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Machiavelli
(1469-1527)

"We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do." (Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning (1605), bk. II, xxi, 9.)
To come to grips with the political theories of Machiavelli one will have to first understand that the politics of his era were unbelievably corrupt. Most of Italy's, northern neighbours, politically and militarily speaking, had their acts together. Italy, being Italy, did not; she was conquered and put under the control of foreigners, time after time. Machiavelli perceived his role as being one who might be able to show the light to the Italian leaders who had been, for centuries, hopelessly at odds with one another. (England, France and Spain, after long struggles of their own, had all united, each under the rule of one powerful leader, the chief of the lords and barons, the king of the country.) Machiavelli's goal was to bring to the attention of the leaders of Italy, Italy's condition; and how Italy's unity was essential; and how this unity might be achieved. As for the northern barbarians: well, there was only one way to defeat barbarians, -- and that was by the use of barbarian tricks.

Machiavelli's most famous work, The Prince (1513), was written with a practical purpose in mind: to steel the Italians against the barbarian hordes. His Discourses (described as Machiavelli's view on how things ought to be, versus, the way they are) was a longer work that he wrote at the same time as The Prince and "is markedly more republican and more liberal. ... Those who do not read also the Discourses are likely to get a very one-sided view of his doctrine." (Bertrand Russell.) The fact is, as a full reading of his writings will disclose, Machiavelli was clearly a supporter of a republican form of government; but, of necessity, Italy had to find itself a strong leader to bring herself out of her deplorable condition. The highest law to Machiavelli was political expediency.

The Machiavellian character is described by the inimitable Macaulay:

"His passions, like well-trained troops, are impetuous by rule, and in their most headstrong fury never forget the discipline to which they have been accustomed. His whole soul is occupied with vast and complicated schemes of ambition, yet his aspect and language exhibit nothing but philosophical moderation. Hatred and revenge eat into his heart; yet every look is a cordial smile, every gesture a familiar caress. He never excites the suspicion of his adversaries by petty provocations. His (the Machiavellian character) purpose is disclosed, only when it is accomplished. His face is unruffled, his speech is courteous, till vigilance is laid asleep, till a vital point is exposed, till a sure aim is taken; and then he strikes for the first and last time." (From Macaulay's essay on "Machiavelli.")
Thus, it should be no surprise to learn that the great world leaders down through the ages made a point of reading Machiavelli, indeed many put his theories immediately to work: Cromwell, Frederick the Great, Louis the XIV, Napoleon, Bismark, and Hitler: they all had their own well marked copy of The Prince.

It is interesting to note that the church of Rome condemned Machiavelli's work. The reason for that was that the church in those days was dead against unification; its power both at home and abroad evidently rested on continuing turmoil in Italy.

In conclusion, I should say that Machiavelli's dream of a unified Italy was never realized in his lifetime, indeed, three and half hundred years were to pass, before, in 1870, Italy was to became a unified country.

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2012

Peter Landry