It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Cicero’s writings or his historical significance as an example in politics and in rhetoric for Italian Humanist and Renaissance culture. Machiavelli, well-educated in the classics, drew from Cicero the inspiration for embarking on a project of education of a new ruling class: Machiavelli’s “principe nuovo” is new when compared to his contemporary counterparts, imbued with Christian and Humanist notions of virtue; however, the “principe nuovo” has an old soul, since the new notion of prudence elaborated by Machiavelli has its roots in classical images of ethical and political virtue, in Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. Machiavelli, just like Cicero, felt that what he had not been able to do in deeds with his political action at the service of the Florentine republic, he could do through his writings: putting his knowledge of men and politics, his expertise gained through practical experience and constant reading of ancient authors at the service of his fellow-countrymen, peers and patrons. The novelty of Machiavelli’s teaching consists in advocating a new kind of prudence, which consists in the capacity to do evil in view of a good and elevated purpose: to save, preserve and aggrandize the State.
I also intend to examine the differences between Machiavelli and Cicero in regards to their perception of the very nature of man itself, for their political and personal beliefs no doubt stemmed from the way they percieved their peers, contemporaries and rulers and it would be foolish to discuss these without also looking at what these beliefs were based on. Machiavelli however cannot by any means be considered to have subscribed to the school of stoic thought. The Prince could well be considered the very anti-thesis of stoic thought. . I will primarily be using of course Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince and his Discourses but will also be using Cicero’s De Officiis, as well as his some of Letters and will be focusing particularly on his later speeches, especially the Caesarian speeches which will be of particular significance.
We must also consider that while many modern scholars subscribe to the belief that Machiavelli was not a republican, a point of view that when looking at The Prince is easily understood. However one must consider that The Prince was written when Machiavelli was in need of a new benefactor, likely Cosimo de Medici, the rising star of the Medicis and a man whose princely aspirations were well known. The extremes that a prince must follow, as suggested in the book, can be interpreted as warnings rather than endorsements for when read with The Discourses, a far more moderate and republican approach to governance seems to emerge. The new rising thought of Machiavelli as a republican is something that must be examined for afterall Cicero is undoubtedly one of the great republicans of history. Yet while Machiavelli seems to also incline towards republicanism he is not above critiqueing Cicero for what he clearly believes are mistakes he made not only in his writings but also in his very actions.
I will however be starting off with an overview of Machiavellis education for without this education, and the appreciation of the ancient philosophers and writers and their ways of thinking it so clearly imparted upon him, he would not have become the Renaissance polymath that we study and revere today. It is also of importance that we understand and appreciate that Machiavelli was indeed a well-educated man for many of his detractors will point out that he was one of a very select number of Humanist writers who wrote his treatises and the main body of his work in the vernacular, in this case Italian, and would be considered by some as making his work of lesser value by simple virtue of not being written in the proper, Latinate style of the time. His education would also have marked him out as being worthy of entering into conversaton and debate with his fellow politicos and writers of the time as well as being the means by which he would initially gain employment.
Machiavelli, among his other qualities, happened to be a well educated man in letters, endowed with a refined ear and an expert hand at the art of writing. Machiavelli received a traditional education in the classics for a man of his time and status: As a young child he was taught Latin, which he used very comfortably as an adult and often wrote both in his native Italian and Latin to his friends and also in his official works. We know the names of some of his earliest teachers and from his father’s diary we learn which books were in his house and which other were borrowed or somehow circulated in the house and we can infer some of what he may have read as a child and young man.*
We also know that after his forced retirement from active politics, caused by the return of the Medici family to Florence in 1512, Machiavelli attended the literary meetings held in the Orti Oricellari, the gardens of Bernardo Rucellai’s house, which hosted the Florentine Platonic Academy after its move from the Medici’s villa of Careggi. This participation shows us without any doubt, in case that his literary output was not evidence enough, that Machiavelli was genuinely interested in literary, philosophical and political questions which he liked to debate with those of his peers who shared similar interests. We can consequently come to the logical assumption that sometimes he may not have had a first hand knowledge of certain texts, which he then would have become aware of, or in some cases simply furthered his understanding of such texts, through these conversations. This image of a man of letters in constant conversation with ancient authors is confirmed by what Machiavelli himself tells us about his free time. To take only one instance: the famous dedicatory letter of the Prince is full of classical suggestions and thoughts that sprang from the minds of great writers of antiquity. Its opening passage is taken after Isocrates’ oration To Nicocles 1-2*. Machiavelli’s statement there that he did not make use of “other allurements or extrinsic adornments” is again a reprise of Isocrates, this time Philip 27-28*; his choice not to use “bombastic or magnificent words” refers to Horace, Ars Poetica 97, where it is said that the ampullae are bombastic expressions; while “varietà della materia e gravità del subietto” refers to the Rhetorica ad Herennium and to Cicero’s De Oratore, where variation and gravitas are described as the two qualities which should always be present in a public discourse; the humble style which follows from these prescriptions is the style suited to teaching according to Quintilian.*
We may provisionally conclude that Machiavelli was a truly dedicated Renaissance man, well read and eloquent, who borrowed from the classics a style and certain expressions for rhetorical reasons, in order to make his prose more elegant and suited to his audience. Far more significantly and to the point, Machiavelli was in nigh perpetual conversation, with classical authors, from whom he drew inspiration and against whom he defended some of his most famous ideas.
There is as a consequence a twofold influence of classical authors on Machiavelli, one positive and one negative. This influence is, however, remarkably strong and I think we should take Machiavelli seriously when he states that the ancients were superior in most departments to the moderns and when he consequently advocates a return to ancient modes and ways, in politics, religion, morality and military art: his ‘revolution’ is in fact a return to the ancient. Such twofold influence can be distinctly detected in Machiavelli’s relation to such a fundamental author for the Humanist culture as Cicero.*
Machiavelli appropriated certain insights of Cicero while he openly rejected other ideas of his, which he found mistaken; he debated subjects that had been examined and given a classic solution by Cicero. The relation between the two thinkers is strong and polemical –and therefore worth further investigation. Since both authors were also first rank politicians in their respective countries, we may start from their opinion on the importance of political education. Humanist thinking and rhetoric followed Cicero in making the orator a paradigmatic hero: For Cicero the orator, the statesman, is the epitome of a capacity which is unique of human beings, that of creating laws and operating for the common good through eloquence;* the statesman is both a man of letters and of action, the rise of elegant speech and thoughtful discourse brought mankind out of their primal, bestial condition where violence stands in place of eloquence and the mighty was right by simple virtue of his might.
The condottiere Francesco Colonna in the Art of War is exactly such a complex character, a general who is also a man of letters and an orator, capable to quote Frontinus, Plutarch and Xenophon, dexterous on the battlefield as well as eloquent in spurring the soldiers to fight.
The renowned Victorian editor of the Prince Lawrence A. Burd* had already drawn the readers’ attention to the dependence of certain ideas of Machiavelli from topics examined by Cicero in his works. For instance, Machiavelli’s treatment “on liberality and thriftiness” in The Prince* is strongly influenced by Cicero’s considerations of liberality in the De Officiis. This work was particularly congenial to Machiavelli and “operates like a shadow text for parts of The Prince”* it contained a lengthy praise of political life, together with famous arguments in support of a possible reconciliation or rather harmonization and identification of the interests of the individual and that which would benefit the state or rather the common good. The possible reconciliation of honesty and neccesity, the honourable and the expedient, was not a novel idea for Cicero, who had already argued for it in his De Inventione and in the De Oratore*. In the De Officiis Cicero went on to state that there is one simple rule for all cases in this matter, namely “that which seems expedient must not be morally wrong; or, if it is morally wrong, it must not seem expedient”.* In the De Officiis Cicero also maintained that liberality, when supported with one’s personal wealth, destroys its own source, causes impoverishment and forces one to rob other people, thereby becoming a source of hatred instead of love for a politician; these considerations are obviously very similar to those put forth by Machiavelli on this subject.* It is at this level, however, that the two authors part way, for Cicero goes on to link true liberality with moral duty and right ; Machiavelli, on the other end of the spectrum is notoriously uninterested in the moral consequences for the individual and looks at the practical and political result of liberality: he therefore suggests to the prince, if he is “prudent”, not to care about being considered thrifty. On the other hand, it is against Cicero’s teaching that Machiavelli’s famous admonishment concerning the duty to keep one’s word is directed. In examining this topic in a passage in the De Officiis, Cicero maintained that it was of the utmost importance to stand by what one had sworn even in war; he deplored at the same time those who commit injustice through fraud and violence , which he personified with the fox and the lion, respectively.* In the final lines of Book I, then, Cicero concluded his account by vociferously stating that the political caste should not have priority over everything, including temperance and moderation: for there are certain actions which are so despicable or so evil that a man of wisdom and learning would never commit them, not even to save his country. For Cicero the question can in practice be set aside because he cannot conceive of situations in which the country may ask the wise man to do such actions.* It seems evident that part of chapter 18 of the Prince aims at refuting Cicero’s doctrine, which would have come to mind to all contemporary readers. This is even more evident because the beginning of the chapter, the topic examined and structure of the argument clearly refer to Cicero’s treatment of loyalty and the prohibition of fraud, which should not be used even in war. Machiavelli, on the contrary, after stating that there are “two ways of fighting”, one through laws the other through force, one typical of men the other of beasts, goes on to say that the constraints of politics force the prince “to know how to use the beast”*. This very obvious homage to Cicero, although it is designed to refute his argument and actually to overturn it, serves its purpose well in lending gravitas to the subject at hand. Machiavelli seems to be saying that when the statesman is faced with the possibility of the destruction of the State, he is entitled to any and all means neccessary to ensure the survival of the state. It may be interesting to note that Cicero, in his turn, was accused to have used glib, if not illegal means to have Catilina and his cronies declared enemies of the Roman republic. Machiavelli would have commented that “the country is well defended in whatever way it is defended, either with ignominy or with glory”.* Similarly, the question of what makes the statesman more influential and capable whether it be love or fear, is thoroughly examined first by Cicero. Quoting his beloved Ennius, Cicero had stated that there is nothing more suited to preserve one’s power and the State than the love of one’s fellow-countrymen; while there is nothing more alien than fear, because fear generates hatred and thus the desire to see the hated statesman dead*. Cicero went on to produce the case of Caesar in order to show that the people’s hatred brings about death, even in the case of an individual person as mighty and powerful as Caesar was.* In chapter 17 of the Prince Machiavelli examines this subject but deems it very important to make a crucial correction: he separates fear from hate and famously maintains that what is important is “not to be hated by the people”; this will remain one of his deepest convictions as it is repeated in many places and in many works. On the other hand, Machiavelli is persuaded that fear constitutes a stronger bond than love, in consideration of men’s notorious unreliability and selfishness; most times –he considers in a sad vein in Discourses III, people follow and obey those who make themselves feared more than those who make themselves loved. Being loved, feared or hated depends on the qualities of the statesman and here the visions of the two thinkers diverge completely.
For although Cicero is adamant in maintaining that pretence and appearance are not conducive to real glory because they are soon discovered, Machiavelli overturns Cicero’s argument completely and utters one of his most famous statements: since human beings judge by the appearances and “everyone sees what you look like but few touch what you are” what matters is to appear virtuous; indeed, he adds with unabashed consistency, if one actually possesses certain virtues it is impossible to refrain from employing them in ones life; in politics, however, it is better to “seem to possess them” so that one can exercise them or not according to the necessity of the circumstances.* It is important to note that Machiavelli is not replacing Cicero’s virtues with a “technique” rather, he is replacing Cicero’s virtues with a different virtue, a new kind of carefulness which consists in the capacity to do evil in view of a good and higher purpose, nay the most important purpose: to save, preserve and improve the State. This new virtue is the result of a process of political education which starts with the identification of the final goal of political activity, its summum bonum –the preservation of the State; which is different from the preservation of the ruler’s own power, although the two ends may sometimes coincide. Having a rather dark and even narcissitic view of humanity, Machiavelli believes that without the authority of the State and law and the resultant order it guarantees, no good life, no virtuous or ethical life of any kind, indeed no life of any form at all is possible. This virtue enables the statesman to remain ‘good’ even when he commits evil deeds; namely, it enables him to identify correctly those critical events in which there are no honourable or ethical means to preserve the State and therefore it is unavoidable to use unjust, illegal and immoral means. Machiavelli uncovered an insoluble dilemma: he realized that not all concepts, be they vital or insignificant will neccessarily function in concert with one another and therefore acknowledged that ultimately the desired outcome must be placed before all other considerations.* Machiavelli therefore warns his prospective new ruler that by entering politics he may wind up damning his very soul. This is because the virtues and ends of Christian morality are different from those demanded by logical politics, a realm in which there is an element of necessity which Machiavelli brings to the fore and emphasizes repeatedly: the new prince, in order to preserve the State, is often forced “to act against faith, against charity, against humanity, against religion”. He must therefore be able to “enter evil, if necessary”.* Evil remains evil in Machiavelli’s vision and human beings inevitably will be confronted with a tragic choice: if they want to follow the injunctions of Christian religion, they should refrain from entering politics; if they do enter this most precarious of arenas, they must be aware that it may, if not certainly, be required from them to act in a way that is utterly inimical to their eternal salvation and the sanctity of their soul, a matter not taken lightly in those days.
Machiavelli revealed how politics is the realm of tragic existential choices.* The contrast between the two thinkers on this subject is exemplified by their different judgement on Romulus and the killing of his brother Remus. For Cicero, when Romulus “decided that it was more expedient for him to reign alone than to share the throne with another, he slew his brother”: blinded by a false appearance of utility, he showed no piety or humanity and committed a terrible crime.* Machiavelli, once again in opposition to his mentor and ancient contemporary, while still considering Romulus’ action a crime, excuses it on the ground that it was committed to create a new political arrangement, a republic, and therefore for the well-being of the country and the common good: “it follows therefore that, while the deed accuses him, the effect excuses him”.
A further Ciceronean influence can be detected in Machiavelli’s idea that the princes are responsible for the behaviour of their subjects and, more generally, that their example has a very significant impact on the citizens. In the De Legibus III, 32 Cicero had stated that: “Hence vicious princes are the more pernicious in their effects on a republic, in that they not only themselves introduce vices, but impregnate the citizens with them: so that they are nuisance not merely because they themselves are corrupt, but because they corrupt others and by example do more harm than they do by sinning”. Machiavelli, besides continuously encouraging the prince to give “great examples” to his citizens,* comments that in the States where there are robberies the blame falls on the princes and their “wickedness” , not on the natural mentality of the States inhabitants.* Conversely, Machiavelli argues that the example of a “good man” can bring a republic to its original good condition and can therefore preserve it. This is because institutions need to be revitalised by the virtue and work of a good man because other good men will follow his example and so the state will florish and prosper. Indeed, if a republic was so lucky to have someone who from time to time renovated the laws with his example, it would not only escape the inevitable ruin, it would last forever.
We have so far looked at the similarities that thsese two great thinkers shared but let us now diverge from this but in instead look at them as the two opponents across the eons debating the truth of statesmanship, ambition and rule and in doing so also look at the shared yet different ideas they had regarding the efficacy of republics and in doing so examining one of the few texts in which Machiavelli critiques his great mentor.
One of the great problems faced by any republic, be it young or old, is that of a personal ambition and who better to turn to than one of the greatest writers on the topic than Machiavelli himself, for it is ambition perhaps more than anything else that can mutate a republic into a principality, that thing so despised by Cicero and even by Machiavelli himself, despite his great manual of how to effectively rule such a state. It has been argued that Machiavelli, in the Discourses, attempts to show that Cicero does not comprehend the problem stemming from the ambition of people and as a consequence cannot curb that great danger and through no fault of his own simply stokes the fires of their ambition. As already argued this stems from Cicero’s belief, a mistaken one in Machiavelli’s view, that love forms the most fundamental part of political power and not fear. For Cicero it is trust, patience and virtue that are premminent not only in his theoritical works but also in his practice, despite his own well-known deviances from this. His own background and incliniations in terms of theoritical politics, as Duff argues, make him susceptible to misunderstanding the problems of an ambitious, popular and attractive leader. The consequence of this is a system that, for Machiavelli, would inevitably lead to disruption and the collapse of the republic1. It must be noted that Cicero does not feature prominently in the Discourses, that honour lies far more with Livy, as the name of the treatise would indicate yet is not Cicero brief yet scathing inclusion not all the more so because of its brevity? Cicero of all the ancient philosophers was quite likely the most well read and known, based on the vast volumes of manuscripts and printed books of his works at the time2. Cicero and Machiavelli both concern themselves with the concept of a large republic, built with a greater focus on the power of the popular element in the regime which inevitably leads to a greater propensity for political activity fueled by personal ambition.
The basis of our analysis of Machiavelli’s critique of Cicero will be based on six references found within the Discourses. Of these three are explicit (I 4,33,52) and three are more implicit ( I 28, 56, 59). All of these reflect on the potential emergence of a talented, ambitious and popular leader.
As Duff argues, Machiavelli believes that the root cause of Cicero’s failure to preserve the Roman Republic stems from his inability to understand the nature of human ambition. Machiavelli, rather than outright stating Cicero was wrong in his beliefs, takes a more subtle route and suggests an alternative method of how to deal with the emergence of an ambitious leader. The suggestion is that rather than seek favour with one side or another, one should wait for this would be tyrant to instil fear in the people, and then to pit one ambitious leader against another and let their rivalry reveal them for what they are, and thus honesty is achieved through deceit3. Machiavelli firmly believes that in order for a republic to be healthy its leaders must harsh in their actions for the greater good and points out that Ciceros failing was that he was vulnerable to the idea of a leader who was ambitious, capable and attractive for the danger that such an individual poses to a republic is incalcuable. This harshness is intended to prevent the creation of what we would now call a cult of personality around the leader. As Sullivan argues in a healthy republic any large following of a single individual should be met with violent hostility. However should the republic be corrupt then such a leader might well succeed in gaining the favour of the masses, such as Caesar did, and thusly turn himself into a ‘prince of the republic’. For Machiavelli, his contemporary equivalent of Caesar was the Cosimo de Medici and his discussions revolve around these two individuals, and also Octavian, Cicero’s ultimate betrayer and through this he shows that the focus of his critique is in fact Cicero4.
The danger posed by such individuals stems not from their actions but rather that they blind to the populace and many influential members of the hierarchy to their evils because of their attractiveness. As Machiavelli calls it in i 33, the ‘inconvenience’ of ‘a noble youth who has an extraordinary virtue in him’ nigh on demands love and affirmation. As Machiavelli puts it “all eyes of the citizens begin to turn towards him and agree in honouring him without hesitation, so that if there is a bit of ambition in him, mixed with the favor nature gives him and with this accident, he comes at once to a place where the citizens, when they become aware of their error, have few remedies left to avoid it”5. This in short shows that once such a man has assumed power within a republic it becomes to difficult to remove him with the means available to republic. It can inferred here, based on previous evidence, that Machiavelli believes only another such figurehead must be created or found to displace or counter this threat. Machiavelli’s inspiration for this likely stems from his knowledge of his great mentors personal experience with such an incident, one which would ultimately lead to his death. We must here examine the fall of Caesar and Ciceros new allegiance with Mark Antony, an allegiance that for all its brevity would shape the Roman Republics fate. Cicero, upon seeing that Mark Antonys position within the republic was weakening, due to his known involvement in Caesars’ death and also the , perhaps inevitable, rise of Octavian, Caesars intended heir and guided under the tutelage of Cicero himself, who had hoped to find a new ally for the republic. All was for naught however as in a betrayal of the great powers Cicero had managed to garner for Octavian in his desire to dispose of Antony, his supposed pupil turned on the Republic and with his erstwhile enemy brought about its ruin. Machiavelli implies that Ciceros flaw here is resultant from the fact that he could not see past the exterior of his chosen champion. He trusted that a character of such beauty, merit and virtue would live up to his expectations, failing to understand that by associating with Caesars name “that name….that acquired the principate of Rome”. For Machiavelli, Caesar and Octavian fell into the category of ambitious, merciful, generous yet tyrants, even if they were honest tyrants. On the surface they certainly possessed the ideals that Cicero so long had championed. Indeed this superficiality is what enabled them to overcome the very obstacles put in place to stop them, namely men such as Cicero, who, had they not been blinded by beauty, could have perhaps prevented such calamity. It is perhaps not without some irony that the very traits Machiavelli here decries are the very same he espouses as critical for a prince to be a ‘good prince’.
Cicero believes that the combination of honestum and utile are what make for a great leader. He argues that an ambitious politician should be satisfied with the honour of securing for himself a good reputation amoung both friends and enemies, for what greater honour could there be? The practice of virtues, which would lead to such honour, in his eyes would fulfil the needs of an ambitious politician. Thus the practice of virtues , in order to attain glory and success, is the most likely path to success. He further argues that there only two impulses that giver rise to the giving of benefits or for the asking of them, namely love or fear. Of the two it is well known that Cicero was far in favour of love for he believed that love would join people together and that the bonds of love would prevent the rise of a tyrant, who surely could only come to power through fear. Love for Cicero is embodied by republican governance and fear with tyranny. Cicero’s argument for love continues with the argument that as love is best earned through acts of virtue, which in a republic should lead not only to emulation but also to ever growing circles of friends, clients and partisans who would in turn provide ever more opportunity for the satisfaction of ambition 6. Liberality and justice Cicero argues are all that a leader needs to ensure the survival of the republic. Justice attains glory through which ambition is satisfied and liberality ensures the happiness of the populace and also provides further opportunities for glory. The concept of such an orderly republic is realised only in Ciceros work Scipio’s Dream7. Yet as Machiavelli says “”, clearly taking issue with Ciceros belief that the very cosmos itself had some kind of effect upon the actions of man and the success of politics, Machiavelli refutes this utterly.As we can see from Machiavelli’s critiques of Cicero thus far he thought that Cicero ideas and ideals for a republic were, to put it bluntly, flawed and based not in reality and that Cicero displayed a profound misunderstanding of the political situation in the Roman Republic. Now let us examine what Machiavelli suggested would curb such individuals. Machiavelli, as is well known and has been explored at length already, strongly believed fear to be a far more effective tool of governance than love but it is in his critique that we see this applied with regards to a person of overwhelming ambition. We must also briefly delve somewhat further into the dream of Scipio as it is, while not integral, of some importance in Machiavelli’s critique of Cicero. According to Machiavelli the cosmos plays no role whatsoever in politics but it extends beyond this, for Cicero the beauty and function of the cosmos reflected that of politics and for Machiavelli this was nothing more than the folly of trusting in appearance8. Far more than some grand cosmological scheme it is the will of the masses and their opinions and regard upon which upon which a republic ought to be built, yet the love of the people is a whimsical thing at best. Fear is a far more fundamental and relieable political tool, per Machiavelli. Ambition as a consequence, as Duff puts it, is best counselled by fear, not by admiration, not by favor nor by love, Machiavelli’s ‘dream republic’ is thus one where the ambitions of its leaders are shaped in response to the fears of the people and not one governed by vague, cosmological ideals.
This also leads to a piece of advise utterly uncharacterisitic for Machiavelli, one seemingly in contravention of much of his body of work, he advises patience, “When an inconvenience has grown either in a state or against a state, he more salutary policy is to temporize with it rather than strike at it”9. For a man whom throughout his much of his writings counselled action this seems quite of place yet in the context in which we are examining his work, namely that the Discourses are in fact the true measure of his political ideals, it perhaps, while still uncharateristic, is the more practicable option. Far better is it to let time and man’s natural distrust of ambition and beauty and the inevitable decay of time runs it course than to strike while the favour of the people lies with ones enemies. All things seem favorable to begin and all beginnings are apt to be deceptive10. He further argues that the conditions in which such despots-to-be will not be removed by attacking these dangerously favoured youths, rather their position would likely be strengthened by such a move, Caesar, and as a consequence Octavians, positions were strengthened by exactly such strikes. More contemporary to Machiavelli was Cosimo de Medici who despite his popular banishment was invited to return by his allies within the city once favour had turned back to him. Their allour is strengthened by such acts, their supposed elan and seemingly self-sacrificial acts endear them to the public. Far better is it to bide ones time and let these creatures bring their own ruin down upon themselves, for their inner Catiline to emerge as it did with Caesar11. Yet this policy of waiting is not one of delay, mistrust must be ever present in order for the subtle counterstroke to be effective. Cicero delayed because he trusted in beauty and a noble nature whilst Octavian made the plans that would make his ambition reality. There is yet a further element to Machiavellis counterstroke against ambition, namely anticipating the myriad ways in which such selfish, ambitious creatures can emerge in a republic “and truly, in a republic, and especially those
So as we have seen Machiavelli and Cicero enjoy a very complex relationship. Machiavelli was without very much influenced by Cicero, not only by his writings but also by Ciceros’ own life, his follies and successes. As we have seen, both Machiavelli and Cicero were republicans. In the case of Cicero their has never been any doubt as to this, his De Republica and De Officis are shining examples of both the ideals of a republic and his ideas on not only how republics should function but what the very nature of its leaders must be, the ideals and virtues such men should embody in order for their citizens to lift not them but themselves up, yet ultimately his rhetoric was insufficient in the face of ambition and beauty. Machiavelli as we have seen, learned not only from his great peers writings but also his mistakes. Machiavelli was a republican, yet he was a republican in a time when republicanism was generally frowned upon. His most well-known work, The Prince, which we have examined in great detail, is a treatise on how a prince should rule his fiefdom and a more pragmatic and dehumanising political treatise one would be hard pressed to find upon surface reading but we have gone beyond that.
The Prince is no guide on how to be an effective prince, it is rather a book intended to show any man who aspires to become a prince that while such a thing is doable it would require surrendering one’s very humanity, that one must commit heinous acts and betrayals in order to maintain a stable and prosperous princedom. The Prince was also written at a time when Machiavelli was out of favor with the Florentine elite, and much like his great mentor who was forced to return to Rome at Caesars request, who wrote speeches both in favor and condemnation of Mark Antony in order to preserve his life and his beloved Republic did Machiavelli write the The Prince in order to regain favor with the court. Yet we must wholly dismiss Machiavellis’ belief in the flaws of man that he so exemplified for he believed in a form of republicanism far more pragmatic than Ciceros in theory, if perhaps not in practice.
The Discourses serve not only as a critique of Cicero but also serve to show that Machiavelli believed a republic should be founded not on the virtues of a leader but on the appearance of such virtues, for such a lie is far easier to expose and control than were it to be a truth that can be corrupted. Machiavelli here no doubt looks to the mistakes Cicero made in his choosing of whom he supported but we must also remember that what Machiavelli thought was never something he was ever forced to practice, unlike Cicero. Cicero enjoyed a successful political career until his fall from grace and eventual demise whereas Machiavelli did not ever practice politics, modern media portrayals aside.
As has also been shown, both men were teachers, albeit in different if similar manners. Once again Cicero is the consummate practitioner, tutoring perhaps most famously, or infamously, Octavian, Caesars heir-apparent and ultimate betrayer of both Cicero and the Republic. Machiavelli meanwhile remains purely the theoritician. Some may ask in what manner did both men teach yet how could their books, indeed their lives, be interpreted in any other manner? Both men sought to instruct not only their peers in what they believed but also their benefactors, to ensure the betterment of their fellow citizens lot through their writings.
So Cicero and Machiavelli were as we have seen both men of great complexity, disparity and similarity. They were firm believers in the ideals of the republic yet their thoughts on how the safety and prosperity of a republic ought to be maintained were not in alignment on many fronts. Machiavelli felt that fear and deceit still had a place within the a republic, a more practical, realistic view not only of politics but also of humanity for he recognised ambition could not be curbed by with simple glory and the appreciation of ones peers and the masses, unlike Cicero, who thought love and admiration would be sufficient for any man. Yet we must recall that while Cicero preached of idealism and decried deceit and dishonour, in practice he was a man far more pragmatic than he was true to his beliefs, perhaps more so than even Machiavelli was. His treatment of Cataline, that ultimately led to her banishment from Rome and his actions leading up to this were, as many would put it, rightly or wrongly, Machievellian. Cicero was a politician first, a philosopher second and frequently bent, or indeed flagrantly ignored, the rules by which he judged others.
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