Miss City Discovers: Machiavelli: Diabolical Mastermind or Unknowing Scholar?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Machiavelli: Diabolical Mastermind or Unknowing Scholar?

Machiavelli: Diabolical Mastermind or Unknowing Scholar?

            Ever since learning about Machiavelli in 10th grade, and now again in my freshman year of college at New York University, I’ve been interested in his life, pre-diabolical mastermind. Clearly, Machiavelli is a key part of any history course’s curriculum, as it’s one name that has stuck like glue in my brain for over five years. Now that I know exactly what he said, and how he preached it (through his writing, mainly) I want to know more about how Machiavelli, the human being, came to be. How did this man have such an incredibly powerful and damaging impact on future dictators? How did he realize these world-changing ideas? What was his childhood like? Did he have any idea that he would profoundly influence despicably devastating people, like Hitler and Mussolini, or was he simply writing down his ideas? Everyone comes from somewhere, and the question is, what is Machiavelli’s story?

            Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy in the year 1469. He was born to a lawyer, and so he was of nobility, though by no means wealth. His parents had three other children. Machiavelli's education started at age seven, where he learned Latin and Italian, but never mastered the Greek language, which was prominent in Florence during that time (nndb.com). In the Machiavelli family, a value that they all shared was a passion for books and reading. He spent his youth in a city with continuous political instability. Notable events include the Pazzi conspiracy (an unsuccessful plot to overthrow the Medici family), the end of Medici rule, and the reign of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (notablebiographies.com).

Sources say that Machiavelli’s only experience with politics as a child was watching Savanarola, who was an ‘Italian Dominican friar and preacher active in Florence, and known for his prophecies of civic glory and calls for Christian renewal’ (CTBW.com). Interestingly enough, he criticized tyrannical rule and the exploitation of the poor; something that Machiavelli later on says is absolutely necessary to get ahead. After Savanarola was executed, Machiavelli entered the Florentine political scene as a secretary. He met many important famous figures, including the Pope and the King, but none had more of an impact on him than a certain Prince, named Cesar Borgia. Ring a bell? Apparently Borgia was a cruel person, very much like the one portrayed in Machiavelli’s most famous piece of writing, The Prince. Some say that Machiavelli did not even agree with Borgia’s policies, however he felt that it was most important to unite Italy, and felt that violence was the only solution. In an attempt to gain the favor of the brutal Medici family and in turn gain a place within the political world, he wrote The Prince, thinking that they clearly were goals of the family. This backfired, and he never received a political position from his efforts. Once the Medici family was overthrown the people were so disturbed by The Prince, they refused to elect him. Even if Machiavelli only wrote the world-changing book to please a ruthless ruling family, he still had the thoughts, glorified them, and forever immortalized them by writing them down, and therefore he should still remain responsible for his work.

It seems to me that Machiavelli grew up in a time not so different from the one we currently live in. If Machiavelli was my age, we would have the following similarities: witness the widening gap between the rich and poor, see how two very divided parties can not compromise and make progress, and see how the ideals of the world are drastically changing; in his case maybe it was the rejection of the church hierarchy, and in ours it’s attempting to legalize gay marriage. We may not have murderous and incestuous families competing for power, but let’s face it, we aren’t that far off. His father was an attorney; my father has his law degree but doesn’t practice. His mother didn’t work, and instead raised the children; so did mine. Both of us were avid readers, and crave a place within society that will make us a sure name in the next history book. Instead, rather than fame, he received infamy, and I certainly don’t hope that for myself. At the end of the day, I don’t believe Machiavelli meant his work to have the repercussions that it did, but he still should be held accountable for writing a “handbook for dictators” that he didn’t believe in. The lesson learned here is to stay true to yourself and what you believe in, and know that once something is written down, you can never take it back. 

He certainly looks creepy enough..


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