Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli
Florentine Republic Politician
Specialty Political ethics, political science
Born May 3, 1469
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died June 21, 1527 (at age 58)
Florence, Republic of Florence
Nationality Italian

Born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, the Republic of Florence, Niccolo Machiavelli was one of the prominent figures of the Italian Renaissance philosophy and a pioneer in political ethics. He was also a political theorist, statesman, historian, poet, playwright, novelist, humanist and diplomat.

The renowned Italian philosopher firmly believed in consequentialism and his ideas are embodied in the famous saying “the ends justify the means.” His philosophical works have inspired other famous philosophers including Montesquieu, Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Hume, Rousseau, Locke and Francis Bacon.

Early Years

Born to Bartolommea di Stefano Nelli and Bernardo di Niccolo Machiavelli, a Doctor of Law, Niccolo studied rhetoric, grammar, and Latin with the renowned teacher, Paolo da Ronciglione. Little is known about his early years with the only reliable information being provided by his father’s diary entitled Libro di Ricordi.

It is believed that he received a great humanist education at the University of Florence. In 1494, After the Medici family had been driven from ruling Florence for almost 60 years, the republican government was reinstated. In 1498, at the age of 29, having gained the trust and support of the chief magistrate for life and shortly after Savonarola had been hanged and burned, Machiavelli was appointed head of the second chancery, putting him in charge of Florence’s foreign affairs in subject territories.

This diplomatic activity lasted for 14 years, during which he organized a militia in 1505 and witnessed the state-building methods used by Pope Alexander VI and his son, Cesare Borgia, who was later used as an example of a successful ruler in Il Principe. In 1512, with the aid of the Spanish army, the Medici family managed to dissolve the Florentine republic and Machiavelli was accused of conspiracy against them, which led to his imprisonment and torture for weeks. Shortly after, he retired to his farm located outside of Florence.

Major Political Philosophical Works

Niccolo Machiavelli2Machiavelli’s name is most commonly associated with the Il Principe (“The Prince”), a controversial political treatise which is considered one of the earliest significant works of modern political philosophy. In the 16th century, this relatively short work was negatively received by the Italian readers and it was highly criticized and eventually banned by the Catholic Church, which ultimately denounced him as the Devil’s disciple.

Religion, morality, and politics were the three basic building blocks in Machiavelli’s works and they stirred significant controversy among the readers in the Italian Renaissance era who accused him of being immoral or at least amoral. Machiavelli’s famous work The Prince was written in 1513, yet it was published posthumously in 1532.

Originally dedicated to Giuliano de Medici in an attempt to regain his political status within the Florentine government, the masterpiece’s final version was dedicated to Lorenzo di Piero de Medici, after the death of Giuliano. Machiavelli’s other important contribution to political thought is entitled Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy, in which he exposed the principles of republicanism, regarded as superior to any principality (the democratic leaders are referred to as ”princes”) primarily by contrasting the errors made by Florentine officials with the wisdom of the early Roman government.

The Discourses was written over a four-year period (1514-1518) and it was also published posthumously in 1531. Essentially an anti-Christian (claiming that Christianity depletes people of the vigor required for active civil activities), Niccolo Machiavelli urged the head of state to be prepared to commit evil if the circumstances ask for it.

Public and Private Morality

Glorifying instrumentality in state-building, the famous philosopher believed that private morality and public morality were two separate concepts that need to be taken as such by a successful ruler who may chooses illegitimate uses of power such as violence and deceit, because authority and power are co-equal. In these famous works, on the basis of his experience with the Florentine government, Machiavelli aimed at teaching the rules of acquiring and maintaining political power. The supremacy of coercive power is the main argument in his chief political works.

Machiavelli’s Death and Legacy

Machiavelli’s ideas have led to the popular terms like “machiavellianism” and “Machiavellian,” employing negative connotations such as duplicity, pragmatic morality, and cynicism. A strong proponent of republicanism, Machiavelli has influenced the Western political thought and even guided the framers of the US Constitution.

Niccolo Machiavelli passed away at the age of 58 on June 21, 1527, in Florence. He is buried at the Basilica di Santa Croce, located in Florence, Italy. His cenotaph in Latin reads, “No eulogy would be appropriate to such a great name.”

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