Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3rd, 1469, in Florence, Italy. Known as the “father of political theory”, he was a philosopher and statesman during the Renaissance. Not a lot is known of Machiavelli’s early life, though he was born into a wealthy and influential family, with a history of civil service to the Florentine city state. In 1494 Machiavelli too entered service of the Florentine government as clerk to the Office of the 10 of Liberty, the same year in which Florence returned to republican rule after a period of 60 years under the rule of the Mecidi family. Soon after this he began a period of diplomatic missions to various European countries when he met, amongst others, Louis XII of France, Ferdinand II of the Holy Roman Empire and Pope Julius II. Between 1502 and 1503 Machiavelli met Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, during a period of effective state building on the part of Borgia. This acquaintance was to leave a lasting effect on the young Machiavelli. In the years after meeting Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli rose to the leadership of the Florentine militia, at which point he develops his expertise in security.
In 1512 the Mecidi family ascended back to power in Florence and the republic was disassembled. In the process, Machiavelli was removed from his post and subjected to imprisonment and torture on suspicion of conspiracy. Retiring to his father’s estate on the hills above Florence, Machiavelli began a far more literary phase to his life. It was during this phase that Machiavelli wrote Il Principe, in 1513, though it was not published until after his death. His most famous work, Il Principe, is commonly interpreted as a critique of moral or ethical considerations superseding those of authority, power, and violence. In Il Principe Machiavelli seemingly advocates the need for rulers to ‘unlearn’ the goodness in them, and to seek and insure the preservation of power above all else, as this pursuit, in ensuring the preservation of the state, is the highest good.
Alternatively, Il Principe is read by some, including Rousseau as a satirical view of ‘princely’ rule, and in fact consistently shows the benefits of republicanism. His later work, The Art of War, would also support this view. In it, Machiavelli argues for the training of citizens in basic soldiering as a civilian militia is far more reliable a defence then the hiring of mercenaries, a common practice by the cities of Italy at the time. Additionally, citizens would be far more willing to defend the liberty inherent in a republic then those in power.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Oxford University Press. 2008.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Art of War. Da Capo Press. 2001.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. Mandragola. Waveland Press. 1981.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. Discourses. Penguin Classics. 1984.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Chief Works and Others (3 Volume Set). Duke University Press. 1965.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Essential Writings of Machiavelli.Modern Press. 2007.