On Machiavelli: The Search for Glory (Liveright Classics)
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An essential, comprehensive, and accessible guide to the life and works of Machiavelli.
In On Machiavelli: The Search for Glory, Alan Ryan illuminates the political and philosophical complexities of the often-reviled godfather of realpolitik. Thought by some to be the founder of Italian nationalism, regarded by others to be a reviver of the Roman Republic as a model for the modern Western world, Machiavelli remains a contentious figure. Often outraging popular opinion with his insistence on the amoral nature of power, Machiavelli eschewed the world as it ought to be in favor of a forthright appraisal of the one that is. Perhaps more than any other thinker, Machiavelli has suffered from being taken out of context, and Ryan places him squarely within his own time and the politics of a Renaissance Italy riven by near-constant warfare among rival city-states and the papacy.
A well-educated son of Florence, Machiavelli was originally in charge of the Florentine Republic’s militia, but in 1512 the city fell to papal forces led by Cardinal Giovanni de Medici, who thus restored the Medici family to power. Machiavelli was accused of conspiracy, imprisoned, tortured, and eventually exiled from his beloved Florence, and it was during this period that he produced his most famous works. While attempting to ingratiate himself to the Medicis, the historically minded Machiavelli looked to the imperial ambitions and past glories of the Roman Republic as a contrast to the perceived failures of his contemporaries.
For Machiavelli, the hunger for power and glory was inextricable from human nature, and any serious attempt to rule must take this into account. In his revolutionary The Prince and Discourses―both excerpted here―Machiavelli created the first truly modern analysis of power.
would know how to do it. However, it was also essential that common soldiers treated the auguries with respect and that anyone who insulted them was promptly executed. Machiavelli’s animus is directed at the institution of the papacy rather than at Christianity or at other nonpagan religions. Chapter 12 of the Discourses is entitled “The Importance of Giving Religion a Prominent Influence in a State; and How Italy Was Ruined Because She Failed in This Respect through the Influence of the Church
classical writers—Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero among them—took it for granted that they would do so, and were less afraid that they might be too passive than that they would get out of hand. Machiavelli’s doctrine is perfectly clear, and offered as a novelty. The secession of the plebeians forced the ruling elite to take seriously the fact that the lower classes fed the city and kept the elite clothed and housed; it encouraged the lower classes to insist on their rights and privileges in the
Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 197–99. 21. Machiavelli, The Prince, pp. 61–62. 22. Ibid., pp. 84–85. 23. Ibid., p. 85. 24. Ibid., p. 86. 25. Ibid., p. 87. 26. Machiavelli, Discourses (1.27), pp. 185–86. 27. Ibid., introduction, pp. 103–5. 28. Ibid., p. 105. 29. Ibid., pp. 149–53. 30. Ibid. (1.4), pp. 118–20. 31. Ibid. (3.41), p. 528. Selections A NOTE ON THE SELECTIONS THE SELECTIONS FROM MACHIAVELLI’S writings that follow reflect the discussion of Machiavelli’s political
say, because the prince who bases himself entirely on fortune is ruined when fortune changes. I also believe that he is happy whose mode of procedure accords with the needs of the times, and similarly he is unfortunate whose mode of procedure is opposed to the times. For one sees that men in those things which lead them to the aim that each one has in view, namely, glory and riches, proceed in various ways; one with circumspection, another with impetuosity, one by violence, another by cunning,
against him? What people would refuse him obedience? What envy could oppose him? What Italian would withhold allegiance? This barbarous domination stinks in the nostrils of every one. May your illustrious house therefore assume this task with that courage and those hopes which are inspired by a just cause, so that under its banner our fatherland may be raised up, and under its auspices be verified that saying of Petrarch: Valour against fell wrath Will take up arms; and be the combat quickly