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Machiavelli and Liberalism

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5-1-2020

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In discussions regarding the foundation of civic liberalism, Englishman John Locke of the 17th century is spoken of most often as its founder. The Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, however, predating Locke by over two centuries, innovated an earlier form of liberalism that is seldom included in these discussions. This is perhaps due to his popular reputation as an advocate for force, fraud, and utilitarian principles of a ruler over a populace. These ends certainly do seem to oppose traditional conceptions of liberalism which include the protection of individual rights, presence of personal liberties, conductivity towards private flourishing, and the limitation of government. An examination of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy, though, yields a more full picture of Machiavellian political thought and brings about a broadened understanding of liberalism in general. In this project, I argue that, although Machiavelli's ideas on the city and its flourishing are not explicitly geared towards the creation of a liberal society, they do create an environment in which its tenants may thrive. Given this, Machiavelli may be viewed as a precursor to the full conception of Lockian liberalism, actualizing upon its image while not advocating for its principles. This is relevant for the American political landscape as questions of tolerance, diversity, and equality rise increasingly to prominence in civil discourse, prompting considerations of liberalism.

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May 1st, 12:00 AM

Machiavelli and Liberalism

In discussions regarding the foundation of civic liberalism, Englishman John Locke of the 17th century is spoken of most often as its founder. The Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, however, predating Locke by over two centuries, innovated an earlier form of liberalism that is seldom included in these discussions. This is perhaps due to his popular reputation as an advocate for force, fraud, and utilitarian principles of a ruler over a populace. These ends certainly do seem to oppose traditional conceptions of liberalism which include the protection of individual rights, presence of personal liberties, conductivity towards private flourishing, and the limitation of government. An examination of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy, though, yields a more full picture of Machiavellian political thought and brings about a broadened understanding of liberalism in general. In this project, I argue that, although Machiavelli's ideas on the city and its flourishing are not explicitly geared towards the creation of a liberal society, they do create an environment in which its tenants may thrive. Given this, Machiavelli may be viewed as a precursor to the full conception of Lockian liberalism, actualizing upon its image while not advocating for its principles. This is relevant for the American political landscape as questions of tolerance, diversity, and equality rise increasingly to prominence in civil discourse, prompting considerations of liberalism.