Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-768ffcd9cc-96qlp Total loading time: 0.413 Render date: 2022-12-04T16:52:24.222Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

4 - Machiavelli and Tyranny

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 January 2022

Sukanta Chaudhuri
Affiliation:
Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Prasanta Chakravarty
Affiliation:
University of Delhi
Get access

Summary

Lamenting the failure of modern political scientists in grasping the real meaning of tyranny, Leo Strauss asserts, ‘One cannot overcome this limitation without reflecting on the basis, or the origin, of present-day political science. Present-day political science often traces its origin to Machiavelli.’ A decade later, he adds, ‘[C]ontemporary tyranny has its roots in Machiavelli's thought, in the Machiavellian principle that the good end justifies every means… In the Discourses Machiavelli sometimes acts explicitly as an adviser of tyrants; in The Prince he acts in this capacity only silently.’ Strauss traces the horror of the Third Reich back to the writings of a sixteenth-century Florentine bureaucrat. In this he is not alone amongst twentieth-century theorists. Ernst Cassirer, for instance, locates in Machiavelli's writings the instrument that severed the connections between the state and the ‘organic whole of human existence’, which in turn precipitated the crises of twentieth-century Europe. Strauss goes beyond the measured critique of Cassirer and calls Machiavelli ‘a teacher of evil’, adding that modern scholars choose to ignore this evil ‘because they are the heirs of the Machiavellian tradition; because they, or the forgotten teachers of their teachers, have been corrupted by Machiavelli’.

Strauss's account, if a little too melodramatic in tone, is however representative of a five-century-long tradition of reading and making meaning of Machiavelli's writings, particularly prevalent in English and French traditions of political thought. In fact, Strauss's words, laden with satanic implications, are an uncanny echo of the first known English critique of Machiavellian thought, formulated by Reginald Pole in Apologia ad Carolum Quintum (1539). There Henry VIII, Pole's erstwhile patron and mentor, is denounced not only as a tyrant but as the Antichrist, who derives his tyranny from Machiavelli's occult teachings, which Pole goes on to describe as the writings of the ‘enemy of mankind, giving all the advice of the enemy’. As soon as Pole chanced upon the book, he knew it was written by the finger of Satan (‘Satanae digito scriptum’).The most famous denunciation of Machiavelli as the tutor of tyrants comes later in the sixteenth century, in the Discours contre Machiavel (1576) of the Huguenot writer Innocent Gentillet.

Type
Chapter
Information
Machiavelli Then and Now
History, Politics, Literature
, pp. 54 - 72
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×