Talk:Niccolò Machiavelli

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! Part of this article was copied from Citizendium and Wikipedia but the copied text was originally written by me, RJJensen (under the name Richard Jensen and rjensen) and does not include alterations made by others on that site. Conservlogo.png
RJJensen 06:53, 14 February 2009 (EST)

Influence on Conservatives?

Machiavelli has had ZERO influence on conservatives, or the Founding Fathers, or anything else of great value. Zilch. The reference given is to "Pocock", but it should be to poppycock. This revisionism of someone felt for centuries to be inspired by the devil cannot last here. I wouldn't put it on Citizendium either! Godspeed.--Andy Schlafly 23:04, 20 March 2009 (EDT)
I'm not sure where you get this idea that he had zero influence from. Francis Bacon, the catalyst of the scientific revolution, was deeply fond of Machiavelli's Prince and Discourses on Livy, based his entire approach to the writing and study of history upon the Machiavellian approach, and noted, "We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do." The Discourses had wide impact throughout the centuries on republican thinking, though I can't speak to his influence on the founding fathers, being a British, and not American historian. PaulAuber 01:18, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
Yes Paul is right. The Discourses are cited and reprinted to this day by conservatives. Some argue that The prince is a warning what it's like to have a king who is sovereign as opposed to the much better system that Machiavelli supported of a republic. Better look at Pocock (a cnservative--he and I used to have adjoining offices in the the 1960s) or the dozens of other scholarly studies. Willmore Kendall for example wrote about what was "truly admirable in Machiavelli" (the Discources), which are not at all "Machiavellian" (in the Prince-sense). M. warns that "Principality easily becomes Tyranny." Conservative historian Paul Rahe has an entire book on Machiavelli's Liberal Republican Legacy Another leading conservative using Machiavelli is Harvey C. Mansfield of Harvard. RJJensen 01:52, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
So his influence, I am to infer that his influence, on conservatives, is mainly that they used him to explain his influence on liberal Republicans? It has been a long day, Richard! --₮K/Admin/Talk 03:01, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
"liberal" in the 19th century sense, which is like libertarianism today. The influence on 2009 conservatives was this: Machiavelli's ideas on civic duty and opposition to corruption are deply engrained in America thanks to the idea of republicanism. It's a political philosophy after which the GOP names itself. Jefferson also called his party the "Republican" (or Democratic-Republican) party. RepublicISM means fears of tyranny, fear of corruption, distrust of politicians, and the need to be an active citizen, esp bear arms in wartime and vote in elections. We all share that today and (to a large degree) it comes from Machiavelli (and others too, but he was very important). This "republican" line of Machiavelli's thought is totally different from his line of thought in "The Prince" which advocates tyranny--he argued both black and white! RJJensen 03:39, 21 March 2009 (EDT)

Sounds as if he would today be one of the highest ranking members of the prerequisite is being able to argue both sides, while talking out of both sides of your mouth. --₮K/Admin/Talk 05:15, 21 March 2009 (EDT)

Was Machiavelli writing about his ideals, i.e., what the best possible ruler ought to do? Or was he writing for his time and place? I heard that his ideas were meant to apply only to Italy of the early Renaissance era (which figured in several popular Shakespearean plays).
Wasn't he only offering specifically tailored and pragmatic advice rather than timeless "do this everywhere and at all times" principles? Does the idea of lesser of two evils apply?
In other words, did Machiavelli actually recommend that rulers be "Machiavellian", as an ideal of government? I don't think so, any more than Pollyanna (in the book or even the Disney movie) practiced "unreasonable or blind optimism." [1] And Uncle Tom's attitude was never "to curry favor with whites" but was manifestly an expression of his Christian principles. --Ed Poor Talk 07:00, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
Ed raises a very good point. Was M telling tyrants how to do it? or was he warning people "if you don't have a republic you will get a tyrant and here's how he will mistreat you." Scholars have been debating this for years and no one is sure. I incline to the "warning" side because in fact no tyrant needs his advice--they do it naturally, but good citizens do need to be warned. ...speaking of Shakespeare: Macbeth teaches the audience exactly how to be a bad king, but nobody says Shaks. was writing a guidebook for tyrants. RJJensen 07:14, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
Likewise, Hamlet shows how to fulfill the classic Greek ideal of avenging your father's murder, but for me it's a lesson in the unintended consequences. The prince murders his girlfriend's father (which drives her to suicide) - bad start for a poorly thought-out plan. --Ed Poor Talk 07:29, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
We don't even want to go there, Ed....Hamlet, and his issues! Good morning, BTW. :-) -- --₮K/Admin/Talk 07:58, 21 March 2009 (EDT)

RJJensen, I appreciate your clarification, but where do you get your claim that Machiavelli influence any conservatives, or conservative thought? I have never, ever, ever heard a single conservative cite Machiavelli in any way, except perhaps to criticize Machiavellianism (and even that mention is almost non-existent).--Andy Schlafly 09:03, 21 March 2009 (EDT)

not many people these days read Machiavelli's Discourses, but the Founding Fathers all did, and they incorporated his ideas directly and those that came via the English "country party". Ideas like service in the militia, for example, also come from him--and especially the idea that politicians are power-hungry princes that have to be watched at all times. Lots of conservative intellectual powerhouses write about him--for example Leo Strauss and the Straussians (Alan Bloom, Thomas Pangle, Harvey Mansfield) also Willmore Kendall, Paul Rahe, Gordon Wood, and several National review writers. RJJensen 09:15, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
I just searched the Federalist Papers, the voluminous explanation and defense of our constitutional system by our Founders, and there is not a single reference to Machiavelli or Machiavellian. As to your list of "conservative intellectual powerhouses," I don't recognize any of them as being Reagan-type conservatives. Harvey Mansfield may come closest, but I'd be surprised if he were conservative on most leading social issues.--Andy Schlafly 09:51, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
However, there is also not a single reference to John Locke, who was an enormously large influence, in the Federalist Papers. As for Ed's question, it's believe it's generally accepted that Machiavelli was writing for the specific circumstances of a fractured Italy, as he desired an enlightened prince to unify it through necessary means and then give control to a new republican body. By the way, can anyone explain why I was blocked for engaging in this discussion? PAuber 12:47, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
Well, fine, but there's no doubt that Locke influenced the Founding Fathers. See, e.g., [2] There is doubt about Machiavelli's influence on them.
I see no record of your being blocked, but you will be blocked if you continue to delete information from the lectures.--Andy Schlafly 12:58, 21 March 2009 (EDT)

I don't think Jensen was saying Machiavelli himself was an influence, but that one or two of the ideas he advocated was also adopted by the Founding Fathers. So a search of the author's name won't show anything.

RJ, could you expound again on the ideas which Machiavelli and the Founders both liked? --Ed Poor Talk 16:26, 21 March 2009 (EDT)

Responding to Ed-- M's influence can be seen in the ideas that the good citizen has to watch out for politicians, & has to take part in politics. M. was the major porponent of the citizens militia (as oppose to standing armies or mercenries) as the best defense and the need for citizens to join the militia (which is now the National Guard). The argument by historians is that Machiavelli had a major direct influence on the English "country party" which provided the main intellectual base for the American Revolution. That is, Americans absorb Machiavelli, Locke, Hume, Harrington, Montesquieu etc through the founding fathers rather than by directly reading these people in 2009.RJJensen 19:40, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
The flaw in that argument is that Machiavelli was long viewed with disdain, while the other political philosophers were not. Moreover, there's nothing special about an armed citizenry that should be attributed to Machiavelli in particular, as opposed to countless others political commentators going back to feudal times who felt the same way.
Liberals like Machiavelli for the same reason that others held him in disdain. Liberals really do think the "end justifies the means," and they really worship political status rather than genuine achievement. Machiavelli is a hero to liberals, and hence the attempt to rehabilitate him by liberal historians. Don't take that personally, as I criticize liberals in the legal field also and hopefully historians welcome some accountability in their field.--Andy Schlafly 23:11, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
I suspect liberal intellectuals pay Machiavelli less attention than conservatives, judging from the scholarly books and article in recent decades. Harvey Mansfield at Harvard and Alan Bloom at Chicago, for example, taught courses on Machiavelli that influences a whole generation of "neoconservatives." Now it's machiavellianism that is rightly attacked as a formulary of evil government. But it's an interesting question --a lot of scholars (me too) think The Prince was designed as a warning for good citizens --a checklist of types of corruption to look out for. Machiavelli not only wrote the first studies about the citizen's militia he organized and supervised the first one, and his ideas were very well received by British and American writers before 1776. RJJensen 23:26, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
Maybe you're right, RJJensen. I have an open-mind about it. If I'm right, then I learned a great deal by researching and debating this issue. And if you're right, then I learned even more! Thanks for your insights.--Andy Schlafly 23:34, 21 March 2009 (EDT)
Thanks for the stimulus :) RJJensen 23:47, 21 March 2009 (EDT)

A parting shot, not intended to re-open a closed issue:

  • Perhaps Machiavelli was evading censorship by clothing his critique in (apparent) praise. I gather Jonathan Swift used satire to get political points across in the era before freedom of press became the norm in the Christian West. If so, then I guess we can thank God that we now live in an era where we can speak our minds (even in an international forum such as this encyclopedia-writing project) without fear of retribution. --Ed Poor Talk 13:38, 23 March 2009 (EDT)

Featured article

This is an excellent pick for being a featured article - everyone who's worked on this - RJJenson especially- awesome job.--IDuan 22:39, 2 May 2009 (EDT)


The introduction contains some biased language and comments and I created an account specifically because it does not appear to be objective. I acknowledge this site has a conservative viewpoint but comments like "the best prose writer" are completely unnecessary and could easily be changed into "considered one of the best prose writers of his time in Italy, Mr/Ms. X writes "abc Machiavelli's magnificent prose style xyz." Furthermore, as a student who has studied Machiavelli, I found some comments to be incorrect. For example, "which showed how a self-serving ruler will follow the policy that the "end justifies the means," whereby a ruler can gain power (the "means") in any deceitful or unjust manner possible in order to achieve his often undisclosed goals (the "end")" is very poorly done. A) according to Machiavelli a just Prince would be morally justified in taking power because the betterment of citizen's lives justified the Prince's sordid means. Furthermore, a true Machiavellian Prince would not need to "disclose" it's goals as role, and goals, of a true Prince were already outlined by Machiavelli. Other statements such as "For that matter, no tyrant has ever needed the book to get ideas how to oppress people" and "Machiavelli, most scholars believe, was dedicated to republicanism as the best form of government and opposed tyranny. The Prince was a warning that it could happen like this if citizens let down their guard" and other non-cited statements of speculation don't contribute to the article. Lastly, the statement "major positive influence of" is unclear as it does not illustrate what a "positive" influence is and is thus vacuous. --- —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Sardonac (talk) --- 21:49, 4 May 2009

thanks for the comments. The section was written by a professional historian and should pass muster for a popular encyclopedia. For example, the prose style is widely hailed. The article reflects the current scholarly literature that is cited. RJJensen 01:02, 5 May 2009 (EDT)
Mr. Sardonicus must be bored up there north of you in Toronto, Richard. I know that you, like me, cannot wait to see their substantial contributions here, to match their obviously ponderous intellect. --₮K/Admin/Talk 02:02, 5 May 2009 (EDT)

I'm not sure whether or not that was intended as an insult but if it was it is completely unnecessary. Whether or not this was written by a historian is irrelevant, poor encyclopedic writing is poor writing. All it does is reflect the personal, and unsubstantiated, opinions of one person on a very broad subject. Even if it were cited, the style of this featured article is poor. Not being cited, I ask again for permission to amend the article in order that it remain as strictly factual as possible. User:Sardonac
first let's see some proof that you are capapable of good writing. Try writing a new article on a topic of your choice and we'll see.RJJensen 16:11, 5 May 2009 (EDT)