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Niccolˇ Machiavelli (1469-1527) - ALSO: Niccolˇ Macchiavelli

Italian political thinker and historical figure in the turning point from Middle Ages to Modern World. Machiavelli stated in The Price, the then revolutionary and prophetic idea, that theological and moral imperatives have no place in the political arena. With Hobbes (1588-1679) Macciavelli is considered one of the great early modern analyzers of political power.

"Hence it is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily; and thus by not unsettling men he will be able to reassure them, and win them to himself by benefits. He who does otherwise, either from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand; neither can he rely on his subjects, nor can they attach themselves to him, owing to their continued and repeated wrongs. For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer."
(from The Prince, 1515)

Niccolˇ Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy. Little is known of his early life, although once he described his background: "I was born in poverty and at an early age learned how to endure hardship rather than flourish." Niccol˛'s father, Bernardo di Niccol˛ di Buoninsegna, belonged to an impoverished branch of an influential old Florentine family. Bernardo was a lawyer and he had a small personal library that included books by Greek and Roman philosophers and volumes of Italian history. Bernardo died in 1500, Machiavelli's mother, Bartolomea de' Nelli, had died in 1496.

"Machiavelli went on to read the ancient philosophers and, especially, historians: Thucydides, who told of the war between Sparta and Athens that tore Greece apart; Plutarch, who told of the lives of the great statesmen, generals, and lawmakers of ancient Greece and Rome; Tacitus, who recounted the corruption and perfidy of Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero; and above all, the work by Livy..." (fromNiccol˛'s Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli by Maurizipo Viroli, 2000)

Machiavelli he might have been involved in overthrowing the Savonarolist government in 1498 - Girolamo Savonarola was executed just outside his office. Machiavelli was appointed head of the new government's Second Chancery, and secretary of an agency concerned with warfare and diplomacy (1498-1512). During there years he traveled on several missions in Europe for the Republic of Florence visiting Cesare Borgia (1502), Rome (1503, 1506), France (1504) and Germany (1507-08). Among his achievement was helping to set up a standing army, which reconquered Pisa in 1509.

As a thinker Machiavelli belonged to an entire school of Florentine intellectuals concerned with an examination of political and historical problems. His important writing, however, were composed after 1512 when he was accused of of conspiracy in 1513. Medici family had returned to power and had ended a year before the Florentine Republic. Lorenzo de' Medici fired Machiavelli, the Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Signoria. He was suspected of plotting against the Medici, jailed, even tortured, and exiled to Sant'Andrea in Percussina. Macciavelli found himself out of job after 14 years of patriotic service, and spent on a small estate most of his remaining years produced his major writings. He achieved some fame as a historian and playwright, but with The Prince he hoped to regain political favor. It tells how to gain, maintain, and centralize power.

In 1519 Machiavelli partly reconciled with the Medici and he was given various duties, including writing a history of Florence. When the Medici was deposed in 1527 Machiavelli hoped for a new government post. However, now he was distrusted by the republican government for previous association with the Medici.

Machiavelli died in Florence on June 21, 1527. Just a few weeks before his death, Rome fell to the poorly armed Spanish infantry. Machiavelli had foretold how such tragedy could be avoided but no one had listened to him.

Machiavelli's political writings became more widely known in the second half of the 16th century. When Considered dangerous, they were placed in 1564 on the Church Index of officially banned books. Othello's ensign Iago from the famous play of Shakespeare was partly based on the common misconception of Machiavelli as a cynical fedender of fraud in statecraft. Machiavelli admired Cesare Borgia (1476-1507), an able ruler, who was ruthless and trecherous in war but a patron of artists, including Leonardo da Vinci.

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take lead in the introduction of a new order of things." (from The Prince, 1532)

Machiavelli's best known works are DISCORSI SOPRA LA PRIMA DECA DI TITO LIVIO (1531) and IL PRINCIPE (1532), whose the main theme is that all means may be used in order to maintain authority, and that the worst acts of the ruler are justified by the treachery of the government. Many of Machiavelli's thoughts, as "it is much more secure to be feared, than to be loved" have lived centuries as slogans. And his notion "All armed prophets have conquered and unarmed one failed" could be approved by contemporary fanatical religious leaders. Il Principe was condemned by the pope, but its viewpoints gave rise to the well-known adjective machiavellian, synonym for political maneuvers marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith. Machiavelli draws upon examples from both ancient and more recent history and also uses his own insights he gained during his observation of the Italian city-states and France. What distinguishes Machiavelli's manual from other such works, is the originality and practicality of his thinking. Neither the attempts to interpret Machiavelli's ideas as first steps to democratic thoughts or examples of evil reflect a balanced view of his writing.

"Men are always wicked at bottom unless they are made good by some compulsion." "It is much safer for a prince to be feared than loved, if he is to fail in one of the two."

The interest in Machiavelli has continued, although contemporary scholarship may have its reservations about transforming his writings in a prophecy or manual of modern politics. However, in the United States Machiavelli's pragmatism has not been forgotten and Dick Morris, close to President Clinton, has written his own version of ''The Prince.''

For further reading: Machiavelli by J.H. Whitfield (1947); Machiavelli and the Renaissance by Federico Chabod (1958); Machiavelli: A Dissection by Sidney Anglo (1970); Machiavelli and the Nature of Political Thought by Martin Fleischer (1972); Machiavelli by Quentin Skinner (1981); Niccolo Machiavelli, compiled by Silvia Fiore (1990); The Discourses of Niccolo Machiavelli (1991); Niccolo Machiavelli's the Price, ed. by Martin Coyle (1995); Machiavelli's Three Romes by Vickie B. Sullivan (1996); Machiavelli's Virtue by Harvey C. Mansfield (1996); Machiavelli, Leonardo, and the Science of Power by Roger D. Masters (1996); Machiavelli, ed. by John Dunn and Ian Harris (1997); Machiavelli and Us by Luis Althusser et al (1999); Niccol˛'s Smile by Maurizio Viroli (2000)

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