prevailing state-craft inevitably contains certain non-Christian and non-human elements are consistent. But those, on the contrary, who would maintain that state-craft can admit of diplomacy, in the classical sense, without any admixture of Machiavellism, or of warfare that can be termed Christian, are not consistent nor sincere; and they justify the position of the unqualified pacifist, as those do not who confess that the best of us are yet far from the attainment of a purely human and Christian ideal in politics. To deny Machiavellism is to deny facts.

But as in the philosophy of Machiavelli, so in modern statecraft, the question is not, does it actually and always set forth a wide and human and disinterested policy? but does it admit of it? The philosophy of Machiavelli did—the philosophy of his Machiavellian disciple Bismarck did not; for the former aimed at the formation of a free, self-contained State, with an army for defensive purposes, and citizens whose pride it would be to govern and to serve; while the latter set himself to constitute a powerful autocratic government, strong for purposes of world-dominion.

Even the Mid-Europe policy, as set forth by Friedrich Naumann, which is not indeed wholly and heartlessly Machiavellian, is yet exclusive of any widely human policy. Not a great wall, but a great ditch, is to include the German State of the future, and all its dependent States, and to exclude the rest of the world from a share in German wealth and power.

The ideal citizen of Naumann is, indeed, to live for the State, but not as the austere and disinterested citizen of Machiavelli, who has his ever active share in the shaping of her destiny. For Naumann's citizen it is a question of commercial success: 'For the sake of personal interest he becomes a member of an impersonal institution and works for it as for himself…. Individual ism is fully developed, but it is then carried up into the next higher form of economic co-operative existence.'

The State, on the other hand, uses individuals for her purpose, as those same individuals seek their purpose in her. 'For it is only by means of healthier, better educated, and better nourished masses that the military, financial, and civilised Mid-Europe of which we dream can come into existence.'

Mr. Bertrand Russell, in 'Principles of Social Reconstruction,' has divided the impulses of political life into two groups: 'the possessive and the creative, according as they aim at acquiring or retaining something that cannot be shared, or at bringing into the world some valuable thing—such as knowledge, or art, or goodwill—in which there is no private property.'

'Ecco chi crescera i nostri amori,' said Machiavelli's great countryman, in describing that love which knows not envy nor rivalry. To act as though such love could be the law of political life, before its sun has risen above our horizon, is the dangerous mistake of the idealist without a sense of facts. But this same idealist would be less excusable if our State philosophers had the candour to confess the Machiavellism they cannot avoid. Then would they be justified in demanding of the citizen that he should not be too good for the country to which he owes the protection of his life and his interests; that he should work along with her, but not apart from her, in the pursuit of a greater international ideal.

That ideal has at last found expression in the mouth of a statesman who has not disregarded facts, on the lips of a pacifist who has accepted the necessity of war:

We are glad [said President Wilson] now that we see facts with no veil of false presence about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world…. The world must be safe for democracy…. We desire no conquests and no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, and no material compensation for sacrifices we shall freely make…. Right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for the universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as will bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.

It would be rash to take these words as the absolute due of our own cause, just and righteous as that cause may be. It is through a higher fatality than our own statesmanship that we are now fighting alongside of an emancipated Russia, and not a Czar. We are yet in a state of confusion in regard to national and international ideals which is significant of effort rather than attainment. In all our talk of a new Europe there has been, as yet, but little preoccupation with the ideal of a new Africa, with a new standard for the treatment of native races. Until Russia found her soul there was yet the danger that her alliance might be rewarded regardless of the true interests of some of the lesser nations.

These words of the American President are rather the noble expression of a deep and universal human aspiration than of the actual policy of any one of us, and we should be nearer the attainment of that higher policy if we believed it. As George Tyrrell writes in his 'Essays on Faith and Immortality':

'This is the meaning of Christ Crucified—man agonising for goodness and truth even unto death, and thereby fulfilling the universal law of God in Nature and in himself…. Hence, instead of hell-fire, I should preach the hollowness of the self-life in and out, up and down, till men loathed it and cried "Quis me liberabit?"'

Such cannot yet be the spirit of diplomacy; but for those who believe in the union of nations, and in a worldwide policy inspired by human love, it is on these lines that their ideal is to be sought.

It is a frightening thought that a few men will, by and by, sit round a table to settle the welfare of the world. It would be a still more alarming thought if we believed that they really would settle it, and that the visible actors on the world's stage were as potent as they appear to be. Yet their opportunity is a great one, and could we hope that fifty percent of the future Peace Conference would be inspired by the temper of President Wilson's speech; that disinterestedness, altruism, humanity, and a pride magnanimous but not boastful, would be their characteristics; then, indeed, their efforts, seconded by a greater fate and by the pressure of those nobler aspirations that are stirring in the heart of the world, might bring good from the most awful happenings that our lives have known.

One quality we would wish them for the performance of their weighty task, and that is unflinching moral courage: a courage that will not shrink from the acknowledgment of unpleasant facts; that will not endeavour to clothe the acts of self-interest, unavoidable as they may be, in the garment of human love; a courage that will give them the strength to acknowledge wherein each country yet seeks her own, even at the expense of her friends. But their courage must go farther still, and, just as it shrines not from admitting what we are, so must it also boldly state what we would be; having acknowledged the unpleasant truths of worldly prudence it must go on to enunciate fearlessly the nobler truths of human wisdom and love.


1 I use here the word Christian in a moral sense, as denoting a principle of unselfish love and devotion.

2 I believe that such exist, though not all who refuse military service on those grounds deserve the name.

Leo Strauss (essay date 1958)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15624

SOURCE: "Machiavelli's Intention: The Prince," in Thoughts on Machiavelli, 1958. Reprint by The University of Chicago Press, 1978, pp. 54–84.

[In the following excerpt, Strauss carefully analyzes The Prince's structure and themes, discussing how the work relates to Machiavelli's other works, particularly Discourses upon the First Decade of T. Livius.]

Many writers have attempted to describe the intention of the Prince by using the term "scientific." This description is defensible and even helpful provided it is properly meant. Let us return once more to the beginning. In the Epistle Dedicatory Machiavelli gives three indications of the subject-matter of the book: he has incorporated in it his knowledge of the actions of great men both modern and ancient; he dares to discuss princely government and to give rules for it; he possesses knowledge of the nature of princes. As appears from the Epistle Dedicatory, from the book itself, and from what the author says elsewhere,1 knowledge of the actions of great men, i.e., historical knowledge, supplies only materials for knowledge of what princely government is, of the characteristics of the various kinds of principalities, of the rules with which one must comply in order to acquire and preserve princely power, and of the nature of princes. It is only knowledge of the latter kind that the Prince is meant to convey. That kind of knowledge, knowledge of the universal or general as distinguished from the individual, is called philosophic or scientific. The Prince is a scientific book because it conveys a general teaching that is based on reasoning from experience and that sets forth that reasoning. That teaching is partly theoretical (knowledge of the nature of princes) and partly practical (knowledge of the rules with which the prince must comply). In accordance with the fact that the Prince is a scientific, and not an historical book, only three of twentysix chapter headings contain proper names.2 When referring to the Prince in the Discourses, Machiavelli calls it a "treatise."3 For the time being we shall describe the Prince as a treatise, meaning by "treatise" a book that sets forth a general teaching of the character indicated. To the extent that the Prince is a treatise, it has a lucid plan and its argument proceeds in a straight line without either ascending or descending. It consists at first sight of two parts. The first part sets forth the science or the art of princely government while the second takes up the time honored question of the limits of art or prudence, or the question of the relation of art or prudence and chance. More particularly, the Prince consists of four parts: 1) the various kinds of principalities (chs. 1–11), 2) the prince and his enemies (chs. 12–14), 3) the prince and his subjects or friends (chs. 15–23),4 4) prudence and chance (chs. 24–26). We may go a step further and say that the Prince appears, at the outset, not only as a treatise but even as a scholastic treatise.5

At the same time, however, the book is the opposite of a scientific or detached work. While beginning with the words "All states, all dominions which have had and have sway over men," it ends with the words "the ancient valor in Italian hearts is not yet dead." It culminates in a passionate call to action—in a call, addressed to a contemporary Italian prince, to perform the most glorious deed possible and necessary then and there. It ends like a tract for the times. For the last part deals not merely with the general question concerning the relation of prudence and chance, but it is concerned with the accidental also in another sense of the term. The chapters surrounding the explicit discussion of the relation between prudence and chance (ch. 25) are the only ones whose headings indicate that they deal with the contemporary Italian situation. The Prince is not the only classic of political philosophy which is both a treatise and a tract for the times. It suffices to refer to Hobbes' Leviathan and Locke's Civil Government. But the case of the Prince is not typical: there is a striking contrast between the dry, not to say scholastic, beginning and the highly rhetorical last chapter which ends in a quotation from a patriotic poem in Italian. Could Machiavelli have had the ambition of combining the virtues of scholasticism with those of patriotic poetry? Is such a combination required for the understanding of political things? However this may be, the contrast between the beginning of the Prince, or even its first twenty-five chapters, and its end forces us to modify our remark that the argument of the book proceeds in a straight line without ascending or descending. By directly contrasting the beginning and the end, we become aware of an ascent. To the extent to which the Prince is a treatise, Machiavelli is an investigator or a teacher; to the extent to which it is a tract for the times, he assumes the role of an adviser, if not of a preacher. He was anxious to become the adviser of the addressee of the Prince and thus to rise from his low, and even abject condition.6 The movement of the Prince is an ascent in more than one sense. And besides, it is not simply an ascent.

In contradistinction to the Discourses, the Prince comes first to sight as a traditional or conventional treatise. But this first appearance is deliberately deceptive. The antitraditional character of the Prince becomes explicit shortly beyond the middle of the book, and after remaining explicit for some time, it recedes again. Hence the movement of the Prince may be described as an ascent followed by a descent. Roughly speaking, the peak is in the center. This course is prefigured in the first part of the book (chs. 1–11): the highest theme of this part (new principalities acquired by one's own arms and virtue) and the grandest examples (Moses, Theseus, Romulus, Cyrus) are discussed in chapter 6, which is literally the central chapter of the first part.

But let us follow this movement somewhat more closely. At first sight, the Prince belongs to the traditional genre of mirrors of princes which are primarily addressed to legitimate princes, and the most familiar case of the legitimate prince is the undisputed heir. Machiavelli almost opens the Prince by following custom in calling the hereditary prince the "natural prince." He suggests that the natural is identical with the established or customary, the ordinary and the reasonable; or that it is the opposite of the violent. In the first two chapters he uses only contemporary or almost contemporary Italian examples: we do not leave the dimension of the familiar. We cannot help noting that in the Discourses, which open with his declaration that he will communicate therein new modes and orders, the first two chapters are devoted to the remote beginnings of cities and states: we immediately transcend the dimension of the familiar. In the third chapter of the Prince, he continues to speak of "the natural and ordinary" and "the ordinary and reasonable" but he now makes it clear that nature favors the established no more than the disestablishment of the established or, more generally stated, that the natural and ordinary stands in a certain tension to the customary: since the desire for acquisition is "natural and ordinary," the destruction of "natural" princes, "the extinction of ancient blood," by an extraordinary conqueror is perhaps more natural than the peaceful and smooth transition from one ordinary heir to another.7 In accordance with this step forward, foreign and ancient examples come to the fore: the Turks and above all the Romans appear to be superior to the Italians and even to the French. Provoked by the remark of a French Cardinal that the Italians know nothing of war, and thus justified, Machiavelli replied, as he reports here, that the French know nothing of politics: the Romans, whose modes of action are discussed in the center of the chapter, understood both war and politics. Furthermore, he transcends the Here and Now also by referring to a doctrine of the physicians, for medicine is an achievement of the ancients,8 and by opposing the wise practice of the Romans to "what is everyday in the mouth of the sages of our times." But he is not yet prepared to take issue with the opinion held by more than one contemporary according to which faith must be kept. In chapters 4–6, ancient examples preponderate for the first time. Chapter 6 is devoted to the most glorious type of wholly new princes in wholly new states, i.e., to what is least ordinary and most ancient. The heroic founders discussed therein acquired their positions by virtue, and not by chance, and their greatness revealed itself by their success in introducing wholly new modes and orders which differed profoundly from the established, familiar, and ancient. They stand at the opposite pole from the customary and old established, for two opposite reasons: they were ancient innovators, ancient enemies of the ancient. Chapter 6 is the only chapter of the Prince in which Machiavelli speaks of prophets, i.e., of men to whom God speaks. In the same chapter there occurs the first Latin quotation. Compared with that chapter, the rest of the first part marks a descent. The hero of chapter 7 is Cesare Borgia, who acquired his principality by means of chance. He is presented at the outset as simply a model for new princes. But, to say nothing of the fact that he failed because of a grave mistake of his, he was not a wholly new prince in a wholly new state: he is a model for such new princes as try to make changes in ancient orders by means of new modes rather than for such new princes, like the heroes of chapter 6, as try to introduce wholly new modes and orders. Accordingly, the emphasis shifts to modern examples from this point on.9 As for chapters 8–11, it suffices to note that even their chapter headings no longer contain references to new princes; the princes discussed therein were at most new princes in old states. The last two chapters of the first part contain, as did the first two chapters, only modern examples, although the last two chapters contain also examples other than Italian.

The second part (chs. 12–14) marks an ascent from the end of the first part. The first part had ended with a discussion of ecclesiastical principalities, which as such are unarmed. We learn now that good arms are the necessary and sufficient condition for good laws.10 As Machiavelli indicates through the headings of chapters 12–13, he ascends in these chapters from the worst kind of arms to the best. We note in this part an almost continuous ascent from modern examples to ancient ones. This ascent is accompanied by three references to the question as to whether modern or ancient examples should be chosen; in the central reference it is suggested that it would be more natural to prefer ancient examples.11 Machiavelli now takes issue not only with specific political or military errors committed by "the sages of our times" but (although without mentioning his name) with his contemporary Savonarola's fundamental error: Savonarola erroneously believed that the ruin of Italy was caused by religious sins, and not by military sins. In this fairly short part (about 10 pages) Machiavelli refers six times to ancient literature while he had referred to it in the considerably more extensive first part (about 37 pages) only twice. Only in the second part does he come close to referring deferentially to the highest authorities of political or moral thought. He refers, not indeed to the New Testament, but to the Old, and not indeed to what the Old Testament says about Moses but to what it says about David, and not to what it says about David literally but to what it says about David, or in connection with David, figuratively. And he refers, not indeed to Aristotle, or to Plato, but to Xenophon whom he regarded however as the author of the classic mirror of princes. Besides, the Old Testament citation in chapter 13 merely supplies at most an additional example of the correct choice of arms; Xenophon's Education of Cyrus, mentioned at the end of chapter 14, however, is the only authority he refers to as setting forth a complete moral code for a prince. To say the least, the height reached at the end of the second part recalls the height reached in the center of the first part: the second part ends and culminates in a praise of Cyrus—one of the four "grandest examples" spoken of in chapter 6. In the first part, Machiavelli leisurely ascends to the greatest doers and then leisurely descends again; in the second part he ascends quickly to the origins of the traditional understanding of the greatest doers.

Right at the beginning of the third part (chs. 15–23) Machiavelli begins to uproot the Great Tradition. The emphasis is on a change in the general teaching: the first chapter of the third part is the only chapter of the Prince which does not contain any historical exam ples. Machiavelli now takes issue explicitly and coherently with the traditional and customary view according to which the prince ought to live virtuously and ought to rule virtuously. From this we begin to understand why he refrained in the second part from referring to the highest authorities: the missing peak above the Old Testament and Xenophon is not the New Testament and Plato or Aristotle but Machiavelli's own thought: all ancient or traditional teachings are to be superseded by a shockingly new teaching. But he is careful not to shock anyone unduly. While the claim to radical innovation is suggested, it is made in a subdued manner: he suggests that he is merely stating in his own name and openly a teaching which some ancient writers had set forth covertly or by using their characters as their mouthpieces.12 Yet this strengthens Machiavelli's claim in truth as much as it weakens it in appearance: one cannot radically change the mode of a teaching without radically changing its substance. The argument ascends from chapter 15 up to chapters 19 or 20 and then descends again. In chapter 17 Machiavelli begins to speak again of "new princes," after a pause of 10 chapters, and he continues to do so in the three subsequent chapters; at the beginning of chapter 21 he still refers to "a quasi-new prince," but in the rest of the third part this high theme disappears completely: Machiavelli descends again to ordinary or second rate princes.13 This move ment is paralleled by a change regarding modern or ancient examples. Up through chapter 19, there is, generally speaking, an increase in emphasis on the ancient; thereafter modern examples preponderate obviously.14 The last two-thirds of chapter 19, which deal with the Roman emperors, may be said to mark the peak of the third part. The passage is introduced as a rejoinder to what "many" might object against Machiavelli's own opinion. Chapter 19 is literally the center of the third part, just as the peak of the first part was literally its center (ch. 6). This is no accident. Chapter 19 completes the explicit discussion of the founder while chapter 6 had begun it. Hence we may justly describe chapter 19 as the peak of the Prince as a whole, and the third part as its most important part.15 Chapter 19 re veals the truth about the founders, or the greatest doers almost fully.16 The full revelation requires the universalization of the lesson derived from the study of the Roman emperors, and this universalization is presented in the first section of chapter 20. Immediately thereafter the descent begins. Machiavelli refers there to a saying of "our ancients," i.e., of the reputedly wise men of old Florence, and rejects it in an unusually cautious manner:17 after having broken with the most exalted teaching of the venerable Great Tradition, he humbly returns to a show of reverence for a fairly recent and purely local tradition. Shortly afterwards he expresses his agreement with "the judgment of many," and immediately before questioning the wisdom of building fortresses and before showing that the practice of building fortresses had wisely been abandoned by a considerable number of Italian contemporaries, he says that he praises the building of fortresses "because it has been used from ancient times."18 He shows every sign of wishing to pretend that he believes in the truth of the equation of the good with the ancient and the customary. Acting in the same spirit he expresses there a belief in human gratitude, respect for justice, and honesty19 which is quite at variance with everything that went before, and especially with what he said in the third part.

Just as the movement of the argument in the third part resembles that in the first part, the movement of the argument in the fourth part (chs. 24–26) resembles that in the second part. In contrast to the last chapters of the third part, the fourth part is marked by the following characteristics: Machiavelli speaks again of the "new prince," and even "the new prince in a new principality" and he again emphasizes ancient models. Philip of Macedon, "not the father of Alexander, but the one who was defeated by Titus Quintus," i.e., an ancient prince who did not belong to the highest class of princes, is presented as vastly superior to the contemporary Italian princes who also were defeated. While the central chapter of the fourth part contains only modern examples, it compensates for this, as it were, by being devoted to an attack on a contemporary Italian belief, or rather on a belief which is more commonly held in contemporary Italy than it was in the past. In the last chapter, Moses, Cyrus, and Theseus, three of the four heroic founders praised in chapter 6, are mentioned again; Moses and Theseus had not been mentioned since. In that chapter Machiavelli speaks in the most unrestrained terms of what he hopes for from a contemporary Italian prince or from the latter's family. But he does not leave the slightest doubt that what he hopes for from a contemporary new prince in a new state is not more than at best a perfect imitation of the ancient founders, an imitation made possible by the survival of the Italians' ancient valor: he does not expect a glorious deed of an entirely new kind, or a new creation. While the last chapter of the Prince is thus a call to a most glorious imitation of the peaks of antiquity within contemporary Italy, the general teaching of the Prince, and especially of its third part, i.e., Machiavelli's understanding of the ancient founders and of the foundation of society in general, is the opposite of an imitation, however perfect: while the greatest deed possible in contemporary Italy is an imitation of the greatest deeds of antiquity, the greatest theoretical achievement possible in contemporary Italy is "wholly new,"20 We conclude, therefore, that the movement of the Prince as a whole is an ascent followed by a descent.

It is characteristic of the Prince to partake of two pairs of opposites: it is both a treatise and a tract for the times, and it has both a traditional exterior and a revolutionary interior. There is a connection between these two pairs of opposites. As a treatise, the book sets forth a timeless teaching, i.e., a teaching which is meant to be true for all times; as a tract for the times, it sets forth what ought to be done at a particular time. But the timelessly true teaching is related to time because it is new at the particular time at which it is set forth, and its being new, or not coeval with man, is not accidental. A new teaching concerning the foundations of society being, as such, unacceptable or exposed to enmity, the movement from the accepted or old teaching to the new must be made carefully, or the revolutionary interior must be carefully protected by a traditional exterior. The twofold relation of the book to the particular time at which it was composed or for which it was composed explains why the preponderance of modern examples has a twofold meaning: modern examples are more immediately relevant for action in contemporary Italy than ancient examples, and a discussion of modern examples is less "presumptuous"21 or offensive than is a discussion of the most exalted ancient examples or of the origins of the established order which are neither present nor near. This must be borne in mind if one wants to understand what Machiavelli means by calling the Prince a "treatise."22 As matters stand, it is necessary to add the remark that, in describing the Prince as the work of a revolutionary, we have used that term in the precise sense: a revolutionary is a man who breaks the law, the law as a whole, in order to replace it by a new law which he believes to be better than the old law.

The Prince is obviously a combination of a treatise and a tract for the times. But the manner in which that combination is achieved is not obvious: the last chapter does come as a surprise. We believe that this difficulty can be resolved if one does not forget that the Prince also combines a traditional surface with a revolutionary center. As a treatise, the Prince conveys a general teaching; as a tract for the times, it conveys a particular counsel. The general teaching cannot be identical, but it must at least be compatible, with the particular counsel. There may even be a connection between the general and the particular which is closer than mere compatibility: the general teaching may necessitate the particular counsel, given the particular circumstances in which the immediate addressee of the Prince finds himself, and the particular counsel may required the general teaching of the Prince and be incompatible with any other general teaching. At any rate, in studying the general teaching of the Prince we must never lose sight of the particular situation in which Lorenzo finds himself. We must understand the general in the light of the particular. We must translate every general rule which is addressed generally to princes, or a kind of prince, into a particular counsel addressed to Lorenzo. And conversely, we must work our way upward from the particular counsel which is given in the last chapter to its general premises. Perhaps the complete general premises differ from the general premises as explicitly stated, and the complete particular counsel differs from the particular counsel as explicitly stated. Perhaps the unstated implications, general or particular, provide the link between the general teaching as explicitly stated and the particular counsel as explicitly stated.

What precisely is the difficulty created by the counsel given in the last chapter of the Prince? As for the mere fact that that chapter comes as a surprise of some kind, one might rightly say that in the Prince no surprise ought to be surprising. In the light of the indications given in the first chapter, chapters 8–11 come as a surprise, to say nothing of other surprises. Besides, one merely has to read the Prince with ordinary care, in order to see that the call to liberate Italy with which the book ends is the natural conclusion of the book. For instance, in chapter 12 Machiavelli says that the outcome of the Italian military system has been that "Italy has been overrun by Charles, plundered by Louis, violated by Ferdinand, and insulted by the Swiss," or that Italy has become "enslaved and insulted."23 What other conclusion can be drawn from this state of things than that one must bend every effort to liberate Italy after having effected a complete reform of her military system, i.e., that one ought to do what the last chapter says Lorenzo ought to do? The last chapter presents a problem not because it is a call to liberate Italy but because it is silent as to the difficulties obstructing the liberation of Italy. In that chapter it is said more than once that the action recommended to Lorenzo, or urged upon him, will not be "very difficult": almost everything has been done by God; only the rest remains to be done by the human liberator. The chapter creates the impression that the only things required for the liberation of Italy are the Italians strong loathing of foreign domination, and their ancient valor; the liberator of Italy can expect spontaneous cooperation from all his compatriots and he can expect that they will all fly to arms against the foreigners once he "takes the banner." It is true that Machiavelli stresses even here the need for a radical reform of the Italian military system. In fact, he devotes the whole center of the chapter, i.e., almost half of the chapter, to the military conditions for the liberation of Italy. But all the more striking is his complete silence as to its political conditions. What would be gained by all Italians becoming the best soldiers in the world if they were to turn their skill and prowess against one another or, in other words, if there were not first established a strict unity of command, to say nothing of unity of training? It is absurd to say that Machiavelli's patriotic fervor temporarily blinds him to the hard practical problems: his patriotic fervor does not prevent him from speaking in the last chapter very prosaically and even technically about the military preparation. The liberator of Italy is described as a new prince, for the liberation of Italy presupposes the introduction of new laws and new orders: he must do for Italy what Moses did for the people of Israel. But, as Machiavelli had been at pains to point out in the earlier chapters of the book, the new prince necessarily offends many of his fellow countrymen, especially those who benefit from the customary order of things, and his adherents are necessarily unreliable. In the last chapter he is silent on the subject of the inevitable offensiveness of the liberator's actions, as well as concerning the powerful resistances which he must expect. The liberator of Italy is urged there to furnish himself with his own troops who will be all the better if they see themselves commanded by their own prince: will the Venetian or the Milanese troops regard the Florentine Lorenzo as their own prince? Machiavelli does not say a word about the difficulties which might be created for the liberator by the various Italian republics and princes. He merely alludes to those difficulties by raising the rhetorical question, "what envy will oppose itself to him?" and by speaking once of "the weakness of the chiefs" in Italy. Does he mean to say that the patriotic fervor of the Italian people will suffice for sweeping aside those weak chiefs, however envious they might be? He certainly implies that before the liberator can liberate Italy, he would have to take not merely a banner, as is said in the text of the chapter, but Italy herself, as is said in the heading. It is a rare if not unique case in Machiavelli's books that the heading of a chapter should be more informative than its body.

Apart from chapters 26 and 24, the headings of which refer us to contemporary Italy, only one chapter heading in the Prince contains proper names and thus draws our attention to the particular. Chapter 4 is entitled: "Why the Kingdom of Darius which Alexander had seized did not rebel against Alexander's successors after his death."24 As a consequence, the place of the chapter within the plan of the general teaching as indicated in chapter 1, is not immediately clear. Chapter 4 is the central one of three chapters which deal with "mixed principalities," i.e., with the acquistion of new territory by princes or republics, or, in other words, with conquest. The primary example in chapter 3 is the policy of conquest practiced by King Louis XII of France; but the country in which he tried to acquire new territory was Italy. In chapter 3, Machiavelli discusses the difficulties obstructing foreign conquests in Italy, a subject most important to the liberator of Italy. By discussing the mistakes which the French king committed in attempting to make lasting conquests in Italy, Machiavelli undoubtedly gives advice to foreigners contemplating conquest in his own fatherland.25 This might seem to cast a reflection on his patriotism. But one might justly say that such advice is only the reverse side, if the odious side, of advice as to how to defend Italy against foreign domination, or how to liberate Italy. It appears from Machiavelli's discussion that but for certain grave mistakes committed by the French king, he could easily have kept his Italian conquests. The French king committed the grave mistakes of permitting the minor Italian powers to be destroyed and of strengthening a major Italian power, instead of protecting the minor Italian powers and humiliating that major power. We are forced to wonder what conclusion the liberator of Italy would have to draw from these observations. Should he destroy the minor Italian powers and strengthen the major Italian powers? The destruction of the minor powers which Machiavelli has in mind was effected by Cesare Borgia whose actions he holds up as models for Lorenzo. But would not the strengthening of the other major Italian powers perpetuate, and even increase, the difficulties of keeping the foreigner out of Italy? It is this question which is taken up in an oblique way in chapter 4. Machiavelli there distinguishes two kinds of principality: one like the Persia conquered by Alexander the Great, in which one man is prince and all others are slaves, and another kind, like France, which is ruled by a king and barons, i.e., in which powers exist that are not simply dependent on the prince but rule in their own right. He makes this distinction more general by comparing the French monarchy to Greece prior to the Roman conquest. What he is concerned with is then the difference between countries ruled by a single government from which all political authority within the country is simply derived, and countries in which there exists a number of regional or local powers, each ruling in its own right. Seen in the light of this distinction, Italy belongs to the same kind of country as France. In discussing Alexander's conquest of Persia, Machiavelli is compelled to discuss the conquest of a country of the opposite kind, i.e., the conquest of France. This, however, means that he is enabled to continue surreptitiously the discussion, begun in the preceding chapter, of the conquest of Italy.26 Chapter 4 supplies this lesson: while it is difficult to conquer Persia, it is easy to keep her; conversely, while it is easy to conquer France, it is difficult to keep her. France (for which we may substitute in this context Italy) is easy to conquer because there will always be a discontented baron (state) that will be anxious to receive foreign help against the king (against other states within the country). She is difficult to keep because the old local or regional loyalties will always reassert themselves against the new prince. Secure possession of the country is impossible as long as the ancient blood of the local or regional lords or dukes or princes has not been extinguished. One might think for a moment that what is good for the foreign conqueror of a country of the kind under discussion is not necessarily good for the native liberator of such a country. But, as Machiavelli indicates in chapter 3, the superiority of France to Italy in strength and unity is due to the extirpation of the princely lines of Burgundy, Brittany, Gascony and Normandy. Given the urgency arising from foreign domination of Italy, the liberator cannot afford to wait until the other princely families have become extinct in the course of centuries. He will have to do on the largest scale what Cesare Borgia had done on a small scale:27 in order to uproot the power of the old local and regional loyalties which are a major source of Italian weakness, one must extinguish the families of the obnoxious Italian princes. Cesare Borgia performs a crucial function in the Prince for the additional reason that he is the link between the foreign conqueror of Italy and her native, patriotic liberator: since he was not simply an Italian, he could not well be regarded as a potential liberator of his fatherland.28 As for the Italian republics, we learn from chapter 5, the last chapter devoted to the subject of conquest, that the only way in which a prince, or a republic, can be sure of the loyalty of a conquered republican city with an old tradition of autonomy is to ruin it, and to disperse its inhabitants, and that this holds true regardless of whether the conqueror and the conquered are sons of the same country or not.29

The information regarding the political prerequisites of the liberation of Italy is withheld in the chapter which is explicitly devoted to the liberation of Italy because Machiavelli desired to keep the noble and shining end untarnished by the base and dark means that are indispensable for its achievement. He desired this because the teaching that "the end justifies the means" is repulsive, and he wanted the Prince to end even more attractively than it began. The information withheld in the last chapter is supplied in the section on conquest. To that section above all others we must turn if we desire to know what kinds of resistance on the part of his countrymen the liberator of Italy will have to overcome, and what kinds of offense against his fellow countrymen he will have to commit. To liberate Italy from the barbarians means to unify Italy, and to unify Italy means to conquer Italy. It means to do in Italy something much more difficult than what Ferdinand of Aragon had done in Spain, but in certain respects comparable to it.30 The liberator of Italy cannot depend on the spontaneous following of all inhabitants of Italy. He must pursue a policy of iron and poison, of murder and treachery. He must not shrink from the extermination of Italian princely families and the destruction of Italian republican cities whenever actions of this kind are conducive to his end. The liberation of Italy means a complete revolution. It requires first and above everything else a revolution in thinking about right and wrong. Italians have to learn that the patriotic end hallows every means however much condemned by the most exalted traditions both philosophic and religious. The twenty-sixth chapter of the Discourses, which has already supplied us with more than one key to the Prince, confirms our present conclusion. Its heading says: "A new prince, in a city or country taken by him must make everything new." From its text we learn that just as Cesare Borgia did not become master of the Romagna except by "cruelty well used," Philip of Macedon did not become within a short time "prince of Greece" except by the use of means which were inimical not only to every humane manner of life but to every Christian manner of life as well.31

The major Italian power which the would-be foreign conqueror, Louis XII, mistakenly strengthened instead of humiliating, was the Church. The native liberator of Italy on the other hand, is advised to use his family connection with the then Pope Leo X in order to receive support for his patriotic enterprise from the already greatly strengthened Church. He is advised, in other words, to use the Church ruled by Leo X as Cesare Borgia, the model, had used the Church ruled by Alexander VI. But this counsel can be of only a provisional character. To see this, one has to consider Machiavelli's reflections on Cesare's successes and failures. Cesare's succusses ultimately benefited only the Church, and thus increased the obstacles to the conquest or liberation of Italy. Cesare was a mere tool of Alexander VI and hence, whatever Alexander's wishes may have been, a mere tool of the papacy. Ultimately, Alexander rather than Cesare represents the contemporary Italian model of a new prince. For Cesare's power was based on the power of the papacy. That power failed him when Alexander died. Cesare's failure was not accidental, considering that the average length of a Pope's reign is ten years, that the influence of any Italian prince on the election of a new Pope is not likely to be greater than that of the great foreign powers and, above all, considering that the Church has a purpose or interest of its own which casts discredit on and thus endangers the use of the power of the Church for purposes other than strengthening the Church.32 The liberation of Italy which requires the unification of Italy eventually requires therefore the secularization of the Papal states. It requires even more. According to Machiavelli, the Church is not only through its temporal power the chief obstacle to the unity of Italy; the Church is also responsible for the religious and moral corruption of Italy and for the ensuing loss of political virtue. In addition, Machiavelli was very much in fear of the Swiss, whose military excellence he traced partly to their sturdy piety. He draws the conclusion that if the Papal Court were removed to Switzerland, one would soon observe the deterioration of Swiss piety and morals and hence of Swiss power.33 He seemed to have played with the thought that the liberator of Italy would have to go beyond secularizing the Papal states; he might have to remove the Papal Court to Switzerland and thus kill two birds with one stone. The liberator of Italy must certainly have the courage to do what Giovampagolo Baglioni was too vile to do, namely, "to show the prelates how little one ought to respect people who live and rule as they do and thus to perform an action whose greatness obliterates every infamy and every danger that might arise from it." He must make Italy as united as she was "in the time of the Romans."34 The addressee of the Prince is advised to imitate Romulus among others. To imitate Romulus means to found Rome again. But Rome exists. Or could the imitation of Romulus mean to found again a pagan Rome, a Rome destined to become again the most glorious republic and the seminary and the heart of the most glorious empire? Machiavelli does not answer this question in so many words. When he mentions for the second time, in the last chapter of the Prince, the venerable models whom the addressee of the Prince should imitate, he is silent about Romulus.35 The question which he forces us to raise, he answers by silence. In this connection we may note that, whereas in the Discourses "We" sometimes means "We Christians," "We" never has this meaning in the Prince. At any rate, both the explicit general teaching and the explicit particular counsel conveyed by the Prince are more traditional or less revolutionary than both the complete general teaching and the complete particular counsel. The two pairs of opposites which are characteristic of the Prince, namely, its being both a treatise and a tract for the times and its having both a traditional exterior and a revolutionary center, are nicely interwoven. The Prince is altogether, as Machiavelli indicates at the beginning of the second chapter, a fine web. The subtlety of the web contrasts with the shocking frankness of speech which he sometimes employs or affects. It would be better to say that the subtle web is subtly interwoven with the shocking frankness of speech which he chooses to employ at the proper time and in the proper place.

So much for the present regarding the character of the Prince. The subject of the book is the prince but especially the new prince. In the Epistle Dedicatory, Machiavelli indicates that his teaching is based upon his knowledge of the actions of great men; but the greatest examples of great men are new princes like Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus, men "who have acquired or founded kingdoms." In the first chapter, he divides principalities into classes with a view to the differences of materials and modes of acquisition rather than to differences of structure and purpose. He thus indicates from the outset that he is chiefly concerned with men who desire to acquire principalities (either mixed or wholly new), i.e., with new princes. There is a twofold reason for this emphasis. The obvious reason is the fact that the immediate addressee of the book is a new prince, and one who is, moreover, advised to become prince of Italy and thus to become a new prince in a more exalted sense. But what at first glance seems to be dictated merely by Machiavelli's consideration for the needs and prospects of his immediate addressee proves, on reflection, to be necessary for purely theoretical reasons as well. All principalities, even if they are now elective or hereditary, were originally new principalities. Even all republics, at least the greatest republics, were founded by outstanding men wielding extraordinary power, i.e., by new princes. To discuss new princes means then to discuss the origins or foundations of all states or of all social orders, and therewith the nature of society. The fact that the addressee of the Prince is an actual or potential new prince somewhat conceals the eminent theoretical significance of the theme "the new prince."

The ambiguity due to the fact that the Prince sometimes deals with princes in general and sometimes with new princes in particular is increased by the ambiguity of the term "new prince." The term may designate the founder of a dynasty in a state already established, i.e., a new prince in an old state, or a man who "seizes" a state, like Sforza in Milan or Agathocles in Syracuse or Liverotto in Fermo. But it may also designate a new prince in a new state or "a wholly new prince in a wholly new state," i.e., a man who has not merely acquired a state already in existence but has founded a state. The new prince in a new state in his turn may be an imitator, i.e., adopt modes and orders invented by another new prince, or in other ways follow the beaten track. But he may also be the originator of new modes and orders, or a radical innovator, the founder of a new type of society, possibly the founder of a new religion—in brief, a man like Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, or Romulus. Machiavelli applies to men of the highest order the term "prophets."36 That term would seem to fit Moses rather than the three others. Moses is indeed the most important founder: Christianity rests on a foundation laid by Moses.

At the beginning of the chapter which is devoted to the grandest examples, Machiavelli makes unambiguously clear the fact that he does not expect the addressee of the Prince to be or to become an originator: he advises his reader to become an imitator or to follow the beaten track or to be a man of second rate virtue. This is not surprising: an originator would not need Machiavelli's instruction. As he states in the Epistle Dedicatory, he wishes that Lorenzo would "understand" what he himself "had come to know and had come to understand": he does not expect him to have come to know the most important things by himself. Lorenzo may have an "excellent" brain; he is not expected to have a "most excellent" brain.37 However this may be, being "a prudent man," he is exhorted to "follow the track beaten by great men and to imitate those who have been most excellent," i.e., men like Romulus and Moses. On the other hand, the precepts which Machiavelli gives to Lorenzo are abstracted from the actions, not of Romulus or Moses, but of Cesare Borgia.38 For, to say nothing of other considerations, Lorenzo's hoped-for rise depends upon his family connection with the present head of the Church and therewith on chance, just as Cesare's actual rise depended on his family connection with a former head of the Church, whereas Romulus and Moses rose to power through virtue as distinguished from chance. In imitating Cesare Borgia, Lorenzo would admit his inferiority to Cesare: Machiavelli's book would be somewhat out of place if meant for a man of Cesare's stature and lack of scruples. Still, Lorenzo is advised to imitate men of the stature of Romulus and of Moses. As appears from the last chapter, however, that imitation is expected less of Lorenzo by himself than of the illustrious house to which he belongs.

In the last chapter the emphasis is altogether on Moses. Machiavelli says there that God was a friend of Moses, Cyrus and Theseus. The description is applied to Moses with greater propriety than to Cyrus and to Theseus. Lorenzo is then exhorted to imitate Moses. The notion of imitating the prophets of old was familiar to Machiavelli's contemporaries: Savonarola appeared as a new Amos or as a new Moses, i.e., as a man who did the same things which the Biblical prophets had done, in new circumstances. This is not to say that there is no difference between the imitation of Moses as Savonarola meant it and the imitation of Moses as Machiavelli understood it. In order to encourage Lorenzo to liberate Italy, Machiavelli reminds him of the miracles which God had performed before their eyes: "The sea has been divided. A cloud has guided you on your way. The rock has given forth water. Manna has rained." The miracles of Lorenzo's time which indeed are attested to by Machiavelli alone, imitate the miracles of Moses' time. More precisely, they imitate the miracles which were performed, not in Egypt, the house of bondage, but on the way from Egypt to the promised land—to a land to be conquered. Differing from Savonarola, Machiavelli does not predict that Florence, or her ruler, will become the ruler of Italy,39 for the success of the venture now depends alone on the exercise of human virtue which, because of man's free-will, cannot be foreseen. What may be imminent, Machiavelli suggests, is the conquest of another promised land, the land which Machiavelli has half-promised to Lorenzo. But alas, the imitation of Moses is bad for Lorenzo; for Moses did not conquer the promised land: he died at its borders. In this dark way, Machiavelli, the new sibyl, prophesies that Lorenzo will not conquer and liberate Italy.40 He did not regard the practical proposal with which he concluded the Prince as practicable. He had measured the forces of contemporary Italy too well to have any delusions. As he states in the two Prefaces of the companion book, which in this respect takes up the thread where the Prince drops it, "of that ancient virtue [which is political] no trace has been left" in Italy. Not the short range project suggested at the end of the Prince, but rather the long range project indicated throughout the Discourses offers hope for success. Many writers have dismissed the last chapter of the Prince as a piece of mere rhetoric. This assertion—if it were followed up by an intelligent account of the enigmatic conclusion of the Prince—could be accepted as a crude expression of the fact that that chapter must not be taken literally or too seriously.

Machiavelli is not content with indicating his opinion by leading us to think of the inauspicious character of the imitation of Moses in respect of the conquest of a promised land. While stressing the imitative character of the work to which he exhorts Lorenzo, he stresses the fact that the liberator of Italy must be an originator, an inventor of new modes and orders, hence not an imitator. He himself hints at some far-reaching tactical innovations. But it is clear that the innovator or the inventor in these matters would be Machiavelli, not Lorenzo. The cryptic prediction of Lorenzo's failure, if he were to attempt to liberate Italy, can therefore be restated as follows: only a man of genius, of supreme virtue, could possibly succeed in liberating Italy; but Lorenzo lacks the highest form of virtue. This being the case, he is compelled to rely too much on chance. Machiavelli indicates and conceals how much Lorenzo would have to rely on chance by the religious language which he employs in the last chapter. He mentions God as often there as in all other chapters of the Prince taken together. He refers to the liberator of Italy as an Italian "spirit"; he describes the liberation of Italy as a divine redemption and he suggests its resemblance to the resurrection of the dead as depicted by Ezekiel; he alludes to the miracles wrought by God in Italy. However much we might wish to be moved by these expressions of religious sentiment, we fail in our effort. Machiavelli's certainty of divine intervention reminds us of his expectation of a spontaneous all-Italian rising against the hated foreigners. Just as that expectation is at variance with what earlier chapters had indicated as to the certainty of powerful Italian resistance to the liberator and unifier of Italy, so the expression of religious sentiment is at variance with earlier explicit remarks. According to those remarks, fear of God is desirable or indispensable in soldiers and perhaps in subjects in general, while the prince need merely appear religious, and he can easily create that appearance considering the crudity of the large majority of men. In the last chapter itself, Machiavelli calls the God-wrought contemporary events which resemble certain Biblical miracles not "miracles" but "extraordinary" events "without example"41: he thus denies the reality of those Biblical miracles and therewith, for an obvious reason, the reality of all Biblical miracles. Without such a denial, his own free invention of the contemporary "extraordinary" events would not have been possible: those invented miracles have the same status as the Biblical miracles. According to the Prince, miracles are happenings which are neither common nor reasonable. They are happenings that cannot be traced to secondary causes but only to God directly. Near the beginning of chapter 25 Machiavelli suggests that what is generally meant by God is in truth nothing but chance. Hence the suggestion made in chapter 26, that a number of miracles had happened in contemporary Italy is the figurative equivalent of the assertion, made explicitly in chapter 25, that chance is particularly powerful in contemporary Italy. More specifically, many "miraculous losses" have been sustained in contemporary Italy.42 In the last chapter Machiavelli enumerates seven astonishing defeats suffered in the immediate past by Italian troops.43 Since there is no defeat without a victor, one may speak with equal right of "miraculous losses and miraculous acquisitions" being the necessary consequence of the preponderance of Fortuna's power in contemporary Italy.44 This means that, given the poverty of the Italian military system and the ensuing preponderance of chance, a well advised and industrious prince might have astounding temporary successes against other Italian princes, just as Pope Julius II had such successes against his cowardly enemies. In particular, Lorenzo might succeed in building up a strong power in Tuscany. But the thought of defeating the powerful military monarchies which dominate parts of Italy reamains for the time being a dream.45

One cannot understand the meaning of the last chapter, and therewith of the Prince as a whole, without taking into consideration the position, the character and the aspirations of the other partner in the relationship, not to say in the dialogue, which is constitutive of the book. In proportion as the status of Lorenzo is lessened, the stature of Machiavelli grows. At the beginning, in the Epistle Dedicatory, Lorenzo appears as dwelling on the wholesome heights of majesty whereas Machiavelli must inhale the dust at his feet: the favorite of Fortuna is contrasted with her enemy. Machiavelli presents himself as a man who possesses information which princes necessarily lack and yet need. He describes that information in a way which is surprising not only to those who are forced by disposition or training to think of statistical data. He claims to possess knowledge of the nature of princes: just as one sees mountains best from a valley and valleys best from a mountain, so one must be a prince in order to know well the nature of peoples, and one must be a man of the people in order to know well the nature of princes. In other words, while Lorenzo and Machiavelli are at opposite ends of the scale of Fortuna, they are equal in wisdom: each possesses one half of the whole of political wisdom; they are born to supplement each other. Machiavelli does not say that they should pool their resources in order to liberate Italy. Nor does he wish to hand over his share of political wisdom to Lorenzo as a pure gift. He desires to receive something in return. He desires to better his fortune. Looking forward to the end of the book, we may say that he desires to better his fortune by showing Lorenzo how to better his fortune through becoming prince of Italy. For, as he says already in the Epistle Dedicatory, chance and Lorenzo's other qualities promise him a greatness which even surpasses his present greatness. He dedicates the Prince to Lorenzo because he seeks honorable employment. He desires to become the servant of Lorenzo. Perhaps he desires to become an occasional or temporary adviser to Lorenzo. Perhaps he is even thinking of the position of a permanent adviser. But the absolute limit of his ambition would be to become the minister of Lorenzo, to be to Lorenzo what Antonio da Venafro had been to Pandolfo Petrucci, prince of Siena. His desire would be wholly unreasonable if he did not see his way toward convincing his master of his competence. The proof of his competence is the Prince. But competence is not enough. Lorenzo must also be assured of Machiavelli's loyalty or at least reliability. Machiavelli cannot refer, not even in the Epistle Dedicatory, to the fact that he had once had honorable employment in which he served loyally. For he was a loyal servant of the republican regime in Florence, and this by itself might compromise him in the eyes of his prince. He faces this difficulty for the first time in the chapter on civil principalities, i.e., on the kind of principality of which Lorenzo's rule is an example. He discusses there the question of how the prince ought to treat the notables among his subjects. He distinguishes three kinds of notables, the central one consisting of men who do not commit themselves entirely to the cause of the prince because they are pusillanimous and have a natural defect of courage. Machiavelli advises the prince to employ men of this kind provided they are men of good counsel, "for in prosperity you are honored on account of this and in adversity you have nothing to fear from them." Men of good counsel will have the required pusillanimity if the power of the prince has strong popular support: the few who can see with their own eyes "do not dare to oppose themselves to the opinion of the many who have the majesty of the state on their side." Since Machiavelli was suspected of having participated in a conspiracy against the Medici, it was particularly necessary for him to show through the Prince that men of his kind would never have the temerity to engage in such dangerous undertakings for they would think only of the probable outcome of the deed and not of its possible intrinsic nobility. He almost presents the spectacle of a conversation between himself and a potential conspirator against the prince in which he tries to convince the conspirator of the folly of his imaginings—a spectacle the very suggestion of which must have edified and reassured Lorenzo should he have read the Prince. Eventually, Machiavelli does not refrain from speaking explicitly about how a new prince should treat men who in the beginning of his reign had been suspect because of their loyalty to the preceding regime. He urges the prince to employ men of this kind. "Pandolfo Petrucci, prince of Siena, ruled his state more with those who were suspected by him than with others." The mere fact that such men are compelled to live down a past makes them willing to be reliable servants of the prince. But by proving so completely his reliability in addition to his competence, Machiavelli might seem to have overshot the mark. His potential employer might well wonder whether a man of Machiavelli's cleverness, if employed as an adviser or minister, would not receive all credit for wise actions of the government and thus by contrast render the less wise prince rather contemptible. Machiavelli reassures him, as well as he can, by setting up the infallible general rule that a prince who is not himself wise cannot be well advised.46 Considering the great hazards to which Machiavelli exposes himself by trying to enter the service of a new prince, one may wonder whether according to his principles he ought not to have preferred poverty and obscurity. He answers this question in the Discourses since it cannot be answered with propriety in the Prince. Men in his position, he indicates, live in continuous danger if they do not seek employment with the prince; in trying to give advice to the prince, they must indeed "take things moderately," i.e., they must avoid standing forth as the chief or sole promoters of a bold scheme. Only if the bold scheme is backed by a strong party can some risks be safely taken.47 The particular counsel which Machiavelli gives to Lorenzo explicitly, i.e., the counsel which he gives in the last chapter of the Prince, is moderate both because it is silent concerning the extreme measures required for the liberation of Italy and because it cannot but be very popular with very many Italians.

We have not yet considered Machiavelli's strange suggestion that he possesses one half of political wisdom, namely, knowledge of the nature of princes, whereas Lorenzo may possess the other half, namely, knowledge of the nature of peoples. He makes this suggestion in the same context in which he declares his intention of giving rules for princely government. But to give rules to princes as to how they ought to rule, means to teach them how they ought to rule their peoples. Machiavelli cannot then teach princes without possessing good knowledge of the nature of peoples as well. In fact, he gives much evidence of his possessing such knowledge inasmuch as he transmits it in the Prince to his princely pupil. He knows then everything of relevance that the prince knows, and in addition he knows much that is relevant of which the prince is ignorant. He is not merely a potential adviser of a prince but a teacher of princes as such. In fact, since more than one of his precepts is not required for princes at all, because princes would know such things without his instruction, he also, through the Prince, teaches subjects what they should expect from their prince, or the truth about the nature of princes.48 As an adviser of a prince, he addresses an individual; as a teacher of political wisdom, he addresses an indefinite multitude. He indicates his dual capacity and the corresponding duality of his addressees by his use of the second person of the personal pronoun: he uses "Thou" when addressing the prince, and even the man who conspires against the prince, i.e., when addressing men of action, while he uses "You" when addressing those whose interest is primarily theoretical, either simply or for the time being. The latter kind of addressees of the Prince are identical with the addressees of the Discourses, "the young."49

Machiavelli mentions only one teacher of princes, namely, Chiron the centaur who brought up Achilles and many other ancient princes. Machiavelli's own model is a mythical figure: he returns to the beginnings not only by making the heroic founders his most exalted theme and the foundation of society his most fundamental theme, but likewise in understanding his own doing. His model is half beast, half man. He urges princes, and especially new princes, first to make use of both natures, the nature of the beast and the nature of man; and in the repetition, simply to imitate the beast, i.e., to use the person of the fox and the lion, or to imitate those two natures.50 The imitation of the beast takes the place of the imitation of God. We may note here that Machiavelli is our most important witness to the truth that humanism is not enough. Since man must understand himself in the light of the whole or of the origin of the whole which is not human, or since man is the being that must try to transcend humanity, he must transcend humanity in the direction of the subhuman if he does not transcend it in the direction of the superhuman. Tertium, i.e., humanism, non datur. We may look forward from Machiavelli to Swift whose greatest work culminates in the recommendation that men should imitate the horses,51 to Rousseau who demanded the return to the state of nature, a sub-human state, and to Nietzsche who suggested that Truth is not God but a Woman. As for Machiavelli, one may say with at least equal right that he replaces the imitation of the God-Man Christ by the imitation of the Beast-Man Chiron. That Beast-Man is, as Machiavelli indicates, a creation of the writers of antiquity, a creature of the imagination. Just as Scipio, in imitating Cyrus, in fact imitated a creation of Xenophon,52 so the princes in imitating Chiron, will in fact imitate, not Chiron, but the ancient writers, if the carrying out of a teaching can justly be called an imitation of that teaching. But whatever may be true of princes or other actors, certainly Machiavelli, by teaching princes what Chiron was said to have taught, imitates Chiron or follows the creators of Chiron. Yet, as we have noted before, merely by teaching openly and in his own name what certain ancient writers had taught covertly and by using their characters as their mouthpieces, Machiavelli sets forth an entirely new teaching. He is a Chiron of an entirely new kind.

As a teacher of princes or of new princes in general, Machiavelli is not especially concerned with the particular problems facing contemporary Italian princes. Those particular problems would be of interest to him only as illustrations of typical problems. The primary purpose of the Prince then is not to give particular counsel to a contemporary Italian prince, but to set forth a wholly new teaching regarding wholly new princes in wholly new states, or a shocking teaching about the most shocking phenomena. From that fact we understand the meaning of the last chapter. The particular counsel there given serves the purpose of justifying the novel general teaching before the tribunal of accepted opinion: a general teaching, however novel and repulsive, might seem to be redeemed if it leads up to a particular counsel as respectable, honorable and praiseworthy as that of liberating Italy. But how is this transformation achieved? Machiavelli does not merely suppress mention of the unholy means which are required for the achievement of the sacred end. He surreptitiously introduces a new end, an end not warranted by the argument of the first twenty-five chapters. He urges Lorenzo to liberate Italy on patriotic grounds or, to use a term to which he alludes near the beginning of chapter 26, on grounds of the common good. He thus creates the impression that all the terrible rules and counsels given throughout the work were given exclusively for the sake of the common good. The last chapter suggests then a tolerable interpretation of the shocking teaching of the bulk of the work. But the first twenty-five chapters had observed complete silence regarding the common good. The allusion to the common good near the beginning of chapter 26 has the same status as the other surprising features of that chapter: the expectation of a spontaneous all-Italian rising against the foreigners and the expression of religious sentiment. It is only when one subjects the particular counsel given in the last chapter to political analysis along the lines demanded by the earlier chapters that one realizes that one must have broken completely with traditional morality and traditional beliefs in order even to consider that counsel. But the judicious reader cannot be satisfied with raising the question of how that particular counsel could be put into practice and thereafter whether it can be put into practice under the given circumstances. He must raise this further and more incisive question: would Machiavelli condemn the immoral policies recommended in the bulk of the book if they did not serve a patriotic purpose? Or are those immoral policies barely compatible with a patriotic use? Is it not possible to understand the patriotic conclusion of the Prince as a respectable coloring of the designs of a self-seeking Italian prince? There can be no doubt regarding the answer; the immoral policies recommended throughout the Prince are not justified on grounds of the common good, but exclusively on grounds of the self-interest of the prince, of his selfish concern with his own well-being, security and glory.53 The final appeal to patriotism supplies Machiavelli with an excuse for having recommended immoral courses of action. In the light of this fact, his character may very well appear to be even blacker than even his worst enemies have thought. At the same time however, we are not forced to leave the matter with the remark that the last chapter of the Prince is a piece of mere rhetoric, i.e., that he was not capable of thinking clearly and writing with consummate skill.

These observations are not to deny that Machiavelli was an Italian patriot. He would not have been human if he had not loathed the barbarians who were devastating and degrading his fair country. We merely deny that his love for his fatherland, or his fatherland itself, was his most precious possession. The core of his being was his thought about man, about the condition of man and about human affairs. By raising the fundamental questions he of necessity transcended the limitations and the limits of Italy, and he thus was enabled to use the patriotic sentiments of his readers, as well as his own, for a higher purpose, for an ulterior purpose. One must also consider an ambiguity characteristic of Machiavelli's patriotism. In the Prince there are eight references to "the fatherland." In one case Italy is described as a fatherland. In six cases the fatherlands mentioned are, not countries, but cities. In one case, four fatherlands are mentioned; two are cities (Rome and Athens) and two are countries; one of the countries is Persia; as regards the other country, the fatherland nobilitated by Moses, it is unclear whether it is Egypt or Canaan, the land of his birth or the land of his aspiration.54 When we apply this observation to Machiavelli, we become aware of a tension between his Italian patriotism and his Florentine patriotism. Or should one not rather speak of a tension between his Roman patriotism and his Tuscan patriotism? There exists a close connection between the transpatriotic core of his thought and his love for Italy. Italy is the soil out of which sprang the glory that was ancient Rome. Machiavelli believed that the men who are born in a country preserve through all ages more or less the same nature. If the greatest political achievement which the world has ever known was a fruit of the Italian soil there is ground for hope that the political rejuvenation of the world will make its first appearance in Italy: the sons of Italy are the most gifted individuals; all modern writers referred to in either the Prince or the Discourses are Italians. Since that political rejuvenation is bound up with a radical change in thought, the hope from Italy and for Italy is not primarily political in the narrow sense. The liberation of Italy which Machiavelli has primarily in mind is not the political liberation of Italy from the barbarians but the intellectual liberation of an Italian elite from a bad tradition. But precisely because he believed that the men who are born in a country preserve through all ages more or less the same nature, and as the nature of the Romans was different from that of the Tuscans, his hope was also grounded on his recollection of Tuscan glory:55 the old Etrurians had made a decisive contribution to the religion of the Romans. He seems to have regarded himself as a restorer of Tuscan glory because he too contributed toward supplying Rome with a new religion or with a new outlook on religion. Or perhaps he thought of Tarquinius Priscus who, coming from Etruria, strengthened the democratic element of the Roman polity.

Furthermore, once one grasps the intransigent character of Machiavelli's theoretical concern, one is no longer compelled to burden him with the full responsibility for that practical recklessness which he frequently recommends. The ruthless counsels given throughout the Prince are addressed less to princes, who would hardly need them, than to "the young" who are concerned with understanding the nature of society. Those true addressees of the Prince have been brought up in teachings which, in the light of Machiavelli's wholly new teaching, reveal themselves to be much too confident of human goodness, if not of the goodness of creation, and hence too gentle or effeminate. Just as a man who is timorous by training or nature cannot acquire courage, which is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, unless he drags himself in the direction of foolhardiness, so Machiavelli's pupils must go through a process of brutalization in order to be freed from effeminacy. Or just as one learns bayoneting by using weapons which are much heavier than those used in actual combat,56 one learns statecraft by seriously playing with extreme courses of action which are rarely, if ever, appropriate in actual politics. Not only some of the most comforting, but precisely some of the most outrageous statements of the Prince are not meant seriously but serve a merely pedagogic function: as soon as one understands them, one sees that they are amusing and meant to amuse. Machiavelli tries to divert the adherence of the young from the old to the new teaching by appealing to the taste of the young which is not the best taste or, for that matter, to the taste of the common people:57 he displays a bias in favor of the impetuous, the quick, the partisan, the spectacular, and the bloody over and against the deliberate, the slow, the neutral, the silent, and the gentle. In the Prince he says that a prince who has conquered a city which was wont to live free must destroy that city if he cannot make it his residence. In the Discourses he says that precisely a prince (if he is not a barbarian) as distinguished from a republic would spare and protect conquered cities and would leave their autonomy intact, as much as possible.58 Another resolute course of action recommended in the Prince is to avoid neutrality when two powerful neighbors come to blows: to take sides is always better than to remain neutral. Machiavelli gradually discloses the limitations of this advice. He admits first that neutrality is not always fatal. He then states that because of the power of justice, to take sides is safer than to remain neutral. Thereafter he makes clear that under certain conditions it is most unwise to abandon neutrality in case of conflict between two powerful neighbors. Finally he admits that no course of action is perfectly safe or, in other words, that the power of justice is not as great as he previously indicated.59 He suggests very strongly in the Prince that the one thing needful is good arms; he speaks less loudly of the need for prudence.60

We must return once more to Machiavelli's suggestion that he possesses adequate knowledge of the nature of princes, whereas Lorenzo may possess adequate knowledge of the nature of peoples. As we have said, this suggestion is absurd: since to be a prince means to rule the people, it is impossible to know princes well without knowing peoples well; to say nothing of the facts that Machiavelli displays knowledge of the nature of peoples throughout the Prince and, as he says explicitly in the Discourses, there is no difference of nature between princes and peoples.61 Since he knows well the nature of peoples, he intimates by his strange suggestion that he is a prince. This intimation will appear strange only to those who lack familiarity with Xenophon or Plato: he who knows the art of ruling is more truly a ruler than men who rule merely by virtue of inheritance or force or fraud or election by people who know nothing of the art of ruling.62 But if Machiavelli is a prince, he is a new prince and not one who imitates the modes and orders found by others, but rather an originator, a true founder, a discoverer of new modes and orders, a man of supreme virtue. In fact, if it is proper to call prophet the founder of a new social order which is all-comprehensive and not merely political or military, then Machiavelli is a prophet. Not Lorenzo, but Machiavelli is the new Romulus-Numa or the new Moses, i.e., a man who does not merely repeat in new circumstances what Romulus-Numa or Moses had done in the olden times, but who is as original as they were. In the last chapter of the Prince, he attests to certain miracles which had happened somewhere in contemporary Italy—miracles which resemble those of the time of Moses. The ancient miracles happened on the way from the house of bondage to the promised land: they happened immediately before the revelation on Mount Sinai. What is imminent, Machiavelli suggests then, is not the conquest of a new promised land, but a new revelation, the revelation of a new code, of a new decalogue. The man who will bring the new code, cannot be Lorenzo or any other prince in the vulgar sense. The bringer of the new code is none other than Machiavelli himself: he brings the true code, the code which is in accordance with the truth, with the nature of things. Compared with this achievement, the conquest of the promised land, the liberation of Italy, is a cura posterior, it can wait, it must wait until the new code has regenerated the Italians. The new Moses will not be sad if he dies at the borders of the land which he had promised, and if he will see it only from afar. For while it is fatal for a would-be conqueror not to conquer while he is alive, the discoverer of the all-important truth can conquer posthumously.63

Concerning prophets in general, Machiavelli remarks that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed prophets have failed. The greatest armed prophet is Moses. The only unarmed prophet mentioned is Savonarola. But as is shown by the expression "all armed prophets … and the unarmed ones," he thinks not only of Savonarola. Just as he, who admired so greatly the contemporary Muslim conquerors, could not help thinking of Muhammad when speaking of armed prophets, so he must have thought of Jesus when speaking of unarmed prophets. This is perhaps the greatest difficulty which we encounter when we try to enter into the thought of the Prince: how can Machiavelli, on the basis of his principles, account for the victory of Christianity? Certain of his successors attempted explicitly to explain the victory of Christianity in purely political terms. To quote from a present-day historian: "In the most starkly Erastian utterance of the [seventeenth] century, [Henry] Parker all but maintained that it was Constantine, and not the preaching or the miracles of the early Church, that won Europe to the Christian fold."64 But we cannot bring ourselves to believe that a man of Machiavelli's intelligence would have been satisfied with an answer of this kind, which merely leads to this further question: what motivated Constantine's action? must Christianity not already have been a power in order to become an attraction or a tool for a politician? To see how Machiavelli could have accounted for the victory of Christianity, we have to consider a further difficulty which is no less obvious. All unarmed prophets, he says, have failed. But what is he himself if not an unarmed prophet? How can he reasonably hope for the success of his enormous venture—enormous in itself and productive of infinite enormities—if unarmed prophets necessarily fail? This is the only fundamental question which the Prince raises in the reader's mind without giving him even a suspicion of Machiavelli's answer. It reminds one of the question, likewise left unanswered in the Prince, as to how new modes and orders can be maintained throughout the ages.65 For the answer to it, we must turn to the Discourses.


1 Letter to Vettori, December 10, 1513.

2 Of the 142 chapter headings of the Discourses, 39 contain proper names.

3Discourses II 1 (234), III 19 and 42; cf. II 20 beginning.

4 Cf. Prince, ch. 15 beginning.

5 See page 23 above.

6 Cf. the Epistle Dedicatory of the Prince.

7 We are thus not unprepared to find that the most extraordinary conqueror, Alexander (the Great), is mentioned twice in the heading of the following chapter.

8Discourses, I pr.

9 The tacit emphasis on ancient examples in ch. 9 has a special reason. It draws our attention to the impropriety of discussing in the Prince the most important modern example of civil principalities i.e., the rule of the Medici. Machiavelli leaves it at discussing the ancient counterpart: Nabis of Sparta. Cf. ch. 21 (73).

10 Compare also the chief example of ch. 10 (the German cities which are free to the highest degree) with the remark about the Swiss in ch. 12 (the Swiss are armed to the highest degree and free to the highest). This distinction is developed somewhat more fully in Discourses II 19 (286–287).

11 Chs. 12 (41) and 13 (43, 44). Cf. the letter to Piero Soderini of January 1512.

12 Chs. 17 (52) and 18 (55). In the only intervening reference to literature—ch. 17 (54)—Machiavelli attacks "the writers" and no longer merely as he did at the beginning of ch. 15, "many" writers. Incidentally, "many writers" are attacked in the Discourses as early as the tenth chapter; the break with the tradition becomes explicit in the Discourses proportionately much earlier than in the Prince.

13 Cf. the relation of princes and ministers as it appears in ch. 22 with the relation of Cesare Borgia and his minister as presented in ch. 7 (24).

14 Chs. 20, 22 and 23 contain only modern examples. The explicit emphasis on modern examples in ch. 18 (How princes should keep faith) has a special reason just as had the tacit emphasis on ancient examples in ch. 9: Machiavelli draws our attention to the modern form of faithlessness or hypocrisy which strikingly differs from the Roman form (cf. Discourses II 13 end). There is a connection between this thought and the reference to "pious cruelty" in ch. 21. Machiavelli indicates that the argument of ch. 18 requires a special act of daring (56).

15 Ch. 19 is the center not only of the third part but of the whole section of the Prince which follows the discussion of the various kinds of principality, i.e., of that whole section which in the light of the beginning of the Prince comes as a surprise (cf. ch. 1 where the theme "the various kinds of principality" is announced with the beginnings of chs. 12, 15 and 24). Whereas the first, second, and fourth parts of the Prince each contain one Latin quotation, the third part contains two of them.—Compare the beginning of ch. 6 with the beginnings of chs. 21–23 in the light of the observation made in the text.

16 Cf. pages 46–47 above.

17 Ch. 20 (67–68). The opinion described there as held by "our ancients" is described in Discourses III 27 (403) as a modern opinion held by "the sages of our city sometime ago."

18 Shortly before, Machiavelli mentions "natural affection" for a prince. He had not used that expression since early in ch. 4. But there he had spoken of the natural affection of the subjects for the French barons, their lords from time immemorial; now he speaks of natural affection for a new prince. The transition is partly effected by what he says in ch. 19 (60) about the hatred, founded in fear, of the French people against the French magnates.

19 Ch. 21 (72). Cf. ch. 3 end.

20 The most unqualified attack in the Prince on ancient writers in general ("the writers")—ch. 17 (54)—occurs within the context of a praise of ancient statesmen or captains.—The fourth part of the Prince contains one Latin quotation and the only Italian quotation occurring in the book.

21Prince chs. 6 (18) and 11 (36).

22 To "treat" something means to "reason" about it (Prince, ch. 2 beginning and ch. 8 beginning). Machiavelli calls his discourse on the Decemvirate, which includes an extensive summary of Livy's account of the Decemvirate and therefore in particular of the actions of the would-be tyrant Appius Claudius, the "above written treatise" (Discourses I 43), whereas he calls his discourse on the liberality of the senate "the above written discourse" (Discourses I 52 beginning). In Discourses II 32 (323) trattato means "conspiracy." He calls Xenophon's Hiero a "treatise" on tyranny (II 2) while he calls Dante's Monarchia a "discourse" (I 53). In Florentine Histories II 2, he calls the First Book of that work nostro trattato universale.

23 Compare also the end of ch. 13 with ch. 25.—In the first chapter Machiavelli indicates 13 subjects whose treatment might seem to require 13 chapters, and he indicates in the fifteenth chapter 11 subjects whose treatment might seem to require 11 chapters.

24 Chs. 26 and 4 of the Prince begin with practically the same word.

25 Cf. Discourses I 23 (153).

26 Only at the end of ch. 4 does Machiavelli allude to Italy by mentioning the failure of Pyrrhus, i.e., his failure to keep his conquests in Italy.

27Prince ch. 7 (23–25); cf. Opere I 637. Consider Machiavelli's statement on the pernicious character of the feudal nobility in Discourses I 55.

28 The term "fatherland" which occurs in chs. 6, 8 and 9 is avoided in ch. 7, the chapter devoted to Cesare Borgia.

29 The subject-matter of ch. 5 is slightly concealed (see the unobtrusive transition from states in general to cities i.e., republics, near the beginning: volerli … ruinarle.) It almost goes without saying that almost all examples in this chapter are ancient. All the more striking is Machiavelli's silence about the Roman mode of ruling republican cities by making them allies; see Discourses II 24 (303) and 19 (285); he tacitly rejects this mode in the Prince because it is impracticable for a prince who is to become prince of a united Italy.—When discussing the badness of mercenary armies, Machiavelli uses almost exclusively examples which show that mercenary armies have ruined or endangered republics. He thus shows in effect that mercenaries can be eminently good for a leader of mercenary armies, like Sforza who by being armed became a new prince; compare ch. 12 with chs. 7 (21) and 14 (36). As we learn from Livy (XXXVII 27.15), Nabis of Sparta whom Machiavelli praises, placed the greatest confidence in his mercenary troops. (This report of Livy precedes almost immediately his account of Philopoemen which Machiavelli uses in Prince ch. 14). These remarks taken together with those about the soldiers of the Roman emperors in ch. 19 and about the impossibility of arming all able-bodied Italian subjects in ch. 20 (67) reveal a possibility which deserves attention. In this connection one should also consider what Machiavelli says toward the end of the ninth chapter, immediately after having praised (the tyrant) Nabis of Sparta, about the superiority of absolute principalities, i.e., about the kind of principality which was traditionally called tyranny (Discourses I 25 end), and compare it with the confrontation of the Turkish and the French monarchies in Prince ch. 4 (14).

30 Compare ch. 25 (79) with chs. 18 end and 21 beginning, as well as Discourses I 12 (130).

31 Compare Discourses I 26 with Prince chs. 7 (24), 8 (30), 13 end, 17 and 21 beginning. Just as Philip became "from a little king, prince of Greece" by the use of the most cruel means, Ferdinand of Aragon became "from a weak king, the first king of the Christians" by the use of "pious cruelty."

32Prince chs. 3 (11–13), 7 (23,26), II (37–38); cf. Discourses III 29. We note in passing that in the Prince ch. 16 (50–51) Machiavelli holds up "the present king of France," "the present king of Spain," and Pope Julius II but not the present Pope, Leo X, who possesses "goodness and infinite other virtues," (ch. 11 end) as models of prudent stinginess which is the indispensable condition for "doing great things." Cf. Ranke, Die Roemischen Paepste, ed. by F. Baethgen, I, 273 on Leo X's extravagance.—In the Prince Machiavelli tells two stories about private conversations which he had had (chs. 3 and 7). According to the first story Machiavelli once told a French cardinal that the French know nothing of politics, for otherwise they would not have permitted the Church to become so great (through the exploits of Cesare Borgia). The second story deals with what Cesare told Machiavelli on the day on which Pope Julius II was elected, i.e., on which Cesare's hopes were dashed through his insufficient control of the Church: Cesare had in fact committed the same mistake as the French, but he had the excuse that he had no choice. In Florentine Histories I 23, Machiavelli alludes to the possibility that the papacy might become hereditary. Could he have played with the thought that a new Cesare Borgia might redeem Italy after having himself become Pope and the founder of a papal dynasty?

33Discourses I 12. Cf. the letter to Vettori of April 26, 1513.

34Discourses I 27; Opere I 683.

35 Machiavelli prepares for the silence about Romulus in ch. 26 in the following manner: in ch. 6 he enumerates the four heroic founders three times and in the final enumeration he relegates Romulus to the end. Cf. Florentine Histories VI 29.

36Prince chs. 1, 6 (17–19), 8 (29–30), 14 (48), 19 (66), 20 (67) and 24 (77); cf. Art of War VII (616–617).

37 Cf. Prince ch. 22.

38 Ch. 7 (21–22). Cf. pages 22–23 above.

39 Letter to [Ricciardo Bechi], March 8, 1497.

40 The shift in Prince ch. 26 from Lorenzo to his family can be understood to some extent from the point of view indicated in the text. As for the unreliability of promises stemming from passion, cf. Discourses II 31; as for the popularity of grand hopes and valiant promises, cf. Discourses I 53.

41 This is not to deny the fact that the miracles attested to by Machiavelli are without example insofar as their sequence differs from the sequence of the Mosaic miracles.

42Prince chs. 3 (13), 12 (39,41), 18 (56–57) and 25 (80–81); cf. Discourses I 27. One can express the progress of the argument in the last part of the Prince as follows: 1) everything depends on virtue (ch. 24); 2) very much depends on chance but chance can be kept down by the right kind of man (ch. 25); 3) chance has done the most difficult part of the work required for liberating Italy, only the rest needs to be done by means of virtue (ch. 26).

43 The 7 real defeats must be taken together with the 4 invented miracles if one wants to grasp Machiavelli's intimation.

44Discourses II 30 end.

45 In the "highest" part of the Prince Machiavelli speaks of "us Florentines," (chs. 15 and 20) while in the other parts of the book he speaks of "us Italians" (chs. 2, 12, 13 and 24).—The tyrant Nabis had destroyed the freedom of many Greek cities (Justinus XXXI, 1); by his assassination that freedom was restored. Cf. note 9 above.

46Prince chs. 9 (32), 18 (57), 19 (58–59), 20 (68–69) and 23 (76–77). In each of the two chapters, 20 and 21, Machiavelli gives five rules to princes; the fourth rule in ch. 20 concerns the employment of men who were suspect at the beginning of the reign of a new prince; in the fourth rule given in ch. 21 the prince is urged to honor those who are excellent in any art.

47Discourses III 2 end and 35 (422–423).

48 Compare Discourses I 30 (163) with 29 (160–161).

49 Apart from the Epistle Dedicatory and ch. 26 where Machiavelli, speaking of Lorenzo to Lorenzo uses the plural of reverence, he uses the second person plural only in connection with verbs like "seeing," "finding," "considering," and "understanding." There are, I believe, 11 cases of the latter kind in the Prince while in the Discourses, if I remember well, there are only 2 (I 58 [221] and II 30 [317]): in the Discourses which are addressed to potential princes, the need to distinguish between doers and thinkers does not arise to the same extent as it does in the Prince. Consider Discourses II pr. (230). In the chapter of the Prince on flatterers—ch. 23 (75)—Machiavelli uses Thou when speaking of the prince to the prince, while he uses the third person when speaking of the prudent prince: he is not a flatterer. Ch. 3 (10–11) beautifully illustrates how Machiavelli the teacher works together with his readers in examining certain things as well as how his contribution differs from that of his readers.

50Prince chs. 18 (55) and 19 (62).

51 Swift's Houyhnhnms, being reasonable horses, are centaurs if a centaur is a being which combines the perfection of a horse with the perfection of man. In order to understand what the recommendation to imitate these beast-men means in Gulliver's Travels, one would have to start from the facts that the relation between Lilliput and Brobdingnag imitates the relation between the moderns and the ancients, and that the same relation is imitated again on a different plane in the last two parts of the work.

52 Compare Prince ch. 14 end with Discourses II 13.

53 Machiavelli does not even suggest that Cesare Borgia, the model, was animated by patriotism or concerned with the common good. It is true that he contrasts Cesare with the criminal Agathocles by not calling Cesare a criminal. But if one looks at the actions of the two men, the contrast vanishes: in describing Agathocles as a criminal, he provisionally adopts the traditional judgment on that man, whereas there does not yet exist a traditional judgment on Cesare. The traditional condemnation of Agathocles was partly based on the fact that he had risen to princely power from "a base and abject condition." Machiavelli refers to a similar consideration when explaining the failure of Maximinus—Prince ch. 19 (64–65)—but it is irrelevant for his own judgment as can be seen from Discourses II 13, to say nothing of the Epistle Dedicatory to the Prince where he describes himself as "a man of low and base state." The main reason why Machiavelli had to speak of a criminal ruler was that he was compelled to indicate that he was questioning the traditional distinction between the criminal and the non-criminal as far as founders are concerned. He thus presents Agathocles as the classical example of the criminal ruler, as a breaker of all divine and human laws, a murderer and a traitor, a man without faith, mercy and religion; Agathocles possessed indeed greatness of mind; although a most excellent captain, he cannot be counted among the most excellent men; his actions could acquire for him empire but not glory; he benefited indeed his subjects, or rather the common people, but he did this of course entirely for selfish reasons. In the sequel Machiavelli retracts everything he had said in connection with Agathocles about the difference between an able criminal ruler and an able non-criminal ruler. The first step is the praise of Nabis whom he calls a prince in the Prince while he calls him in the Discourses a tyrant: Nabis' policy was fundamentally the same as that of Agathocles (compare Prince chs. 9 [33] and 19 [58] with Discourses I 10 [122] and ch. 40 [187]). The second step is the questioning of the difference between "most excellent captain" and "most excellent man": good arms are the necessary and sufficient condition of good laws, and Agathocles had good arms; Cyrus, the excellent man most emphatically praised, is not said to have possessed faith, mercy and religion, but he is distinguished by greatness of mind, i.e., by a quality which Agathocles also possessed. One reason why Agathocles cannot be counted among the most excellent men is his savage cruelty and inhumanity; but Hannibal who is likewise characterized by inhuman cruelty is a most excellent man. (Compare Prince chs. 12 [38–39], 14 [47–48], 17 [54], 26 [81] with Discourses II 18 [280] and III 21 end). The last step is to show that glory can be acquired by crime or in spite of crime. This is shown most clearly by the case of Severus (see pages 46–47 above), but hardly less clearly by Prince ch. 18 toward the end, to say nothing of Machiavelli's observations regarding Giovampagolo Baglioni in Discourses I 27.

54Prince chs. 6 (18), 8 (27,29,30), 9 (31,33), 26 (84).

55Prince ch. 26 (83); Discourses II 4 toward the end and III 43; Art of War, at the end; compare Discourses I 1 end with Livy I 34. 12–35. 12, also Livy V 15. Cf. note 45 above.

56 Cf. Art of War II (489).

57 Cf. Discourses I 53.

58Prince ch. 5; Discourses II 2 (239–240). In the preceding chapter of the Discourses (234) there occurs one of the few references to the Prince; the reference is to the third chapter i.e., to the section which deals with conquest.

59Prince ch. 21 (71–73).

60Prince chs. 12 (38–39) and 19 (58); Discourses I 4 (103); Opere II 473.

61Prince chs. 3 (6), 6 (19), 9 (31,32), 10 (35–36), 17 (53), 18 (57), 23 (75), 24 (78); Discourses I 57 and 58 (217–219). In the Prince chs. 7 (22) and 8 (28) he applies expressions to Cesare Borgia and to Agathocles which he had applied to himself in the Epistle Dedicatory.

62 Cf. Discourses Epistle Dedicatory and the letter to Vettori of December 10, 1513.

63 The 11 pairs of moral qualities mentioned in ch. 15 and the 11 rules of conduct discussed in chs. 20–21 prove on examination to be 10.—Compare Hobbes' re-writing of the decalogue in Leviathan, ch. 30.

64 W. K. Jordan, Men of Substance (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1942). p. 82.

65 Compare Discourses III 35 beginning with Prince ch. 6 (19).

John Plamenatz (essay date 1972)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8503

SOURCE: "In Search of Machiavellian 'Virtu'," in The Political Calculus: Essays on Machiavelli's Philosophy, edited by Anthony Parel, University of Toronto Press, 1972, pp. 157–78.

[In the essay below, Plamenatz examines Machiavelli's concept of virtue, put forth in The Prince and Discourses upon the First Decade of T. Livius. The critic argues that Machiavelli approaches a philosophical understanding of humankind, but he exalts heroic qualities at the expense of important human traits.]

The most vilified of political thinkers is also the one of whom it has been said that he 'concentrated all his real and supreme values in what he called virtù.'1 There is nothing here to be surprised at; for those who have been shocked by Machiavelli have been so, not only by his seeming to justify murder, cruelty, and treachery, but by his way of speaking about virtue.

Machiavelli is no longer shocking, and it is widely agreed that those who were shocked by him in the past misunderstood him. But he is still a subject of controversy. In particular, there are differences of opinion about what he called virtù. These differences are, I think, less about what is to be understood by the term, what qualities it refers to, than about the place of virtù in Machiavelli's political thought generally and his conception of man. Some ninety years ago Villari said that Machiavelli 'always used the word virtue in the sense of courage and energy both for good and evil. To Christian virtue in its more general meaning, he rather applied the term goodness, and felt much less admiration for it than for the pagan virtue that was always fruitful of glory.'2 Later scholars, though they have qualified this verdict, have not disagreed with it substantially—though they have sometimes believed that they were doing so. It is not true that Machiavelli always used the word virtù in this general sense, or in narrower senses that fall within its scope. He sometimes used it in quite other senses. It has been questioned whether he admired virtù more than he did goodness, and it is doubtful whether what he understood by goodness (bontà) has much that is peculiarly Christian about it. Still, though writers since Villari's time have gone further than he did in distinguishing the various senses that Machiavelli gave to virtù, they have not seriously challenged his account of it. They have tried rather to improve on it.

No one has gone further than Meinecke in treating the idea of virtù as the key to understanding Machiavelli's conceptions of man and of the state. Meinecke distinguishes two important senses in which Machiavelli uses the term. Sometimes he has in mind what is nowadays called civic virtue, and sometimes something altogether more rare and excellent—a virtue peculiar to rulers and leaders of men, and especially to founders of states and religions. This second virtue, to distinguish it from the first, we might call heroic—though Meinecke does not give it that name. Heroic and civic virtue are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they are closely related in the sense that each sustains the other or gives scope to it, but they are different.

If, among Machiavelli's twentieth-century interpreters, Meinecke makes the most of virtù, Professor Whitfield seems to make the least. 'There is,' he says, 'no doctrine of virtù in Machiavelli. If there were it would be easy to discover in his works, but Machiavelli was not given to such theorizing, and he himself would be the first to be surprised at the stir the word has caused.'3 Whitfield, in his English way, felt perhaps a certain impatience with other scholars 'theorizing' about a writer who, in his eyes, has the merit of not being 'given to theorizing.'

Professor Whitfield is right; there is no doctrine of virtù in Machiavelli. Machiavelli does not define the word, even in the most general way, let alone distinguish different senses in which he uses it. Nor is it part of a systematic theory about man and the state, for Machiavelli has no such theory. There is no more a doctrine of virtù in Machiavelli than there is a doctrine of vertu in the plays of Corneille. Still, what each expresses by the word is worth, and has received, close scrutiny; for this scrutiny is one way, and a good way, of getting at how they think and feel about man.

Neither Meinecke, who says that Machiavelli 'concentrates his real and supreme values in virtù,' nor Whitfield, who denies that he has a doctrine of it, disagrees with Villari that part of what Machiavelli understands by virtù is energy or strength of will. No moderately attentive reader of The Prince and the Discourses can help but notice that Machiavelli finds virtù both in the Roman citizen devoted to the republic and in such men as Romulus, Lycurgus, Moses, and Numa Pompilius, the 'founders' of states or religions. Though Machiavelli does not define either the virtue of the citizen or that of the maker or restorer of a state or religion, though he does not point to the differences between them, there can really be no doubting that he does not attribute the same range of qualities to the citizen and to the heroic creator or preserver of what brings order to men.

Thus, though there is no doctrine of virtù in Machiavelli, there is no denying that he uses the word in related and yet different senses, and that the attempt to explain how they differ and how they are connected with his other ideas about man, the human condition and the state, is an attempt to interpret what can properly be called a philosophy. Because a writer produces no systematic theory, it does not follow that he has nothing that deserves to be called philosophy—for his ideas may be coherent and may have implicit in them a comprehensive attitude or way of looking at the human condition, either at all times and everywhere or within broad limits of time and territory. Of course, there are inconsistencies and obscurities in Machiavelli; but then there are also in the much more systematic Hobbes, who loved to define and to distinguish. And it may be that Machiavelli was not the less consistent and lucid of the two.

Though Machiavelli did not 'theorize' about virtù, Whitfield does so for some thirteen pages and to good purpose. Machiavelli, he says, sometimes contrasts virtù with viltà, and at least once with ozio, but more often with fortuna. 4 Now, viltà is cowardice, or faint-heartedness, and sometimes baseness or meanness, and ozio is idleness. So that Whitfield agrees with Villari that virtù is, first and foremost, courage and energy; for courage is the opposite of cowardice, and energy of idleness. And though courage and energy are not properly the opposites of fortune, they can be opposed to it. Machiavelli speaks of fortune, sometimes, as if it were a person, as if it had purposes of its own, benevolent or malevolent, and at other times as if it were opportunity that a man may take or not take; and he speaks of it also as whatever in human affairs is unforeseen and must be faced when it comes. He speaks of it as sailors, in the old sailing days, spoke of the sea, as if it were both friend and enemy, propitious and threatening, itself unconquerable but the occasion of human defeats and victories. Fortune is what man is 'up against'; and virtù is opposed to it in the sense that it makes the best of it, either by taking advantage of what it brings or by bearing up under it. Here again virtù is courage and energy, and something more besides; it is fortitude, or courage in adversity, and also intelligence and resourcefulness, the ability to recognize how you are placed and to act in time and effectively. There is nothing that Whitfield says or implies about virtù to which either Villari or Meinecke need disagree.

This is not to suggest that he only repeats what they, who wrote before he did, said. For example, he shows how close Machiavelli stands to other writers, earlier or later, who never, as he did, shocked posterity. He quotes from Cicero's De Officiis (II, X, 320): 'For they [men] do not despise everyone of whom they think ill. They think ill of those who are wicked, slanderous, fraudulent, ready to commit injustices, without indeed despising them. Wherefore, as I said, those are despised who, as the saying goes, are of no use either to themselves or others, in whom there is no exertion, no care for anything.'5 This is good, and to the point. At least since Villari's time, Machiavelli's 'pagan' idea of virtù has been contrasted with the 'Christian' idea of bontà. Yet even the best of Christians does not despise all that he blames; he does not despise, any more than Machiavelli did, courage and energy, fortitude and resourcefulness—even in the wicked, even when he blames what they could not have done had they not had these qualities. Actions that require virtù, though sometimes evil, are never despicable. Cicero said it, or rather implied it, long before Machiavelli did.

Excellent, too, and to the point, are Whitfield's quotations from La Rochefoucauld: 'Weakness is more opposed to virtue than is vice,' or 'No one deserves the name of good unless he has strength and boldness enough to be wicked—all other goodness is most often a form of idleness or of impotence of the will,' or 'There are evil heroes as well as good ones.'6 The virtue that La Rochefoucauld speaks of is not Machiavelli's virtù, but the two ideas have a good deal in common. Where there is virtue, for La Rochefoucauld as for Machiavelli, there is strength of will. But Professor Whitfield goes too far when he suggests that what passes uncondemned in Cicero and La Rochefoucauld (and in others) is found shocking in Machiavelli. The Frenchman never said, and Whitfield does not show that the Roman did either, that actions ordinarily held to be wicked are justified when they are committed for the founding or preserving of the state. This doctrine—whatever is to be said for or against it—is not to be found in La Rochefoucauld and is not implied by the passage that Whitfield quotes from Cicero. But it is to be found in Machiavelli or at least it has seemed so to those who have accused him of condoning wickedness. To quote from some of the great 'moralists' to make clearer what Machiavelli meant by virtù is an excellent idea but to use the quotations to suggest that he is no more open than they are to the accusation that he justifies immorality is to misuse them.

I have touched briefly on the views of three writers, Villari, Meinecke, and Whitfield, who have all in their different ways thrown light upon what Machiavelli meant by virtù. They do not all three say the same things. Neither Villari nor Whitfield distinguishes, as Meinecke does, civic from what might (for want of a better word) be called heroic virtue. Indeed, Meinecke himself does not go far in making this distinction; he rather suggests that it ought to be made than puts himself to the trouble of making it, for he does not explain in detail how the two sorts of virtue differ. He goes no further in this direction than to say: 'it [virtù] therefore embraced the civic virtues and those of the ruling class; it embraced a readiness to devote oneself to the common good, as well as the wisdom, energy and ambition of the great founders and rulers of states.'7 But 'common good' is a vague term, and the founder and the ruler may be as ready as the ordinary citizen to promote it. Civic virtue is perhaps better described as a readiness to perform the duties of one's office or role in the state than as devotion to a common good. The citizen, and not only the ruler, needs 'energy' if he is to be a good citizen, and even some measure of wisdom. As for ambition, I doubt, for reasons that I shall give later, whether it is to be included in Machiavellian virtù.

We may regret that Meinecke did not explain more adequately and fully the difference between these two kinds of 'virtue,' but we cannot deny that they differ considerably and are closely related, and that both are important in the thought of Machiavelli. Nor can we go far in disagreeing with Meinecke's account of what they consist in, for he says too little about them to allow us to do that. He neither repeats what Villari said nor contradicts him, and is not contradicted by Whitfield. Where he goes wrong—so at least it seems to me—is not so much in his meagre account of what Machiavelli meant by virtù; it is rather in some of the conclusions he draws from it. The distinction he makes between civic and what I have called heroic virtue is one that needs to be made, though it ought to be made more clearly than he makes it. But to say, as he does, that 'the ethical sphere of his (Machiavelli's) virtù lay in juxtaposition to the usual moral sphere like a kind of world on its own'8 which was, for Machiavelli, a 'higher world' is to misinterpret Machiavelli, attributing to him beliefs and attitudes which there is no good reason to believe were his. And it is just as misleading to say that 'the development and creation of virtù was for Machiavelli the ideal, and completely self-evident, purpose of the state.'9 There are no better scholars in the world than the Germans. Yet the weight of German scholarship sometimes lies heavy on what it studies, pushing it out of shape. How it does so in this case I shall try to show later. But first let us look at some examples of how Machiavelli speaks of virtù in the two most often read of his books, The Prince and the Discourses.

If we read only English translations of Machiavelli, we are hard put to it to discover what he meant by virtù. For his translators, more often than not, do not render virtù by 'virtue.' They have an excellent excuse for not doing so; for virtù, as Machiavelli uses it, often does not mean what 'virtue' means in the English of our day. So they render virtù by some other word, such as valour, ability, merit, courage, or genius, or by some combination of words. Take for example the nineteenth chapter of the first book of the Discourses, which in most editions, both Italian and English, is from two to three pages long. In it Machiavelli speaks of virtù ten times; Detmold, in one of the most widely used of English translations, renders virtù by 'virtue' only twice, and on both occasions adds the word 'valour,' presumably in the hope of coming closer to the original; while Allan Gilbert, the most recent and perhaps the most accurate of Machiavelli's translators into English, abstains altogether from the word 'virtue' in his version of this chapter.10" On all ten occasions he renders virtù by ability, leaving it to the reader to judge from the context what kind of ability is in question. Detmold renders virtù by 'character,' 'virtue and valour,' 'vigour and ability,' 'genius and courage,' 'good qualities and courage,' 'great abilities and courage,' 'military ability,' 'merits.' If we take only this chapter, Gilbert is the more prudent translator of the two, and also the more faithful to the original. Yet virtù, as Machiavelli uses the word, has not quite the same meaning, or range of meanings, as the broader and more colourless English word 'ability.' Which is not to suggest that Gilbert was wrong to prefer it to the more varied expressions to which Detmold resorted.

In the third chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli praises the Romans for their foresight. He says of them that 'seeing their troubles far ahead, [they] always provided against them, and never let them continue in order to avoid war, because they knew that such a war is not averted but is deferred to the other's advantage … Nor did they approve what all day is in the mouths of the wise men of our age: to profit from the help of time; but they did profit from that of their own vigor [virtù] and prudence.'11 Here virtù is associated with prudence. The Romans looked far ahead, taking resolute and timely action. What, according to Machiavelli, do the wise—the falsely-wise—mean by 'the help of time'? They mean that we can see only a little way ahead, and that therefore difficult decisions are best left untaken. This is the excuse of the pusillanimous. True, we cannot be sure of the future, but we must look ahead as far as we can, seeing what is to be done for the best, and doing it in good time. With the old Romans, at least in the eyes of Machiavelli, foresight, energy, and courage went naturally together.

In the sixth chapter of The Prince, speaking of men who have become rulers, Machiavelli says: 'they had from Fortune nothing more than opportunity, which gave them matter into which they could introduce whatever form they chose; and without opportunity, their strength of will [la virtù dello animo loro] would have been wasted, and without such strength, the opportunity would have been useless';12 and then, a little further on, he continues: 'Their opportunities then made these men prosper, since their surpassing abilities [la eccelenza virtù loro] enabled them to recognize their opportunities. As a result, their countries were exalted and became very prosperous.'13 Here virtù consists, in the first place, of strength of will or mind, and in the second, of insight. The possessor of virtù sees his chance to mould something to his own design, not some inert or physical thing, but something human, some community or some aspect of communal life; he has imagination and intelligence enough to see what can be done, to see what is invisible to others, and strength of purpose enough to do it. He is strong, bold, and of good judgment, to his own great advantage and to the advantage of his people or community.

This is not to say that, in the opinion of Machiavelli, these qualities fail to qualify as virtù unless their possessor actually gets what he wants for himself or his people. Courage, energy, and intelligence do not cease to be what they are when they fail of their purpose. Small men have small purposes and are often successful, but their success is no evidence of virtù in them, and great men—who are great because their courage, energy, and intelligence are out of the ordinary—sometimes fail. One of the meanings that Machiavelli gives to virtù is the capacity to form large and difficult purposes, and to act resourcefully and resolutely in pursuit of them. Virtù, in this (the heroic) sense, is imagination and resilience as well as courage and intelligence. There is no scope for it except where there are difficulties, where there are risks to be taken; and where risks are taken, there is a chance of failure. Machiavelli's feelings towards the most notorious, and (in some eyes) the most oddly chosen, of his heroes varied considerably. There was a time when he came close to despising Cesare Borgia—not because Borgia failed of his purpose but because he lost his nerve and his dignity when things went against him.

Villari is right when he says that Machiavellian virtù is 'fruitful of glory.' The actions it inspires are of the kind that bring fame or reputation: fame where virtù is heroic and reputation where it is civic. But it is a mistake to include, as Meinecke does, ambition among the qualities that make up virtù. I have found no example of Machiavelli using the word in such a way as to suggest that ambition is itself a part of virtù. True, he thought well of ambition, and was himself ambitious. The desire for glory promotes virtù; it is the strongest of the forces that move men to display it, especially the heroic kind. And even the citizen who displays only civic virtù is concerned for his good name; and this concern, though it is not what is ordinarily called ambition, is akin to it. But to hold that ambition is a prime mover of virtù is still not to treat ambition as a part of virtù.

In some of the most discussed pages he wrote, in the eighth chapter of The Prince. Machiavelli denies that a really wicked man who achieves a great ambition can be said to be virtuous, even though he displays great strength of mind and courage. This denial has been called half-hearted, and is certainly ambiguous. Speaking of Agathocles, a potter's son who by ruthless means became tyrant of Syracuse, Machiavelli says: 'It cannot, however, be called virtue [virtù] to kill one's fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be without fidelity, without mercy, without religion; such proceedings enable one to gain sovereignty but not fame. If we consider Agathocles' ability [se si considerassi la virtù di Agatocle] in entering into and getting out of dangers, and his greatness of mind in enduring and overcoming adversities, we cannot see why he should be judged inferior to any of the most excellent generals [a qualunque eccelentissimo capitano]. Nevertheless, his outrageous cruelty and inhumanity … do not permit him to be honoured among the noblest men [che sia infra li eccelentissimi uomini celebrato].'14 The translator, in a footnote to the passage I have quoted, suggests that the first virtù means moral excellence, and the second, the kind attributed to Agathocles, courage and prudence. This, no doubt, is why he renders only the first as 'virtue.'

Now, the other great 'captains'—for example, Romulus or Cesare Borgia—to whom Machiavelli attributes virtù were not morally excellent. Or at least, he was not pointing to their moral excellence when he spoke of their virtù. He was pointing to much the same qualities in them as he found in Agathocles—to their courage, energy, fortitude, and ability to see and to seize opportunities. These qualities are, of course, compatible with moral excellence just as they are with cruelty, murder, and perfidy. They are qualities that men, wherever they recognize them for what they are, are disposed to admire. It is not peculiar to Machiavelli that he admired them. They are also, so Machiavelli tells us (and surely he is right?), qualities that men are the readier to recognize and to admire, the better they like, or the more they come to accept, their effects. That is why the crimes of the man of heroic virtù are so often excused when his achievement is recognized, and why he is admired in spite of them. He is not admired for being murderous, perfidious, and cruel. For the cowardly, the irresolute, and the stupid, and those who lose their heads in the face of danger or unexpected difficulties, may also kill, betray, and be cruel. He is admired for the largeness and boldness of his purpose, for his resolution, courage, and skill in carrying it out, for daring to do what has to be done to achieve it. Yet there are limits to this admiration; it is sometimes given grudgingly or even withheld from someone of whom it cannot be denied that he possesses these rare qualities. Not because he lacks moral excellence; for the others, the honoured, the celebrati, may do so too. Borgia, as Machiavelli describes him, is not less selfish than Agathocles. But because his purpose, when achieved—no matter what his motives in pursuing it—is not accepted by others, is not found good by them or does not attract their sympathy, or else because, in pursuing it, he commits unnecessary crimes. If he is wantonly cruel or treacherous, or if his purpose or achievement is unintelligible to others or awakens no response in them, then his qualities are not admired or perhaps even recognized, or are so grudgingly, even though they are of a kind ordinarily much admired. Virtù, wherever it is recognized, is apt to be admired because it consists of qualities that most men understand and wish they had. Why then was it not admired in Agathocles? Why the reluctance to admit that he had it? Was it because he lacked moral excellence? Or because he was entirely selfish? I doubt whether Machiavelli had such reasons as these in mind when he wrote the eighth chapter of The Prince. Not that he cared nothing for moral excellence or unselfishness. But these things, I suggest, seemed irrelevant to him when he was asking how it came about that Agathocles was less admired than other men of no greater strength of purpose, resourcefulness and courage than himself.

The virtù that Machiavelli speaks of in The Prince is for the most part not civic but heroic. In the Discourses he has more to say about the virtù of the citizen, and what he says there allows us to draw some conclusions about how the two kinds of virtù are connected. In the eleventh chapter of book I he says: 'Kingdoms depending on the vigor [virtù] of one man alone are not very lasting because that vigor departs with the life of that man … It is not, then, the salvation of a republic or kingdom to have a prince who will rule prudently while he lives but to have one who will so organize it that even after he dies it can be maintained.'15 And in the first chapter of the same book he says: 'Those who read in what way the city of Rome began, and by what lawgivers and how she was organized, will not marvel that so much vigor was kept up in that city for so many centuries [che tanta virtù si sia per più secoli mante nuta in quella città] and that finally it made possible the dominant position to which that republic rose.'16

The virtù 'of one man alone' is the of the ruler or of the founder of a state or religion, whereas the virtù that survived in Rome for centuries was widespread among the citizens. Clearly, there are here two kinds of virtù in question; they may have something in common but they also differ. If a state is to be well organized or reformed, it must have a founder or restorer who has the first and rarer kind of virtù. But, unless it is well organized or reformed, its citizens are unlikely for long to have much of the second kind, the kind that many can share. So much is, I think, clearly implied by Machiavelli in these and other chapters of the Discourses, even though he never distinguishes between two kinds of virtù.

Speaking in the Discourses (book I, chapter 4) of the dissensions between patricians and plebeians in the Roman republic, he says that a republic cannot 'in any way be called unregulated [inordinata] where there are so many instances of honorable conduct [dove sieno tanti esempli di virtù]; for these good instances have their origin in good education; good education in good laws; good laws in those dissensions that many thoughtlessly condemn. For anyone who will properly examine their outcome will not find that they produce any exile or violence damaging to the common good, but laws and institutions conducive to public liberty.'17 The examples of virtù are examples of devotion to the republic and respect for her laws, of civic virtue, and we are told that they abounded in Rome, not only in spite of dissensions, but indeed—though indirectly, no doubt—because of them. Dissension sometimes enhances respect for law, and therefore civic virtue, since this respect is part of that virtue; and sometimes has the opposite effect. In the History of Florence (book III, chapter 1), Machiavelli enquires why discord between the nobles and the people strengthened the republic in ancient Rome and weakened it in Florence. It was, he thinks, because the Roman people, unlike the Florentines, were moderate and content to share power with the nobles. Thus 'through the people's victories the city of Rome became more excellent [virtuoso] … and … as she increased in excellence [virtu], increased in power.' Whereas in Florence, the nobles, deprived of office by the people, when they tried to regain it 'were forced in their conduct, their spirit, and their way of living not merely to be like the men of the people [popolani] but to seem so … [so much so that] the ability in arms [virtù dell 'armi] and the boldness of spirit [generosità di animo] possessed by the nobility were destroyed, and these qualities could not be rekindled in the people, where they did not exist, so that Florence grew always weaker and more despicable.'18

It would seem, then, that even civic virtue is, or may be, aristocratic in origin, and later acquired by the people from the nobles, provided that the people are moderate. The virtù of the citizen is more than just respect for the laws and institutions, and more than courage and devotion to the community; it is also a kind of wisdom or self-restraint which it would be misleading to call prudence, as that word is now used in English.

The virtù of the citizen does not consist of all the qualities in him that help to make the state strong; it consists only of qualities that he exhibits when he acts as a citizen. The Romans, at least in the days of the republic, were (so thought Machiavelli) a religious people, and Rome was the stronger for their being so. Yet being religious is no part of virtù, as Machiavelli conceives of it. For religion sustains both goodness (bontà), or what might be called private morals, and civic virtue. We are told in the Discourses (I, 55) that: "Where this goodness [bontà] does not exist, nothing good can be expected, as nothing good can be expected in regions that in our time are evidently corrupt, as is Italy above all, though in such corruption France and Spain have their share. If in those countries fewer disorders appear than we see daily in Italy, the cause is not so much the goodness of the people—which for the most part no longer exists—as that they have a king who keeps them united, not merely through his ability [virtù] but also through the still unruined organization of these kingdoms. In Germany this goodness and this religion are still important among the people. These qualities enable many republics to exist there in freedom and to observe their laws so well that nobody outside or inside the cities dares to try to master them.'19 It is the virtù of its citizens that makes a state formidable, and this virtù is sustained by religion and good morals. It is sustained also by good laws and institutions, for if a state were not well organized (ordinata) virtù could not survive for long inside it. Thus good laws and civic virtue support one another, and both are supported by religion and morals.

The well-ordered state is not—so Machiavelli implies—the slow work of time, the undesigned effect of human endeavour that men learn to value as they come to appreciate its benefits. It is the achievement of one, or of at most a few, clear-sighted and bold men who see further and dare more than other men do. These men, the founders and restorers of states and religion, possess a virtù far rarer than that of the ordinary citizen, even at his Roman best. They have greater foresight and insight, more firmness of purpose, more ruthlessness (ferocia), and a courage that most men—even the brave—lack. They can set aside scruples to achieve some large aim. They may not be good men, but it is good that there should be such men; for if there were not, there would exist no well-ordered states, and therefore little scope for either the more ordinary virtue of the citizen or for the goodness that Machiavelli always praises except when it endangers the state. This goodness, which he attributes to the old Roman and to the German of his own day, is not quite goodness as the Christian understands it, or as many who are not Christians have understood it, whether in our times or in others. He says so little about it that we cannot be sure quite what it consists of. He says much less about it than about virtù—which does not in the least mean that he holds it of little account. On the contrary; for he tells us that no community can do without it—can for long have either internal security or be formidable to other communities. All this he tells us, though he also tells us that sometimes it takes a man willing to set this goodness aside to establish or to save a community.

If we do Machiavelli the simple justice of attributing to him only opinions that he expressed or clearly implied, we must not even say that he valued goodness, as distinct from virtù, merely for its political effects. We must say only that he had more to say about its political effects than about its nature—which is perhaps not surprising in a historian and a writer on politics.

It is a pity that Meinecke should say that, for Machiavelli, the 'ethical sphere of virtù is 'higher' than the 'usual moral sphere' because it is 'the vital source of the state,' or that 'the development and creation of virtù is for him the 'self-evident purpose of the state.'20 In spite of this and other attempts to make a German philosopher of him, Machiavelli remains obstinately an Italian of the Renaissance.

Certainly, he tells us that it takes a man of rare virtù to found, preserve, or restore a state, and that such a man, to achieve his purpose, may have to do what is ordinarily condemned as an atrocious crime. But to say this is not to imply that there is an 'ethical sphere' higher than ordinary morality. Nothing that Machiavelli says about virtù, so far as I can see, justifies Meinecke's attributing this belief to him. No doubt, Machiavelli does imply that there is a sphere of action in which ordinary moral rules do not always apply. He implies also that, unless the men who act in this sphere disregard these rules when they have to, the other sphere, in which the rules do always apply, cannot be established or preserved. That, more or less, is his position as it is usually, and no doubt correctly, interpreted.21 There are two spheres, and they are, as Meinecke says, 'juxtaposed'—for neither can exist without the other. In a world without scope for heroic virtue, there would be no scope for civic virtue either. Though Machiavelli does not say this in so many words, it is a fair inference from what he does say, especially in the Discourses. But it is not a fair inference that he considered one of these spheres 'higher' than the other.

Indeed, we might well ask, higher in what sense? For Meinecke does not tell us. He points to nothing in Machiavelli's argument that could justify our concluding that, in his eyes, one sphere—the one that allows of 'necessary crimes'—is higher (or for that matter lower) than the other. The belief imputed to him by Meinecke follows from nothing he said. Among the many respectable defenders of Machiavelli quoted by Lord Acton in his introduction to Burd's edition of The Prince is Fichte, the champion of another kind of virtue. 'Questions of political power are never,' says Fichte, 'least of all among a corrupt people, to be solved by moral means, so that it is stupid [unverstdndig] to cry down The Prince. Machiavelli had a ruler to describe and not a monk.'22 Must we say, then, that Fichte also believed in a 'politico-ethical' sphere higher than the sphere of ordinary morality? Or if we refuse to say so, must we then conclude that he wrote these sentences in a moment of aberration?

There is no warrant, either, for saying that, for Machiavelli, 'the development and creation of virtù' is 'the self-evident purpose of the state.' Nowere does he speak of any such purpose. There is to be found in his writings no conception of a good or a best life for man, and therefore no attempt to justify the state on the ground that it makes possible that kind of life. What is the virtù that Meinecke has in mind when he attributes this belief to Machiavelli? Is it what he calls civic virtue? Or is it the virtù that he says is of a higher order, the kind that I have called heroic? On the face of it, it would seem to make better sense to treat civic virtue, rather than the other, as the purpose of the state; for it is the virtue that flourishes in the state. It can exist only in a political community; and so we can speak of it without absurdity as an end to which the political community, the state, is a means. We need not speak of it in this way, not even if, following Aristotle, we speak of the state as a means to 'the good life'; for our conception of that life may include much more than civic virtue. Still, we can so speak of it. But how does the state stand to the virtù which is—as Meinecke interprets Machiavelli—of a higher order? This is the virtù that establishes or restores the state, and so the state is its product. How then can this virtù be the purpose or end of the state? Does the worth of the state consist above all in the fact that the making and preserving of it are occasions for certain kinds of excellence? Is the state to be valued wholly—or at least primarily—as a work of art? Or rather (which is not quite the same thing) as an effect of virtù of rare courage, strength of mind, insight and foresight?

There is no shred of evidence that Machiavelli thought of virtù, whether civic or heroic or both together, as the end of the state. On the contrary, there is evidence in plenty that he valued the virtù of the ruler or leader largely because it establishes or preserves the state. Only the creation or preservation of the state excuses actions that would otherwise be inexcusable. In the Discourses (I, 10) he says: 'those men are infamous and detestable who have been destroyers of religions, squanderers of kingdoms and republics, enemies of virtue [delle virtù],23 of letters, and of every art that brings gain and honor to the human race … And no one will ever be so foolish or so wise, so bad or so good, that … he will not praise what is to be praised and blame what is to be blamed.'24 If the 'purpose' of the state were only to give occasion for displays of virtù, this purpose might sometimes be achieved in destroying it and not in establishing or restoring it; for the business of destruction can require as much virtù, especially of the heroic kind that Meinecke says is the higher in the Machiavellian scale, as the business of construction: as much and as rare courage, tenacity of purpose, foresight and skill. It all depends on what is being destroyed or created. Though it takes a Titian to paint a picture by Titian but not to destroy one, it may take a Caesar to destroy a Roman republic.

Though Machiavelli never enquires what is the purpose of the state, he does in the Discourses (I, 3) say that the lawgiver must assume that all men are evil. He then quotes the saying 'that hunger and poverty make men industrious, and the laws make them good.'25 But in the next sentence he qualifies what he has said by suggesting that where there is a good custom, there is no need of law. In the idiom of a later age, we can attribute to him the belief that good laws and good customs make men good—that is to say, disposed so to behave that they do not harm but benefit others and themselves. If he had been asked what the state should do for men, he would probably have answered that it should give them security, and perhaps have added that it should dispose them to goodness. It is much more likely, I suggest, that he would have given this answer to a question he never put to himself than the answer that Meinecke attributes to him.

It is also misleading to say, as Villari does, that Machiavelli 'like the ancients … sacrifices the individual to the state, but in his opinion the state is indifferent to every activity save the political and the military, and is solely engaged in guarding the security of its own existence and increasing its own strength.'26 For this, too, is to assume that Machiavelli raised questions he did not raise, and gave or implied certain answers to them. No doubt, he admired the Romans for their willingness to make great sacrifices for the republic. But he never enquired what the citizens should be willing to do for the political community he belongs to. He made no attempt, as later writers were to do, to define the limits of the duty of the individual to the state, or to argue that there are no limits. If we take the political writers most concerned for the individual, his rights and aspirations—such liberals as Constant, Humboldt, and the younger Mill—we do not find them denying that the citizen ought to be called upon to risk his life for the state, or to make other great sacrifices for it. They do, of course, define the obligations of the state to its citizens, and they argue or imply that citizens have a moral right, under certain circumstances, to disobey or resist their rulers. That is why we call them liberals. They do what Machiavelli never attempted. But that does not give us the right to conclude that Machiavelli, who addressed his mind to quite other problems, took up a position opposed to theirs. If to sacrifice the individual to the state is to approve his risking his life in defence of it, them most liberals sacrifice him; and if it is to deny that he ever has the right to resist his rulers, then Machiavelli does not sacrifice him. To say that he does or does not is equally misleading: for it is to suggest that he answers a question that he never even puts to himself.

The writers who speak of him in this way are perhaps moved to do so by what he says about virtù. Since the questions of deepest concern to him in both The Prince and the Discourses relate to the state and its establishment and preservation, it is only to be expected that he should attend particularly to the qualities which he believes men must possess if the state is to be well-ordered and strong. These are the qualities that make up what he calls virtù. He admires them, or some of them, very much, even when they are manifest in what he thinks are necessary 'crimes.' He expresses much louder admiration for these qualities than he does for goodness as distinct from virtù. But then they are more directly relevant to the questions he puts and tries to answer. There is no warrant for saying that he looks upon virtù as higher than goodness, or thinks of it as the purpose of the state, or that he sacrifices the individual to the state—whatever that may mean.

Chabod says that Machiavelli's absorbing passion is for politics, and that he takes little interest in anything else. This is substantially true; for Machiavelli, though he speaks of other things, especially in his plays and letters, speaks of them much as he does of politics. As, for example, when he speaks of love—or, rather, of the pursuit of women. Here too there is something definite to be attained, and the pursuer must be resourceful, skilful, and bold if he is to attain it. Love, as Machiavelli speaks of it, is an activity less absorbing, less admirable, less fruitful of glory, than government and war, but in several respects it is similar. It is a game, perhaps, a distraction, and yet is not unlike the serious business from which it distracts. I speak, of course, not of any theory about love to be found in Machiavelli's writings, nor of his treatment of women, but only of an attitude to love revealed in his two plays and some of his letters.

'The truth,' says Chabod, 'is that Machiavelli leaves the moral ideal intact and he does so because it does not concern him.'27 Perhaps it would be better to say that it does not concern him directly; for, as we have seen, he holds that a community cannot be well ordered for long, nor formidable to others, unless its members are honest and good—unless, like the old Romans and the Germans of his day, they have bontà and not merely virtù. And bontà has more of morality about it than has virtù. But Machiavelli has little to say about it, and has nowhere a word of sympathy for the troubled conscience. As Chabod puts it, 'he is ignorant, not only of the eternal and the transcendent, but also of the moral doubt and the tormenting anxiety that beset a conscience turned in upon itself.'28

Ridolfi expresses a different opinion, and speaks of 'the intimate religious foundation of his conscience which breathes from all his works.'29 It seems to have breathed for few besides Ridolfi. By all means, let us take care how we speak of Machiavelli. Let us not say that he was without religion or that he was untroubled by conscience, or—as some have said—that his Exhortation to Penitence was not a moment of piety in his life but a 'frivolous joke.' Chabod, taken literally may well be wrong; Machiavelli was perhaps not 'ignorant of the eternal and transcendent' and was almost certainly (being intelligent, sensitive, and self-critical) often a prey to moral doubt and anxiety. No man reveals all that is in him in the writings he leaves behind him. But the fact remains that Machiavelli has much to say about virtù and little about moral goodness, and that virtù, as he speaks of it, has nothing to do with conscience. Machiavelli was not entirely a political animal; no man ever is. Yet the spirit that 'breathes from all his works' is political.


1 F. Meinecke, Machiavellism: The Doctrine of Raison d'Etat and Its Place in Modern History, tr. Douglas Scott (London & New Haven 1957), 31

2 P. Villari, Life and Times of Machiavelli, tr. Linda Villari, 4 vols (London, n.d.), II, 92

3 J.H. Whitfield, Machiavelli (Blackwell 1947), 95

4 Ibid., 97

5 Ibid., 100

6 Ibid., 100–1. Whitfield quotes from La Rochefoucauld in French, but I give these quotations, as all others in this article, in English.

7 Meinecke, Machiavellism, 32

8 Ibid., 33

9 Ibid., 34

10 For Detmold's rendering see his translation of the Discourses in the Modern Library College edition of The Prince and the Discourses, 172–4; for Gilbert's see Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others, tr. Allan H. Gilbert, I, 244–5.

11 Gilbert, Chief Works, I, 17. I shall quote only from Allan Gilbert's translation of Machiavelli, putting the word virtu or other Italian words or phrases in brackets next to Gilbert's renderings of them.

12 Ibid., 25

13 Ibid., 26

14 Ibid., 36

15 Ibid., 226

16 Ibid., 192

17 Ibid., 203—I do not know why Gibert has translated esempli by instances rather than examples, for Machiavelli is speaking here of conduct which he thinks is exemplary.

18 Ibid., Ill, 1141

19 Ibid., I, 307

20 Meinecke, Machiavellism, 33–4

21 The sociologist might argue that, even in the case of the most ordinary of mortals, life consists of several interdependent spheres, and that rules that apply to one sphere often do not apply to another.

22Il Principe, ed. L. Arthur Burd (Oxford 1891), xxxvii. Surely, Fichte ought not to have said that such questions are never solved by moral means. Machiavelli did not say it. How these German philosophers, even the best of them, exaggerate!

23 As Professor Whitfield points out, Machiavelli seldom uses virtù in the plural; when he does so, he has in mind, not the virtù discussed in this article, but good or evil qualities more generally. See Whitfield, Machiavelli, 98.

24 Gilbert, Chief Works, I, 220

25 Ibid., 201

26 Villari, Life and Times of Machiavelli bk.II, ch.2, 95

27 Federico Chabod, Machiavelli and the Renaissance, tr. D. Moore (London 1958), 142

28 Ibid., 93

29 Roberto Ridolfi, The Life of Niccolò Machiavelli, tr. Cecil Grayson (London 1963), 253

Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6133

SOURCE: An introduction to The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, translated by Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., The University of Chicago Press, 1985, pp. vii–xxiv.

[In the following essay, Mansfield provides an overview of The Prince, describing the work as "the most famous book on politics when politics is thought to be carried on for its own sake, unlimited by anything above it."]

Anyone who picks up Machiavelli's The Prince holds in his hands the most famous book on politics ever written. Its closest rival might be Plato's Republic, but that book discusses politics in the context of things above politics, and politics turns out to have a limited and subordinate place. In The Prince Machiavelli also discusses politics in relation to things outside politics, as we shall see, but his conclusion is very different. Politics according to him is not limited by things above it, and things normally taken to be outside politics—the "givens" in any political situation—turn out to be much more under the control of politics than politicians, peoples, and philosophers have hitherto assumed. Machiavelii's The Prince, then, is the most famous book on politics when politics is thought to be carried on for its own sake, unlimited by anything above it. The renown of The Prince is precisely to have been the first and the best book to argue that politics has and should have its own rules and should not accept rules of any kind or from any source where the object is not to win or prevail over others. The Prince is briefer and pithier than Machiavelli's other major work, Discourses on Livy, for The Prince is addressed to Lorenzo de' Medici, a prince like the busy executive of our day who has little time for reading. So The Prince with its political advice to an active politician that politics should not be limited by anything not political, is by far more famous than the Discourses on Livy.

We cannot, however, agree that The Prince is the most famous book on politics without immediately correcting this to say that it is the most infamous. It is famous for its infamy, for recommending the kind of politics that ever since has been called Machiavellian. The essence of this politics is that "you can get away with murder": that no divine sanction, or degradation of soul, or twinge of conscience will come to punish you. If you succeed, you will not even have to face the infamy of murder, because when "men acquire who can acquire, they will be praised or not blamed" (Chapter 3). Those criminals who are infamous have merely been on the losing side. Machiavelli and Machiavellian politics are famous or infamous for their willingness to brave infamy.

Yet it must be reported that the prevailing view among scholars of Machiavelli is that he was not an evil man who taught evil doctrines, and that he does not deserve his infamy. With a view to his preference for republics over principalities (more evident in the Discourses on Livy than in The Prince, but not absent in the latter), they cannot believe he was an apologist for tyranny; or, impressed by the sudden burst of Italian patriotism in the last chapter of The Prince, they forgive him for the sardonic observations which are not fully consistent with this generous feeling but are thought to give it a certain piquancy (this is the opinion of an earlier generation of scholars); or, on the basis of Machiavelli's saying in Chapter 15 that we should take our bearings from "what is done" rather than from "what should be done," they conclude that he was a forerunner of modern political science, which is not an evil thing because it merely tells us what happens without passing judgment. In sum, the prevailing view of the scholars offers excuses for Machiavelli: he was a republican, a patriot, or a scientist, and therefore, in explicit contradiction to the reaction of most people to Machiavelli as soon as they hear of his doctrines, Machiavelli was not "Machiavellian."

The reader can form his own judgment of these excuses for Machiavelli. I do not recommend them, chiefly because they make Machiavelli less interesting. They transform him into a herald of the future who had the luck to sound the tunes we hear so often today—democracy, nationalism or self-determination, and science. Instead of challenging our favorite beliefs and forcing us to think, Machiavelli is enlisted into a chorus of self-congratulation. There is, of course, evidence for the excuses supplied on behalf of Machiavelli, and that evidence consists of the excuses offered by Machiavelli himself. If someone were to accuse him of being an apologist for tyranny, he can indeed point to a passage in the Discourses on Livy (II 2) where he says (rather carefully) that the common good is not observed unless in republics; but if someone else were to accuse him of supporting republicanism, he could point to the same chapter, where he says that the hardest slavery of all is to be conquered by a republic. And, while he shows his Italian patriotism in Chapter 26 of The Prince by exhorting someone to seize Italy in order to free it from the barbarians, he also shows his fairmindedness by advising a French king in Chapter 3 how he might better invade Italy the next time. Lastly, it is true that he sometimes merely reports the evil that he sees, while (unnecessarily) deploring it; but at other times he urges us to share in that evil and he virtuously condemns halfhearted immoralists. Although he was an exceedingly bold writer who seems to have deliberately courted an evil reputation, he was nonetheless not so bold as to fail to provide excuses, or prudent reservations, for his boldest statements. Since I have spoken at length on this point in another place, and will not hesitate to mention the work of Leo Strauss, it is not necessary to explain it further here.

What is at issue in the question of whether Machiavelli was "Machiavellian"? To see that a matter of the highest importance is involved we must not rest satisfied with either scholarly excuses or moral frowns. For the matter at issue is the character of the rules by which we reward human beings with fame or condemn them with infamy, the very status of morality. Machiavelli does not make it clear at first that this grave question is his subject. In the Dedicatory Letter he approaches Lorenzo de' Medici with hat in one hand and The Prince in the other. Since, he says, one must be a prince to know the nature of peoples and a man of the people to know the nature of princes, he seems to offer Lorenzo the knowledge of princes he does not have but needs. In accordance with this half-serious promise, Machiavelli speaks about the kinds of principalities in the first part of The Prince (Chapters 1–2) and, as we learn of the necessity of conquest, about the kinds of armies in the second part (Chapters 12–14). But at the same time (to make a long story short), we learn that the prince must or may lay his foundations on the people (Chapter 9) and that while his only object should be the art of war, he must in time of peace pay attention to moral qualities in such manner as to be able to use them in time of war (Chapter 14, end).

Thus are we prepared for Machiavelli's clarion call in Chapter 15, where he proclaims that he "departs from the orders of others" and says why. For moral qualities are qualities "held good" by the people; so, if the prince must conquer, and wants, like the Medici, to lay his foundation on the people, who are the keepers of morality, then a new morality consistent with the necessity of conquest must be found, and the prince has to be taught anew about the nature of peoples by Machiavelli. In departing from the orders of others, it appears more fitting to Machiavelli "to go directly to the effectual truth of the thing than to the imagination of it." Many have imagined republics and principalities, but one cannot "let go of what is done for what should be done," because a man who "makes a profession of good in all regards" comes to ruin among so many who are not good. The prince must learn to be able not to be good, and use this ability or not according to necessity.

This concise statement is most efficacious. It contains a fundamental assault on all morality and political science, both Christian and classical, as understood in Machiavelli's time. Morality had meant not only doing the right action, but also doing it for the right reason or for the love of God. Thus, to be good was thought to require "a profession of good" in which the motive for doing good was explained; otherwise, morality would go no deeper than outward conformity to law, or even to superior force, and could not be distinguished from it. But professions of good could not accompany moral actions in isolation from each other; they would have to be elaborated so that moral actions would be consistent with each other and the life of a moral person would form a whole. Such elaboration requires an effort of imagination, since the consistency we see tells us only of the presence of outward conformity, and the elaboration extends over a society, because it is difficult to live a moral life by oneself; hence morality requires the construction of an imagined republic or principality, such as Plato's Republic or St. Augustine's City of God.

When Machiavelli denies that imagined republics and principalities "exist in truth," and declares that the truth in these or all matters is the effectual truth, he says that no moral rules exist, not made by men, which men must abide by. The rules or laws that exist are those made by governments or other powers acting under necessity, and they must be obeyed out of the same necessity. Whatever is necessary may be called just and reasonable, but justice is no more reasonable than what a person's prudence tells him he must acquire for himself, or must submit to, because men cannot afford justice in any sense that transcends their own preservation. Machiavelli did not attempt (as did Hobbes) to formulate a new definition of justice based on self-preservation. Instead, he showed what he meant by not including justice among the eleven pairs of moral qualities that he lists in Chapter 15. He does mention justice in Chapter 21 as a calculation of what a weaker party might expect from a prince whom it has supported in war, but even this little is contradicted by what Machiavelli says about keeping faith in Chapter 18 and about betraying one's old supporters in Chapter 20. He also brings up justice as something identical with necessity in Chapter 26. But, what is most striking, he never mentions—not in The Prince, or in any of his works—natural justice or natural law, the two conceptions of justice in the classical and medieval tradition that had been handed down to his time and that could be found in the writings on this subject of all his contemporaries. The grave issue raised by the dispute whether Machiavelli was truly "Machiavellian" is this: does justice exist by nature or by God, or is it the convenience of the prince (government)? "So let a prince win and maintain a state: the means will always be judged honorable, and will be praised by everyone" (Chapter 18). Reputation, then, is outward conformity to successful human force and has no reference to moral rules that the government might find inconvenient.

If there is no natural justice, perhaps Machiavelli can teach the prince how to rule in its absence—but with a view to the fact that men "profess" it. It does not follow of necessity that because no natural justice exists, princes can rule successfully without it. Governments might be as unsuccessful in making and keeping conquests as in living up to natural justice; indeed, the traditional proponents of natural justice, when less confident of their own cause, had pointed to the uncertainty of gain, to the happy inconstancy of fortune, as an argument against determined wickedness. But Machiavelli thinks it possible to "learn" to be able not to be good. For each of the difficulties of gaining and keeping, even and especially for the fickleness of fortune, he has a "remedy," to use his frequent expression. Since nature or God does not support human justice, men are in need of a remedy; and the remedy is the prince, especially the new prince. Why must the new prince be preferred?

In the heading to the first chapter of The Prince we see that the kinds of principalities are to be discussed together with the ways in which they are acquired, and then in the chapter itself we find more than this, that principalities are classified into kinds by the ways in which they are acquired. "Acquisition," an economic term, is Machiavelli's word for "conquest"; and acquisition determines the classifications of governments, not their ends or structures, as Plato and Aristotle had thought. How is acquisition related to the problem of justice?

Justice requires a modest complement of external goods, the equipment of virtue in Aristotle's phrase, to keep the wolf from the door and to provide for moral persons a certain decent distance from necessities in the face of which morality might falter or even fail. For how can one distribute justly without something to distribute? But, then, where is one to get this modest complement? The easy way is by inheritance. In Chapter 2, Machiavelli considers hereditary principalities, in which a person falls heir to everything he needs, especially the political power to protect what he has. The hereditary prince, the man who has everything, is called the "natural prince," as if to suggest that our grandest and most comprehensive inheritance is what we get from nature. But when the hereditary prince looks upon his inheritance—and when we, generalizing from his case, add up everything we inherit—is it adequate?

The difficulty with hereditary principalities is indicated at the end of Chapter 2, where Machiavelli admits that hereditary princes will have to change but claims that change will not be disruptive because it can be gradual and continuous. He compares each prince's own construction to building a house that is added on to a row of houses: you may not inherit all you need, but you inherit a firm support and an easy start in what you must acquire. But clearly a row of houses so built over generations presupposes that the first house was built without existing support and without an easy start. Inheritance presupposes an original acquisition made without a previous inheritance. And in the original acquisition, full attention to the niceties of justice may unfortunately not be possible. One may congratulate an American citizen for all the advantages to which he is born; but what of the nasty necessities that prepared this inheritance—the British expelled, Indians defrauded, blacks enslaved?

Machiavelli informs us in the third chapter, accordingly, that "truly it is a very natural and ordinary thing to desire to acquire." In the space of a few pages, "natural" has shifted in meaning from hereditary to acquisitive. Or can we be consoled by reference to Machiavelli's republicanism, not so prominent in The Prince, with the thought that acquisitiveness may be natural to princes but is not natural to republics? But in Chapter 3 Machiavelli praises the successful acquisitiveness of the "Romans," that is, the Roman republic, by comparison to the imprudence of the king of France. At the time Machiavelli is referring to, the Romans were not weak and vulnerable as they were at their inception; they had grown powerful and were still expanding. Even when they had enough empire to provide an inheritance for their citizens, they went on acquiring. Was this reasonable? It was, because the haves of this world cannot quietly inherit what is coming to them; lest they be treated now as they once treated others, they must keep an eye on the have-nots. To keep a step ahead of the have-nots the haves must think and behave like havenots. They certainly cannot afford justice to the havenots, nor can they waste time or money on sympathy.

In the Dedicatory Letter Machiavelli presents himself to Lorenzo as a have-not, "from a low and mean state"; and one thing he lacks besides honorable employment, we learn, is a unified fatherland. Italy is weak and divided. Then should we say that acquisitiveness is justified for Italians of Machiavelli's time, including him? As we have noted, Machiavelli does not seem to accept this justification because, still in Chapter 3, he advises a French king how to correct the errors he had made in his invasion of Italy. Besides, was Machiavelli's fatherland Italy or was it Florence? In Chapter 15 he refers to "our language," meaning Tuscan, and in Chapter 20 to "our ancients," meaning Florentines. But does it matter whether Machiavelli was essentially an Italian or a Florentine patriot? Anyone's fatherland is defined by an original acquisition, a conquest, and hence is always subject to redefinition of the same kind. To be devoted to one's native country at the expense of foreigners is no more justified than to be devoted to one's city at the expense of fellow countrymen, or to one's family at the expense of fellow city-dwellers, or, to adapt a Machiavellian remark in Chapter 17, to one's patrimony at the expense of one's father. So to "unify" one's fatherland means to treat it as a conquered territory—conquered by a king or republic from within; and Machiavelli's advice to the French king on how to hold his conquests in Italy was also advice to Lorenzo on how to unify Italy. It appears that, in acquiring, the new prince acquires for himself.

What are the qualities of the new prince? What must he do? First, as we have seen, he should rise from private or unprivileged status; he should not have an inheritance, or if he has, he should not rely on it. He should owe nothing to anyone or anything, for having debts of gratitude would make him dependent on others, in the widest sense dependent on fortune. It might seem that the new prince depends at least on the character of the country he conquers, and Machiavelli says at the end of Chapter 4 that Alexander had no trouble in holding Asia because it had been accustomed to the government of one lord. But then in Chapter 5 he shows how this limitation can be overcome. A prince who conquers a city used to living in freedom need not respect its inherited liberties; he can and should destroy such cities or else rule them personally. Fortune supplies the prince with nothing more than opportunity, as when Moses found the people of Israel enslaved by the Egyptians, Romulus found himself exposed at birth, Cyrus found the Persians discontented with the empire of the Medes, and Theseus found the Athenians dispersed (Chapter 6). These famous founders had the virtue to recognize the opportunity that fortune offered to them—opportunity for them, harsh necessity to their peoples. Instead of dispersing the inhabitants of a free city (Chapter 5), the prince is lucky enough to find them dispersed (Chapter 6). This suggests that the prince could go so far as to make his own opportunity by creating a situation of necessity in which no one's inherited goods remain to him and everything is owed to you, the new prince. When a new prince comes to power, should he be grateful to those who helped him get power and rely on them? Indeed not. A new prince has "lukewarm defenders" in his friends and allies, because they expect benefits from him; as we have seen, it is much better to conciliate his former enemies who feared losing everything (compare Chapters 6 and 20).

Thus, the new prince has virtue that enables him to overcome his dependence on inheritance in the widest sense, including custom, nature, and fortune, and that shows him how to arrange it that others depend on him and his virtue (Chapters 9, 24). But if virtue is to do all this, it must have a new meaning. Instead of cooperating with nature or God, as in the various classical and Christian conceptions, virtue must be taught to be acquisitive on its own. Machiavelli teaches the new meaning of virtue by showing us both the new and the old meanings. In a famous passage on the successful criminal Agathocles in Chapter 8, he says "one cannot call it virtue to kill one's fellow citizens, betray one's friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without religion." Yet in the very next sentence Machiavelli proceeds to speak of "the virtue of Agathocles."

The prince, we have seen in Chapter 15, must "learn to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity." Machiavelli supplies this knowledge in Chapters 16 to 18. First, with superb calm, he delivers home-truths concerning the moral virtue of liberality. It is no use being liberal (or generous) unless it is noticed, so that you are "held liberal" or get a name for liberality. But a prince cannot be held liberal by being liberal, because he would have to be liberal to a few by burdening the many with taxes; the many would be offended, the prince would have to retrench, and he would soon get a name for stinginess. The right way to get a reputation for liberality is to begin by not caring about having a reputation for stinginess. When the people see that the prince gets the job done without burdening them, they will in time consider him liberal to them and stingy only to the few to whom he gives nothing. In the event, "liberality" comes to mean taking little rather than giving much.

As regards cruelty and mercy, in Chapter 8 Machiavelli made a distinction between cruelties well used and badly used; well-used cruelties are done once, for self-defense, and not continued but turned to the benefit of one's subjects, and badly used ones continue and increase. In Chapter 17, however, he does not mention this distinction but rather speaks only of using mercy badly. Mercy is badly used when, like the Florentine people in a certain instance, one seeks to avoid a reputation for cruelty and thus allows disorders to continue which might be stopped with a very few examples of cruelty. Disorders harm everybody; executions harm only the few or the one who is executed. As the prince may gain a name for liberality by taking little, so he may be held merciful by not being cruel too often.

Machiavelli's new prince arranges the obligation of his subjects to himself in a manner rather like that of the Christian God, in the eye of whom all are guilty by original sin; hence God's mercy appears less as the granting of benefits than as the remission of punishment. With this thought in mind, the reader will not be surprised that Machiavelli goes on to discuss whether it is better for the prince to be loved or feared. It would be best to be both loved and feared, but, when necessity forces a choice, it is better to be feared, because men love at their convenience but they fear at the convenience of the prince. Friends may fail you, but the dread of punishment will never forsake you. If the prince avoids making himself hated, which he can do by abstaining from the property of others, "because men forget the death of a father more quickly than the loss of a patrimony," he will again have subjects obligated to him for what he does not do to them rather than for benefits he provides.

It is laudable for a prince to keep faith, Machiavelli says in Chapter 18, but princes who have done great things have done them by deceit and betrayal. The prince must learn how to use the beast in man, or rather the beasts: for man is an animal who can be many animals, and he must know how to be a fox as well as a lion. Men will not keep faith with you; how can you keep it with them? Politics, Machiavelli seems to say, as much as consists in breaking promises, for circumstances change and new necessities arise that make it impossible to hold to one's word. The only question is, can one get away with breaking one's promises? Machiavelli's answer is a confident yes. He broadens the discussion, speaking of five moral qualities, especially religion; he says that men judge by appearances and that when one judges by appearances, "one looks to the end." The end is the outcome or the effect, and if a prince wins and maintains a state, the means will always be judged honorable. Since Machiavelli has just emphasized the prince's need to appear religious, we may compare the people's attitude toward a successful prince with their belief in divine providence. As people assume that the outcome of events in the world is determined by God's providence, so they conclude that the means chosen by God cannot have been unworthy. Machiavelli's thought here is both a subtle attack on the notion of divine providence and a subtle appreciation of it, insofar as the prince can appropriate it to his own use.

It is not easy to state exactly what virtue is, according to Machiavelli. Clearly he does not leave virtue as it was in the classical or Christian tradition, nor does he imitate any other writer of his time. Virtue in his new meaning seems to be a prudent or well-taught combination of vice and virtue in the old meaning. Virtue for him is not a mean between two extremes of vice, as is moral virtue for Aristotle. As we have seen, in Chapter 15 eleven virtues (the same number as Aristotle's, though not all of them the same virtues) are paired with eleven vices. From this we might conclude that virtue does not shine of itself, as when it is done for its own sake. Rather, virtue is as it takes effect, its truth is its effectual truth; and it is effectual only when it is seen in contrast to its opposite. Liberality, mercy, and love are impressive only when one expects stinginess (or rapacity), cruelty, and fear. This contrast makes virtue apparent and enables the prince to gain a reputation for virtue. If this is so, then the new meaning Machiavelli gives to virtue, a meaning which makes use of vice, must not entirely replace but somehow continue to coexist with the old meaning, according to which virtue is shocked by vice.

A third quality of the new prince is that he must make his own foundations. Although to be acquisitive means to be acquisitive for oneself, the prince cannot do everything with his own hands: he needs help from others. But in seeking help he must take account of the "two diverse humors" to be found in every city—the people, who desire not to be commanded or oppressed by the great, and the great, who desire to command and oppress the people (Chapter 9). Of these two humors, the prince should choose the people. The people are easier to satisfy, too inert to move against him, and too numerous to kill, whereas the great regard themselves as his equals, are ready and able to conspire against him, and are replaceable.

The prince, then, should ally with the people against the aristocracy; but how should he get their support? Machiavelli gives an example in the conduct of Cesare Borgia, whom he praises for the foundations he laid (Chapter 7). When Cesare had conquered the province of Romagna, he installed "Remirro de Oreo" (actually a Spaniard, Don Remiro de Lorqua) to carry out a purge of the unruly lords there. Then, because Cesare thought Remirro's authority might be excessive, and his exercise of it might become hateful—in short, because Remirro had served his purpose—he purged the purger and one day had Remirro displayed in the piazza at Cesena in two pieces. This spectacle left the people "at the same time satisfied and stupefied"; and Cesare set up a more constitutional government in Romagna. The lesson: constitutional government is possible but only after an unconstitutional beginning.

In Chapter 9 Machiavelli discusses the "civil principality," which is gained through the favor of the people, and gives as example Nabis, "prince" of the Spartans, whom he calls a tyrant in the Discourses on Livy because of the crimes Nabis committed against his rivals. In Chapter 8 Machiavelli considers the principality that is attained through crimes, and cites Agathocles and Oliverotto, both of whom were very popular despite their crimes. As one ponders these two chapters, it becomes more and more difficult to find a difference between gaining a principality through crimes and through the favor of the people. Surely Cesare Borgia, Agathocles, and Nabis seemed to have followed the same policy of pleasing the people by cutting up the great. Finally, in Chapter 19, Machiavelli reveals that the prince need not have the support of the people after all. Even if he is hated by the people (since in fact he cannot fail to be hated by someone), he can, like the Roman emperor Severus, make his foundation with his soldiers (see also Chapter 20). Severus had such virtue, Machiavelli says, with an unobstrusive comparison to Cesare Borgia in Chapter 7, that he "stupefied" the people and "satisfied" the soldiers.

Fourth, the new prince has his own arms, and does not rely on mercenary or auxiliary armies. Machiavelli omits a discussion of the laws a prince should establish, in contrast to the tradition of political science, because, he says, "there cannot be good laws where there are not good arms, and where there are good arms there must be good laws" (Chapter 12). He speaks of the prince's arms in Chapters 12 to 14, and in Chapter 14 he proclaims that the prince should have no other object or thought but the art of war. He must be armed, since it is quite unreasonable for one who is armed to obey one who is disarmed. With this short remark Machiavelli seems to dismiss the fundamental principle of classical political science, the rule of the wise, not to mention the Christian promise that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Machiavelli does not mean that those with the most bodily force always win, for he broadens the art of war to include the acquisition as well as the use of arms. A prince who has no army but has the art of war will prevail over one with an army but without the art. Thus, to be armed means to know the art of war, to exercise it in time of peace, and to have read histories about great captains of the past. In this regard Machiavelli mentions Xenophon's "Life of Cyrus," as he calls it (actually "The Education of Cyrus"), the first and best work in the literature of "mirrors of princes" to which The Prince belongs. But he calls it a history, not a mirror of princes, and says that it inspired the Roman general Scipio, whom he criticizes in Chapter 17 for excessive mercy. Not books of imaginary republics and principalities, or treatises on law, but histories of war, are recommended reading for the prince.

Last, the new prince with his own arms is his own master. The deeper meaning of Machiavelli's slogan, "one's own arms," is religious, or rather, antireligious. If man is obligated to God as his creature, then man's own necessities are subordinate or even irrelevant to his most pressing duties. It would not matter if he could not afford justice: God commands it! Thus Machiavelli must look at the new prince who is also a prophet, above all at Moses. Moses was a "mere executor of things that had been ordered by God" (Chapter 6); hence he should be admired for the grace that made him worthy of speaking with God. Or should it be said, as Machiavelli says in Chapter 26, that Moses had "virtue," the virtue that makes a prince dependent on no one but himself? In Chapter 13 Machiavelli retells the biblical story of David and Goliath to illustrate the necessity of one's own arms. When Saul offered his arms to David, David refused them, saying, according to Machiavelli, that with them he could not give a good account of himself, and according to the Bible, that the Lord "will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." Machiavelli also gives David a knife to go with his sling, the knife which according to the Bible he took from the fallen Goliath and used to cut off his head.

Must the new prince—the truly new prince—then be his own prophet and make a new religion so as to be his own master? The great power of religion can be seen in what Moses and David founded, and in what Savonarola nearly accomplished in Machiavelli's own time and city. The unarmed prince whom he disparages in Chapter 6 actually disposes of formidable weapons necessary to the art of war. The unarmed prophet becomes armed if he uses religion for his own purposes rather than God's; and because the prince cannot acquire glory for himself without bringing order to his principality, using religion for himself is using it to answer human necessities generally.

The last three chapters of The Prince take up the question of how far man can make his own world. What are the limits set on Machiavelli's political science (or the "art of war") by fortune? At the end of Chapter 24 he blames "these princes of ours" who accuse fortune for their troubles and not their own indolence. In quiet times they do not take account of the storm to come, but they should—they can. They believe that the people will be disgusted by the arrogance of the foreign conquerors and will call them back. But "one should never fall in the belief you can find someone to pick you up." Whether successful or not, such a defense is base, because it does not depend on you and your virtue.

With this high promise of human capability, Machiavelli introduces his famous Chapter 25 on fortune. He begins it by asking how much of the world is governed by fortune and God, and how much by man. He then supposes that half is governed by fortune (forgetting God) and half by man, and he compares fortune to a violent river that can be contained with dikes and dams. Turning to particular men, he shows that the difficulty in containing fortunes lies in the inability of one who is impetuous to succeed in quiet times or of one who is cautious to succeed in stormy times. Men, with their fixed natures and habits, do not vary as the times vary, and so they fall under the control of the times, of fortune. Men's fixed natures are the special problem, Machiavelli indicates; so the problem of overcoming the influence of fortune reduces to the problem of overcoming the fixity of different human natures. Having a fixed nature is what makes one liable to changes of fortune. Pope Julius II succeeded because the times were in accord with his impetuous nature; if he had lived longer, he would have come to grief. Machiavelli blames him for his inflexibility, and so implies that neither he nor the rest of us need respect the natures or natural inclinations we have been given.

What is the new meaning of virtue that Machiavelli has developed but flexibility according to the times or situation? Yet, though one should learn to be both impetuous and cautious (these stand for all the other contrary qualities), on the whole one should be impetuous. Fortune is a woman who "lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly"; hence she is a friend of the young. He makes the politics of the new prince appear in the image of rape; impetuous himself, Machiavelli forces us to see the question he has raised about the status of morality. Whether he says what he appears to say about the status of women may be doubted, however. The young men who master Lady Fortune come with audacity and leave exhausted, but she remains ageless, waiting for the next ones. One might go so far as to wonder who is raping whom, cautiously as it were, and whether Machiavelli, who has personified fortune, can impersonate her in the world of modern politics he attempted to create.

A. J. Parel (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8145

SOURCE: "The Question of Machiavelli's Modernity," in The Review of Politics, Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 320–39.

[In the essay below, Parel contends that the arguments which support Machiavelli's "new" ideas, are "based on premodern cosmology and anthropology"]

That Machiavelli is an innovator of political philosophy is universally acknowledged. The program of innovation is outlined in The Prince, chapter 15: he wants to depart from the orders of his predecessors. The goal of the new philosophy is "effectual truth," and not the imagination of it. Actual states, not "imagined republics and kingdoms" are its real concerns. The distinction between how one lives and how one ought to live is still made, but only in order to point out that what is done should never be abandoned for what should be done. Preservation of the state has emerged as the new summum bonum, in the interest of which everything becomes permitted. The distinction between virtue and vice is no longer important; and the new type of ruler, if he is good, must learn how to be not good. The Preface to Discourses I also proposes a similar program: he is determined "to enter a path not yet trodden by anyone" and to introduce "new modes and orders."1

The question is whether being an innovator necessarily makes Machiavelli a modern? Is being new the same as being modern? Most critics who speak of him as an innovator do not address this specific question. He is not one of the ancients, they agree, but they are not clear whether he is one of the moderns. The critic who has persistently argued that his newness constitutes his modernity, however, is Leo Strauss.2 He is followed on this point by Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., Allan Bloom, and others. Modern political philosophy, Strauss claims, arose out of the war against the classics and Christianity, against Athens and Jerusalem, and the person who first declared this war was Machiavelli. Out of this war emerged a new mode of thought, philosophic in character, but no longer Greek. "It is in trying to understand modern philosophy that we come across Machiavelli."3 Machiavelli, not Hobbes, is the founder of modern political philosophy,4 and "all specifically modern political science rests on the foundations laid by Machiavelli."5 According to Strauss, his modernity consists, first, in his attack on the classical political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, and in his antitheological passion against Christianity; secondly, in lowering the standards of politics from what ought to be to what is; thirdly, in his plan to conquer fortune or chance; and finally, in his wanting "to make probable, if not certain, the actualization of the right or desirable social order."6 In support of his claims, he asserts that there is "a hidden kinship between Machiavelli's political science and the new natural science."7

The validity of Strauss's claim, however, can be ascertained only after we have examined Machiavelli's view of nature and human nature, that is, his cosmology and his anthropology.


A number of premodern cosmological assumptions underlie Machiavelli's political theory. The first and most important of these is the assumed distinction between heaven and earth, between the heavenly bodies and the sublunar world. The two are related causally, as superior to subordinate. All motions in the sublunar world, both natural and human, are thought to depend on the motions emanating from heaven, the planets and the stars. This is the key assumption underlying his historiography. History in part is a function of the natural motions of celestial bodies, and in part the product of human causation. This is stated in the carefully drafted Preface to Discourses I, the only portion of the work we have in Machiavelli's autograph. The movement of history is not the outcome of fully autonomous human motion; history is dependent on "heaven, the planets and the elements" for its "motion, order and power." This dependency on cosmic motion accounts for not only the regularity and the predictability but also the pattern of the rise and fall of civilizations, states, and religions. The validity of the Machiavellian theory of "imitation" of virtue also depends on this alleged fact. The "error" of his contemporaries was that they did not accept this view of history. This lack of acceptance, according to him, was due to Christianity which taught a linear view of history. And one of the grand strategies of his innovation is to reinstate the older, premodern theory of history, such that imitation of virtù becomes morally possible. The remedy to modern corruption is the practice of antique virtu. Forgetting this "truth" about history and politics, his "corrupt" Christian contemporaries read history for amusement, not moral instruction. "From this it comes that great numbers who read take pleasure in hearing of various events they (histories) contain, without thinking at all of imitating them, judging that imitation is not merely difficult but impossible, as if the heaven, the sun, the elements, men, were changed in motion, order and power from what they were in antiquity."8 It is to get humans out of this error that he has decided to write on Livy's History, according to his "knowledge of ancient and modern things" (secondo le cognizione delle antique e mod erne cose). 9

Everything that happens in history, then, happens according to the laws of cosmic motion. Strictly speaking history is a conjoint product of cosmic and human motions, in which the one plays the superior, and the other, the subordinate role. Insofar as this is Machiavelli's position, the phenomenon of cycle of political regimes, described in Discourses I. 2, should also be seen as occurring according to the general laws governing history.

Applying the theory of cosmic motion to politics, Machiavelli points out how the imitation of virtue can be successful only if it takes place at a time when the country in question is in the right period of its history. For countries follow the pattern of rise and fall, virtue and corruption; they have their upward and their downward phases. Imitation, to be efficacious, should occur when the country in its upward phase.

Since human affairs (le cose umane) are always in motion, either they rise or they fall. So a city or province can be organized for well planned government by some excellent man, and for a time, through that organizer's virtù, it can keep on always growing better. He who is then born in such a state and praises ancient times more than modern ones deceive himself…. But they who are born later in that city or province, when the time has come for it to descend towards a worse condition, do not then deceive themselves.10

The theory is stated comprehensively in the History of Florence:

In their normal changes, countries generally go from order to disorder and then from disorder move back to order, because, since nature does not allow things of the world (mondane cose) to remain fixed, when they come to their utmost perfection and have no further possibility of rising, they must go down. Likewise, when they have gone down and through their defects have reached the lowest depths, they necessarily rise, since they cannot go lower. So always from good they go down to bad, and from bad rise up to good. Because virtù brings forth quiet; quiet, leisure; leisure, disorder; disorder, ruin; and likewise from ruin comes order; from order, virtù; from the last, glory and good fortune.11

The questions of war and peace also come within the purview of cosmic motion. That is to say, according to Machiavelli, war and peace have more than just human causes: the dispositions of heaven also have something to do with them. States have a natural tendency to be expansionist which varies with the "influence" of heaven over them. Given this, the more rational policy would be to prepare for expansion than for staying stationary. "But since all human things (tutte le cose umane) are in motion and cannot remain fixed, they must needs rise up or sink down; to many thing to which reason does not bring you, you are brought by necessity."12 Even "if heaven is so kind to a state that it does not have to make war," the effect might be that leisure (ozio) would make it "effeminate or disunited." In either case, danger to the country is very real. Accordingly, it is not possible to balance, international affairs and to keep exactly to a middle way. The most honorable way is to be powerful and expansionist so that "if necessity causes states to grow, they can keep what they have conquered."13 The point not to be missed is that even Machiavelli's analysis of war, peace and foreign policy presupposes the operation of natural "necessity" (stemming from cosmic causes) operating in human affairs.

Machiavelli also adheres to a premodern concept of heaven's naturalistic "providence" over human affairs including the fortunes of religions or "sects." This is stated in general terms in Discourses II. 5. Natural calamities such as floods, famine and pestilence are seen as caused by heaven in order to keep the human species relatively healthy. The pressure of population increases on land, "so that men cannot live where they are and cannot go elsewhere, since all places are settled and filled full, and when human craft and malice have gone as far as they can go, of necessity the world is purged." And this is brought about by the causality exercised by heaven: "As to the causes that come from heaven, they are those that wipe out the race of men and bring down to a few the inhabitants of part of the world, either through plagues or through famine or through a flood."14 These demographic purgations are part of the "natural" process at work under the superintendence of heaven. The outcome is that "by becoming few and humble, men can live more commodiously and grow better." In other words, heaven sees to it that the material conditions of existence are favorable to the human species, and periodic destruction of a "part of the world" through natural calamities is one way of achieving that end.

Heaven's naturalistic "providence" extends not only to humankind in general, but also to particular states. In Discourses II. 29, he analyzes the fortunes of the early Roman republic in terms of naturalistic "providence." And the example of Rome, Machiavelli makes clear, simply illustrates a general rule. In the Gallic war of 390 B. C, heaven is pictured as "testing" the virtue of the Roman republic. "If we observe carefully how human affairs (le cose umane) go on, many times we see that things come up and events take place against which the heavens do not wish any provisions to be made." And if this happened to Rome, he notes, "it is not strange" that such things happen more often in cities or countries which are inferior to Rome. He takes the Gallic war for detailed analysis, because it is "very noteworthy for showing heaven's power over human things." Heaven for some reason wished the Romans to know its power; and it was because of the astral causes, he asserts, that Rome made so many diplomatic and military blunders, all carefully catalogued in the chapter in question. Presumably, with heaven's favor, the Romans passed the "test" and the tide turned into Rome's favor, and she survived.

The Gallic War of 390 B. C. is not the only example of heaven's "providence" that Machiavelli provides. The French invasion of Italy of 1494 and the political disasters that struck Italy subsequently are also presented in terms of fate and astral displeasure. This is made clear in the First Decennale, especially in its Dedicatory Letter and the opening lines. In the Dedicatory Letter, addressed to Alamanno Salviati, Machiavelli states that Italy's political tribulations were unavoidable because they were due to "necessity of fate" (necessità del fato). In the Latin version of this letter the point is made even more sharply. Italy's tribulations were due to the "necessity of fate, whose power could not be restrained" ("necessitudine fati, cujus vis refringi non potest").15 And the opening lines of the poem make it clear that fate here means the "will" of the stars: "I shall sing Italian hardships for those two lustres now just over, under stars hostile to her good."16

There are two other examples of heaven's "providence" over Italian politics that Machiavelli mentions. Of these the first refers to the rise to prominence of the Colonna and the Orisini families. This example is very striking because of its bearings on the papacy. The implication is that even the fortunes of the papacy were subject to naturalistic "providence."

The heavens (knowing a time would have to come when the French and the Germans would abandon Italy and that land would remain entirely in the hands of the Italians) in order that the Pope, when he lacked opposition from beyond the Alps, might not make his power solid or enjoy it, raised up in Rome two very powerful families, the Colonna and the Orisini; with their power and their proximity these two were to keep the papacy weak.17

The second example concerns the rise of the notorious factionalism of Florentine politics. This was due, he avers, to Florence's "fated families." But having fated families is not something peculiar to Florence: every republic, says Machiavelli, has its "fated families," only Florence had more than its share of them. "It is given from on high (i.e., heaven), in order that in human things there may be nothing either lasting or at rest, that in all republics there are fated families (famiglie fatali), born for their ruin. Our republic, more than any other, has abounded in these."18 Thus the struggles between the Buondelmonti and the Uberti, the Donati and the Cerchi, the Ricci and the Albizzi, not to mention the Medici and the Albizzi, are also seen from the point of view of cosmic laws operating in Florentine politics.

When we shift our attention from politics to religion, here too we see Machiavelli invoking the causality exercised by heaven. Thus the origin of the religion of the Romans is attributed to the "judgment" of the heavens: "the heavens judged (giudicando i cieli) that the laws of Romulus would not be sufficient for so great an empire."19 They, therefore, inspired the senate to appoint Numa Pompilius as Romulus's successor and as the founder of the institutions of Roman religion. The instrumental character of religion, as one may infer from this passage, has its foundation in Machiavelli's cosmology. It is the heavens that judged that religion was necessary to supplement politics. Apparently, according to this pattern of thought, religion has no other end. Understood in this way, those in charge of religion, whether they be the senate or the consuls or the augurs, may legitimately exploit it for political ends. In particular they may exploit, without scruple, both the human fear of the unknown and the credulity of humankind. The Romans did exactly this. The institutions of the Roman religion—oracles, omens, behavior of sacred "chickens"—left a lot to the interpretation of those who had knowledge of "natural things" (cose naturali). The implication is that the effects of natural phenomena sometimes appeared as signs sent by heaven. The soothsayers and the augurs often "spoke so as to please the powerful."20 All this was proper and legitimate in Machiavelli's eyes, basically because religion was intended by heaven to be at the service of the state. Though the state may exploit religion for its own ends, it does not mean that religion itself is a human invention. In its origin or "inspiration" it is transmundane; but in its use, it is entirely civil and mundane.

This brings us to Machiavelli's famous attack on Christianity.21 No doubt, the attack is based in part on the political role which the Italian church had played in Italy, and in part on the moral lapses of the Italian Christian elite, especially the clergy. But these are objections directed at practices, corrigible by reform. The question is whether the roots of his criticism originate in his cosmology. His fundamental attack is directed not at the practices but at the theory of Christianity, namely that it is a supernatural religion, not dependent on the judgment of heaven. And because it does not originate in the judgment of heaven, it could not properly be turned into an instrument of politics. Its origin is in the Uncreated Logos, superior to the planets and the heavens. It is this fact which renders invalid any treatment of Christianity as a cosmic, natural religion. Christianity is not compatible with Machiavellian politics, because it does not originate in the "judgment" of heaven. That is why it could legitimately maintain the superiority of contemplation over political action; introduce the notion of another patria, superior to the temporal one; propose another summum bonum in addition to the summum bonum of politics; oppose mondana gloria to spiritual glory; and value the good of the soul more than that of the body.

There is a suggestion in Discourses II. 2 that Machiavelli saw Christianity not as a supernatural religion but as a cosmic, natural religion. For he hints that Christianity's appearance coincided with "the world becoming effeminate and the heaven becoming disarmed." This is the closest that he comes to suggesting that Christianity had its origin in the judgment of the heavens, that it appeared at a time when heaven and earth were in a specific astrological condition. In contemporary astrological thought Christianity was thought to have been the outcome of the conjunction of Jupiter and Mercury. And Mercury was held to be the planet favoring thought and contemplation. The "weakness" which Machiavelli says Christianity has allegedly introduced into the world and its contemplative bent, then, have their natural basis in cosmological causes.

The astrological pattern of thought, as it applies to religion, reappears in Discourses II. 5: all religions, he states, "change two or three times in five or six thousand years." The practice of calculating and predicting the duration of religions was a favorite past time of astrological natural philosophy. Savonarola, for example, in his Treatise on Astrology, ridiculed these calculations: Abu'Mashar, according to Savonarola, had calculated 1460 years to be the lifespan of Christianity, while Habraz had put it at 1444.22 While in Discourses II. 5, Machiavelli does not subscribe to a particular date for Christianity's demise, he seemed to imply that Christianity has a limit to its duration. In the meantime, however, what Christians had to do was to interpret Christianity according to virtu, that is, as a natural religion, something which Christians had failed to do. If it could be interpreted politically rather than theologically, it could, for the remainder of its duration, become a politically aggressive religion. Christian rulers would then be able to manipulate Christianity the way the Roman senate had manipulated paganism. But he was afraid that Christian theology stood in the way of this ever happening. For Christianity countered the cosmological notion of the heaven (il cielo) with the theological notion of paradise (paradiso): "This (the Christian) way of living, then, has made the world weak and turned it over as prey to the wicked men, who can in security control it, since the generality of men (l'universalità degli uomini), in order to go to paradise, think more about enduring their injuries than about avenging them."23 The contra-position of il cielo and paradiso highlights the contrast between Machiavelli's political cosmology and Christian theology.

A cosmological argument also lies at the basis of Machiavelli's celebrated theory of renewal, of "returning to the beginning."24 Although "all the things of the world" (tuttle le cose del mondo) have a limit (il termine) to their life, some of them can prolong it, if they can periodically renew themselves by going back to their beginning. The things that can prolong their lives in this way are, of course, "the mixed bodies"—republics, monarchies, and religions. The crucial point to be noted here is that these bodies, no less than natural bodies, are subject to the laws "ordained for them by heaven." These too are subject "to the process of time," and time, as Machiavelli is never tired of saying, does injure or disorder all human collectivities, whether religious or secular.25 However, human causation can work within the limit imposed by the motions of heaven, and if it does, it will result in the temporary renewal of the entity in question. The point that ought not be overlooked here is that Machiavelli ties his very theory of renewal, to the premodern notion of going back to the origin of the entity that is to be renewed. In other words, Machiavellian renewal is not something that looks forward but rather it is something that looks backward. Even though in Discourses I. 39, he clearly indicates that such renewal can bring forward new remedies, such notions of newness have still to be interpreted in the light of the fundamental notion, expressed in Discourses II (Preface). It is that "the world has al ways gone on in the same way and that there has been as much good as bad, but that this bad and this good have varied from land to land."26 The sum of good and bad remains constant, the only difference is that the good or virtù migrates from country to country—in Machiavelli's list, from Assyria, to Media, to Persia, to ancient Italy, to Turkey, France and parts of Germany and Switzerland.

The examples of renewal cited in Discourses III. 1, are those of the early Roman republic, the Franciscan and the Dominican movements within the Catholic church, and contemporary French monarchy. Certainly, in each case, specific human agencies were at work. Thus in the case of Rome there were such external accidents as the Gallic War of 390 B. C, as well as the internal renewal brought about by the Roman ordini, harshly executed. In the case of the Franciscan and the Dominican movements, there were, of course, the examples set by St Francis, St Dominic and their followers. The striking point about Machiavelli's interpretation of this instance of Christian renewal is that it too, by implication, was subject to the course ordained for them by heaven. In other words, Machiavelli prefers to see Christian renewal not in theological, but in cosmological terms. Here it may be useful to remember that according to contemporary astrological natural philosophy, the Franciscan and the Dominican reforms were thought to have begun with the planetary conjunction of 1226. No less an orthodox figure than Cardinal Pierre D'Ailly (c. 1350-c. 1420), chancellor of the University of Paris, believed this on the basis of astrological calculations.27 The cosmological context of Machiavel li's notion of renewal makes it doubtful whether he thought of these renewals as fully autonomous human activities. Yet there are those who think that Machiavelli's notion of renewal is to be understood in terms of the search for human autonomy.28 Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., sees in Machiavelli's idea of renewal, and the related notion of the perpetual republic, the basis for interpreting Machiavelli as the initiator of the modern notion of progress and progressivism (contra John Pocock and Quentin Skinner). "States will rise and fall," he writes, "but the whole will remain strong and mankind will progress in a condition Machiavelli calls 'the perpetual republic.'"29 Given Machiavelli's cosmology, and his rejection of the linear theory of history, it is difficult to see how the idea of modern progress can be read into Machiavelli. As we have already noted, his notion of renewal looks more to the beginning than to the future. The Machiavellian notion of the perpetual republic, it seems, should be interpreted both in the context of Machiavelli's cosmological principle, and in the specific context of Discourses III. 1, which, as the title indicates, is speaking only of prolonging the life (viva lungamente) rather than of perpetuating it. It is true that Machiavelli does say that if certain conditions can be met, a republic could carry on without corruption, and be perpetual. Two conditions are mentioned. The first, mentioned in Discourses I. 2, is that a republic be not conquered and absorbed by another. But we know, from Discourses I. 6, that this condition cannot be met, since nothing in human affairs can be perpetual, and since all states are subject to the cycle of growth, decline and fall. Decline of power tempts the stronger states to conquests. And the stronger states themselves will eventually succumb to the disintegrating, natural, process of time. The second condition to be met, mentioned in Discourses I. 20, Discourses III. 1, and Discourses III. 22, is the availability of good laws and good rulers. But such a condition can be met only if the republic itself is virtuous. Thus in Discourses I. 20, the argument is that if an infinite number of virtuous rulers can follow one another such a virtuous succession (virtuoso successione) could make a republic perpetual. That is to say, in order to have a virtuous perpetual republic, there should be an infinite number of virtuous rulers, which condition can be met only if the republic is perpetually virtuous. The argument involves circularity and, therefore, cannot be taken seriously. The same defect characterizes the other two cases. However, Discourses III. 17 denies the possibility of a perpetual republic: "And because no certain remedy can be given for such troubles that rise in republics, it follows that a perpetual republic cannot be established; in a thousand unexpected ways her ruin is caused." Briefly, Machiavelli's cosmology is not hospitable to the modern notion of progress; and the renewal he speaks of is not the outcome of sole human activity, but the outcome of conjoint activity of human and celestial causes.

One of the arguments in favor of Machiavelli's modernity, as noted already, is based on the claim that he paves the way for the conquest or, at least the control, of fortune, understood as chance. His famous metaphor of fortune as woman, who should be beaten into submission, is often cited as proof. As Strauss puts it, "Fortuna can be vanquished by the right kind of man."30 But the claim regarding chance warrants a close scrutiny of Machiavelli's treatment of fortune. The first thing to notice is his pattern of treating fortune throughout his works. We find him speaking of the fortune of individuals and the fortune of countries. The best example of this is chapter 25 of The Prince. In the first part of this chapter the fortune of countries—Germany, France, Spain, and Italy—is discussed. This is followed, in the second part, by a discussion of the fortune of individuals, in this case that of Julius II. Of the two metaphors used in this chapter, the first, that of the river in spate, refers to the fortune of countries, and the second, that of woman, refers to the fortune of individuals. The remedy against fortune varies depending on which fortune is being discussed. In the case of the fortune of countries, ordinata virtù—military power and preventive measures and preparations symbolized by dams, dikes and canals—can deal with chance events that occur to them. This was shown in a positive way by the example of Spain, Germany and France, and in a negative way, by that of Italy. The Roman republic also, as shown in Discourses II. 1, owed its greatness, more to its ordinata virtù than to fortune. But in the final analysis, countries, however powerful, are subject to the laws of the cycle of rise and fall. There is no question, then, of vanquishing the fortune of countries.

As regards the fortune of individuals, altogether different considerations are given. Military power and preparations can hardly help an individual stricken by the blows of misfortune. What is needed instead is the right quality of time, and the right temperament or humor, and their harmonization. In other words, Machiavelli's explanation relies on the astrologically laden concepts of quality of time and humors. Julius II succeeded in all that he did because his time and his temperament (which was choleric) always harmonized. And he would have failed, Machiavelli warns us, if he had to face a time which required a different type of temperament. The point of the warning is that one cannot go against one's temperament, that is, one is obliged to work within one's given temperament. And, of course, it is one's fortune, not free will or choice, that sees to it that one's time and one's temperament harmonize. That is to say, as far as the fortune of individuals is concerned, the chances of mastering fortune depends on fortune itself. The metaphor of the woman, if studied closely, says as much. Even though the youth is asked to beat the woman into submission, it is premised on the prior notion that fortune likes that this be so. Or, as Machiavelli states, "one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly."31 The point is that humans, not having control over the quality of their times, nor over the humor with which they are born, are dependent on fortune, who (or which) controls both the times and temperament. This is the pessimistic conclusion that Machiavelli reaches, not only in The Prince 25, but also elsewhere, for example, in his analysis of Cesare Borgia, Piero Soderini, Castruccio Castracani, Fabius Maximus, and others.32

We have already referred to the astrological language of Machiavelli's analysis of fortune. But there is more to his use of such language. For where else but in Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos do we find the original source of treating fortune in the twofold manner? It is in this master work of classical astrology, widely read in Florence for centuries (Salutati and Savonarola, for instance used to refer to Ptolemy as "the prince of astrologers"), that we find the scope of astrology being divided into "universal" or catholic and particular or genethliacal.33 The first concerns the fortunes of countries, cities and nations, and the second, those of individuals. Now it is remarkable that The Prince, chapter 25, in passing from the first part of the chapter to the second, uses the Ptolemaic terminology of the universal and the particular.34 Whether Machiavelli actually read Ptolemy or not, is not the question; the question is whether in his treatment of the subject, he appears to follow the mode of dividing astrology into the general and the particular. And the answer seems to be in the affirmative. And if this is true, it follows that his treatment of fortune is based on a premodern cosmology.

There is another aspect of Machiavelli's treatment of fortune which also casts doubts on the claim that he conquers fortune. It is that he uses fortune in at least two distinct senses. The first refers to fortune as a superhuman power, and the second, as the fortuitous. Fortune in the superhuman sense is the personified and deified goddess Fortuna, symbolizing the power of the heavenly bodies. Machiavelli sometimes used fortune in this sense: for example in Discourses II. 29, where fortune and heaven are identified. And in The Prince 25 where it is claimed that fortune is the arbiter of half of our actions, and that she leaves the other half, or almost that, for us to govern. Fortune in the second sense is used more frequently by him, as in The Prince, chapters 1 and 7, Discourses II. 30 and III. 31, where it is opposed to virtù. Virté can and should do everything possible within its sphere of effectiveness. One should not resign oneself to chance events that might occur in one's life, but should do everything that one can. But there is a limit to what one can do, and that limit is set by one's temperament and one's time. Thus to the question, Does Machiavelli overcome chance?, the answer needs to be based on a fundamental distinction between these two senses of fortune. Machiavelli wants humans to be activists, not fatalists. But the activism in question, as we shall see presently discussing his anthropology, is predicated on a premodern concept of human nature. It is, therefore, difficult to agree with Allan Bloom and others like him, who assert that there is an ideological continuity between Machiavelli, Bacon, Descartes, Danton, and the modern-day ideologue of scientism. Danton's de l'audace, encore de l'audance, toujours de l'audace, Bloom writes, "is but a pale, merely political duplicate of Machiavelli's original call to battle. Bacon's assertion that the goal of science is to 'ease man's estate,' Descartes' assertion that science will make man 'master and possessor of nature,' and the commonplace that science is the conquest of nature are offsprings of Machiavelli's revolution and constitute the political face adopted by modern philosophy." 35


There is no formal analysis of human nature in Machiavelli. But there is, no doubt, a coherent view of human nature underlying his political philosophy. Considered negatively, he does not conceive of humans as animals naturally destined for virtuous life to be lived in political society. As is evident from Discourses I. 2, humans come to recognize justice, goodness, and virtue, only after the "state" has been established on the basis of the need for security and power. In other words, his conception of human nature is neither Platonic nor Aristotelian nor Christian. But does this mean that it is modern?

Where he makes positive statements on human nature, we notice that the language used is often borrowed from premodern natural philosophy. Perhaps the most famous of these statements is found in Discourses I. 3: founders of republics should presuppose that "all men are evil (rei) and that they are always going to act according to the malignity of their spirit (animo) whenever they have free scope; and when any malignity remains occult for a time (occulta un tempo), the reason is some occult cause (occulta cagione) which, in the lack of any experience of the contrary, is not recognized, but then its discovery is brought out by time (il tempo), which they say, is the father of every truth."36 The key concepts contained in this remarkable statement—the absence of any predisposition toward the good, the predisposition, on the other hand, of the animo to act according to the malignity of time, the operations of an occult cause in nature and the human world—are all derived from contemporary astrological natural philosophy. The occult cause in question is the nonphysical, but supposedly real "influence" that heaven, the stars and the planets are alleged to exercise on human behavior. As the quality of their "influence" varies with their positions, the human propensity to evil also varies. It remains occult for a time, that is, it remains manifest only when the planetary conditions are correct. There is no mention here of the soul (anima); instead, the spirit (animo) is mentioned. Spirit in astrological natural philosophy was a psychic capacity capable of forming intentions, but not capable of surviving the dissolution of the body. The implication is that humans are not only subject to the occult influences but also that there is no truly immaterial power in their constitution, such as the power of the soul, a power that can resist the "influences" of heaven. It goes without saying that this is neither the classical nor the Christian view of human nature; but neither is it the modern view, insofar as the latter does not recognize the operations of any occult cause in nature.37

The second set of significant statements on human nature are found in the Ghiribizzi and in The Prince. In the Ghiribizzi, written in September 1506 to his friend Giovan Baptista Soderini, 38 the enquiry centers on the question of fortune: and its bearings on our successes and failures. How is it that moral virtues do not have anything to do with the successes or failures of politics?

We have seen and see every day that kingdoms and sovereignties are gained or lost according to fortuitous accidents…. A man who was praised while he was successful is reviled when he fails, and frequently after long prosperity a man who finally fails does not in any way blame himself but accuses heaven and the disposition of fate. But the reason why different ways of acting are sometimes equally effective and equally damaging I do not know, but I should much like to know. So in order to get your opinion I shall be so presumptuous as to give mine.39

This is the context of Machiavelli's enquiry in the Ghiribizzi. And Machiavelli's answer is the following:

I believe that as nature has given each man an individual face, so she has given him an individual "mind" (diverso ingegno) 40 and individual imagination (diversa fantasia). From this it results that each man governs himself according to his ingegno and fantasia. On the other hand, because times vary and affairs are of varied type, one man's desires come out as he had prayed they would; he is fortunate who harmonizes his behavior with his time, but on the contrary, he is not fortunate who in his behavior is out of harmony with his time and the type of its affairs. Hence it can well happen that two men working differently come to the same end, because each of them adapts himself to what he encounters, for affairs are of as many types as there are provinces and states. Thus, because times and affairs change universally and individually (universalmente et particularmente, shades of Ptolemy here?) and men do not change their fantasies and their behavior, it happens that a man at one time has good fortune and at another time bad.41

The astrological context of this analysis becomes evident thanks to the reference to the famous astrological dictum of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: "the wise man shall overcome the stars" (vir sapiens dominabitur astris). Astrological natural philosophy believed that this formula would solve the problem of astral determinism and free will. The wise man was the astrologer, that is, the scientist who knew the positions of the stars, and who, on the basis of such knowledge could anticipate the evil "influences" of the stars and could take preventive measures against them. In this sense he was thought to be able to "overcome" the stars. But both in the Ghiribizzi and in The Prince, Machiavelli rejects this classical astrological solution: "because there never as such wise men, since men in the first place are shortsighted and in the second place cannot command their nature, it follows that fortune varies and commands men and holds them under her yoke."42 These ideas, first developed in the Ghiribizzi, are refined and restated in The Prince, chapter 25' as well.43 But the rejection of the astrological formula does not mean that he rejected the astrological mode of analysis in terms of times and temperament.

What is striking in this mode of analysis is the shift that Machiavelli introduces in the theory of human action. The classical and scholastic theory of practical reason, phronesis, and recta ratio is abandoned in favor of ingegno and fantasia. However, action springing from these new foundations is subject to two new limitations. The first arises from the humor or temperament of each person, and the second, from the "quality" of the times under which each person operates. Both these limitations have their origin in astrological anthropology. Any one familiar with Durer's "Melancholia" knows how deeply the ideas of humors and temperament had influenced the Renaissance conception of personality. Melancholy was the humor which was under the influence of Saturn; but Jupiter could neutralize its malignant "influence." Whether the melancholic person produced works of genius or not depended on the "influences" of the planets in question. All such theory was the common patrimony of the Renaissance, and one should not be surprised if one sees reflections of it in the Ghiribizzi, The Prince, and the Discourses. Julius II succeeded in all that he did, Machiavelli argues, because his temperament and his times harmonized.44 This was also true of the successes of Fabius Maximus, Hannibal and Scipio. "Men in their conduct, and so much more in their great actions, ought to think of the times and adapt themselves to them. Those who because of a bad choice or natural inclination are out of harmony with the times, generally live in misfortune and their actions have a bad outcome; it is the opposite with those who are in harmony with the times."45

The consequence this theory of action has for free will (libero arbitrio) is considerable. Free will in the scholastic sense was rational desire, enjoying the freedom of indifference. Such a notion of freedom is not to be found in Machiavelli. For the Machiavellian personality is incapable of going against its natural inclination set by its humor and temperament. "You always act as nature forces you."46 Fabius Maximus Cunctator conducted himself the way he did in the Punic Wars, "through nature and not through choice."47 Julius II acted according to his choleric temperament: "and because the times fitted him well, his enterprises succeed—all of them. But if times requiring a different plan had come, of necessity he would have fallen, because he would not have changed for two reasons: one, that we cannot counteract that to which nature inclines us; the other, that when with one way of doing a man has prospered greatly, he cannot be persuaded that he can profit by doing otherwise."48 Manlius Torquatus "was forced to proceed so severely by those extraordinary commands to which nature inclined him … being impelled first by his nature, then by his desire that what his natural inclination had made him arrange should be carried out."49 The only change that Machiavelli recognizes as possible for humans are those which are caused by humor and temperament: "men are bored in good times and complain of bad ones." 50 We cannot hold to the middle way, "because our nature does not allow it."51

No doubt Machiavelli has lowered the standards of conduct: he has brought them down from recta ratio and phronesis to imagination and ingegno, temperament and times. But Strauss's argument is that this lowering has made the actualization of human desires more probable, even certain. But is this so? When we look closely at Machiavelli's account of the successes and failures of Julius II, Soderini, Castruccio Castracani, Cesare Borgia, Fabius Maximus, Scipio, Hannibal, Marius, Sulla, Manlius Torquatus, and Manlius Capitolinus—individuals whose actions he has examined more or less closely—we see that successes and failures were the outcome of coincidence of temperament and times rather than that of will and autonomy. Their successes had nothing to do with the lowering of standards. Moreover, Machiavelli accounts for them with the aid of an outmoded anthropology, the anthropology of astrological natural philosophy, and not with the aid of a modern type of anthropology.


We now return to the question raised at the beginning of this paper: Does the newness of Machiavelli imply or require modernity? No doubt, Machiavelli's political theory introduces many new things. It rejects, for example, the teachings springing from Plato, Aristotle and the Scholastics. It has changed the meaning of virtue in general and of phronesis in particular. But the arguments by means of which this is accomplished are based on premodern cosmology and anthropology; they are not based on arguments derived from modern science. If modernity requires the acceptance of a post-seventeenth-century concept of physical nature and human nature, then Machiavelli cannot be considered a modern. Only with the new concept of physical nature and human nature does modernity constitute itself. Insofar as this is true, Machiavelli's newness does not amount to modernity. Consequently, Strauss was correct when he wrote that Hobbes was the founder of modern political philosophy, and mistaken when he later revised this position and declared that the honor should go to Machiavelli.

There is still another point which Strauss raises and which needs to be addressed. It is his claim that there is a hidden kinship between Machiavelli's political science and the new natural science of the seventeenth century. But can even a hidden kinship exist between Machiavelli and the moderns when the open differences between them are so fundamental? Can two parties disagree on the nature of reality itself and still maintain any significant agreement between them, hidden or otherwise? To have a significant agreement there must be, for a minimum, a prior agreement on the nature of reality. Between Machiavelli and the moderns, however, no such agreement seems possible. Insofar as this is the case, one does not see how any significant hidden kinship can exist between the two.


The Editors thank Oxford University Press for permission to publish this article which is to appear in Tom Sorell's Early Modern Philosophy (forthcoming).

1 All references to Machiavelli's writings are to Niccolò Machiavelli, Tutte le opere, ed. Mario Martelli (Florence, 1971); hereafter Martelli. I have given my own translation of Machiavelli's texts, but in doing so, I have consulted Allan Gilbert's translation of Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others, 3 vols. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1965). Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius, hereafter Discourses.

2 Strauss, Leo, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), p. xix; Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), pp. 178–79; What Is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959), pp. 41–47; Thoughts on Machiavelli (Seattle, 1969), passim; On Tyranny (Ithaca: Cornell, 1963), PP. 24, 110–11, 196–97, 205; History of Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 296–318.

3 Strauss, History of Political Philosophy, p. 297.

4 Strauss, Political Philosophy of Hobbes, p. xix; What Is Political Philosophy, p. 40.

5 Strauss, On Tyranny, p. 24.

6 Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy, pp. 46–47.

7Ibid., p. 47.

8 "… come se il cielo, il sole, li elementi, li uomini, fussino variati di moto, di ordine e di potenza, da quello che gli erono antiquamente" (Discourses, I. Preface, Martelli, p. 76).

9 Note Machiavelli's use of the notion of ancients and moderns here. "Modern things" (moderne cose) are recent or contemporary events that are understood and explained according to the principles of Christian culture, whereas "ancient things" are things that are understood and explained according to the principles of classical or pre-Christian culture. Christianity for Machiavelli is part of modernity. The contrast between ancients and moderns occurs very frequently in his writings.

10Discourses, II. Preface, Martelli, p. 145.

11 Martelli, p. 738; for the parallel passage see The Golden Ass, chap. 5, Martelli, p. 967.

12Discourses, I. 6, Martelli, p. 86.


14 Martelli, pp. 154–55.

15 For both the Italian and the Latin versions of this letter, dated 8 November 1504, see Martelli, p. 939.

16 "lo canterò l'italiche fatiche, / segùite già ne' duo passati lustri / sotto le stelle al suo bene inimiche" (Ibid., p. 940).

17History of Florence, I. 25, Martelli, pp. 649–50.

18Ibid., III. 5, Martelli, p. 694.

19Discourses, I. 11, Martelli, p. 93.

20Discourses, I. 12, Martelli, p. 95.

21Discourses, I. 12, II, 2; The Prince, chap. 12, History of Florence, I. 9.

22 Girolomo Savonarola, Contra Astrologiam Divinatricem, Tract III, chap. 4. I have used the 1497 edition of this work, preserved at the Houghton Library of Harvard University.

23Discourses, II. 2, Martelli, pp. 149–50.

24Discourses, III. 1, Martelli, p. 195.

25Discourses, III. 9, Martelli, p. 212.

26Discourses, II. Preface, Martelli, p. 145.

27 See Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York: Macmillan, 1934), 4: 107.

28 A case for full autonomy is made by Hanna Pitkin in her Fortune Is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolò Machiavelli (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 7, passim.

29 See Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., "Machiavelli's Political Science," American Political Science Review 75 (1981): 294 n. 3 and 305 n. 55.

30 Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli, p. 216.

31The Prince, chap. 25, Martelli, p. 296.

32 See The Prince, chap. 7; Discourses, III. 9; and The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca.

33 See Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, ed. and trans. F. E. Robins, (London: The Loeb Classical Library, 1980), II. 1.

34 "E questo voglio basti avere detto quanto allo opporsi alla fortuna, in universali. Ma restringendomi più a' particulari, dico come si vede oggi questo principe felicitare, e domani ruinare, sanza averli veduto mutare natura o qualità alcuna" (Martelli, p. 295. Emphasis added).

35 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 286.

36 Martelli, p. 81.

37 In the poem On Fortune, Machiavelli points out the connection of" occulta virtù" by which we are "governed" by heaven: see Martelli, p. 978.

38 For the text see Martelli, pp. 1082–83.


40Ingegno here is the Italian of the Latin ingenium. Note Descartes's use of this word in Regulae ad directionem ingenii. The difficulty in translating this word into English may also be noted: G. R. T. Ross translates it as both "intelligence" and "mind." See Descartes: The Philosophical Works, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 1: x and 1. Machiavelli uses the word ingegno here to refer to the cognitive power of human beings. But given his astrological natural philosophy, it should be understood that this power is not a power of the soul but of the body, and that it works in tandem with imagination.

41 Martelli, p. 1083.


43 See Martelli, p. 296.

44The Prince, 25, Martelli, p. 296.

45Discourses, III. 6, Martelli, p. 212.

46Discourses, III. 9, Martelli, p. 213.



49Discourses, III. 22, Martelli, p. 228.

50Discourses, III. 21, Martelli, p. 227; Ghiribizzi, 1083.

51 Martelli, p. 227.

Further Reading

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Hale, J. R. Machiavelli and Renaissance Italy. New York: Collier Books, 1960, 220 p.

Biographical and critical study of Machiavelli's life and works.


Berlin, Isaiah. "The Originality of Machiavelli," in Studies on Machiavelli, edited by Myron P. Gilmore, pp. 149–206. G. C. Sansoni Editore, 1972.

Important essay that provides a comprehensive overview of Machiavelli's thought.

Burnham, James. "Machiavelli: The Science of Power," in The Machiavellians, pp. 29–80. New York: The John Day Co., 1943.

Discusses Machiavelli's goals, methods, conception of history, and reputation. Burnham argues that Machiavelli's principal aim was the unification of Italy and that he divorced politics from transcendental ethics in order to locate both politics and ethics in the "real world of space and time and history."

Cochrane, Eric W. "Machiavelli: 1940–1960," The Journal of Modern History XXXIII, No. 2 (June 1961): 113–36.

Surveys trends in scholarly writing on Machiavelli, noting interest in such topics as the relationship between politics and Christian morality, method, language, and the connections between Machiavelli's ideas and life experiences.

Colish, Marcia L. "The Idea of Liberty in Machiavelli," Journal of the History of Ideas XXXII, No. 3 (July-September 1971): 323–50.

Analyzes Machiavelli's use of the word libertà in an effort to understand what he meant by that term and its relation to his other political ideas.

Grazia, Sebastian de. Machiavelli in Hell. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1989, 497 p.

Extensive survey and analysis of Machiavelli's political thought.

Hariman, Robert. "Composing Modernity in Machiavelli's Prince." Journal of the History of Ideas 50, No. 1 (January-March 1989): 3–29.

Argues that Machiavelli was the key figure in the transition to modern political thinking because he "invented the peculiar assumption informing modern political consciousness that power is an autonomous, material force."

Hulliung, Mark. Citizen Machiavelli. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton Unviersity Press, 1983, 299 p.

Discusses Machiavelli's thoughts on republicanism and argues that if popular culture is mistaken about what Machiavelli promoted in his writings, scholars efforts to redeem him have been even more misleading.

Mansfield, Harvey C, Jr. "Machiavelli's Political Science." The American Political Science Review 75, No. 2 (June 1981): 293–305.

Discusses Machiavelli's role in the formation of modern political science. In his analysis, Mansfield focuses on The Prince and the Discourses.

——. "Machiavelli and the Modern Executive." In Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power, pp. 121–49. New York: Free Press, 1989.

Analyzes Machiavelli's understanding of nature, his attack on the Christian religion, and his concept of the executive. Mansfield argues that Machiavelli "was the first writer on politics to use the word 'execute' frequently and thematically in its modern sense."

Parel, A. J. "Machiavelli's Notions of Justice: Text and Analysis." Political Theory 18, No. 4 (November 1990): 528–44.

Analyzes Machiavelli's "Allocution Made to a Magistrate." Parel argues that "Allocution" demonstrates Machiavelli's thorough knowledge of Christian and classical justice and contends that "two different conceptions of justice coexist in his writings."

——. The Machiavellian Cosmos. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992, 203 p.

Explores the themes of heaven—in the Renaissance sense of physics and cosmology—and humours—in the pre-modern sense of the medical study of human nature. Parel contends that the study of these themes informs Machiavelli's political thought as a whole.

Strauss, Leo. "Niccolo Machiavelli." In History of Political Philosophy, edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, pp. 271–92. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Examines Machiavelli's political thought in the context of prior and subsequent political thinkers.

Villari, Pasquale. "Chapter II: The Prince and the Discourses." In The Life and Times of Noccolo Machiavelli, translated by Linda Villari, pp. 94–132. 1892. Reprint. New York: Greenwood Publishers, 1968.

Discusses Machiavelli's ideas regarding politics and the state in the two works, and relates them to the overall context of renaissance notions of political science.

Whitfield, J. H. Machiavelli. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1947, 167 p.

Critical overview of Machiavelli's life and works, focusing on The Prince, The Discourses on Livy, and the context in which he wrote.

——. "The Politics of Machiavelli." In Discourses on Machiavelli, pp. 163–79. Cambridge, England: W. Heffer & Sons, 1969.

Examines the history of and meaning attached to the word "politics," arguing that its connotations have changed considerably since Machiavelli's time.

Additional coverage of Machiavelli's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 8; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors:British; Discovering Authors: Canadian.


Niccolò Machiavelli Drama Analysis