500 years ago, Machiavelli warned the general public against becoming complacent within the face of self-serving charismatic personalities.

A President of the United States desired to stay in office after the tip of his term of office, maintains a follow reverently and has declared that he’ll only act as a dictator on the “first day” if re-elected. His cunning and manipulation of American politics and the legal system have thus far blocked all efforts to carry him accountable.

This style of activity is named “Machiavellian,” after the Renaissance writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who lived from 1469 to 1527. He wrote an infamous little treatise entitled “The prince”, through which he advises dictators and people who aspire to power to make use of violence and deception to realize and retain power.

But Machiavelli researchers like me know that his evaluation includes way more. His writings from the sixteenth century deal not only with the rule of the prince, but additionally republican governmentsthrough which residents elect leaders directly or not directly for specific terms of office. It instructs republican residents and leaders, including those of the United Statesto acknowledge the vulnerability of the governments they value and to be alert to the specter of tyranny. Machiavelli's advice is as relevant today because it was then.

Machiavelli’s republican experience

A portrait from a man's perspective.
Cosimo de Medici was an autocratic ruler in Renaissance Florence in what’s now Italy.
Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Machiavelli knew from experience and his extensive reading that throughout history there have been republican governments that fell victim to ambitious individuals who sought to undermine the practices and institutions of their country in order that they might rule alone and unchecked while everyone else followed their command and authority.

For example, he got here from the city-state of Florence in what’s now Italy. Florence had a republican tradition for hundreds of years, but about 30 years before Machiavelli was born, the banker and politician Cosimo de' Medici had infiltrated this method. Cosimo had used his family's wealth to place himself within the political force by influencing officials in order that he was the ultimate decision maker.

Cosimo's descendants inherited his political power. They lost power briefly, just long enough for Machiavelli to function Official and diplomat in a restored republicMachiavelli was in office when the Republic returned to power The Medici family involves power.

After his removal from office, Machiavelli wrote The Prince, prefacing the work with a dedicatory letter to the young member of the Medici family whom the family had appointed as the brand new ruler of Florence. Commentators have long disagreed about what Machiavelli was trying to attain together with his apparent pandering to an autocratic ruler.

The “Discourses”, Machiavelli’s republican writing

A portrait from a man's perspective.
Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher and author.
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This puzzle is all of the more puzzling because Machiavelli elsewhere expresses his commitment to a republican government. He wrote one other book, less well-known and far less succinct than The Prince, entitledDiscourses on Livy.” In the “Discourses,” Machiavelli uses the work of the traditional Roman historian Livy to look at how the Roman Republic was overthrown by a single leader.

At its founding, Rome was a monarchy, but when subsequent kings became tyrannical, the Roman people overthrew the monarchy and founded a republic that was a remarkable history and lasted almost 500 years.

The Roman Republic collapsed in 44 BC when Julius Caesar declared himself Dictator for all timesMachiavelli wrote that Julius Caesar was the primary tyrant in Rome, with the result that Rome never free again.

Julius' immediate successor Octavius, who took the name Caesar Augustusreigned as the primary of an extended Line of Emperors.

Lessons from the autumn of the Roman Republic

The most vital lesson from Machiavelli's study of Roman history within the Discourses is that a republic is fragile. It requires constant vigilance on the a part of each residents and their leaders.

This vigilance is difficult to keep up, nonetheless, because as generations pass, residents and politicians alike turn out to be indifferent to a key internal threat plaguing this way of presidency: they fail to acknowledge early enough the anti-republican intentions of particularly ambitious residents amongst them who desire to rule alone.

Machiavelli provides instructive examples of how Rome did not protect its republican practices and laws from such a threat. When the Republic was young, Rome allowed candidates to nominate themselves for prime office. This practice worked well, as only worthy candidates applied. Later, nonetheless, the practice of self-nomination allowed those that wanted to extend their very own popularity slightly than reply to the needs of their country to realize office.

Machiavelli believed that politicians and residents loyal to the Republic should block such candidates from this easy path to power. But Rome did nothing. Thanks to his complacency, Caesar was in a position to construct on the recognition his predecessors had amassed and switch Rome right into a tyranny.

Men in purple-trimmed togas wrestle with each other, one swings a knife, another stares in horror.
Actors reenact the assassination of Julius Caesar, which got here too late to avoid wasting the Roman Republic from collapse and authoritarian rule.
Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

The point of no return

If republican residents and politicians usually are not vigilant, they are going to eventually be confronted with a pacesetter who has gathered around him an especially powerful and threatening following. At that time, Machiavelli says, it should be too late to avoid wasting the republic.

Machiavelli uses the examples of Caesar's assassination in Rome and Cosimo's exile from Florence to underscore this lesson. In each of those cases, the supporters of their respective republics eventually realized the danger of tyranny and launched an attack on the people's idol. In each of those cases, this attempt resulted not within the restoration of republican liberty but in its abolition.

In Rome, Augustus used the general public's sympathy and devotion to the martyr Caesar to seal the downfall of the Republic. In Florence, Cosimo himself was brought back from exile and have become the leading man of the town.

The fate of the American Republic

The query for Americans is whether or not the Republic will likely be lost because of this of popular complacency. Will the American Republic face the identical dangers that Machiavelli foresaw for ancient Rome and Renaissance Florence?

Perhaps there may be a probability to breathe recent life into the country's republican practices and institutions. Perhaps there remains to be time to elect those that seek office only to strengthen their very own power.

Or perhaps it’s so late that even that approach not works. Then Americans could be left with no selection but to lament the demise of their republic and to substantiate Machiavelli's advice that republics fail through complacency. Such an final result for considered one of history's most exemplary republics could be a tragic testament to Machiavelli's political insight.

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