Niccolò Macchiavelli

Macchiavelli

Was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer. He has often been called the founder of modern political science. He was for many years a senior official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned in the Italian language. He was secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his most renowned work The Prince (Il Principe) in 1513.

Niccolò entered the service of the government between 1494 and 1512 as an accountant, and became successful after the proclamation of the Florentine Republic in 1498. He was secretary of the “Council of Ten” (“i Dieci della liberta e della pace”), a council who led the diplomatic negotiations and oversaw the military operations of the republic. Among his assignments, there have been included visits to the French sovereign (in 1504, 1510-1511), the Holy See (1506), and to the German Emperor (1507-1508). During his diplomatic missions, he met many Italian principles and was able to study their political strategies, especially those of Cesare Borgia, who was concerned at that time on expanding his possessions in central Italy.

From 1503 to 1506, Macchiavelli reorganized the military defense of the Florentine Republic. Although in this period, armies of mercenaries were used routinely, he preferred to rely on recruiting locals to ensure a permanent and patriotic defense of the public goods. In 1512, when the Florentine family of de Medici regained power over Florence and the republic was dissolved, Macchiavelli was dismissed and detained briefly. He was detained in Florence and charged with an alleged conspiracy against the new government. After his release, he was exiled and detached in San Casciano, where he wrote his most important works. Despite his attempts to gain the confidence of the house of Medici, he has never acquired another high position as he had held in the previous government. When the republic was restored briefly in 1527, Niccolò was suspected by many Republicans that he would support the house of Medici. He died in Florence on 21 June 1527 and was buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Even if there is little evidence found about of Macchiavelli’s youth, the city of Florence of those days was so familiar that it is easy to imagine the climate in which the young citizen developed his personality. Florence was a city where two points of view were confronting, one represented by the austere monk, Girolamo Savonarola and the other by Lorenzo de Medici, a lover of splendor. Although, Savonarola power over the wealth of Florence was immense, he didn’t appear to have been of much importance to Macchiavelli, who mentions him in “Il Principle” as a defeated and disarmed prophet. On the other hand, the greatness of Lorenzo’s tenure impressed Macchiavelli so strongly that he dedicated his greatest work, “Il Principe” to Lorenzo’s nephew. Machiavelli was considered to be one of the greatest writers in his college. He was a well-known writer and soldier, who had a great influence in humanism.

The concept of love before marriage is relatively recent in the history of human civilization. In 16th century Florence, marriages were made following a contract arrangement. Basically, an intermediary arranged the marriage between two people based on their social status, the two families wealth, bridal dowries, and possibly on the social position of the groom. It is almost certain that the marriage of Niccolò Macchiavelli and Marietta Corsini was no exception to the rule. De Grazia writes that in 1502, Machiavelli’s parents were already dead, and that the negotiation of the marriage contract was done under the high positions that he held and Marietta’s dote.

In 1510, he is accused before the Council, by an anonymous denunciation of heterosexual sodomy with La Riccia. At the time, in all over Europe, including Florence, the acts of sodomy (men with men or men with women) were punishable by death, with or without prior mutilation, the current sentence of those time being death by burning at the stake . Inquisition ensured that the doctrine of the Catholic Church was closely followed. These anonymous denunciations were quite common at the time, often used to eliminate political opponents. A contemporary researcher, Michael Rocke, investigated with modern tools the “Officials Night” archive (“Ufficiale di notte”), a repressive institution, designed to handle cases of sodomy in Florence, stating that for 70 years, between 1432 and 1502, time in which this institution was active, there were investigated approximately 16.000 cases of sodomy, while 3.000 persons were convicted. At a city with approimately 40.000 inhabitants, in 70 years that would mean approximately 42 convictions annually or nearly 1 per thousand of the city’s population. Similarly to Leonardo da Vinci’s trial from 1476 for sodomy, this case was closed for lack of evidence and because it was unsigned, without affecting in any manner Macchiavelli’s career, who continued to assiduously attend this La Riccia.

Macchiavelli’s best-known book “Il Principe” contains several maxims concerning politics. Instead of the more traditional target audience of a hereditary prince, it concentrates on the possibility of a “new prince”. To retain power, the hereditary prince must carefully balance the interests of a variety of institutions to which the people are accustomed. By contrast, a new prince has the more difficult task in ruling: “He must first stabilize his newfound power in order to build an enduring political structure”. Macchiavelli suggests that the social benefits of stability and security can be achieved in the face of moral corruption. Macchiavelli believed that public and private morality had to be understood as two different things in order to rule well. As a result, a ruler must be concerned not only with reputation, but also must be positively willing to act immorally at the right times. As a political theorist, Macchiavelli emphasized the occasional need for the methodical exercise of brute force or deceit including extermination of the entire noble families to head off any chance of a challenge to the prince’s authority.

Scholars often note that Macchiavelli glorifies instrumentality in statebuilding, an approach embodied by the saying “The ends justify the means.” It should be noted that this quote has been disputed and may not come from Niccolò Machiavelli or his writings. Violence may be necessary for the successful stabilization of power and introduction of new legal institutions. Force may be used to eliminate political rivals, to coerce resistant populations, and to purge the community of other men strong enough of character to rule, who will inevitably attempt to replace the ruler. Niccolò has become infamous for such political advice, ensuring that he would be remembered in history through the adjective, “Macchiavellian“.

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