The majority of works in Western philosophy before Machiavelli’s time, not counting those of the Greeks and Romans, were theological and came from the Churches. The most radical other popular work of the time is probably Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, a religious work. Thus, Machiavelli stands out not only in talking about Governments socioeconomics again like the Greeks and Romans had done, but in doing so from a “realist” non-religious standpoint (which is essentially what makes him modern).
Despite the clear influence of the Greeks like Aristotle, Roman’s like Livy, and early “Dark Age” thinkers like Michael Psellos, Machiavelli created a new modern type of political science in his masterworks Discourses on Livyand The Prince (while the Prince is more popular and shorter, Livy was more influential and more insightful and is by most measures THE Republican manifesto; one reason why we can call Machiavelli “the Father of Modern Republicanism” too).
These books went on to influence nearly every important political thinker from that point forward. When you read Buchanan, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Montesquie, anyone, you’ll catch at least a nod to Machiavelli’s Livy… if not also the Prince (just as you’ll catch a nod to Aristotle’s Politics, Ethics, and Rhetoric).
Although the Prince and Livy (a discourse on the great Roman populist Republican Titus Livius) are very different books, they both contain a type of modern “political realism” that didn’t focus on God or idealism, but rather on the nitty gritty truth in this new era. They were practical guides which conveyed knowledge only previously known to elite classes to the masses for the first time.
In those books (and his others) Machiavelli goes between evenhandedly examining past governments and expressing favor for free republics, and in the Art of War and Prince specifically, describing cunning, underhanded, and sometimes brutal tactics for politicians, cluing leaders in on how to get and keep power.
The Prince, like nearly all his others works, can also be read as a description of the merits of popular governments, republicanism, and liberty.
The “underhanded” style of writing in the Prince can be attributed to Machiavelli’s story. His tale is one of being involved in politics in a relatively free Republic in Florence, and even running a citizens army because he disliked mercenaries. This continued until a series of political revolutions resulted in him being imprisoned and tortured by the powerful Medici family which ruled by hereditary power.
After his imprisonment Machiavelli devoted himself to studying and writing of the political treatises, never being able to get a job in politics again.
The view of Machiavelli as a Republican rather than a tutor of hereditary princes is backed up by Discourses on Livy This book is much more straightforward about its democratic and republican values. It contains early versions of the concepts of checks and balance and asserts the superiority of a republic over a principality.
It is Discourses, and not The Prince, that became one of the central texts of republicanism, although we can attribute both to his honorary title of “father of modern political philosophy.”
POLITICAL THEORY – Niccolò Machiavelli. Machiavelli was a political realist, but he wasn’t trying to teach his realism to corrupt hereditary princes. Machiavelli was, by most reasonable measures of his work, a Republican who favored the people and virtue… which is exactly why he sought to teach realist criminal virtue to the otherwise virtuous.
TIP: George Buchanan used to read a young Mary, Queen of Scots (and likely later her son and future King James I) Livy on a daily basis. These were some of the first liberal-ish monarchs of Britain (and this may not be fully coincidence). The story is somewhat Romantic in the way Aristotle was Alexander the Great’s tutor. Sentiment aside, it reminds us of Machiavelli’s vital role as the West’s first Republican philosopher.
TIP: In this first line of The PrinceMachiavelli essentially coins the modern usage of the word “state” and re-popularizes the idea of the republic and the non-hereditary princedom as a vehicle for liberty. Despite these lovely liberal qualities and its satirical nature, the book truly does read as a set of underhanded tactics. They are meant for those who seek to overthrow a tyrant and establish a free republic, not for tyrannical princes. This strategy is of course, very Machiavellian.
Niccolò Machiavelli can be considered the father of modern political science due to his early modern works on republicanism and liberalism which focus on political realism rather than idealism. Machiavelli coins the modern version of “the state”, describes an version of the checks and balances argument, explains the pros and cons of free republics and the law, gives justification for overthrowing tyrants, uses an early version of the state of nature argument, cites Aristotle’s 6 forms of government, etc.
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