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Machiavelli: The Misunderstood Humanist Essay

2176 words - 9 pages

Machiavelli was a Florentine diplomat, statesman, and political philosopher in the early sixteenth century. He authored The Prince, a set of rules for new princes to follow in order to maintain control of their domains, emphasizing the use of power without regard to morality. Machiavelli published The Prince in 1513 and dedicated it to the Medicis with the goal of convincing them to unite Italy and end the Italian Wars, which took place from 1494 to 1559. Machiavelli’s philosophies have been criticized as contradictory to traditional humanist views, but this conclusion fails to consider the ideas set forth in The Prince in the context of other political philosophies and humanism at the time. Machiavelli’s political ethics meet the four characteristics of humanism: Classicism, realism, individualism, and active virtue. These factors combine to depict civic humanism in line with the humanist philosophies of Coluccio Salutati and Leonardo Bruno, two of Machiavelli’s predecessors.
Classicism is a defining characteristic of humanism displayed by Machiavelli. Humanist Classicism is characterized by the reference of classical sources and history (mainly Greek and Roman) not with nostalgia, but as a basis for argument. Machiavelli derives several of the arguments in The Prince from classical history and philosophy. For example, he first defines a type of state known as mixed principalities. These have two characteristics: first, they are ruled dynastically by a prince; second, they conquer new territories that differ in language, laws, and customs from themselves. Machiavelli explains that these states tend to come into difficulties while expanding because of the natural difficulty of ruling over peoples of different language, laws, and customs. He advises that, to avoid the pitfalls of expansion, princes follow the example of the Romans, who “always followed these procedures in the countries they seized: they sent in colonies, provided for the less powerful without increasing their strength, put down the powerful, and did not allow powerful foreigners to gain prestige there.” Machiavelli repeatedly supports his arguments with classical history, a characteristic of a Classicist.
Machiavelli, in his criticism of pope Alexander VI and the Papal States, demonstrates a realistic view of the world that is predicated on his own honest view of politics rather than the traditional literature at the time, in which authors traditionally praised the Church so as not to be declared heretics. First, Machiavelli criticizes the rule of the Papal States in general, stating that its rulers “do not defend subjects and do not govern them; and their states, though not defended, are not taken from them.” He then rebukes the Papal States for neither governing nor defending its subjects, and points out with bewilderment that despite this negligence, these states remain intact. This seems to contradict the power politics that Machiavelli has focused on in the rest of the...

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