Niccolo di Bernardo Machiavelli was born May 3, 1469, with a modest future. Yet, after ten years in Florentine government he wrote some of the most influential works ever. His experiences as well as those in power around him greatly affect his views, and these views would greatly affect the world.
From the start, Machiavelli admired the Romans. He felt their government was one of the best established in history; and he would, in his works, often cite their methods. This, early on, set up his support of a return to earlier governing forms. He also highly regarded the Latin classics, the “golden words.” He was named gonfaloniere for life in 1502 but was purged from office in 1512 after Medici rule over Florence was installed. Machiavelli, however, learned much in ten years that would later benefit him. His encounters with Louix XII and the cardinal of Rouen as ambassador establish, for him, a basis for analysis of powerful rulers. He also visited Pope Julius II, and from that visit produces his discussion of damaging ways of middle behavior and how noone is capable of being totally good or totally evil. It was the son of Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia, who proved most influential in the formation of Machiavelli’s ideas. During his three encounters with Borgia, he saw in him the prototype of a modern ruler. It was at this time he formed one of his main themes on what makes a ruler. All in all, it was his diplomatic experiences which had the most influence on him. They provided him with a ready source of examples to compare against those in his favorite classic authors and supplied him with a “laboratory” in which he could compare his budding theories to these examples.
It is after expulsion from office that Machiavelli begins his intense writing. It is now that he puts the ideas previously mentioned on parchment. The aforementioned theme he formed around Borgia described what causes someone to have a historical impact: ability or ingenuity (virtu) and good fortune (fortuna). It is in 1513 that Machiavelli’s virtu and fortuna theme (and others, to be later mentioned) is developed in the one work upon which most of his fame sits, The Prince. This work caused quite a stir initially, as Machiavelli intended; he wrote it as cause to unify Italy against French invasion. In it, he lays down his second famous theme, “Si guarda al fine” — one must consider the final result of questionable acts. He praises a beneficial goal, regardless of the violence involved in obtaining it. He also ties the first theme in with this theme by examining individual virtu and the influences of fortuna in human affairs. Another famous work of Machiavelli’s, Discourses, contains his more comprehensive studies of human nature and political theory. He more thoroughly analyses virtu and fortuna. Each ,according to him, make up half a person’s life, and no person lacking in either will become truly great.
Together, these two influences may allow a man to take advantage of a historical opportunity, or occasione. With regards to political theory, Machiavelli locates the standard of excellence for a government in the past. He asserts that present leaders should strive to reach the classic ideals of his favorite authors. He also aligns himself with classical theorists by feeling that a mixed form of government is the most stable. He sees that the conflict created by such a mix insures stability based upon dynamic equilibrium. Machiavelli therefore sees as necessary inner conflict within a state. In like manner, he expects war out of state, and calls for a citizen militia to fight it; this came from his admiration of ancient Rome or Sparta. Lastly, he sets down policy for the workings of a government. He states the need for ordini, meaning a constitution for the organization of aspects of the state. He also praises the conflict between Roman plebeians and aristocrats because it was carried on without partisans or factions. Discourses, therefore, was his most elaborate discussion of how a state should be set up and how the leaders of that state should rule.
The influences of Maciavelian works on more modern history become readily apparent now that his beliefs have been analized. Throughout history his ideas have been used for everything from a dictators propaganda to the foundation of a nation. In the worse extreme, such dictators as Mussolini and Castro have twisted his theme of using final analysis to judge actions to justify their oppressive rules. On the other hand, the United States was founded on many of his ideas. The entire mechanations of the U.S. government are layed out in the constitution, and the central government is built around a system of checks and balances, thereby creating Machiavelli’s all-important inner conflict. The first president of the U.S. was noted for his condemnation of political factions, and the first military system set up by Americans was a militia. These same impacts are seen in other governments also, which futher goes to show the impact of Machiavellianism. He did much of his writing with intent to unify Italy and instill the desire for a stable government in the people. But not only did he influence his nation, but his writings went on to influence the world.