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Exploring Niccolò Machiavelli's Philosophy in Politics

 Machiavelli Philosophy in Politics 

Dive into the political thought of one of the most renowned Italian philosophers, Niccolò Machiavelli. Learn his beliefs on power politics and leadership!

Niccolò Machiavelli is one of the most influential Italian philosophers and political theorists in history. His ideas on power, statecraft, politics, and leadership have been studied and debated since the 16th century. Get an in-depth look at Machiavelli's philosophy on power politics and you'll gain valuable insights into modern politics.

what is Niccolo Machiavelli famous for ?

 Niccolo Machiavelli great work was the art of war and the prince.

Who is father of modern political science ?

Niccolo Machiavelli was father of modern political science.

Who is the author of the prince ?

Machiavelli wrote the prince

Understand Niccolò Machiavelli's philosophy

Before exploring Niccolò Machiavelli's philosophy, it is important to understand the context in which he lived. Machiavelli lived and wrote during the Italian Renaissance, a time of great political turmoil and flux. He had firsthand experience witnessing many of these upheavals and formed his philosophy accordingly. His views on politics, statecraft, power, and leadership were deeply shaped by his experiences with real-world politics.

how did Machiavelli influence the renaissance

THE Renaissance, though it produced no important theoretical philosopher, produced one man of supreme eminence in political philosophy, Niccolà Machiavelli. It is the custom to be shocked by him, and he certainly is sometimes shocking. But many other men would be equally so if they were equally free from humbug. Machiavelli  was a Florentine historian, politician, military strategist and humanist.

Political philosophy of niccolo machiavelli

 His political philosophy is scientific and empirical, based upon his own experience of affairs, concerned to set forth the means to assigned ends, regardless of the question whether the ends are to be considered good or bad. 

When, on occasion, he allows himself to mention the ends that he desires, they are such as we can all applaud. Much of the conventional obloquy that attaches to his name is due to the indignation of hypocrites who hate the frank avowal of evil-doing. There remains, it is true, a good deal that genuinely demands criticism, but in this he is an expression of his age. 

Such intellectual honesty about political dishonesty would have been hardly possible at any other time or in any other country, except perhaps in Greece among men who owed their theoretical education to the sophists and their practical training to the wars of petty states which, in classical Greece as in Renaissance Italy, were the political accompaniment of individual genius. 

Contribution of machiavelli in western political thought

That question might naturally and legitimately occur to anyone encountering an entry about him in an encyclopedia of philosophy. Certainly, Machiavelli contributed to a large number of important discourses in Western thought political theory most notably, but also history and historiography, Italian literature, the principles of warfare, and diplomacy. 

But Machiavelli never seems to have considered himself a philosopher indeed, he often overtly rejected philosophical inquiry as beside the point nor do his credentials suggest that he fits comfortably into standard models of academic philosophy. His writings are maddeningly and notoriously unsystematic, inconsistent and sometimes self-contradictory. He tends to appeal to experience and example in the place of rigorous logical analysis. Yet there are good reasons to include Machiavelli among the greatest of political philosophers, some of which are internal to his writings.

Moreover, succeeding thinkers who more obviously qualify as philosophers of the first rank did (and still do) feel compelled to engage with his ideas, either to dispute them or to incorporate his insights into their own teachings. Even if Machiavelli grazed at the fringes of philosophy, the impact of his extensive musings has been widespread and lasting.

Machiavelli meaning

 The terms “Machiavellian” or “Machiavellism” find regular purchase among philosophers concerned with a range of ethical, political, and psychological phenomena, regardless of whether or not Machiavelli himself invented “Machiavellism” or was in fact a “Machiavellian” in the sense commonly ascribed to him. Machiavelli's critique of utopian philosophical schemes (such as those of Plato utopia) challenges an entire tradition of political philosophy in a manner that commands attention and demands consideration and response. . Thus, Machiavelli deserves a place at the table in any comprehensive survey of political philosophy.

history of Machiavelli

Machiavelli ( 1469-1527) was a Florentine, whose father, a lawyer, was neither rich nor poor. When he was in his twenties, Savonarola dominated Florence; his miserable end evidently made a great impression on Machiavelli, for he remarks that "all armed prophets have conquered and unarmed ones failed," proceeding to give Savonarola as an instance of the latter class. 
On the other side he mentions Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus. It is typical of the Renaissance that Christ is not mentioned.

Niccolò Machiavelli  held senior office in the Florentine government for twelve of the tumultuous republican years between 1494 when Piero de’ Medici was overthrown and Savonarola was ascendant, and 1512 when Medici rule returned. He was, in succession and in effect, the republic’s foreign minister and minister for war. Because his role involved frequent travel to the courts of kings, emperors, popes and generals on behalf of Florence, he had a marvellous opportunity to observe different personalities and systems; and because he was charged with the delicate task of negotiating with powers far more formidable than Florence itself, he was able to refine his analytic and diplomatic skills to consummate levels. In all the years he served Florence his reports and letters of advice were highly valued, praised for their astuteness and wisdom, and for their literary qualities.

The Medicis’ return in 1512 ended Machiavelli’s career. Machiavelli  life nearly went with it; he was thrown into the Bargello dungeon and tortured on suspicion of conspiracy. Happily the menace was brief, and he was allowed to withdraw to his farm in the Florentine countryside, where during his remaining years he relieved his immense frustration at being excluded from political life by writing about politics instead. There was minor consolation; towards the very end he was again used, in lesser capacities, as a representative of Florence, and took an active part in efforts to save the city during the destructive Italian wars of the 1520s.

But Machiavelli’s main legacy is his writings, and chiefly his classic of frank and frankly shocking political advice, Il Principe (‘The Prince’, completed in 1513). Its message is that princely virtus is not, as other humanist writers maintained, the promotion of justice and peace, but the ability to maintain the state by employing the lion’s ferocity and the fox’s cunning. To try to rule only by virtue, he said, would be ruinous, because less scrupulous opponents will take advantage.

However, Machiavelli introduces a highly significant qualification: when he looks to the past for examples of good and bad rulers, he condemns those who were cold-bloodedly cruel, naming the usual suspects among Roman emperors, but singling out for particular mention the Syracusan tyrant Agathocles, saying, ‘it cannot be called virtue to kill one’s fellow-citizens, betray one’s friends, be faithless and pitiless … by such means one may win power, but not glory.’ This shows that Machiavelli thought a prince’s actions should aim at the security and benefit of the state, not of his own person; and that too is why he tirelessly urged Florence to raise and maintain its own army, instead of using mercenary forces, or trying to buy off invaders; ‘why give them money to make them stronger, when you could use it to protect yourself?’ he repeatedly asked.

when did Niccolo Machiavelli write the prince

 His most famous work, The Prince, was written in 1513, and dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent, since he hoped (vainly, as it proved) to win the favour of the Medici. Its tone is perhaps partly due to this practical purpose; his longer work, the Discourses, which he was writing at the same time, is markedly more republican and more liberal. 

Machiavelli philosophy the prince

the Prince book

Analysis of the prince Niccolo Machiavelli - He says at the beginning of The Prince that he will not speak of republics in this book, since he has dealt with them elsewhere. Those who do not read also the Discourses are likely to get a very one-sided view of his doctrine. 

Having failed to conciliate the Medici, Machiavelli was compelled to go on writing. He lived in retirement until the year of his death, which was that of the sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V. This year may be reckoned also that in which the Italian Renaissance died. 

Machiavelli the prince key points

The Prince is concerned to discover, from history and from contemporary events, how principalities are won, how they are held, and how they are lost. Fifteenth-century Italy afforded a multitude of examples, both great and small. 

Few rulers were legitimate; even the popes, in many cases, secured election by corrupt means. The rules for achieving success were not quite the same as they became when times grew more settled, for no one was shocked by cruelties and treacheries which would have disqualified a man in the eighteenth or the nineteenth century.

 Perhaps our age, again, can better appreciate Machiavelli, for some of the most notable successes of our time have been achieved by methods as base as any employed in Renaissance Italy. He would have applauded, as an artistic connoisseur in statecraft, Hitler's Reichstag fire, his purge of the party in 1934, and his breach of faith after Munich. 

Caesar Borgia, son of Alexander VI, comes in for high praise. His problem was a difficult one: first, by the death of his brother, to become the sole beneficiary of his father's dynastic ambition; second, to conquer by force of arms, in the name of the Pope, territories which should, after Alexander's death, belong to himself and not to the Papal States; third, to manipulate the College of Cardinals so that the next Pope should be his friend. 

He pursued this difficult end with great skill; from his practice, Machiavelli says, a new prince should derive precepts. Caesar failed, it is true, but only "by the extraordinary malignity of fortune."

 It happened that, when his father died, he also was dangerously ill; by the time he recovered, his enemies had organized their forces, and his bitterest opponent had been elected Pope. On the day of this election, Caesar told Machiavelli that he had provided for everything, "except that he had never thought that at his father's death he would be dying himself." 

Machiavelli, who was intimately acquainted with his villainies, sums up thus: "Reviewing thus all the actions of the duke [ Caesar], I find nothing to blame, on the contrary, I feel bound, as I have done, to hold him as an example to be imitated by all who by fortune and with the arms of others have risen to power."

Of Ecclesiastical Principalities

There is an interesting chapter "Of Ecclesiastical Principalities," which, in view of what is said in the Discourses, evidently conceals part of Machiavelli's thought. 

The reason for concealment was, no doubt, that The Prince was designed to please the Medici, and that, when it was written, a Medici had just become Pope ( Leo X). In regard to ecclesiastical principalities, he says in The Prince, the only difficulty is to acquire them, for, when acquired, they are defended by ancient religious customs, which keep their princes in power no matter how they behave. 

Machiavelli on leadership

According to Machiavelli, the primary leadership skill for rulers is their ability to see into future events and anticipate potential challenges. He argued that success depended on a leader's skill in foreseeing possible outcomes from today’s decisions and choosing among them wisely. A well-prepared ruler should have strategies in place for every potential case of either victory or failure in order to maximize the probability of success. Machiavelli also believed that there was no single way of governing, so each ruler should develop skills that suit their own context best.

Machiavelli on religion

Their princes do not need armies (so he says), because "they are upheld by higher causes, which the human mind cannot attain to." They are "exalted and maintained by God," and "it would be the work of a presumptuous and foolish man to discuss them." Nevertheless, he continues, it is permissible to inquire by what means Alexander VI so greatly increased the temporal power of the Pope.

The discussion of the papal powers in the Discourses is longer and more sincere. Here he begins by placing eminent men in an ethical hierarchy. The best, he says, are the founders of religions; then come the founders of monarchies or republics; then literary men. These are good, but destroyers of religions, subverters of republics or kingdoms, and enemies of virtue or of letters, are bad.

 Those who establish tyrannies are wicked, including Julius Caesar; on the other hand, Brutus was good. (The contrast between this view and Dante's shows the effect of classical literature.) 

He holds that religion should have a prominent place in the State, not on the ground of its truth, but as a social cement: the Romans were right to pretend to believe in auguries, and to punish those who disregarded them. His criticisms of the Church in his day are two: that by its evil conduct it has undermined religious belief, and that the temporal power of the popes, with the policy that it inspires, prevents the unification of Italy. These criticisms are expressed with great vigour. 

"The nearer people are to the Church of Rome, which is the head of our religion, the less religious are they. . . . Her ruin and chastisement is near at hand. . . . We Italians owe to the Church of Rome and to her priests our having become irreligious and bad; but we owe her a still greater debt, and one that will be the cause of our ruin, namely that the Church has kept and still keeps our country divided." (This remained true until 1870.)

In view of such passages, it must be supposed that Machiavelli's admiration of Caesar Borgia was only for his skill, not for his purposes. Admiration of skill, and of the actions that lead to fame, was very great at the time of the Renaissance. This kind of feeling has, of course, always existed; many of Napoleon's enemies enthusiastically admired him as a military strategist. 

But in the Italy of Machiavelli's time the quasi-artistic admiration of dexterity was much greater than in earlier or later centuries. It would be a mistake to try to reconcile it with the larger political aims which Machiavelli considered important; the two things, love of skill and patriotic desire for Italian unity, existed side by side in his mind, and were not in any degree synthesized. 

Thus he can praise Caesar Borgia for his cleverness, and blame him for keeping Italy disrupted. The perfect character, one must suppose, would be, in his opinion, a man as clever and unscrupulous as Caesar Borgia where means are concerned, but aiming at a different end. 

The Prince ends with an eloquent appeal to the Medici to liberate Italy from the "barbarians" (i.e., the French and Spaniards), whose domination "stinks." He would not expect such a work to be undertaken from unselfish motives, but from love of power, and still more of fame. 

Machiavelli the prince morality

The Prince is very explicit in repudiating received morality where the conduct of rulers is concerned. A ruler will perish if he is always good; he must be as cunning as a fox and as fierce as a lion. There is a chapter (XVIIII) entitled: "In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith." We learn that they should keep faith when it pays to do so, but not otherwise. A prince must on occasion be faithless. 

"But it is necessary to be able to disguise this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler; and men are so simple and so ready to obey present necessities, that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived. I will mention only One modern instance. 

Alexander VI did nothing else but deceive men, he thought of nothing else, and found the occasion for it; no man was ever more able to give assurances, or affirmed things with stronger oaths, and no man observed them less; however, he always succeeded in his deceptions, as he knew well this aspect of things. It is not necessary therefore for a prince to have all the above named qualities [the conventional virtues], but it is very necessary to seem to have them."

He goes on to say that, above all, a prince should seem to be religious. 

The tone of the Discourses, which are nominally a commentary on Livy, is very different. There are whole chapters which seem almost as if they had been written by Montesquieu; most of the book could have been read with approval by an eighteenth-century liberal. The doctrine of checks and balances is set forth explicitly. Princes, nobles, and people should all have a part in the Constitution; "then these three powers will keep each other reciprocally in check." 

The constitution of Sparta, as established by Lycurgus, was the best, because it embodied the most perfect balance; that of Solon was too democratic, and therefore led to the tyranny of Peisistratus, The Roman republican constitution was good, owing to the conflict of Senate and people.

The word "liberty" is used throughout as denoting something precious, though what it denotes is not very clear. This, of course, comes from antiquity, and was passed on to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Tuscany has preserved its liberties, because it contains no castles or gentlemen. ("Gentlemen" is of course a rnistranslation, but a pleasing one.) 

It seems to be recognized that political liberty requires a certain kind of personal virtue in the citizens. In Germany alone, we are told, probity and religion are still common and therefore in Germany there are many republics. In general, the. people are wiser and more constant than princes, although Livy and most other writers maintain the opposite. It is not without good reason that it is said, "The voice of the people is the voice of God."

It is interesting to observe how the political thought of the Greeks and Romans, in their republican days, acquired an actuality in the fifteenth century which it had not had in Greece since Alexander or in Rome since Augustus. 

The Neoplatonists, the Arabs, and the Schoolmen took a passionate interest in the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, but none at all in their political writings, because the political systems of the age of City States had completely disappeared. The growth of City States in Italy synchronized with the revival of learning, and made it possible for humanists to profit by the political theories of republican Greeks and Romans. 

The love of "liberty," and the theory of checks and balances, came to the Renaissance from antiquity, and to modern times largely from the Renaissance, though also directly from antiquity. This aspect of Machiavelli is at least as important as the more famous "immoral" doctrines of The Prince.

It is to be noted that Machiavelli never bases any political argument on Christian or biblical grounds. Medieval writers had a conception of "legitimate" power, which was that of the Pope and the Emperor, or derived from them. 

Northern writers, even so late as Locke, argue as to what happened in the Garden of Eden, and think that they can thence derive proofs that certain kinds of power are "legitimate." In Machiavelli there is no such conception. Power is for those who have the skill to seize it in a free competition. 

His preference for popular government is not derived from any idea of "rights," but from the observation that popular governments are less cruel, unscrupulous, and inconstant than tyrannies. 

Machiavelli's view on politics

Niccolò Machiavelli’s theories of power politics are often divided into two categories. The first encompasses his views on how leaders should behave in order to gain and maintain political power. He believed that a strong leader should be willing to do anything in order to achieve his goals, even if it means going against established conventions or laws. The second category concerns Machiavelli's advice on how followers should behave, or rather, the importance of inspiring loyalty from citizens. In order for a ruler to remain in power, he must ensure that his subjects’ rights and desires are taken into consideration.

Let us try to make a synthesis (which Machiavelli himself did not make) of the "moral" and "immoral" parts of his doctrine. In what follows, Here is  expressing not any own opinions, but opinions which are explicitly or implicitly his.

There are certain political goods, of which three are specially important: national independence, security, and a well-ordered constitution. 

The best constitution is one which apportions legal rights among prince, nobles, and people in proportion to their real power, for under such a constitution successful revolutions are difficult and therefore stability is possible; but for considerations of stability, it would be wise to give more power to the people. So far as regards ends. 

But there is also, in politics, the question of means. It is futile to pursue a political purpose by methods that are bound to fail; if the end is held good, we must choose means adequate to its achievement. 

The question of means can be treated in a purely scientific manner, without regard to the goodness or badness of the ends. "Success" means the achievement of your purpose, whatever it may be. If there is a science of success, it can be studied just as well in the successes of the wicked as in those of the good indeed better, since the examples of successful sinners are more numerous than those of successful saints. But the science, once established, will be just as useful to the saint as to the sinner. For the saint, if he concerns himself with politics, must wish, just as the sinner does, to achieve success. 

Machiavelli on politics and power

The question is ultimately one of power. To achieve a political end, power, of one kind or another, is necessary. This plain fact is concealed by slogans, such as "right will prevail" or "the triumph of evil is short-lived." If the side that you think right prevails, that is because it has superior power. 

It is true that power, often, depends upon opinion, and opinion upon propaganda; it is true, also, that it is an advantage in propaganda to seem more virtuous than your adversary, and that one way of seeming virtuous is to be virtuous. For this reason, it may sometimes happen that victory goes to the side which has the most of what the general public considers to be virtue. 

We must concede to Machiavelli that this was an important element in the growing power of the Church during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, as well as in the success of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. But there are important limitations.

 In the first place, those who have seized power can, by controlling propaganda, cause their party to appear virtuous; no one, for example, could mention the sins of Alexander VI in a New York or Boston public school. In the second place, there are chaotic periods during which obvious knavery frequently succeeds; the period of Machiavelli was one of them. 

In such times, there tends to be a rapidly growing cynicism, which makes men forgive anything provided it pays. Even in such times, as Machiavelli himself says, it is desirable to present an appearance of virtue before the ignorant public.

This question can be carried a step further. Machiavelli is of opinion that civilized men are almost certain to be unscrupulous egoists. If a man wished nowadays to establish a republic, he says, he would find it easier with mountaineers than with the men of a large city, since the latter would be already corrupted. It is curious to find this anticipation of Rousseau. It would be amusing, and not wholly false, to interpret Machiavelli as a disappointed romantic.

If a man is an unscrupulous egoist, his wisest line of conduct will depend upon the population with which he has to operate. The Renaissance Church shocked everybody, but it was only north of the Alps that it shocked people enough to produce the Reformation. 

At the time when Luther began his revolt, the revenue of the papacy was probably larger than it would have been if Alexander VI and Julius II had been more virtuous, and if this is true, it is so because of the cynicism of Renaissance Italy. 

It follows that politicians will behave better when they depend upon a virtuous population than when they depend upon one which is indifferent to moral considerations; they will also behave better in a community in which their crimes, if any, can be made widely known, than in one in which there is a strict censorship under their control. A certain amount can, of course, always be achieved by hypocrisy, but the amount can be much diminished by suitable institutions. 

Machiavelli's political thinking, like that of most of the ancients, is in one respect somewhat shallow. He is occupied with great law givers, such as Lycurgus and Solon, who are supposed to create a community all in one piece, with little regard to what has gone before. 

The conception of a community as an organic growth, which the statesmen can only affect to a limited extent, is in the main modern, and has been greatly strengthened by the theory of evolution. This conception is not to be found in Machiavelli any more than in Plato. 

It might, however, be maintained that the evolutionary view of society, though true in the past, is no longer applicable, but must, for the present and the future, be replaced by a much more mechanistic view. In Russia and Germany new societies have been created, in much the same way as the mythical Lycurgus was supposed to have created the Spartan polity. 

The ancient law giver was a benevolent myth; the modern law giver is a terrifying reality. The world has become more like that of Machiavelli than it was, and the modern man who hopes to refute his philosophy must think more deeply than seemed necessary in the nineteenth century.

The Art of War summary

The art of war book
The Art of War (Italian: Dell'arte della guerra) is a treatise by the Italian Renaissance political philosopher and historian Niccolò Machiavelli. The format of The Art of War is a socratic dialogue. The purpose, declared by Lord Fabrizio Colonna (perhaps Machiavelli's persona) at the outset, "To honor and reward virtue, not to have contempt for poverty, to esteem the modes and orders of military discipline, to constrain citizens to love one another, to live without factions, to esteem less the private than the public good." To these ends, Machiavelli notes in his preface, the military is like the roof of a palazzo protecting the contents. 

Written between 1519 and 1520 and published the following year, it was Machiavelli's only historical or political work printed during his lifetime, though he was appointed official historian of Florence in 1520 and entrusted with minor civil duties.

The Art of War is divided into a preface (proemio) and seven books (chapters), which take the form of a series of dialogues that take place in the Orti Oricellari, the gardens built in a classical style by Bernardo Rucellai in the 1490s for Florentine aristocrats and humanists to engage in discussion, between Cosimo Rucellai and "Lord Fabrizio Colonna" (many feel Colonna is a veiled disguise for Machiavelli himself, but this view has been challenged by scholars such as Mansfield), with other patrizi and captains of the recent Florentine republic: Zanobi Buondelmonti, Battista della Palla and Luigi Alamanni. The work is dedicated to Lorenzo di Filippo Strozzi, patrizio fiorentino in a preface which ostentatiously pronounces Machiavelli's authorship. 

After repeated uses of the first person singular to introduce the dialogue, Machiavelli retreats from the work, serving as neither narrator nor interlocutor. Fabrizio is enamored with the Roman Legions of the early to mid Roman Republic and strongly advocates adapting them to the contemporary situation of Renaissance Florence. Fabrizio dominates the discussions with his knowledge, wisdom and insights. The other characters, for the most part, simply yield to his superior knowledge and merely bring up topics, ask him questions or for clarification. These dialogues, then, often become monologues with Fabrizio detailing how an army should be raised, trained, organized, deployed and employed.

Machiavelli's Art of War echoes many themes, issues, ideas and proposals from his earlier, more widely read works, The Prince and The Discourses. To the contemporary reader, Machiavelli's dialogue may seem impractical and to under-rate the effectiveness of both firearms and cavalry.[1] 

However, his theories were not merely based on a thorough study and analysis of classical and contemporary military practices. Machiavelli had served for fourteen years as secretary to the Chancery of Florence and "personally observed and reported back to his government on the size, composition, weaponry, morale, and logistical capabilities of the most effective militaries of his day."

However, the native fighting force he assiduously oversaw was struck a catastrophic defeat in Prato in 1512 which led to the downfall of the Florentine republican government. Machiavelli wrote that war must be expressly defined. He developed the philosophy of "limited warfare" that is, when diplomacy fails, war is an extension of politics. Art of War also emphasizes the necessity of a state militia and promotes the concept of armed citizenry. He believed that all society, religion, science, and art rested on the security provided by the military.[2,3]

However at the time he was writing, firearms, both technologically and tactically, were in their infancy and the overwhelming of enemy missile-armed troops, of artillery even, between salvos, by a charge of pikes and sword and shield men would have been a viable tactic. In addition Machiavelli was not writing in a vacuum; Art of War was written as a practical proposition to the rulers of Florence as an alternative to the unreliable condottieri mercenaries upon which all the Italian city states were reliant. 

A standing army of the prosperous and pampered citizens that would have formed the cavalry would have been little better. Machiavelli therefore "talks up" the advantages of a militia of those arms that Florence could realistically muster and equip from her own resources.

However, his basic notion of emulating Roman practices was slowly and pragmatically adapted by many later rulers and commanders, most notably Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden.

They would lay the foundations for the system of linear tactics which would dominate the warfare of Europe and the world until after the Napoleonic Wars. While Machiavelli's influence as a military theorist is often given a back seat to his writings as a political philosopher, that he considered Dell'arte della guerra to be his most important work is clear from his discussions of the military science and soldiery in other works. For example, in The Prince he declares that "a prince should have no other object, no any other thought, nor take anything as his art but that of war and its orders and discipline; for that is the only art which is of concern to one who commands."[4,5]

In the course of the sixteenth century twenty-one editions appeared and it was translated into French, English, German, and Latin. Montaigne named Machiavelli next to Caesar, Polybius, and Commynes as an authority on military affairs.

Although in the seventeenth century changing military methods brought other writers to the fore, Machiavelli was still frequently quoted. In the eighteenth century, the Marshal de Saxe leaned heavily on him when he composed his Reveries upon the Art of War (1757), and Algarotti though without much basis saw in Machiavelli the master who has taught Frederick the Great the tactics by which he astounded Europe. Like most people concerned with military matters, Jefferson had Machiavelli's Art of War in his library, and when the War of 1812 increased American interest in problems of war, The Art of War was brought out in a special American edition."

This continued interest in Machiavelli as a military thinker was not only caused by the fame of his name; some of the recommendations made in the Art of War those on training, discipline, and classification, for instance gained increasing practical importance in early modern Europe when armies came to be composed of professionals coming from the most different social strata. This does not mean that the progress of military art in the sixteenth century in drilling, in dividing an army into distinct units, in planning and organizing campaigns was due to the influence of

Machiavelli. Instead, the military innovators of the time were pleased to find a work in which aspects of their practice were explained and justified. Moreover, in the sixteenth century, with its wide knowledge of ancient literature and its deep respect for classical wisdom, it was commonly held that the Romans owed their military triumphs to their emphasis on discipline and training. 

Machiavelli's attempt to present Roman military organization as the model for the armies of his time was therefore not regarded as extravagant. At the end of the sixteenth century, for instance, Justus Lipsius, in his influential writings on military affairs, also treated the Roman military order as a permanently valid model.[6,7]

The content and format of The Art of War are strangely at odds. In the opening pages, after Cosimo has described his grandfather's inspiration for gardens in which the conversations are set, Fabrizio declaims that we should imitate ancient warfare rather than ancient art forms. 

However, the Art of War is a dialogue in the humanist tradition of imitating classical forms. Machiavelli himself appears to have fallen into the trap for which Fabrizio criticizes Bernardo Rucellai. Despite this inherent contradiction, the book lacks much of the cynical tone and humour that is so characteristic of Machiavelli's other works.[8]

niccolò machiavelli influenced

What is “modern” or “original” in Machiavelli's thought? What is Machiavelli's “place” in the history of Western ideas? The body of literature debating this question, especially in connection with The Prince and Discourses, has grown to truly staggering proportions. John Pocock (1975), for example, has traced the diffusion of Machiavelli's republican thought throughout the so-called Atlantic world and, specifically, into the ideas that guided the framers of the American constitution.

 Paul Rahe (2008) argues for a similar set of influences, but with an intellectual substance and significance different than Pocock. For Pocock, Machiavelli's republicanism is of a civic humanist variety whose roots are to be found in classical antiquity; for Rahe, Machiavelli's republicanism is entirely novel and modern.

 The “neo-Roman” thinkers (most prominently, Pettit, Skinner and Viroli) appropriate Machiavelli as a source of their principle of “freedom as non-domination”, while he has also been put to work in the defense of democratic precepts and values. Likewise, cases have been made for Machiavelli's political morality, his conception of the state, his religious views, and many other features of his work as the distinctive basis for the originality of his contribution.

Yet few firm conclusions have emerged within scholarship. (The unsettled state of play in current research on Machiavelli is well represented in Johnston et al. 2017.) One plausible explanation for the inability to resolve these issues of “modernity” and “originality” is that Machiavelli was in a sense trapped between innovation and tradition, between via antiqua and via moderna (to adopt the usage of Janet Coleman 1995), in a way that generated internal conceptual tensions within his thought as a whole and even within individual texts. 

This historical ambiguity permits scholars to make equally convincing cases for contradictory claims about his fundamental stance without appearing to commit egregious violence to his doctrines. This point differs from the accusation made by certain scholars that Machiavelli was fundamentally “inconsistent” (see Skinner 1978) or simply driven by “local” agendas (Celenza 2015). Rather, salient features of the distinctively Machiavellian approach to politics should be credited to an incongruity between historical circumstance and intellectual possibility. 

What makes Machiavelli a troubling yet stimulating thinker is that, in his attempt to draw different conclusions from the commonplace expectations of his audience, he still incorporated important features of precisely the conventions he was challenging. In spite of his repeated assertion of his own originality (for instance, Prince CW 10, 57–58), his careful attention to pre-existing traditions meant that he was never fully able to escape his intellectual confines. Thus, Machiavelli ought not really to be classified as either purely an “ancient” or a “modern”, but instead deserves to be located in the interstices between the two.

Medieval period

Geek philosophy


A History of Western Philosophy Book by Bertrand Russell


Machiavelli, N., The Prince. Available online:

Machiavelli, N., The Prince, ed. Q. Skinner and R. Price, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988

More, T., Utopia. Available online:

Pico della Mirandola, G., Oration on the Dignity of Man. Available online:

Blum, P. R. (ed.), Philosophers of the Renaissance, Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010

Copenhaver, B. P. and C. B. Schmitt, Renaissance Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992

Grayling, A. C., The Age of Genius, London: Bloomsbury, 2016

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