Machiavellis symbolic tomb at the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence

Machiavelli's symbolic tomb at the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence--TANTO NOMINI NULLUM PAR ELOGIUM (No eulogy would be adequate to praise so great a name)

The first modern we read Niccolo Machiavelli.  He is considered by many to be the first modern because of the things he praises.  These things praised are the exact opposite of the things praised by the ancients.  Machiavelli thus turns the idea of good and evil on its head.

The Ancients Simply

The ancients (and by that I mean Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Cicero, etc.) believed that man had a teleology–an end–that he is naturally directed.  For the Ancients, that end is Happiness, which is achieved by living virtuously.

Further, they believed that man had a natural end.  That there was a way humans ought to live determined by nature.  Nature, is unchangeable.  It has always been.  Humans may know the right way of life by consulting nature.  By consulting nature we can determine how to fulfill our (human) nature and live a life of Happiness.

Enter Machiavelli

Since we are reading books 1-5, along with the dedicatory letter, for this session, we shall confine this post to that reading.

Machiavelli begins book 1 much differently than anyone before him–he speaks about holding power. He states explicitly, that we hold power by fortune or virtue.  But this is not the virtue of the ancients, as we shall see.  Another thing to note in book 1 is what’s missing.  God, or the Church is absent!  Notice he makes no qualification of how territory and principalities are held–by a person’s own force.

Book 3 is a most important chapter.  In it he argues that people change their masters for light and transient reasons–actually the reason is our self-interest (because we think we’ll fare better under another).  He calls this a natural necessity.  And this brings us to an important point:  Machiavelli speaks about acquisition (acquiring) as something natural to us.  The natural desire to acquire is the ground of modern natural right (which we will explain later).  Nevertheless, the desire for more and more is ever present in Machiavelli and that will influence some who come after him–viz. Hobbes.

It would be good to pay attention to the failure and torpor of Louis.  Note the importance of the Church in his inability to maintain territory gained. Books 4-5 cap the reasons that Louis failed by noting what successful leaders have done to keep their acquisition.  Machiavelli perscribes many general rules for rulers in this regard.  However, this is only the surface of Machiavelli.