Machiavelli and the politics of virtu

Martyn de Bruyn, Purdue University


Even though most scholarly attention has been placed on his political writings, Machiavelli's role as adviser has been relatively unexamined. We can find his ideas on advising not only in his correspondence with the republican regime of Soderini, in which Machiavelli served as the second Chancellor, but also in his political and literary writings under the Medici regime. At the heart of Machiavelli's advice I seek to explore the concept of virtù. Machiavelli wrote his political treatises in an unstable political era, in which the Italian city-states were under constant attack from abroad. In order to create a stable form of government, I argue, Machiavelli relied not on the perfection of the institutions of the state, but instead on the virtuosity of the individual leader. The virtuosity of the leader is, according to Machiavelli, determined by the flexibility of his mind. A good leader is, therefore, in Machiavelli's famous words, “able to be not good, and use it and not use it according to necessity.” In other words, a leader should be good when possible and evil when necessary. Through examples of ancient history and philosophy, Machiavelli shows how the virtuous have made use of the flexibility of their mind to succeed. I conclude that Machiavelli's pragmatist attitude towards the use of vice has contributed to his questionable reputation today, but from his perspective, the political situation demanded a new ethics in the realm of politics, which goes beyond good and evil. ^




Major Professor: Michael A. Weinstein, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Political Science, General

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