Often called the founder of modern political science, Niccolo Machiavelli was more than just the author of the renowned work, The Prince. He was a historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher and writer during the Italian Renaissance.
For many years, he served as a senior official in the Florentine Republic and his responsibilities involved diplomatic and military affairs. When the Medici was out of power, he served as secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512. His most known work, The Prince, was published in 1513.
Today, the term Machiavellian is used mainly in a negative manner. And it’s used in particular to describe unscrupulous politicians described by Machiavelli in The Prince. Although it is portrayed as such, others such as Baruch Spinoza, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot argue that Machiavelli’s writings were an inspiration to those who were proponents of modern democratic political philosophy.
It’s not hard to argue why most think of Machiavelli’s work on The Prince as evil. After all, he described immoral behavior as normal and effective in politics. The book gained notoriety when readers claimed that Machiavelli was teaching evil and providing tyrants with recommendations on how they can maintain their power.
Despite the negativity associated with his name, Machiavelli achieved a lot during his life. Here are his accomplishments:
It’s hard not to include The Prince in the list of Machiavelli’s achievements. After all, the work did resonate (both good and bad) with many readers. It’s a work that became like handbooks for rulers – this and other works of his as well.
The Prince had a profound impact on political leaders all over the modern west. Reginald Pole, the English cardinal, reported that Thomas Cromwell spoke highly of the work. He added that it was also influential in Henry VIII converting to Protestantism as well as his tactics.
The Catholic king and Emperor Charles V had a copy of The Prince. This work also led to Machiavelli being associated with Catherine de Medici and the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
Jean Bodin, Francis Bacon, James Harrington, John Milton, Baruch Spinoza, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Edward Gibbon and Adam Smith all noted the importance of Machiavelli’s realism. And although not specifically mentioned, Machiavelli is also thought to have an influence on major philosophers such as Michel de Montaigne, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Montesquieu.
In literature, Machiavelli appears as a character in the prologue of The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe. Shakespeare’s Iago (the antagonist in Othello) is considered by critics as adhering to the ideals of Machiavelli as he advances himself through machination and duplicity.
Politics is one sphere where Machiavelli’s ideals spread. For instance, the English civil war, Glorious Revolution and the development of the English constitution – all as a result of republicanism in the 17th century – were influenced by the political thought of Machiavelli. Several of the founding fathers of the American Revolution such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were said to be influenced by the political works of Machiavelli.
The Prince was influential with political leaders. Napoleon I of France wrote extensive comments about the work. Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, wrote a discourse on the book. And Soviet leader Joseph Stalin read the book and annotated his copy.
Discourses on Livy
Formally known as Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy was published in 1531 but it was written in 1517. The work is often simply referred to as Discourses or Discorsi and is a discussion on the classical history of ancient Rome. Although that is the subject, Machiavelli often deviates from the matter. Discourses use contemporary political examples in order to illustrate different points.
While The Prince was a much shorter work, Discourses is rather lengthy. Discourses do have similar themes with The Prince but it explains the advantages of republics more openly. Early versions of the concept of checks and balances are featured in the work, as is the superiority of the republic over a principality.
Discourses became one of the central texts of republicanism. Here are some extracts from the work:
- “In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check.”
- “…the government of the people is better than those of princes.”
- “Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example.”
Although a statesman and political scientist, Machiavelli also dabbled in the translation of classical works. He wrote plays (Clizia, Mandragola) and poems (Sonetti, Canzoni, Ottave, Canti carnascialeschi). He was also a novelist (Belfagor arcidiavolo).
Here’s a list of his fictional works:
- Decennale primo – a poem written in terza rima.
- Decennale secondo – another poem.
- Andria – also known as The Girl from Andros; it’s a semi-autobiographical comedy that was adapted from Terence.
- Mandragola – this is also called The Mandrake; it’s a five-act prose comedy that features a verse prologue.
- Clizia – a prose comedy.
- Belfagor arcidiavolo – a novella.
- Asino d’oro – also known as The Golden Ass; this is a terza rima poem and a re-working of the classic by Apuleius.
- Frammenti storici – fragments of stories.
Other Political and Historical Works
- Discorso sopra le cose di Pisa
- Del modo di trattare i popoli della Valdichiana ribellati
- Descrizione del modo tenuto dal Duca Valentino nello ammazzare
- Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo, il Signor Pagolo e il duca
- di Gravina Orsini
- Discorso sopra la provisione del danaro (A Discourse on the Provision of Money)
- Ritratti delle cose di Francia (Portrait of the Affairs of France)
- Ritracto delle cose della Magna (Portrait of the Affairs of Germany)
- Dell’Arte della Guerra (The Art of War)
- Discorso sopra il riformare lo stato di Firenze (A Discourse About the Reforming of Florence)
- Sommario delle cose della citta di Lucca (A Summary of the Affairs of the City of Lucca)
- Vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca (The life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca)
- Istorie Florentine (Florentine Histories) – commissioned by Giulio de Medici who later became Pope Clement VII