PAPER 1 - MACHIAVELLI 2-21-08

PAPER 1 - MACHIAVELLI 2-21-08 - POLS 106 Introduction to...

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POLS 106 Ryan Rice Introduction to Political Theory 2-21-08 Niccol ó Machiavelli: Political Thinker Caught Between the Ages Niccoló Machiavelli began life in 1469, where he lived in the small city-state of Florence, in Italy. After an excellent education, he began fifteen years of dedicated civil service, where he held positions in diplomacy, military, and domestic affairs. After being suspected of treason against the Medici ruler, he was briefly held under house arrest, which may have spurred him into beginning two of the greatest political theory works of the burgeoning Renaissance: The Prince (1513) and the Discourses (1521) (Tennenbaum/ Shultz). For the circumstances in which The Prince was written, it has been interpreted as a possible plea for forgiveness, a resume, or a challenge to the Medici leader. Regardless of the details surrounding this work, it and the Discourses have proven monumental in pushing the West towards modernity, as Machiavelli provides groundbreaking perspective and innovative ideas on the correct forms of government, and getting, and staying, in power. One of the most poignant issues was Machiavelli’s introduction of a new science of politics, not concerned with “ancient or medieval concepts of good or evil, such as Plato’s form or Aquinas’s divine law” (Tennenbaum/Shultz). However, while this Italian philosopher’s ideas are pioneering, he cannot help but rely on ancient and time-worn political systems from the classical arena, even if only for simple anecdotal discussion. The debate over whether Machiavelli was the first of the modern thinkers or the last of the classical era has raged since his death. As Nederman puts it, “One plausible explanation for the inability to resolve these issues of "modernity" and "originality" is that Machiavelli was in a sense trapped between innovation and tradition, between via antiqua and via moderna .” To me, Machiavelli represents the scientific, modern approach to politics, and is certainly on the ground floor of new Renaissance 1
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POLS 106 Ryan Rice Introduction to Political Theory 2-21-08 thinking. He is undeniably influenced by ancient and medieval thinking, and the examples he uses, such as the Roman system of government, effectively place one shoe in the classical era, while the other is straddling the fence, firmly placed in the uncharted territory of Modernity. Kahn acknowledges this duality between the ages, and describes Machiavelli’s approach to political theory as “the tyrannical exercise of force and fraud, and an older reliance on the rule of custom and law.” The very fact the Machiavelli believed so strongly in this new empirical way of thinking demanded that he not abandon his knowledge of medieval and classical political systems. Despite his fresh outlook on
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