Niccolò Machiavelli

“Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the founder of modern thought who set out to overthrow the great tradition of ancient philosophy and theology in his work The Prince, which is apparently a book of practical advice for rulers, but really is meant to establish “new modes and orders” that will not be based on “imagined republics that have never been seen or known to exist in truth” but teaches the effectual truth of “learning to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity.” This is Machiavelli’s notorious realism: “For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good.” Machiavelli takes his bearings from great Founders of states (e.g. Romulus, Moses) because in those cases the need for force and fraud (the lion and the fox) is plain. If what you need to do to acquire equipment for fame and glory (the highest good for Machiavelli) goes against virtue, too bad for virtue. Virtù (the cunning use of force and fraud to reach one’s aims) exercised for the good of the state replaces Christian or Greek ideas of virtue. Fortune (Machiavelli’s term for nature) comprises chance or opportunity in human and subhuman virtue, which Machiavelli compares to a woman who can be raped by anyone young and bold enough. Machiavelli opposes the role of religion and of the Papal states in keeping Italy disunited and Italians unpatriotic” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

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