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Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527)

One of the major figures of the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli is often credited as the founder of modern political science. He emerged as a public figure with his appointment in 1498 as the Second Chancellor of the Republic of Florence, which led to a series of diplomatic missions and much political activity over the next fourteen years. With the return of the Medici family to power in 1512, and the end of Republican rule, Machiavelli was deposed from his post, resulting in a period of exile that led to the writing of his two most famous works, The Prince (1513) and the Discourses on Livy (1514–19). Machiavelli’s thought is most notable for its commitment to political realism against all forms of idealism, a fact which accounts for the modern adjective ’Machiavellian’ and the formula ‘the ends justify the means’ often associated with his name. Engaging with myth and history, and eschewing the system-building of a philosophical approach, Machiavelli pursued an analysis of politics that emphasized the co-extensive nature of authority and force. He is also famous for his distinction between virtù (virtue) and fortuna (fortune) in his assessment of political events; the former concept names the qualities the prince requires to maintain his power, whereas the latter describes the chance encounters with which this virtù is confronted. An enigmatic thinker, and one of the first to theorize the state form, Machiavelli has inspired many, from Rousseau to Gramsci, serving as well as a precursor to the raison d’état approach to power politics in the nineteenth century. He is lauded in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse in an article by François Regnault for his grasp of the nature of political power and his steps toward a materialist concept of history, a line of praise developed by Louis Althusser as well, in lectures and texts, throughout his career.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

François Regnault, ‘La pensée du prince (Descartes et Machiavel)’, CpA 6.2 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Descartes et Elisabeth, ‘Quatre lettres sur Machiavel’, CpA 6.3 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Machiavelli, ‘Le retour aux origins (Pour qu’une religion et un état obtiennent une longue existence, ils doivent souvent être ramènes à leur principe’ (Discorsi, III, 1), CpA 6.4 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • The Chief Works and Others, 3 vols., trans. Allan Gilbert. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1965.
  • The Prince, ed. Quentin Skinner, trans. Russell Price. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Discourses on Livy, trans. Julia Conway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.