Social Philosophy


  Niccolò de Bernardo Machiavelli (1914-1527)

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. A founder of modern political science, he was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned in the Italian language. He was Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his masterpiece, The Prince, after the Medici had recovered power and he no longer held a position of responsibility in Florence.

Machiavelli’s best-known book, "Il Principe," contains a number of maxims concerning politics, but rather than the more traditional subject of a hereditary prince, it concentrates on the possibility of a "new prince." To retain power, the hereditary prince must carefully maintain the socio-political institutions to which the people are accustomed; whereas a new prince has the more difficult task in ruling, since he must first stabilize his new-found power in order to build an enduring political structure. He believed that social benefits of stability and security could be achieved in the face of moral corruption. Aside from that, Machiavelli believed that public and private morality had to be separate in order to rule. To do this required that the prince be concerned not only with reputation but that he be also willing to act immorally. As a political scientist, Machiavelli emphasizes the occasional need for the methodical exercise of brute force, deceit, and so on.

Scholars often note that Machiavelli glorifies instrumentality in statebuilding - embodied by his notorious suggestion that the "ends justify the means." Violence may be necessary for the successful transfer of power and introduction of new legal institutions; force may be used to eliminate political rivals, to coerce resistant populations, and to purge previous rulers who will inevitably attempt to regain their power. Machiavelli has become infamous for this political advice, ensuring that he would be remembered in history as an adjective, "Machiavellian."

Notwithstanding some mitigating themes, the Catholic Church banned The Prince, registering it to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and humanists also viewed the book negatively — among them, Erasmus of Rotterdam. As a treatise, its primary intellectual contribution to the history of political thought is the fundamental break between political Realism and political Idealism — thus, The Prince is a manual to acquiring and keeping political power. In contrast with Plato and Aristotle, Machiavelli insisted that an imaginary ideal society is not the model for a prince to orient himself by.

Concerning the differences and similarities in Machiavelli's advice to ruthless and tyrannical princes in The Prince and his more republican exhortations in Discourses on Livy, many have concluded that The Prince although written in the form of advice for a monarchical prince, contains arguments for the superiority of republican regimes, similar to those found in the Discourses. In the 18th century the work was even called a satire, for example by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. More recently, commentators such as Leo Strauss and Harvey Mansfield have agreed that the Prince can be read as having a deliberate comical irony. Other commentators have not seen the irony as deliberate comedy, but most commentators agree that the Prince is in any case republican to some extent.

Antonio Gramsci argued that Machiavelli's audience for this work was not even the ruling class but the common people because the rulers already knew these methods through their education. Download

blog comments powered by Disqus

This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola