When examining the political philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli one should not expect to reach a hasty or even concrete conclusion; instead an inconclusive conversation on a topic that is unfathomably complex. In much of the contemporary literature concerning the writings of Machiavelli, he is portrayed as the classical Florentine ‘civic humanist’- a tradition awarded to ideals of nationalism, republican government and civic duty. As it is often supposed, Machiavelli was no pioneer of political thought or herald of modernity however his intrinsic study of the contemporary political environment of his time, inspired him to write veraciously on the necessary course of actions needed to acquire and secure a state. Calicles and Thrasymachus, who set forth the evil doctrine behind closed doors, are Platonic characters and the Athenian ambassadors, who provided a similar doctrine on the island of Melos in the absence of the populous, are Thudydidean characters. Machiavelli openly proclaims a seemingly evil doctrine which writers before him taught only covertly or with abhorrence. His fearless attempt at writing a limitless ‘how-to’ guide on leadership is what sets him apart from his political peers. And though his political thought is not new, he says in his own name what many ancient writers have only said through fictional characters. (The Prince chp. 17)
Born in Florence, Italy on the 3rd of May 1469, Niccolo Machiavelli was the son of an esteemed lawyer and member of the Florentine nobility. He was given the education of any Florentine gentlemen, having received extensive studies in Latin (which he was able to read and write) and the classics-all without gaining the reputation of a man of scholarship or cultural refinement. Machiavelli was born under the rule of the vaguely Republican Medici family dynasty, until their overthrow by the French in 1494. However after the exile of Medici family and the restoration of a genuine Republic, by no means did Florence reach a state of political calm. For the next four years the city feel under the rule of a polarizing religious fanatic and Dominican friar, Savonarola. While the citizens of Florence accepted his rule he was all powerful; nevertheless the populous grew weary of his divisive message staking the poor against the rich, and the Florentine Signoria, or ruling class subsequently burned him at the stake. Following Savonarola’s dramatic descent from power, and the reconstruction of moderate governance, Machiavelli, still short of thirty years old was appointed second Chancellor of the republic. Shortly after his first political appointment, he was selected to be secretary of the Dieci di Balia, or the Ten of Liberty and Peace. Due to the constant political instability and ‘conquestial’ behavior of its neighboring countries, war became the preoccupation of this restored republic-and Machiavelli was hardly reluctant.
As career soldiers and mercenaries provided the military protection of Italy’s five principle states- The Papacy, Naples, Venice, Milan and Florence – Machiavelli urged his superiors to create a civilian based army yet his advice went ignored. Because of Florentines relatively weak military presence they were forced –in effect- to ‘buy’ protection from the French by supporting their capitalist ambitions elsewhere. Despite writing numerous bills advising his superiors on subjects such as war and military strategy, Machiavelli was used as a political ambassador and diplomat. He was sent on countless diplomatic missions to places under Florentine rule in addition to the governments of foreign states- more notably France and the court of Cesare Borgia.
Therefore in reading Machiavelli’s The Prince it is essential that one keep in mind the sufficient amount of time he spent in politics and the public sphere; for his experience seemingly deems, only the truths of his involvement. In his own words The Prince “will enable you to grasp in short order...
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