Lecture 1/30/13 – Machiavelli
**For exam, compare Discourses and The Prince
I. Machiavelli in Context
a. Florence under the Medicis, who were largely autocrats caught in a power play among
emerging imperial forces of France and Spain, whilst Florence was a tiny city-state.
b. Dominican Friar Savan Rola condemns the Medici as giving away Florence’s security.
Machiavelli witnessed his execution.
c. New Republican government under Piero Soverini under which Machiavelli becomes an
active political participant.
i. Medici come back and push Machiavelli out of power. Treat it like a principality and
arrest Machiavelli, tortured and eventually let him go, where he writes. [the
discourses and the prince] pg. 69: “put on regal robes..dressed in appropriate
manner enter into ancient courts of ancient men”. Confers with ancients in belief
that history can tell things about politics that are relevant and applicable today.
Takes recollections from history and collated them in the Prince.
ii. Transforms classical and Christian morality into a different kind of political morality,
not something that is completely immoral
d. Lorenzo D’Medici inherits a completely new principality…Machiavelli offers him advice…
found himself in a position of power by way of good fortune and the arms/assistance of
others, not because he earned it.
i. Getting it and keeping it are 2 different things
ii. Machiavelli attempts to ingratiate himself to his former torturers to get himself back
into political power
iii. How should the Prince behave?
II. The Content of the Form in The Prince
III. The Machiavellian Revolution
IV. The Concept of Virtu
a. Pg 160: skillful behavior according to circumstance; a conventional political morality that
consists of titration of good and evil in the right amounts.
b. The Goddess Fortuna: in order that free will not be extinguished, fortune is arbiter of ½ of
our actions. Rest left to self control. She shows force where there is no organized strength
c. Christians say free will doesn’t matter at all; Gd can overhaul everything
d. How do you build embankments to channel fortune with the ½ that is allotted to you by free
i. Machiavelli says you have to do it with virtu. Pg 160 “prince who relies completely
on fortune will ruin as she changes…man who adapts will succeed, man who sets
his course of action out of tune with the time will come to grief. Behave accoding to
what circumstance necessitates/requires to win fortune”. Does not always require
the same thing.
An advice book meant to describe how Lorenzo d’Medici can survive/thrive in dangerous set of circumstances
Resuscitate classical inheritance and bring Earthly glory back. A life of politics is the only way to achieve true
glory. Return to the center of human life. Vital to human existence. Fortuna is partially malleable; can be won
over by certain behavior. Christians, on the other hand, did not consider Gd amenable to being won over; belief
in fate. Machiavelli, however, said fortune could be hemmed in.
Lecture 2/4/13 – Machiavelli
I. Virtu and the Machiavellian revolution
a. However, differs from the classical past in some ways. Classical people believed
that Fortuna could be won over by virtue, which should be put into public political
service and achieve Earthly glory. b. Machiavelli, however, says fortuna is not won over by virtue, but virtu. Being willing
to attune one’s behavior to changing circumstance.
c. Pg 126-127 ch 15 “departs radically from the procedures of others; suitable to
search after truth rather than imagined one…principalities that have never been
known to exist in reality. For there is such a gap between how one lives and how
one ought to live…that one learns his ruin rather than his preservation…being good
at all times will come to ruin…it is necessary for a prince to learn how not to be
good, and to use this knowledge, or NOT, according to necessity.”
i. Circumstance dictates the extent to which the prince should be willing not
to be virtuous. Empirical, not normative.
d. Pg 128: “virtue pursued ends in destruction, vice results in safety and well-being”
e. Applies conceptual scaffolding to resuscitated classical teachings
II. Machiavelli vs. The Classical Past
a. Juxtaposes his concept of virtu against ancient notion of virtue, goes against
Cicero, who argues that virtuous behavior is essential for the political entity to
b. Generosity vs. Miserliness
i. Cicero: generosity is highly tied to justice
ii. Machiavelli: [ch 16] While generosity confers a good reputation, …. You
can give in ways that nobody sees, which is pointless because it doesn’t
bolster your reputation. If you give on a grand scale as a political leader,
you’ll go broke and be pushed out of power. All you need is enough money
to defend people
c. Fear vs. Love
i. Should the prince cultivate fear or love?
ii. Cicero: love is essential, it creates unity and common purpose [concord],
builds up good faith [bona fide]…Plato agrees. Cruelty is dangerous. The
peak of perfection of glory lies in if the masses love you, have faith in you,
and think you worthy of honor and admiration. Mercy wins you love.
iii. Machiavelli: it’s great to be considered merciful, but if considered too
merciful, subject may not stay united, so cruelty might be necessary,
although it might be feared which is a danger. Men are ungrateful, fickle,
deceivers, greedy, avoiders of danger, and ingratiating. When danger
comes near, however, they betray the prince, resulting in his ruin. Love is
held together by chain of obligation which is broken when self interest is
concerned, but fear is held together by dread of punishment  “men
love at their own pleasure and fear at the pleasure of the prince, prince
should belong foundation on what belongs to him.”
d. Honesty: Or, of Lions and Foxes
i. Cicero: public conduct rooted in honesty, essential feature. Honesty
necessary to faith and trust and unity. Predicated on honesty. Most
indicative of what it means to be a human being. There are times when the
bestial nature of man must come into play; such as when the romans went
to war. But it must be carried out in an honest way. The recourse to force
Plato says white lies are indicative of underlying truths. Injustice may be
done through force or to deceit. Deceit deserves a greater hatred. Even
when you have to be the lion, you should never be the fox.
ii. Machiavelli: pg 133-134 “2 means of fighting; one according to the laws,
one with force…the first is proper to man, although it may not always be
sufficient, so a prince must know how to use wisely the natures of the
beast and man. One without the other cannot endure. The lion cannot
defend itself from traps and fox cannot frighten the wolves…must be a fox to recognize the traps and lion to frighten the wolves. If men were all good,
this rule would not be good. But men are a sorry lot…a prince never lacks
legitimate reasons to break his promises. Men are simple minded and
controlled by present necessities that one who deceives will always find
another who allows himself to be deceived…”. (there is a weak sucker
born every second!)
1. Plays on theme of appearance; when you ARE deceiving, you
must appear NOT to be deceiving. All images and play.
Appearances are crucial. Should not stray from the good, but
should know how to enter into evil when necessity commands.
Few perceive what you are, and those few refuse to contradict the
opinion of the many, where there is no impartial arbiter.
a. Like plato, shadows on the wall. Realm of being is true
reality, this is simply the realm of seeming.
III. What Virtu is Not… and Is (Exemplarity)
a. Both negative and positive:
b. Virtu is NOT:
i. Hagotocles: wickedness. Pg 103-104… consistently behaves in evil ways.
Not redeeming. Unvirtuous behavior for its own sake. It cannot be called
skill…one can acquire power, but not glory. Vicious, inhumane,
dishonorable…one cannot attribute to either fortune or skill what he
accomplished without either. Brutality for no higher end or purpose other
ii. Savonrolla [Dominican friar who talked about purging corruption from
Florence and reinstituting the Republic]: he plays the role of the unarmed
prophet, somebody with good principles but has no means of employing
them because he does not have requisite level of force behind him [pg 95]
…armed were victorious, unarmed came to ruin. Strength of principles not
sufficient to win the day.
c. Virtu IS:
i. Borgia: Ramiro d’Ori: unruly province…Borgia sends Ramiro to pacify the
provence and employ force. Instills fear, but so much fear that he was
killed, himself. One scholar calls recourse “economy of violence”, the
briefest fashion. Machiavelli relies on a particular act of cruelty…not
violence for violence’s sake, but violence for a higher purpose. Compares
hagothacles and Borgia…talks about cruelty “well used” which are carried
out in a single stroke out of necessity to protect, and not contuned, but
instead, converted into the greatest possible benefits for the subjects.
Minimal in application.
“Cruelty well used”… converted into the greatest possible benefits for the subjects
Machiavelli does not think principalities are the best form of government
Pg 285 “this is the result of nothing other than the fact that government by the people is BETTER
than the government of princes”… pg 296 “origins of love of this government….cities have never
increased wealth except while during freedom…consider Rome…for it is the private good and not
private gain…but ONLY in Republics…those who benefit are so numerous that they are able to
advance it. The contrary happens when there is a prince.”
Titus Livius: The discourses are a commentary on a history written by Roman historian Titus
I. Machiavelli on History
a. As Treasure Chest i. Makes argument as to why history itself is important: Pg 170-171
“antiquity….”…thinks it’s ironic that people reconstruct and dig up pottery
and material relics, which people value. But the real value of the past is
what it can teach us. It is a repository of examples of how human beings
grapple with fundamental problems.
ii. Sadly, man disregards precedent in law. Pg 171 “erroneous way of
thinking…I deemed it necessary to write …what I judge necessary for a
better understanding….practical knowledge one should seek from history
b. As rooted in Human Nature and Therefore Timeless
i. Idea further amplified by assumption: transhistorical “essentialist” notion.
People are the way they are, irrespective of time.
1. Large negative reservoirs of ill will, self interest, greed. Pg. 252