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Machiavelli's philanthropy

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Machiavelli claims to be animated by a ‘natural desire’ to ‘bring common benefit to everyone’ (Discourses, I.Pr.). But what kind of benefit is it that subjects so many people to tyrannical rule and world empire? What has Machiavelli to offer those whose freedom and independence are sacrificed to the greater glory of imperial powers? After framing the indictment against Machiavelli - in effect, that the world is worse off for having been instructed by him - the paper turns to composing his apology. The defence speech comes in five parts. Most importantly, it makes no use of the association presumed to exist between Machiavelli and latter-day liberalism. For Machiavelli's philanthropy, the paper argues, rests on the conviction that the human essence resides in the spirited part of the psyche, or that the ‘lion’ in man is more meritorious and admirable than the ‘fox’ in man.

Keywords: Discourses on Livy; Enlightenment; Machiavelli; Rome; liberalism; modernity; philanthropy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA. Email:pcoby@

Publication date: January 1, 1999


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