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Niccolo Machiavelli
Erin's Thoughts

"The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous."
-Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli was one of the most original thinkers of the Renaissance time period. He lived in Italy at a time when invasion and political instability were common. Machiavelli was knowledgeable in many different subjects, including military strategy and history, but Machiavellis area of expertise was politics. His view of politics was atypical during the Renaissance and because of this he was often misunderstood. He still managed many accomplishments during this time period although he had to constantly contend with his own reputation. He has also made a lasting impact on politics in the modern era which is primarily due to his written works. Niccolo Machiavelli was misunderstood during his lifetime and this continued after his death.

Niccolo Machiavelli was the first great political philosopher of the Renaissance era. The Renaissance, or rebirth, of Europe brought an end to the Middle Ages and was the beginning of the modern way of life in Europe. Machiavelli was a very unique man that was born in 1496 in one of the most important Renaissance Cities, Florence. Machiavelli would grow up to become a philosopher that was atypical of other Renaissance thinkers. He was the first person to apply Aristotles model of the scientific method to observe politics. His use of the scientific method allowed him to examine politics without relating it to his religious or moral views. The Church was a dominant figure in the world during the time of the Renaissance and the fact that Machiavelli did not use to teaching of the church to examine politics made his work extremely atypical. Machiavellis work was also atypical for the Renaissance era because it dealt with suggestions on how to eliminate existing problems. He made these suggestions when he was a political advisor and even after he was removed from public politics by writing The Prince. The other major philosophers of the time period spent most of their time writing theories, not making suggestions on how to improve the current standard of life. Machiavelli felt strongly about ensuring a future for his home country, Italy. The city-states of Italy were economically strong but they were unsuccessful when it came to defence. Machiavelli believed that the solution to this problem was for Italy to unite under a strong central government. This idea was unique at the time and he was never able to obtain enough support in the Florence and the other city-states to make his idea a reality. Italy would not become united until more than three hundred years after Machiavellis death. Machiavellis political ideas were very unique and often misunderstood. He was a very atypical man during the Renaissance era.

Although Niccolo Machiavelli was an atypical philosopher, he still was able to see many accomplishments during his lifetime. Machiavelli was a secretary of a council that held diplomatic negotiations under Savonarola, who controlled the Florentine republic.1 During this time he was able to make visits to many areas of the world including the German Empire as well as France. He used these visits to observe the successes of different political tactics. When Savonarola was replaced, by Piero Soderini, Machiavelli became a political advisor. He persuaded Soderini to pass a law that would create an army made up entirely of Italian soldiers. At this time period it was common for a city or country to hire professional soldiers from another country to fight for them. Machiavelli felt that these foreign soldiers were not effective. He led the new Italian army into Pisa and was successful in liberating it from occupation. Machiavellis success as an advisor would come to an end when the powerful Medici family regained control of Florence in 1512.2 Machiavelli attempted to be a part of their government as well but the Medici family did not trust him. He was tortured for being an important member of the reform movement that ousted the Medici family from power in the year 14943. After being tortured Machiavelli stayed out of public life for many years. It was after Machiavelli was removed from public politics that he began to create his controversial legacy.

When Machiavelli was ousted from public life he began to write historical records, books, and plays. His famous books included The Art of War, The Mandrake, Discourses on Livy and his most famous work, The Prince. In the masterpiece The Prince the main theme was that all means should be used for the establishment and preservation of authority in government.4 The Prince became the most controversial and talked about aspect of Machiavellis legacy. Although his suggestions were controversial at the time they also proved to be successful. World leaders after the renaissance era used suggestions made in The Prince. These leaders included Louis XIV, Napoleon, Bismark, and Kennedy.5 Machiavelli felt that the end result in having a well-controlled state would justify the means in which it was achieved. He wrote The Prince in an attempt to save the Italian city-states from constant invasions. This shows that although he could no longer make a direct impact through being a member of government he was still determined to get his political views heard. He let it be known that Italy needed strong cental leadership if it was ever going to be free from outside influences. The Prince was not published until after Machiavellis death and because of this he never had the opportunity to defend his controversial suggestions that he made in the book. Machiavellis opinions in The Prince were seen as immoral and ruthless. The book was so controversial that it was eventually condemned by Pope Clement VIII.6 The Prince was based around the political tactics that have been used in the past that had helped monarchies to be successful. He felt that a powerful central monarchy would be the only way to save the Italian city-states. When he described the ways in which a monarchy can be successful he did not take morals or religious beliefs into consideration. It was his belief that a successful monarchy would have to be somewhat deceitful. In The Prince Machiavelli writes that, Its good to be true to your word, but you should lie whenever it advances your power and security-not only that, its necessary.7 Statements resembling the above that made people believe that Machiavelli supported corrupt governments. The people that read The Prince misunderstood what Machiavelli was trying to accomplish by writing the book. Most people would not understand that Machiavelli was only trying to save the Italian city-states by calling on strong central leadership. The Prince left Machiavellis reputation in ruins and he was no longer alive to defend himself.

Niccolo Machiavelli is one of the most misunderstood people in History. He obtained a reputation of being a ruthless supporter of corrupt government and this reputation still haunts his legacy in the modern era. Machiavellis brilliance and accomplishments are often overshadowed by his reputation unlike most other Renaissance philosophers who are praised world-wide. Machiavelli was a successful statesman who was willing to work for any group that happened to control Florence during his lifetime. He was successful as a political advisor and made many important contributions for Italy while he was involved in public politics. It was after he was forcefully removed from public life that he began to create his lasting legacy. This legacy would include many books including the masterpiece The Prince. The Prince gave Machiavelli a terrible reputation after his death because of the many controversial, immoral statements that he made in the relatively short book. In his eyes he was making suggestions on the best way to save Italy from constant foreign influence but through the eyes of his critics he was in support of deceit and corruption. Machiavellis view on politics has proven to be true in the modern era. The governments that often have the best control over their citizens also happen to be deceitful. Niccolo Machiavelli made great contributions to politics, literature, and historical documentation but he still remains one of the most misunderstood characters in history.

Check back later for list of end notes.