Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. He began his work in government as a clerk in 1494. This was the same year that the Medici family, that ruled Florence for approximately 60 years. In 1498, Machiavelli became a diplomat for the Florentine Republic. The Medici’s banishment was only temporary, and they returned to power in 1512. Machiavelli was suspected of conspiracy and outlawed. It was during this time that he wrote his most famous work, “The Prince”. His theories reflected on how rulers and leaders ought to rule and maintain power.
Niccolò Machiavelli can be considered the father of modern political science, and his book “The Prince” one of the first works of modern political philosophy if not just modern philosophy.
By most measures, Descartes is thought of as the father of modern philosophy, but Descartes’ work doesn’t start until the 1630s, while Machiavelli pens his work more than a full century earlier.
Machiavelli’s “The Prince” was written by 1513 and published in 1532 and can be reasonably cited as “the first major modern work of political philosophy”, but it is not his first or only notable book.
Machiavelli’s earliest work, “Discourse on Pisa” 1499, is likely “the first work” of modern political science, but unlike some of his other important texts it is not “a major work”.
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, Romans like Livy, and early “Dark Age” thinkers like Michael Psellos, Machiavelli created a new modern type of political science in his masterworks “Discourses on Livy” and “The Prince” while the Prince is more popular and shorter, Livy was more influential and more insightful by most measures. The Republican manifesto is one reason why we can call Machiavelli “the Father of Modern Republicanism” too.
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 and his others books 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, guiding leaders on how to get and keep power.
Despite an equally disturbing and useful content, Machiavellian“The Prince” specifically can and arguably should be read as a type of satire, a call for good leaders to overcome their intrinsic weaknesses, pointing out in politics, virtue must often be traded for some amount of vice if one wishes to be successful (if the virtuous do not utilize vice, then the vicious will, and this itself is vice).
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.”
By concluding, Machiavelli was a political realist but he was not 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.
Khaleeque Zaman Mahesar
The writer is Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Sindh, Jamshoro.