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Machiavelli comes to us in such caricatured form, almost as a malevolent figure, that we've lost track of the vitality his thought on republicanism (see Orrin's review). Much of his treatise on The Art of War is so specific to his time and place that it doesn't make particularly rewarding reading today except for specialists. But his advocacy of a citizen army is timeless.

Younger folk will be unfamiliar with the phenomenon, but back before we so conclusively won WWII and the Cold War experts used to seriously argue that democratic nations were at a disadvantage in warfare against totalitarian regimes because leadership could not as firmly control their military. No one believes such nonsense any longer, but here we see Machiavelli making the case for a republican army some 500 years ago:
FABRIZIO: I have not yet finished discussing all that I proposed, which included two things: the one, that a good man was not able to undertake this practice because of his profession:the other, that a well established Republic or Kingdom would never permit its subjects or citizens to employ it for their profession. Concerning the first, I have spoken as much as has occurred to me: it remains for me to talk of the second, where I shall reply to this last question of yours, and I say that Pompey and Caesar, and almost all those Captains who were in Rome after the last Carthaginian war, acquired fame as valiant men, not as good men:but those who had lived before them acquired glory as valiant and good men: which results from the fact that these latter did not take up the practice of war as their profession; and those whom I named first as those who employed it as their profession. And while the Republic lived immaculately, no great citizen ever presumed by means of such a practice to enrich himself during(periods of) peace by breaking laws, despoiling the provinces, usurping and tyrannizing the country, and imposing himself in every way; nor did anyone of the lowest fortune think of violating the sacred agreement, adhere himself to any private individual, not fearing the Senate, or to perform any disgraceful act of tyranny in order to live at all times by the profession of war. But those who were Captains, being content with the triumph, returned with a desire for the private life; and those who were members (of the army) returned with a desire to lay down the arms they had taken up; and everyone returned to the art (trade or profession)by which they ordinarily lived; nor was there ever anyone who hoped to provide for himself by plunder and by means of the searts. A clear and evident example of this as it applies to great citizens can be found in the Regent Attilio, who, when he was captain of the Roman armies in Africa, and having almost defeated the Carthaginians, asked the Senate for permission to return to his house to look after his farms which were being spoiled by his laborers. Whence it is clearer than the sun, that if that man had practiced war as his profession, and by means of it thought to obtain some advantage for himself, having so many provinces which (he could) plunder, he would not have asked permission to return to take care of his fields, as each day he could have obtained more than the value of all his possessions. But as these good men, who do not practice war as their profession, do not expect to gain anything from it except hard work, danger, and glory, as soon as they are sufficiently glorious, desire to return to their homes and live from the practice of their own profession. As to men of lower status and gregarious soldiers, it is also true that every one voluntarily withdrew from such a practice, for when he was not fighting would have desired to fight, but when he was fighting wanted to be dismissed. Which illustrates the many ways, and especially in seeing that it was among the first privileges, that the Roman people gave to one of its Citizens, that he should not be constrained unwillingly to fight. Rome, therefore, while she was well organized [which it was up to the time of the Gracchi] did not have one soldier who had to take up this practice as a profession, and therefore had few bad ones, and these were severely punished. A well ordered City, therefore, ought to desire that this training for war ought to be employed in times of peace as an exercise, and in times of war as a necessity and for glory, and allow the public only to use it as a profession, as Rome did. And any citizen who has other aims in (using) such exercises is not good, and any City which governs itself otherwise, is not well ordered.

COSIMO: I am very much content and satisfied with what you have said up to now, and this conclusion which you have made pleases me greatly: and I believe it will be true when expected from a Republic, but as to Kings, I do not yet know why I should believe that a King would not want particularly to have around him those who take up such a practice as their profession.

FABRIZIO: A well ordered Kingdom ought so much the more avoid such artifices, for these only are the things which corrupt the King and all the Ministers in a Tyranny. And do not, on the other side, tell me of some present Kingdom, for I will not admit them to be all well ordered Kingdoms; for Kingdoms that are well ordered do not give absolute (power to) Rule to their Kings, except in the armies, for only there is a quick decision necessary, and, therefore, he who (rules) there must have this unique power: in other matters, he cannot do anything without counsel, and those who counsel him have to fear those whom he may have near him who, in times of peace, desire war because they are unable to live without it. But I want to dwell a little longer on this subject, and look for a Kingdom totally good, but similar to those that exist today, where those who take up the profession of war for themselves still ought to be feared by the King, for the sinews of armies without any doubt are the infantry. So that if a King does not organize himself in such a way that his infantry in time of peace are content to return to their homes and live from the practice of their own professions, it must happen of necessity that he will be ruined; for there is not to be found a more dangerous infantry than that which is composed of those who make the waging of war their profession; for you are forced to make war always, or pay them always, or to risk the danger that they take away the Kingdom from you. To make war always is not possible: (and)one cannot pay always; and, hence, that danger is run of losing the State. My Romans [as I have said], as long as they were wise and good, never permitted that their citizens should take up this practice as their profession, notwithstanding that they were able to raise them at all times, for they made war at all times: but in order to avoid the harm which this continuous practice of theirs could do to them, since the times did not change, they changed the men, and kept turning men over in their legions so that every fifteen years they always completely re-manned them:and thus they desired men in the flower of their age, which is from eighteen to thirty five years, during which time their legs, their hands, and their eyes, worked together, nor did they expect that their strength should decrease in them, or that malice should grow in them, as they did in corrupt times.

Ottavianus first, and then Tiberius, thinking more of their own power than the public usefulness, in order to rule over the Roman people more easily, begun to disarm them and to keep the same armies continually at the frontiers of the Empire. And because they did not think it sufficient to hold the Roman People and the Senate in check, they instituted an army called the Praetorian(Guard), which was kept near the walls of Rome in a fort adjacent to that City. And as they now begun freely to permit men assigned to the army to practice military matters as their profession, there soon resulted that these men became insolent, and they became form idable to the Senate and damaging to the Emperor. Whence there resulted that many men were killed because of their insolence, for they gave the Empire and took it away from anyone they wished, and it often occurred that at one time there were many Emperors created by the several armies. From which state of affairs proceeded first the division of the Empire and finally its ruin. Kings ought, therefore, if they want to live securely, have their infantry composed of men, who, when it is necessary for him to wage war, will willingly go forth to it for love of him, and afterwards when peace comes, more willingly return to their homes; which will always happen if he selects men who know how to live by a profession other than this. And thus he ought to desire, with the coming of peace, that his Princes return to governing their people, gentlemen to the cultivation of their possessions, and the infantry to their particular arts (trades or professions);and everyone of these will willingly make war in order to have peace, and will not seek to disturb the peace to have war.
Of further interest--for the purposes of this site--note that he casts back a further 1500 years to make his republican arguments. There is an amusing desire on the part of advocates for the Enlightenment to see the American Republic as emerging full-blown from the heads of supposed Rationalists like John Locke. Studying Machiavelli reminds us that our models are significantly more ancient and our Founding owes rather little to the Age of Reason.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Niccolo Machiavelli (2 books reviewed)
Niccolo Machiavelli Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Niccolò Machiavelli
    -PODCAST: History Lessons – Alexander Lee on Machiavell: In this episode of History Lessons, Mattias Hessérus is joined by Alexander Lee to discuss Machiavelli’s life and works. Was he always an adept politician? And was he as immoral as is often claimed? (Engelsberg Ideas, SEPTEMBER 28, 2020)
-ESSAY: Recovering The Prince: Realism, Republicanism, state building and the cycles of history.: A Quincentennial Tribute to a Lesser Known Machiavelli (Torbjørn L. Knutsen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
    -ESSAY: Understanding The Prince by Machiavelli (Paul Krause, April 19, 2024, Minerva Wisdom)
    -ESSAY: "A Deconstruction of "The Discourses on Livy": a biography of Niccolo Machiavelli and his Political Legacy" (Matthew Frye, 2012, Harvard University)
    -ESSAY: Liberty and Conflict: Machiavelli on Politics and Power: Political Imagination, Conflict and Democracy: Machiavelli's Republican Realism (Luca Baccelli, academia)
    -ESSAY: Lessons from Machiavelli and Guicciardini for an Unstable World (Andy Owen, 04/13/2024, Merion Webster)
    -ESSAY: Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover, Or A Man by His Book: In Defense of Niccolo Machiavelli (Gayathri Dineshkumar)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli and Constituent Power: the Revolutionary Foundation of Modern Political Thought (Filippo Del Lucchese, 2017, European Journal of Political Theory)
    -ESSAY: “Don’t be such a Machiavel.” Actually, do. (Lucie Alden October 14, 2023, Online Library of Liberty)
    -ESSAY: A Deconstruction of "The Discourses on Livy": a biography of Niccolo Machiavelli and his Political Legacy Matthew Frye, 2012, Academia)
    -ESSAY: The Machiavellian REVOLUTION1 (Ion Goian)
    -ESSAY: The Many and the Few: On Machiavelli's “Democratic Moment” (Stephen Trochimchuk, 2012, The Review of Politics)
    -ESSAY: The battles over beginnings: Niccolò Machiavelli’s profound insights about the violent origins of political societies help us understand the world today (David Polansky, 3/08/24, Aeon)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli’s Republic: A Better Place to Be (Christopher Binetti, Polit Journal Scientific Journal of Politics)
    -ESSAY: The Originality of Machiavelli (Isaiah Berlin, Against the Current)
    -ESSAY: The Machiavellian Maze: Power, politics, and painful tradeoffs (ROB HENDERSON, DEC 10, 2023, Newsletter)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli: The Prince of Darkness? (Bradley J. Birzer, May 2nd, 2021, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Is Machiavelli a Monster? (Jerry Salyer, May 2nd, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli Preferred Democracy to Tyranny: The theorist’s magnum opus wasn’t a blueprint for dictators—it was an ode to institutional constraints on leaders (Matthew Kroenig, 5/27/23, Foreign Policy)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli and Constituent Power: the Revolutionary Foundation of Modern Political Thought (Filippo Del Lucchese, 2017, European Journal of Political Theory)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli’s Rome and Sparta (Jacob Bruns, 5/12/23, Voegelin View)
    -ESSAY: What we get wrong about Machiavelli The Renaissance thinker wasn't as diabolical—or as original—as we often assume (Ferdinand Mount, May 3, 2020, Prospect)
-ESSAY: Our Machiavellian Moment: Much maligned as a mere tactician of power, Machiavelli was in fact a philosopher of the people. His critique of oligarchic domination remains essential today. (CAMILA VERGARA, 1/05/21, Boston Review)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli’s legacy: After half a millenium, Machiavellianism remains characteristic of our political practice (Maureen Ramsay, 12/06/2007, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli and the Liberal Republic (Chance Phillips·January 25, 2023, Liberal Currents)
    -ESSAY: Niccolo Machiavelli and Englands Republican Experiment (Maria Teresa Antoniozzi)
    -ESSAY: Talking With Machiavelli: Fortuna and virtù are keys to success. (Win McCormack, September 15, 2022, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: The Machiavellian REVOLUTION1 (Ion Goian, 2018)
    -ESSAY: The Many and the Few: On Machiavelli's “Democratic Moment” (Stephen Trochimchuk, 2012, The Review of Politics)
-REVIEW: of Virtue Politics by James Hankins : Machiavelli’s virtue politics: Modern politicians can learn from the Renaissance (George Woodhuysen, Standpoint)
    -REVIEW: of Machiavelli: Huis Life and Times by Alexander Lee: Everyday Niccolò: Machiavelli lived not for the sake of his own time or for his next life but for his progeny in later times (Harvey C. Mansfield, Fall 2020, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of J. R. Hale. Machiavelli and Renaissance Italy (Hans Baron, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Machiavelli: His life and times by Alexander Lee (Lauro Martines, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: Of Machiavelli’s Effectual Truth: Creating the Modern World, by Harvey C. Mansfield (David Polansky, City Journal)
    -REVIEW: Of Machiavelli’s Effectual Truth: Creating the Modern World, by Harvey C. Mansfield (RJ Snell, Religion & Liberty)

Book-related and General Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Art of War (Machiavelli book)
    -ETEXT: The Art of War (Neville trans.) (Liberty Fund)
    -ENTRY: The Art of War work by Machiavelli (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Niccolò Machiavelli (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -ENTRY: Niccolò Machiavelli (1469—1527) (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -Aphorisms from Art of War by Niccolò Machiavelli (U Chicago Press)
    -Report on Niccolo Machiavelli's The Art of War (John Sloan, Xenophon Group International)
    -ESSAY: MACHIAVELLI’S 27 RULES OF WAR (RYAN EVANS, AUGUST 3, 2014, War on the Rocks)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli's Art of War: A Reconsideration (Marcia L. Colish, Winter 1998, Renaissance Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli’s military project and the Art of War (Mikael Hörnqvist, 28 September 2010, Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli)
    -ESSAY: War and Politics in the Thought of Machiavelli (Alexander Amoroso, 11/2016, Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History)
    -ESSAY: The Art of War by Sun Tzu as opposed to the ideas of Niccolò Machiavelli (Mian Farzeen, Aug 7, 2021, Medium)
    -ESSAY: The Prince and His Art of War: Machiavelli's Military Populism (Yves Winter, Spring 2014, Social Research)
    -ESSAY: Niccolò Machiavelli: the father of Renaissance warfare (Iain King, 6/21/2017, Military History)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli’s Belief and Principles of the Civilian Militia (the very incomplete version) (Legal History Sources)
    -ESSAY: The Reemergence of the Citizen-Soldier in Modern Military Theory (Kevin A . Brown)
    -DISSERTATION: Good Arms and Good Laws: Machiavelli, Regime-Type, and Violent Oppression (William Wittels, Department of Political Science, Duke University, 4-4-14)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter 4. Humanism and Neo-Stoicism (War and Peace in the Western Political Imagination: From Classical Antiquity to the Age of Reason by Roger B. Manning)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter 14: Learn the Rules of War (The Municipal Machiavelli)
    -ESSAY: On the Origins of Republican Violence (Aziz Z. Huq, Frank and Bernice J. Greenberg Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law)
    -VIDEO: The Strategy of Machiavelli (Strategy Stuff, 8/11/2018)
    -ESSAY: The inverted advice of Niccolò Machiavelli: How Machiavelli's endorsement of lying, manipulation and acquisition influenced today’s politics (William J. Connell, TLS)
    -ESSAY: Machiavelli's "The Art Of War" - an essay on it. (TheProviant, Young Writers' Society)
    -ESSAY: Mamet and Machiavelli: The Art of Manipulation (Dawson Roebig)
    -REVIEW: of The Art of War by Niccolo Machiavelli (Angelo M. Codevilla, Hoover Institute: Classics of Military History)
    -REVIEW: of Art of War (L. J. Andrew Villalon, De Re Militari)
    -REVIEW: of Art of War: translated, edited, and with a commentary by Christopher Lynch (Paul A. Rahe, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Art of War (Erenow)