- Author: Niccolo Machiavelli (1469- 1527)
- Title: The Discourses on Livy
- Written: 1517
- Trivia: A work of political history and philosophy written in the early 16th century
- The Discourses were published posthumously with papal privilege in 1531.
- Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian politician, diplomat and author of the preeminent political treatise, The Prince.
- Machiavelli s political career came to an abrupt end
- …when the Medici overthrew Florence, and he was held as a prisoner under the new regime.
- At this point, Machiavelli retired and turned to intellectual and philosophical pursuits.
- He died in 1527 at the age of 58
Why don’t more people read The Discourses on Livy?
- I can only speak from my own experience:
- the name Livy sacred me,
- the length of the book is daunting.
- I never read Livy and
- I had no idea what Livy wrote and what Machiavelli is going to explain.
- This book felt like homework to the nth degree!
- I was pleasantly surprised how readable it is.
Why was Machiavelli drawn to Livy and his history of the Roman Republic?
- The Roman republic lasted a VERY long time, 509 BC – 27 BC, about 500 years.
- The republic started as a dot on the map. It was a town of Rome and not much else.
- When the republic ended it controlled virtually the entire Mediterranean,
- some of the Middle East, all of Spain and France (Gaul) right up to the shores of Wales!
- It was very big, wealthy and powerful.
- Machiavelli realized the Romans did something right for a very long time.
- He was determined to learn some valuable lessons from those folks way back then!
- Machiavelli’s discourses on Livy are divided into 3 sections.
- Book 1 (60 ch) – Republic, why is it the best form of government?
- Book 2 (33 ch) – Warfare, military tactics; why do the Romans keep winning?
- Book 3 (49 ch) – How does a republic survive?
How can Machiavelli promote equality and liberty and still write The Prince?
- This was basically a handbook for successful/opressive leaders.
- By only reading The Prince you do not get a
- ….complete picture of Machiavelli and his thoughts.
- By reading The Discourses you finally understand why he wrote The Prince!
- The Prince is a means to an end.
- You need a strong leader to get things going….and then create an ordered republic.
- The Discourses tells us about the evolution and success of a republic.
What is the central question in the book?
- How do you creatively use the past?
- Machiavelli explains why we need to take the study of history seriously.
- It is not just reading stories, not entertainment.
- We must learn to understand and start THINKING HISTORICALLY.
- Knowledge of the past is not secondary…it is essential.
- We must know the value of history,
- …the misuse of history and
- …the dangers of the ignorance of the past.
What are the lessons I learned by reading The Discourses?
He is telling us to be creative. Use history as an act of ‘creative thinking. He makes the reader struggle and think about his ideas and fills the book with ancient and modern examples so we can learn how to THINK and come to conclusions.
It was as if Machiavelli was a college professor giving a course in history! The result is….I listen to the news, think back to Machiavelli and start to ‘think about the power plays going on in the Middle East.
I ask myself Machiavelli’s questions:
- What is the cause of war? Ambition or a mass migration of people?
- Who is fighting defensively, offensively… why?
- What are the different long-term and short- term strategies of the players?
- What do the key figures have in common? Then we can learn from there action.
Examples of my thoughts: Saudis in Yemen fighting proxy war for US, Kurds in Syria/Turkey, Assad’s insistence to remain in power, Putin’s steadfast support of Assad, USA finally backtracking and openly admitting that Gülen could be deported if you show us some proof. Everybody know that Turkey is a KEY player because of its location! (seacoast, series of internationally-significant waterways in northwest Turkey that connect the Aegean and Mediterranean seas to the Black Sea, oil pipelines!!
USA wants to make sure Turkey does not pivot to far toward Russia.
There is so much to think about. Thanks to Machiavelli’s The Discourses
I become more aware of the chess board we call the Middle East!
- What is Machiavelli’s goal?
- Machiavelli wants a society:
- based on a system of CHECKS AND BALANCES.
- that respects the equality and liberty of the people
- trusts the people collectively more than it would trust any individual
- …especially in the time of crisis …especially in foreign relations.
- Machiavelli is a very important republican thinker.
- Although Machiavellian with all its meanings
- …is a word that has come to mean a certain thing
- …drawn from The Prince, in fact Machiavelli is an
- …advocate of a republic…not a principality!
- He was very influential on the development of republican thought
- …on the continent of Europe, England and in the new world.
- I would never have discovered the other
- …side of Machiavelli without reading The Discourses.
- The Prince was an means to an end (strong leader)
- ..that was necessary to ‘get things started’.
- Once the framework of a republic was in place….people could enjoy
- …the benefits of a republic as laid out in The Discourses.
- History is not just gathering information or reading old stories
- History is learning to think creatively.
- Study the people in history and try to find parallels in their lives
- …that will reflect their parallel achievements!
- Then we discover what we have to LEARN from looking at them together.
Quickscan of the most important points made by Machiavelli about a republic:
- Citizens must not become like the nobility.
- That would ruin the balance in the republic.
- You must not let poverty or social status determine who can hold office.
- It must be the most able person, not only the wealthy. (Example: Cincinnatus)
- You must make use of everybody in the republic for the offices they are able to hold.
- Aristocracy must not be a requirement for office holding.
- The Romans were never humiliated by defeat or become arrogant by victory.
- A good army is cohesive. Soldiers must know one another.
- You need to raise your own army.
- People raised in the same place under the same religion.
- There are certain attributes in nations and families that don’t change.
- It is not about blood but about tradition and the nature of education.
- You need a culture that passes on the values that your society is going to live in.
- That is the culture that will lead to the soldiers and office holders
- …that will make a successful republic.