The Place of the Tyrant in Machiavelli’s Political Thought and the Literary Genre of the Prince
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University, Lunch Seminar, 18 February (2004)
My project at the Italian Academy concerns how to create good citizens in a multicultural society through a reform of education. In my previous paper I tried to show how an Aristotelian approach seems to be the most promising model of education. The typical objection to such an approach is that it “idealizes” too much the real situation of human beings and their ‘nature,’ which has a lot of negative features neglected by the neo-Aristotelians. In this paper I aim to show how Machiavelli’s political writings aim atpermanently educate the real statesman, teaching him the primary duty of responsibility and the virtue of prudence. Machiavelli, the champion of political realism, becomes thus an ally of Aristotle in educating goodcitizens.
One of Machiavelli’s early readers, the French author Innocent Gentillet, commented that Machiavelli devised “des Maximes tous meschantes, et basty sur icelles non une science politique mais tyrannique.” Interestingly enough, he wrote this sentence in a treatise on how to rule a regime properly and peacefully, i.e. ‘politically’, a book known as the Anti-Machiavel. Even more interesting to me is the fact that this comment repeats the classical opposition between “politics” and “tyranny” that appeared in Greek politics in the VIth century BCE, when the Pisistratid tyrants were chased from the city and a democratic government was created, an opposition then bequeathed to the long tradition of Western political thought.