Coordinated by Filip STANCIU


Dynamics of Power in the Machiavellian Stato


Bogdan-Cazimir HÂNCU

University of Bucharest

Abstract: With Machiavelli, the modern State becomes a distinct entity from all other fields of knowledge and action. One can consider that his advices are general and impartial but his State is profoundly personal (and his ideal Prince as well). The main argument of this article proceeds with an analysis of Machiavelli’s use of “lo stato”, outlining the political world where the Prince will exercise the power.


Keywords: Machiavelli, “lo stato”, domination, “raggion di stato”, necessity, governance.

1.                   INTRODUCTION

The idea of these article resides in a fundamental question: the state in the Renaissance Italy, is it a modern one? The article tries to found how, in the field of the practice of power, the state manifests as the fundamental political concern for the one who rules. The state became, with the 16th century, to be promoted by the civil society, or to be more precise, by a society of elites who will understand the necessity of renewing the concept of governance. We will use, to understand the evolution of the concept of state in the Machiavellian thinking, three terms: the state – lo stato, reason of state – raggion di stato and the doctrine of necessity. The biggest problem of interpreting the Machiavellian state is represented by the object on which the domination is inflicted: on the territory, on the population by a political elite in a political construction that we call State. However, when we speak about the „State”, the modern State, we must be aware of the fact that this impersonal and artificial concept was not common for the Renaissance political thinker.

The politics of necessity and raggion di stato are not new concepts for the humanists in the 16th century. The Machiavellian world is an original and lucid projection of an entire political literature that comes from Thucydides, Aristotle, Xenophon and Tacitus to Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Marsilius de Padua and Aegidius Romanus. Machiavelli is very influenced by the ancient literature, not only by Titus Livy, who is his “mentor”. Thucydides is the first, in his Melian dialogue, that shaped the doctrine of raggion di stato and the politics of power.

With the 13th century, the first tentative to emancipate the human political nature with the affirmation of its plenitude in the Italian political thinking appears. With Thomas Aquinas and  then with Dante and Marsilio de Padua, the richness of the Aristotelian thinking offers a prevalence of necessity in relation to politics ends.  With the discovery of the Aristotle’s Politics, the problem of the best regime comes into the medieval thinking. Aristotle’s problems were: who governs, for what purpose and for whom. Thus he classifies the regimes in three, that pursue the common interest - monarchy, aristocracy and politeia; and regimes where the power is exercised on personal interest – tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. From the end of the 13th century the theory of regimen appears which designates a rank or an administrative function to a form of government, in a new kind of political thinking, the constitutional one. From Dante and Marsilius de Padua, the political thinking enters in consonance with the political situation[1].  Against an entire Platonist conception of politics resides the Aristotle’s reaction of dividing the practical from the theoretical domain, between praxis (action) and poiesis (production), opening the way to a practical knowledge of the politics. However, the construction of the modern political thinking from the 16th Century is not born only from this conflict, but also from the medieval art of governing and against the medieval conception of an ideal leader that rules in a perfect and completely obedient society.   

The Machiavellian endeavor was to reject the traditional doctrines of the political ends and to change the classical problem of the purposes of the civil community with a new understanding of the means of the power exercise. The governance was distinct from the forms of domination, but with him the politics becomes a pragmatic art centered on the conditions of success. Machiavelli denies the idea of governing as leading, where the king is the one who directs the State to the common good, the domination becoming most effective in the new exercise of power. The purpose of this paper is to explain how the Machiavellian State evolves into a self-sufficient entity born from a new understanding of politics, as a system of domination over a territory, a population or a political class.


For F. Meinecke the origins of the raggion di stato can be found in two sources: in the power instinct of the dominator and in the need of the subject people to be dominated; the subject people is not in an absolute obedience and passivity because its latent power and instincts (in a good sense) feed the source of power of the dominator[2]. A content, productive and capable people is an excellent source of energy for the dominator. There is an organical link between  him and the subject people, a cause-effect connexion that creates a coherent unity of life in the state, through the commonality of interests. But the dominator, or the dominant political class, in order to exercise the power, must maintain it at any costs, becoming, however the slave of the power which is exercised, thus limiting the free will of the one who does not become free for getting power but becomes the linchpin of a system of power that dominates even the dominator. 

The need of association of the dominator and the subject people, structures the  Machiavellian State. Although Machiavelli doesn’t concentrate his conceptions about raggion di stato in one term, a doctrine of necessity being more evident, the reason to be of the state, autonomous and independent even from the will of the dominator or of the dominant political class becomes the most profound expression of the political art. The new definition of interests, needs and aspirations of the State, appears as a response which is sitting as a title in Discourses I, 18: “In what mode a free state, if there is one, can be maintained in corrupt cities; or if there is not, in what mode to order it”[3]. The problem of corruption is essential for Machiavelli in the development of a new national Italian state, the reforms can provoke a returning to the Roman origins. For him the politics is an essential creation of the human nature needs and aspirations, the returning to the origins becomes a permanent process of an examination and revaluation of the society[4].

The State from Hobbes, nowadays, is essentially impersonal. For Machiavelli, instead, the State is extremely personal in its attempt to offer to the subject of power (the  Prince) ideas of how to acquire and to maintain the power in the State, regardless of costs. Machiavelli uses frequently the possessive pronoun: loro stato, suo stato and when he uses only lo stato the shades of impersonality refer to the majesty, authority and change of someone’s state: la maestra dello stato, l’autorita dello stato, la mutazione dello stato[5].

The biggest problem of defining the Machiavellian state as a political organism is given by the various and different accepts. The Machiavellian State signifies authority, the preeminence of public power exerted by the Prince or by a dominant political group in a republic. Moreover, it signifies a dominion (resulted from a territorial extension) as an area where the central authority is exerted over the population, as was the case of the Venetian possession in terraferma, example. The both significations are complementary[6]. Different from the modern impersonal and abstract signification of the State, the Machiavellian world built on the theory of a flexible and resilient State is the natural expression of the human desire for power and for the recognition of its qualities.

In the second chapter of The Prince lo stato (the State) is equivalent with the territorial expansion and with population, as a country in an objective sense: “hereditary states accustomed to the bloodline of their prince and then: if such a prince is of ordinary industry, he will always maintain himself in his state unless there is an extraordinary and excessive force which deprives him of it”[7], lo stato becomes the reason to be of the Prince, the sovereign condition and juridical power through which he exerts his power.

In the third chapter  „states which, when acquired, are added to an ancient state of him who acquires them, are either of the same province and same language, or not”, „But when one acquires states in a province disparate in language, customs, and orders, here are the difficulties, and here one needs to have great fortune and great industry to hold them”[8], lo stato signifies a province in the sense given by the nation, with language and different customs, in which the central power exerts its domination but with regard for the differences.

In chapter VI the distinction is obvious between the sovereign authority and lo stato, domain (population and territory) in which the Prince exerts his power. Thus, lo stato has the signification of power, of personal authority over a domain where the security of the regime comes from the ability to improvise against the difficulties occurred and to use the opportunities offered: “Those like these men, who become princes by the paths of virtue, acquire their principality with difficulty but hold it with ease; and the difficulties they have in acquiring their principality arise in part from the new orders and modes that they are forced to introduce so as to found their state and their security”[9].

In chapter IX lo stato is confounding with the Prince, with his government: „For such a prince cannot found himself on what he sees in quiet times, when citizens have need of the state, because then everyone runs, everyone promises, and each wants to die for him when death is at a distance; but in adverse times, when the state has need of citizens, then few of them are to be found”.[10]The state is here understood as a construction of order that people need, but as they are volatile and because of their lack of virtue they can’t defend it. This is the case of the Italian people unable to act in front of tyranny and foreign persecutions, opposed to the Romans who were able to defend and proclaim their liberty.

In the chapter XII, lo stato appears with varied meanings, profoundly modern, as a territorial domain, as the authority of the Prince and as a foundation of civil and military institutions:

The principal foundations that all states have, new ones as well as old or mixed, are good laws and good arms. And because there cannot be good laws where there are not good arms, and where there are good arms there must be good laws ... Mercenary and auxiliary arms are useless and dangerous; and if one keeps his state founded on mercenary arms ... ruins is postponed only as long as attack is postponed; and in war you are despoiled by them, in war by the enemy”.[11]

Machiavelli contributes to promote a new idea of State, in the broader sense of the term, the novelty comes from the fact that he sees society as collective body with its own laws, though the private and the public lives are divided, but the politician may not benefit from this division because he must choose between them, once and for all. The religion, the laws and the army are the cornerstones of the State, religion and Christian morality are converted from perennial values to simple instruments for power, discharged by any value superior to politics[12]. The only value, of the political act, through virtù, is no more constant because of inconstancy of Fortune.

In chapter XX lo stato appears as a power exerted explicitly by the Prince over the subjects:

Some princes have disarmed their subjects so as to hold their states securely; some others have kept their subject towns divided; some have nourished enmities against themselves; some others have turned to gaining to themselves those who had been suspect to them at the beginning of their states; some have built fortresses; some have knocked them down and destroyed them”.[13]

The domination is the force that regulates and orders the State. In Discourses, the need of a dictatorship, from time to time, in the republics questions the validity and value of constitutions[14]. Thus, constitutions order and regulate the political conventions and arrangements for the clarity of what is done in the public and private lives. For the dominating Prince, the public and the private are the same, but in republics the distinction must be without reserves. The extraordinary situations must be differentiated from the common ones, the Machiavellian paradox consists in the fact that the republics must be opposed, as a manifestation, to tyranny but receptive to it, the distinction and paradoxes must be maintained, between the public and private, tyranny and republic[15].

In the chapter XXIV of The  Prince, lo stato is confounded again with the power exerted, with the sovereignty of the Prince, with the territorial domain, in the complete Machiavellian expression of the term:

“And if one considers those lords in Italy who have lost their states in our times, like the king of Naples, the duke of Milan, and others, one will find in them, first, a common defect as to arms ... one will see that some of them either know how to secure themselves against the great. For without these defects, states that have enough nerve to put an army into the field are not lost”.[16]

The loss of the State is similar with the incapacity to react in front of the danger caused by indolence and by the defect of men that are not able “to take account of the storm during the calm”,  a simple reaction against the enemy can save the liberty.

In Discourses  I, 2 the city is confounded with the State, coming from the antique tradition of polis and of the Italian city-states, the city being capable to develop efficiently, the two main forms of governing, the principality and the republic: „I shall speak of those that had a beginning far from all external servitude and were once governed by their own will, either of as a republic or of as principality. They have had diverse beginnings. For some were given laws by one alone and at a stroke either in their beginning or after not much time”[17]. There is a cycle of life for the republics, few of them can maintain themselves uncorrupted passing through various changes, but the possible existence of the countless leaders gives to the republic, practically, infinite possibilities for regeneration.

There are three types of political agents in the Machiavellian thinking: the individual, the political class and the Republic or the Prince. Only two of them are capable of being subjects and receptacles of power, the individual (the presumptive leader) and the Republic or the Prince; the political class is no more than a collective agent of the political leaders[18]. When a political class ascends to power it will have to little or too much power, resulting in an imbalance in the political practice. Thus, here is a constant need of the popular consent, which is the cause of the imbalance and dissonance that for Machiavelli is sometimes fruitful. To institutionalize it, as the case of the roman Republic which emerged stronger from two civil wars, is to resolve the problems of an active foreign policy in a creative and original way, but with imperialists shades. For him, the democracy can be only imperialist, acting consciously by the potential of propagation of his political interest in an aggressive display of power.

 For Machiavelli, all that matters is the State, not as a constraining and totalitarian construction but as an absolute founding, in plenitudo potestatis. He confers to this term the significance of a construction whose central power legislates and decides in the use of collectivity, in the internal and external issues, fulfilling a total secularization of the entire political activity. The true discovery in the Machiavellian “reconquest” of the State is the autonomy based on the Greek-roman knowledge and on the political experiences that shaped the face of the Italian republics and monarchies. In his “idealistic” view of politics as a work of art resides the originality of his construction.

The ambiguity of lo stato is explained by the complexity of the instances in which the State finds the real autonomy. Machiavelli isolates the State because he wants to see the real dangers of preserving the power, power exerted by the Prince or by the dominant political group. The separation of the State resides not only in the political struggles with papacy, the theory of  political autonomy implies that the politics is separated from all other human activities. The state appears isolated in a completely new world, empty of idealization and of the search for ultimate truth. The political „brave new world“ is according to Machiavelli, ready to be understood and proclaimed. For him, the Ancient reality, the reality of the history lessons is the new political ideal. With a kind of romantic nostalgia, he exults the grandeur and the beauty of the antique life, trying to restore the ideal of mondana gloria, the result of ‘‘grandezza dell’animo e fortezza del corpo”, expressions of the free way of life . Machiavelli is not the first Italian who speaks with nostalgia about the antique glory, Petrarca is the first who calls the muses to fight against the barbarians, but Machiavelli is the first who understands that the renewal of the Italian society can be made only by assuming the glorious past[19].

The State is the principal object of study in the Machiavellian political universe. There are two instances, the one of personal (private) morality and the one of public organization. Here we have the project of the individual and the project of the present or the future institution. The man must choose between these two instances (or worlds), with their own systems of values. To choose the first world is to renounce, in full, the glory and noble returning to the Athens and Rome and the possibility to become strong, proud and productive. Thus, the State will end in a political and moral decay, as the Florence ruled by Soderini, who was inspired by the private morality choosing the middle way – the most damaging way. If the statesman will choose, like Machiavelli, the second way, he must overcome his personal compunctions and remorse[20].


 The man must live according to his sensual and natural instincts in a kind of naturalist life. But Machiavelli is interested instead to focus on the major values of life, concentrated in a rich concept, virtù. In order to command there is an essential need of virtue. For Machiavelli it may be possessed by a collective group (even by the people) and not just by an individual, in order to acquire and maintain the political power. The concept comes from the Latin virtus which in the roman State were in relation with Fortuna. Virtus were innate qualities, opposed to the casual or external circumstances[21].

The Italian prince of Cinquecento is a new sort of a political actor, il condottiere. He is furthermore the military leader and a dynasty founder, who, along with the dominant urban family were phenomena in a self-sufficient universe of independent states.  The model of an ideal ruler in the political thought of the Florentine humanists is based on republican convictions, but with time will turn to more autocratic accents. Machiavelli creates his Prince on the background of political dynamics in the State, shaping the double nature, of a human being and of an animal, the duplicity (the wickedness) providing the unity of this two natures. Thus, there is a conflict, between the human mask who must be exposed to the people in order to cover the real individuality, the desire for power and glory which are facets of one dimension of the political animal[22].

For Gramsci, the Prince is a not a real person, but an organism, a complex element of society which materializes a collective will that can recognize and affirm it, in part, by action. Machiavelli deals with how the Prince could act to lead the people to the founding of a new State, Machiavelli identifies himself with the people, not an ordinary people but one created and shaped on the Roman model[23]. The new Prince is the embodiment of a new form of rule whose characteristic signature is the populo without whose support and consent becomes only the feudal lord. It is the triadic interaction among these three elements that constitutes the radical revolutionary transformation of the existing sociopolitical order and the prevailing balance of power: political knowledge, people, and the new Prince[24].

The problem of morality in the political action – to choose between good and evil for the necessity of the State, is resolved by the notion of habitus which is a liberty transformed into a virtue. The Prince must change and discipline his common nature, common to every normal person, in order to acquire the traits that will distinguish himself from the rest. Habitus is an ontological upgrade who puts the Prince into a rigid situation. The aptitude of the Machiavellian Prince to choose the evil represents therefore the aptitude to live without habitus, without any habits, becoming, therefore, capable of such an inner liberty to choose the evil, when Fortuna  is changing. (Princ. XVIII). For P. Manent[25], here lies the centre of the Machiavellian anthropology, because the duality and the inconstancy are the principal traits of Fortuna. Lorenzo the Magnificent was the best example of a man half a lover, half a grave and responsible ruler, like two beings united in a strange relation. In a letter from 31 January 1515, addressed to F. Vettori, Machiavelli says that both of them imitate nature, that is ever-changing[26]. For Machiavelli, the ruler must open himself to the infinite variability that defines the chance and the Nature. There is an irrational capacity of the soul to be inconstant, flexible, thus the ruler must acquire the wickedness as a principal resource of political action. Here the wickedness is subjective because it is a response to the objective wickedness of the world. Thus, the Prince will become capable to face the fortune with a certain constitution of the soul. Accordingly to L. Strauss and I. Berlin, the wickedness is not a psychological trait and it must be understood as the key of the Machiavellian originality.

The solitary individual, the real leader, being powerful he acquires autonomy by his spirit of action, autonomy over others, thus allowing the transformation of others into instruments of action. The effect of domination is not necessarily inflicted by a tyrant, but by a leader who knows how to acquire more power in the political struggle.  The new Prince must know how to acquire and how to maintain the power, revealing the role which is played by virtù and Fortuna[27]. The process to transform society must be fulfilled regardless of costs, choosing a middle way – not to be entirely evil or entirely good, it means to betray the cause. For Machiavelli, the Christian view (inspired, undoubtedly, by Plato and the Jewish tradition) of the virtuous ruler who creates and emulates virtuous subjects, is false. Machiavelli doesn’t say that the evil deed is good and vice-versa, because he is not pleading for a single moral system and because he is skeptical about the moral ends.

The new Prince must rise from a private and unprivileged status, without an inheritance or if he has, he should not rely on it, he should owe nothing to anyone, he must be independent, but dependent only on Fortune, being the single superior entity to report. Fortune supplies the Prince only with opportunities as when Moses found the people of Israel enslaved by the Egyptians, Romulus found himself exposed at birth, Cyrus found the Persians discontented with the empire of the Medes, and Theseus found the Athenians dispersed[28]. A prince who conquers a city that was living in freedom must respect the new inherited liberties, he must destroy those cities or else rule them personally. We find a kind of closeness between the prince and the State in the exercise of power because Machiavelli’s stato is never acquired and maintained without the benefit of the  prince.

An important problem for Machiavelli is if the Prince must be rightful or unrightfull; he must pretend to be just or arbitrary and cover his weaknesses to appear redoubtable. The problem comes from the possibility of rebellion once the State is acquired, with this regard the ruler must govern. The very tangible possibility of losing the State must be a constant preoccupation for the ruler[29].  Machiavelli distinguishes very clearly what comes from the people and what from ottimati, the potentates. To prevent or overcome a rebellion, the dissatisfaction of the people and of the potentates must not be united against a common enemy, the ruler (Princ., chap. 19). The confrontation between the ruler and his internal and external enemies is a “fight” between “the big ones”, for Machiavelli, even he is an adept of a popular republic, the people is of a heavy importance but slow in actions and naïve, merely an instrument for the ruler and the potentates in their political fights.

To cover the original weakness, the human being is condemned to power, the dominator/the ruler turning into a homo novus, a Renaissance Übermensch, is aware of the fragility of his dominator position in a State that  evolves autonomously by moral and ethical interferences and commands. The man must evolve into homo politicus in order to succeed and to reveal his hidden talents.

 In chapter VI of The Prince, Machiavelli reveals his intention: to understand the adventure of becoming from a simple citizen a  prince. It is the conquest of the State for the sake of the power with the most reliable instrument, the talent, because it is the expression of the autonomy. There is a dialectic of power, in which, the prince needs the wealth of the State in order to fulfill his ambitions and to manifest his virtù ; the State needs a powerful and determinate ruler in order to reveal its destiny and potential.

The model that inspires the Machiavellian  Prince is nevertheless Cesare Borgia, because of his leadership and his virtù and because he used cruelty carefully in order to become master of Romagna. Cesare Borgia based his power on the army and authority of his father, the Pope Alexander VI. The enormous fortune of being a son of the pope did not help him become the master of the entire Italy, but only a tool in the hands of the Church and the power of the Church failed Cesare when his father died. Machiavelli advises the native presumptive liberator of Italy, Lorenzo II de Medici to whom  The Prince is dedicated, to use his family connection with the Pope Leo X to receive support. This is a provisional advice, because Machiavelli is aware of the fact that the new The Prince must liberate himself from the tyranny of the Church, a complete unification of Italy requiring a secularization of the Papal states. The church is not only responsible for the political disunity of Italy, but is also responsible for the moral and religious corruption of the peninsula. To use the power of the Church against the Church for the unification of Italy is an almost impossible enterprise. Leo Strauss comes with a theory that the real model of the Prince is rather Alexander VI and not so much Cesare Borgia[30]. In this light, we may think that Machiavelli saw the new liberator of Italy as a pope capable to use the Church against the Church, as I said, shaking the society, establishing not a theocracy but a new Rome, imitating Romulus. Even if the city of Rome exists, it doesn’t have any more the grandeur of the antique caput mundi, mainly because is the capital of a contradiction, a state that has both a spiritual and a political leader as a ruler.  The new liberator must be a political leader who can use the religion as a tool, just like the Roman emperors as pontifex maximus did.

In Discourses I, 11, (pag 35) the recourse to God and religion is fundamental to the construction of the Roman state: “I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa was among the first causes of the happiness of that city. For it caused good orders; good orders makes good fortune; and good fortune arose the happy successes of enterprises. As the observance of the divine cult is the cause of the of the greatness of republics, so disdain for is the cause of their ruin ”. Machiavelli is, thus, aware of the fact that even great leaders as Numa, Solon or Lycurgus used religion for their political purposes because they doubted that their authority and power of persuasion would suffice.

Machiavelli doesn’t absorb, in full, the religious and philosophical-speculative ideals of the Renaissance man, merely because his aspirations were not of an ideal or artistic spirit. Even he is a great literary writer, his ultimate passion was the politics as a profound expression of the human desire for recognition and for power to change society. Thus, the ever-changing forms of the State and its functions acquire in Machiavelli’s works the perfect expression of the rational and empirical trend of the Renaissance thinking. Machiavelli’s principal intention is to regenerate the decaying Florentine State. In fact, the liberation of Italy, which is the greatest plan for Machiavelli, is not the political liberation from the barbarians, but the intellectual liberation of Italian elite from an unprofitable tradition[31]. The liberation of Italy means a revolution in thinking, that is merely, about was is right and wrong, creating a new morality and a new society. In Discourses (I, 26) the need of originality in politics is presented in its heading: “a new Prince, in a city or country taken by him must make everything new”[32], the novelty is expressed here by the cruelty well used by Cesare Borgia. The Prince could ally with the people against the aristocracy, the best example of how to get their support is in chapter 7 of The Prince, when Cesare had conquered the province of Romagna and installed Remirro de Orco, as a governor in Cesena to carry out a purge of the unruly lords. Because the excessive and abusive authority of the governor become hateful for people, and because he served his purpose, he purged the purger and displayed him in piazza grande. This spectacle left the people satisfied and horrified, setting up a more constitutional government through an unconstitutional beginning. Those people are satisfied but not happy, they don’t participate, they are only released by a primary evil, a cruel repression through a second evil, a mix of hate and fear, diminishing the resentment over the Prince, and leaving out of fear as much as needed. Thus, the fear and distrust is suppressed by another kind fear and distrust, Machiavelli revealing the logic of the human order, which is the cause of the absolute monarchy embodied by the Hobbes’ Leviathan[33].

His entire political thinking is based on the absolute autonomy of politics as an expression of the human need for freedom, prosperity and glory. Even if sounds romantic and revolutionary, Machiavelli tries to renovate the Italian society with a constant appeal to the Roman heritage in a kind of Italian complex of superiority in front of the “barbarians”[34].In the conflict between pagan morality (inextricably linked with the social life) and Christian ethic (independent even if represented in politics by clerics), resides the creation of the new Machiavellian State, thus detaching from the traditional morality of the Western society. The pagan society regarded the honor as the highest and the most precious good, being more ferocious or less weak in their actions: thinking then whence it can arise that in those ancient times there were more lovers of freedom than in these, I believe it arises from the same cause that makes men less strong now, which I believe is the difference between our religion and the ancient. For our religion having shown the truth and the true way, makes us esteem less the honor of the world, whereas the Gentiles, esteeming it very much and having placed the highest good in it, were more ferocious in their actions[35]. The Machiavellian thinking is in a continuous conflict between the antique and the contemporary vision about society, a conflict that tries to inflict a new order and a new human truth. The pagan morality is modified by Machiavelli to express a modern need, the need of order, prosperity and, above all, earthly glory. The Christian morality, contemporary to Machiavelli seems to be the expression of hypocrisy, because his leader, the pope and his Curia are in fact political leaders with corrupted passion for personal glory and wealth. The other face of the Christian morality is characterized by dissatisfaction with the present in a longing for the perfect purity, for the eternal truth. Here lies a contradiction between corrupted souls and an eternal and inconceivable truth.  The Christianity of the Christ was corrupted by a false interpretation, since true Christianity permits the exaltation, the defense of the fatherland and the love for freedom. However, Machiavelli is aware of the fact that Christian humility creates weakness and servility, thus the worldly glory is superior to any moral Christian statement. Machiavelli’s main concern is that Christianity subordinates the earthly fatherland to the heavenly fatherland, the temporal power to the spiritual power.

 The biggest obstacle in the way of regenerating society is the Church, even if the Church can be used in order to acquire power, as was the case of Cesare Borgia. The ruler is advised to use and manipulate the already strengthened Church, to receive the support for his patriotic endeavor.  In chapter XI of The Prince, Of Ecclesiastical Principalities, Machiavelli reveals a political paradox:

“All difficulties are possessed, because they are acquired either by virtue or by fortune and are maintained without the one or the other, for they are sustained by orders that have grown old with religion, which have been so powerful and of such a kind that they keep their princes in the state however they proceed and live. These alone have states, and do not defend them; they have subjects, and do not govern them; and the states, though undefended, are not taken from them; the subjects, though ungoverned, do not care, and they neither think of becoming estranged from such princes nor can they. Thus, only these principalities are secure and happy”.[36]

Even if one of his main concerns is the all-mighty papacy, from Alexander VI to Leo X, he finds the perfect order and effectiveness in the theocratic state. The Pope has a kind of virtue that is not born from his qualities but from a spiritual authority inherited from traditions and religious customs, that inflicts obedience. Hence, the Pope becomes the political leader of Italy. Leo X, pope when The Prince was written, “has found this pontificate most powerful; one may hope that if the others made it great with arms, he, with his goodness and infinite other virtues, can make it very great and venerable.” Despite the usual flattery, the Pope is not only the responsible for the Italian disunity but also the only capable leader, that possesses a strong army, diplomatic skills and authority, to create a strong Italian state. The biggest problem consists in the fact that the Pope has a spiritual prevalence in his authority and the foundations of a new Italian state must be on national grounds.

Because Athens and Venice were founded free from tyranny and because they were ruled by own laws they were able to achieve glory. Athens was built by dispersed inhabitants of Attica under the authority of an individual, the mythical hero, Theseus. Rome has, instead two founders: “ if whoever examines the building of Rome takes Aeneas as its progenitor, it will be of this cities built by foreigners, while if he takes Romulus it will be of those built by men native to the place; and in whichever mode, he will see that it had a free beginning, without depending on anyone”.[37]Only in a republic with just institutions and common values the corruption can be diminished. The Roman model is the most practical way to reach glory, in a society in which rising, flourishing, decadence and dissolution are inevitable steps. The linear Christian fundamental interpretation of life based on Redemption is contrary, for Machiavelli, to the natural development of an individual as of every society, were every individual must seek his personal freedom and glory. The return to the antique ethic values is not a nostalgic assumption that the past is mostly better than the present, the fragmentary reconstruction of the Roman world becomes an organic and vivacious return to the present life, where it the new Prince can be found as symbol of the perennial work of art, which is  politics[38].

The Roman and Florentine politics knows a similar phenomenon: internal tensions that are accumulated and might disturb, from time to time, the political status-quo. The biggest difference that paved the way to glory for Romans and cursed the Florentine political life, was the element of coherency in the Roman political decisions and the healthy reactions of containment of every attempt to overthrow the republican regime by an individual or by a small group. For Machiavelli, the existence of diverse groups in a political society is necessary because disunion in the roman Republic between plebs and the Roman senators (the aristocracy) created the force to fight for liberty and glory, through the spirit of competition: ”The desires of free people are rarely pernicious to freedom because they arise either from being oppressed or from suspicion that they may be oppressed”. The suspicion between the plebs and the Senate is fruitful only because in the Roman state”the good examples arise from good education, good education from good laws, and good laws from those tumults that many inconsiderately damn”[39]. In that political wilderness, the Roman virtues that inspired the vision of a new republican State were born.

 In Florence, the direct politics for the interest of a particular group created a stiffness of the power positions, paralyzing the vitality of society. In Florence, as well as in the entire Italy, the ultimate word is no more the spirit of competition but a continual rivalry between political factions. Yet corruption, most of all in his beloved Florence, damaged the “masterpiece”. Machiavelli’s struggle is to find a correct reform in which the State finds its freedom[40]. The problem of reform is not resolved only by the reproduction of the institutions in the origins the Italian society, the political society is for him, as for his contemporaries, a human creation full of weaknesses and forever changing.


In this study I have tried to shortly retrace the evolution of the concept of State in the Machiavellian thinking and the multiple facets of the dominator or the Prince captive of the power that he exerts over the State. There is a profound connection between the dominator and the people, everyone is passive and active at the same time, but as the first is the image of the State he becomes alone and aware of the fact that State must be preserved and maintained, whatever the costs.  The analysis of the Machiavellian system reveals that, for giving useful results, any form of government must represent the public interest, the interest of the State, becoming legitimate. The divine right and heritage of the throne, in principalities, and the elections in the republics, do not signify anything when the government, by indolence or incompetency can’t defend the State’s interests. The only legitimacy is its utility. Thus, Machiavelli creates a new world capable, by its contradictions and paradoxes, to express a need to renew the Italian society. Machiavelli is situated, historically, between a balanced system of powers created by Lorenzo the Magnificent’s diplomacy and an Italy ravaged by two French invasions and a sum of unfortunate alliances. The difference can be perceived in a kind of idealization of the Roman world contrary to the pragmatism and skepticism of the most bitterly critic of the Italian political realities. For Machiavelli, history is the key to understand politics, because there is a fundamental structure in every society, history reproducing the same situations, in different patterns, from time to time. Machiavelli was perceived as an evil genius, as a pragmatic political thinker, as a philosopher, as a liberal or as the first Italian nationalist. Those perceptions are all together wrong, but explain the diversity of Machiavelli’s preoccupations and intentions.



BERLIN, Isaiah, Adevăratul studiu al omenirii, Meridiane, București, 2001.

CHABOD, Federico,  Scritti su Machiavelli, Giulio Einaudi editore, Torino, 1982.

FONTANA, Benedetto, Hegemony and Power. On the Relation between Gramsci and Machiavelli, University of Minneapolis Press, Minneapolis, 1993.

GILBERT, Felix, Niccolo Machiavelli e la vita culturale del suo tempo, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1972.

GILBERT, Felix, Machiavelli e Guicciardini. Pensiero politico e storiografia a Firenze nel Cinquecento, Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, Torino, 1970.

GRAMSCI, Antonio, Note sul Machiavelli sulla politica e sullo stato moderno, Giulio Einaudi editore, Torino, 1964.

 MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò, The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998.

MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò, Discourse on Livy, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996.

MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò, The Letters. A Selection, trans and ed. by Allan Gilbert, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1988.

MANSFIELD, Harvey C., “On the Impersonality of the Modern State: A Comment on Machiavelli’s Use of Stato”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 77, No. 4, 1983.

MEINECKE, Federico, L’idea della ragion di stato nella storia moderna, Biblioteca Sansoni, Firenze, 1970.

MANENT, Pierre,  Istoria intelectuală a liberalismului, Humanitas, București, 2013.

MANENT, Pierre, Originile politicii moderne. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Nemira, București, 2000.

SENELLART, Michel, Artele guvernãrii. De la conceptul de regimen medieval la cel de guvernare,  Meridiane, București, 1988.

STRAUSS, Leo, Thoughts on Machiavelli, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1978.

[1]Michel SENELLART, Artele guvernãrii. De la conceptul de regimen medieval la cel de guvernare, Meridiane, București, 1988, p. 185.

[2]    Federico MEINECKE, L’idea della ragion di stato nella storia moderna, Biblioteca Sansoni, Firenze, 1970, p. 9.

[3]     Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Discourse on Livy, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996, p. 49.

[4]     Felix GILBERT, Machiavelli e Guicciardini. Pensiero politico e storiografia a Firenze nel Cinquecento, Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, Torino, 1970, pp. 158-159.

[5]        Harvey C. MANSFIELD, On the Impersonality of the Modern State: A Comment on Machiavelli’s Use of Stato?”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 77, No. 4, 1983, pp. 849-850.

[6]     Federico CHABOD, Scritti sul Machiavelli, Giulio Einaudi editore, Torino, 1982, p. 631.

[7]     Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, The  Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998, pp. 6-7.

[8]     Ibidem, p. 9.

[9]     Ibidem, p. 23.

[10]    Ibidem, p. 42.

[11]    Ibidem, p. 48.

[12]    Idem, Discourses…cit., pp. 123-125.

[13]    Idem, The  Prince…cit., p. 83.

[14]    Idem, Discourses…cit., pp. 73-75.

[15]    Ibidem, pp. 20-23.

[16]    Idem, The  Prince…cit., pp. 96-97.

[17]    Idem, Discourses…cit., p. 10.

[18]    Pierre MANENT, Originile politicii moderne. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Nemira, București, 2000, p. 30.

[19]    Federico CHABOD, Scritti sul Machiavelli...cit., pp. 82-84; Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Discourses…cit., pp. 129-133.

[20]    Isaiah BERLIN, Adevăratul studiu al omenirii, Meridiane, București, 2001, p. 306; Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Discourses…cit., pp. 26-27.

[21]    Felix GILBERT, Machiavelli… cit., p. 155.

[22]    Ibidem, pp.116-117.

[23]    Antonio GRAMSCI, Note sul Machiavelli sulla politica e sullo stato moderno, Giulio Einaudi editore, Torino, 1964, pp 3-5.

[24]    Benedetto FONTANA, Hegemony and Power. On the Relation between Gramsci and Machiavelli, University of Minneapolis Press, Minneapolis, 1993, p. 147.

[25]   Pierre MANENT, Originile…cit., pp. 20-21.

[26]    Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, The Letters. A Selection, trans and ed. by Allan Gilbert, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1988, pp. 184-185.

[27]    Federico MEINECKE, L’idea della raggion...cit., pp. 35-37.

[28]    Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, The Prince…cit., p. 23.

[29]    Michel FOUCAULT, Securitate, teritoriu, populație, Ideea Design & Print, Cluj-Napoca, 2009, p. 231.

[30]    Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1978, p. 68

[31]    Ibidem, p. 81.

[32]   Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Discourses…cit., p. 61.

[33]    Pierre MANENT, Istoria intelectuală a liberalismului, Humanitas, București, 2013, pp. 42, 43.

[34]      Felix GILBERT, Niccolo Machiavelli e la vita culturale del suo tempo, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1972 pp. 147, 148.

[35]    Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Discourses…cit., p. 131.

[36]    Idem, The Prince…cit., p. 45.

[37]    Idem, Discourses…cit., p. 7.

[38]   Federico CHABOD, Scritti sul…cit., pp. 35, 36.

[39]    Niccolò MACHIAVELLI Discourses…cit., p. 16.

[40]   Ibidem, pp. 49-51.