Machiavelli: A ‘True’ Republican?
The paper questions today’s leading interpretation of Machiavelli as a republican whose main value is liberty. The point of its criticism is primarily turned against Quentin Skinner, the leading proponent of this view, and one of most influential contemporary interpretators of Machiavelli. The author examines Skinner’s view on liberty as the “basic value” of the Discourses. Contrary to Skinner, he argues that for Machiavelli political liberty is not the main aim when constituting a republic: liberty is important because it is a means to achieve expansion and to create an empire, as the Roman example has shown. For Machiavelli political liberty is a liberty of an armed citizen, always ready to crush his neighbours, and he is not interested to “combine liberty with peace”, as Skinner claimed. It is true that Machiavelli is interested in devising good laws to maintain liberty, but for him liberty is not the primary aim, an aim in itself: it is the means which is necessary for a Republic to maintain itself, and, more important, to grow. Thus, the author concludes that liberty is for Machiavelli of secondary importance; what is of primary importance for him is greatness, expansion, empire. Liberty is for Machiavelli the means to ensure the virtù of the republic bend on the conquest of the world. A republic ordered like Rome is to be preferred to a principality because it will be more successful in achieving greatness. If Machiavelli is to be regarded as a republican, his republicanism is indeed of a very specific sort. Towards the end of the paper, the views of J. G. A. Pocock are also examined, and it is concluded that Pocock’s interpretation is mainly in line with the case against Skinner propounded in this paper.