Machiavelli’s Philosophy of power


Machiavelli: from the Prince’s adviser to the Democratic thinker

What is the modernity of Machiavelli? This is precisely the spirit of Renaissance, the attempted return to the Greek thinkers, which implies a secularization of political thought.

Machiavelli believed in the political effect outside the religious state without God.

To analyze Machiavelli, we must return to the texts themselves as it is a controversial author. Indeed, the challenge still comes from the lack of normativity of Machiavelli: rare are the standards recommended by Machiavelli, most of his analysis is descriptive.

The Prince, although his major work of Machiavelli, do not tell us his philosophy of democracy, since there deals monarchies or principalities.

It is rather in the Sermon on the first decade of Livy that Machiavelli gives us his conception of the Republic.

Machiavelli described the State history as the alternation of three regimes: the monarchy, aristocracy and democracy.


At the beginning of the world, the inhabitants of the earth were few, and they lived long as animals scattered and the population has increased, they met, and to better defend themselves, they began to distinguish those who among them was the more robust they did as their leader and obeyed him. […] So when there was talk of electing a leader, it ceased to go in search of the bravest, most we choose wiser, fairer and above, but from the prince then reigning by right of succession and not by the suffrage of the people, the heirs soon degenerated from their ancestors living in luxury, the prince then began to stir hatred ; hate the environment of terror, but passing quickly from fear to insult, tyranny will soon be born. Such were the causes of the fall of princes, so s’ourdirent conspiracies against them but where we saw him come especially those that surpassed the others in generosity, in magnanimity, in wealth, birth, and who could not bear the criminal life as a prince. The multitude armed himself against the sovereign, and after his punishment she obeyed them as its liberators. The latter, hating even the name of the prince, organizing them a government they conformed their conduct to the laws they had given: preferring the public good to their own advantage, they ruled with Justice and watched with the same care to conservation and common interests. When the power passed into the hands of their son, as they were unaware of the vagaries of fortune and misfortune that had not yet experienced, they would not point simply civil equality, but indulging in avarice and ambition, snatching women to their husbands, they changed the government, which until then had been aristocratic in an oligarchy that no longer meets none of the rights of citizens. They experienced the same fate soon as the tyrant: the multitude, tired of their domination, became the instrument of anyone who wanted to avenge their oppressors, and he was soon to rise a man who with the support of the people, succeeded in overthrowing them. We turned to popular government, and is organized so that neither the small number of large, nor the prince, there obtained any authority. Like any Government inspires some respect to its origin, the popular state was maintained at first, but it was not long without falling into a state license where they no longer feared nor private citizens or public men: so that everyone living within its whim, every day was the source of a thousand insults. Tired of such a license, we returned to the empire of one, only to fall again from fall to fall, the same way and by the same causes, in the horrors of anarchy. Such is the circle in which all drive states that have existed or still exist.”

Machiavelli relates that 3 three forms of government are flawed and are thus reversed.

Monarchy (the Government of one) is transformed into despotism (the Government of one by force) and the aristocracy (government of few people) moved into an oligarchy (government of the richest). Finally, democracy turns licensed. So we returned to the monarchy.

Thus, each system carries within it the seeds of its own corruption (note the superb dialectic).

The theory of evolution does not plan Machiavelli, Chapter 19, to decide clearly in favor of democracy:

A people that order, under the influence of a good constitution, will be as stable as prudent, recognizing also that a prince, what do I say? It will be even more than the prince’s most esteemed for his wisdom. On the other hand, a prince who was able to free themselves from the yoke of laws will be more ungrateful, more mobile, more reckless than the people

Machiavelli based invents here what all modern theories of democracy: the challenge of collective intelligence. The legitimacy of the people to govern comes from wisdom. Only the people can be Republican, that can govern for the common good. This achievement is final. Machiavelli’s successors will resume all their account this founding principle.

Entry into the modern political science is thus linked to the post and descriptive approach, the confidence placed in the government of the people.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Machiavelli’s Philosophy of power, April 14, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 14, 2012,

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