1469 - 1527
Amoral politician, wrote "The Prince"by Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
"A prudent ruler can not and should not observe faith when such observance
to his disadvantage.” Machiavelli’s theory, that politics and ethics
should be strictly separate, was and continues to be one of the most original
and contestable ideas in centuries.
Born in Florence, Italy, on May 3rd of 1469, Niccolo di Bernardo Machiavelli has almost no recorded history until he became involved in politics. It is known that in 1494, when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, Florentine citizens lost much of the power and greatness that they had previously enjoyed. This did not sit well with them, and is probably the starting point from which Machiavelli began to formulate his conclusions about politics and morality.
As France’s hold began to crumble, Machiavelli joined the ranks of the rising republic and from 1498 – 1512 was the second in command in the Florentine chancerelly. He was also the secretary of Ten of Balía, which was the government committee, in charge of war negotiations. Military played a big role in this part of his political career; probably, this had a part in his suggestion to use conscripted soldiers in the Italian army rather than hired mercenaries who worked for the highest bidder.
“It is more secure to be feared than to be loved.” During this period Machiavelli’s theories were developing. Separation of ethics and politics, power as the decisive factor, autonomy of politics, and a modified moral code for the political world were some of the astonishing assertions he proposed, and they were not at all well received. In his time, when the Church was a decisive factor in almost everything in everyone’s daily life, taking the Church’s ideas out of politics rankled with his fellow Italians.
When the returning Medici overthrew the Republic in 1512, Machiavelli put his money where his mouth was and quickly reversed his loyalties to the most powerful party. However, no one trusted him, and after torturing him, the Medici exiled Machiavelli on the suspicion of conspiracy against the new government.
Machiavelli eventually settled in San Casciano, where he began his career in writing. The Prince was his first book, and put on paper the thoughts that had been so contested in Florence. In it, he advocates and idolizes the supreme organization of ancient Rome, to the point of glossing over its downfalls and failures in favor of a romanticized and perfect political system. Virtú, by which he meant strength or power, and the accumulation of it, was extolled as the highest goal. He ends The Prince with this saying from Petrarch:
“Virtu contro al Furore
Prendera l’arme, e fia il combatter corto:
Che l’antico valore
Negli itaici cuor non e ancor morto.”
Which translates to:
“Virtue against fury shall advance the fight,
And it i’ th’ combat soon shall put to flight;
For the old Roman, valour is not dead,
Nor in th’ Italians’ breasts extinguished.”
Machiavelli did not believe in tyranny, although that is what he seemed to advocate. The kind of political state he talked about was impossible to bring about, due to the unquenchable human nature and the fallibility of man. His ideas, as he discussed them in The Discourses (1519), The Art of War (1520), and The Florentine History (1525), wanted a separate ethical law for politics to make it more organized and less sentimental, having power as a basis for everything. There were a lot of humanist tendencies in his writing as well, which cancelled out the preconceived Catholic mindset so dominant in that era and allowed for such theses as an amoral government.
Niccolo Machiavelli returned to Florence after the fall of the Medici, 58 years old, and died on June 22, 1527. His contribution to the political world did not go unrecognized, although his original intentions were vastly misconstrued by most, and the phrase “Machiavellian” remains as a symbol of anything dictatorial and militant in the way of government policies.