Episode 6: Arming the Citizens: Machiavelli’s Quest for Virtue
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) had a rocky career, with great ups when he had influential administrative positions in his city and great downs when he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured. He published his Art of War to great acclaim, yet he had to publish his The Prince under a pseudonym. In this episode, we concentrate on his Art of War and on the republican values which this work elaborates, with its emphasis on citizens’ responsibility for their republic’s defence.
Known as ‘Old Nick’, Machiavelli has long been seen as a thoroughly amoral if not immoral political writer for whom any ruse or action was acceptable in the quest for power and for its maintenance. Our guest Professor Maurizio Viroli takes a different line altogether: he stresses the moral virtue and the goodness of Machiavelli’s approach which, in the context of war, underscores the need to fight in the interest of the polity, the republic and the political community. Machiavelli used arguments of utility to make moral actions more palatable. But, Viroli argues, Machiavelli’s strategic advice followed the tenet that if you love peace, you must know how to wage war.
Maurizio Viroli is Professor Emeritus of Politics at Princeton University, Professor of Government at the University of Texas (Austin) and Professor of Political Communication at the University of Italian Switzerland (Lugano). He has been a political advisor to successive Italian governments and has published leading books on Jean Jacques Rousseau and, of course, Machiavelli.
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Niccolò Machiavelli, Libro della Arte della Guerra, originally printed as: Amadeo Niecoluci, Arte de la Guerra (1521), transl. by Ellis Farnworth: The Art of War (New York: Da Capo Press, 1965).
Niccolò Machiavelli, I Discorsi (1531), transl. by L J Walker S J and Brian Richardson, The Discourses (London: Penguin, 1998).
Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe (1532), transl. by George Bull, The Prince (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961).
Felix Gilbert, ‘Machiavelli: The Renaissance of the Art of War’, in Peter Paret, Gordon A Craig and Felix Gilbert (eds.): Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 11–31.
Ben Cassidy, ‘Machiavelli and the Ideology of the Offensive: Gunpowder Weapons in the Art of War’, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 67 No.2 (2003), pp. 381–404.
Maurizio Viroli, How to Read Machiavelli (Granta, 2008).
Corrado Vivanti, Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography (Princeton University Press, 2013).
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