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16 - Machiavelli in political thought from the age of revolutions to the present

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2010

John M. Najemy
Affiliation:
Cornell University, New York
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Summary

When he wrote The Prince and the Discourses, which were published only after he died, Machiavelli was a defeated and suspect man. Reading the prefaces and dedication of the Discourses on Livy, one feels that the author had lost all hope that more auspicious times might come for Florence and himself and that he was placing his hopes elsewhere: with his restless and immanent wisdom he was trying to reach peoples in other places and times, hoping his books could teach them to decipher and demystify their own history. Because of Machiavelli's denial of divine providence and his assertion that humans make their own history, his work invites them to take control of their own fate by seizing the first appropriate opportunity. Although he offers a political analysis devoid of moral prejudice, his writings are not without a certain use of dissimulation. “Machiavelli,” wrote Leo Strauss, “does not go to the end of the road; the last part of the road must be travelled by the reader who understands what is omitted by the writer.” This is why, in more than one sense, Machiavelli considered his Discourses a work in progress. As Machiavelli himself emphasized, history is most often written for the benefit of the winners; by contrast, his work is like a thorn in their flesh. He invites us to mistrust authority, including that represented by tradition and constituted power. However, he does not deny that some such power may be necessary to defend freedom against its enemies.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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