White Paper – GracchusBabeuf


The popular notion of a “Machiavellian” figure over-simplifies and unfairly equates Machiavelli’s unobscured political analysis with a preference for immoral behavior.

Hypothesis 2

The works of Niccolò Machiavelli, 16th century Florentine diplomat and infamous cynic, have more viable ideas to reform a 21st century liberal democracy than its officeholders.


The Prince

Background: Written by Niccolò Machiavelli from exile early in the 16th century, The Prince offers cutting-edge political analysis of the early modern world from a figure who worked on the inside. This text form the bulk of the examples from which to discern Machiavelli’s opinions of politics. Many of his example have become famous tropes of their own (like that of the lion and the fox, or whether it is preferable to be loved or feared). This is, unequivocally, the core text from which arguments about Machiavelli’s thoughts on politics must derive.

How I intend to use it:

By explaining and analyzing passages from the book, I intend to show Machiavelli’s figure to be far less severe than a modern “Machiavellian” character would indicate to a lay person of the 21st century. I do not intend to obfuscate the often brutal opinion he holds on political behavior, such as the use of cruelty. I wish to show the continuity within his thoughts that do not explicit condone or endorse this kind of behavior. The view presented by Machiavelli is more akin to a listing of tools, like hammers and nails. The actions are deplorable, but a good prince to Machiavelli should shrewdly and decisively make use of all tools available to secure their rule and their sovereignty.

Discourses on The First Decade of Titus Livius

Background: Like The Prince, The Discourses was published posthumously. It contains Machiavelli’s commentary on the work’s of Livy and offer profound insight into the writer’s perspective on politics, history, and society. In contrast to the prince, Machiavelli’s Discourses presents not as a proscriptive text for responsible governance, but as an academic examination of history. However, Machiavelli still develops and refines his ideas about government, specifically his preference for democratic republics and his idiosyncratic interpretation of the late Roman Republic.

How I intend to use it:

This book offers a clearer image of the normative Machiavelli, as he entertains many more arguments as to how a government should operate as opposed to working with what is.

Machiavellian Democracy: Controlling Elites with Ferocious Populism

Background: Written in 2001 for The American Political Science review, this article by scholar John P. McCormick is first published version of what eventually became his well reviewed book of the same title, Machiavellian Democracy. McCormick re-interprets the Discourses to find a Machiavelli contrary to “pioneer of modern antimoralism” that is seen (according to McCormick) by many accounts.

How I intend to use it:

The conclusion of the paper (and the book of the same title) fall outside the current scope of my hypothesis. However, McCormick’s cogent analysis of the discourses helps dispel the deeply cynical view of Machiavelli more commonly held. In this capacity, it is absolutely useful.

Republicanism, Religion, and Machiavelli’s Savonarolan Moment

Background: Machiavelli’s relationship with religion has been a topic of debate almost since immediately after his death. It was no secret (after he died) that Machiavelli had substantial and excoriating criticism of the Catholic church in Italy. However, other’s have also argued (often sucessfully) that Machiavelli was a committed Christian who’s supposed “hatred” of the religion is wildly overblown. Colish synthesizes these views and present and more complete image of Machiavelli’s relationship with religion, as well as his contemporary Girolamo Savonarola.

How I intend to use it:

This article presents many of the arguments surrounding Machiavelli and religion, thus serving as an excellent point to begin research into this aspect of his thought. As religion and morality in the early modern were so deeply intertwined, it is invaluable to have a clearer image of what Machiavelli himself thought on the subject. The analysis of Machiavelli’s commentary on his contemporary, Savonarola, also helps demonstrate what Machiavelli does not want to see in a ruler.


Background: Professor Sil is an Indian-Born retired academic who spent the majority of his career in the United States. This article, interestingly, comes from his time as faculty at the University of Benin in Nigeria during the 1980s. The primary concern of the paper, Political Morality vs. Political Necessity helps draw a distinction between the morality (or lack thereof) of political actions and the necessity of doing them.

How I intend to use it:

Sil’s wealth of knowledge and insights into the figures of Machiavelli and Kautiya, an Inidan political theorist who Machiavelli is compared with, offers useful commentary on the political morality and analysis of Machiavelli. While Kautiya is not himself relevant to the hypothesis, he is nevertheless an interesting reference point for research concerning Machiavelli. The passages primarily concern Machiavelli have notably good quotes for direct citation in a potential paper.

Standout quote(s):

“Even if we concede that Machiavelli is a cynic, his cynicism cannot be the the testament of a heartless misanthrope. It is the confession of a conscientious man who would like to live under the reign of virtue but cannot find it among people” (Sil 130).

Smaller Paper Ideas

“Machiavelli’s Republican Bona Fides”

The basic concept is to explore Machiavelli’s preference for and appraisal of various Republican governments, as well as his service during the Florentine Republican period.

“Do the Ends Justify the Means?: Machiavelli’s Republican Morality in The Discourses

Machiavelli, in all but the exact phrase, posits thats “the ends justify the means” in his reflections on Romulus and Caesar in The Discourses. This passage, along with his other writings (such as the sections on cruelty in The Prince) would be examined and used to create an argument for or against the validity of the idea.

State of the Paper

Overall, I feel fairly confident in the state of my research. While far from exhaustive, it is wide-ranging and pulls from both the source materials and contemporary authors. With the sources collected so far, it is absolutely possible to convincingly argue that Machiavelli, far from endorsing immoral governance, was actually a strong proponent of virtuous governance. His cynicism should not be read as proscriptive, but rather informative. A naive, well-meaning ruler cannot make it in the unforgiving political world that Machiavelli observed. Thus, this well-intentioned prince should be armed with the knowledge and tools necessary to defend against bad-faith actors.

About gracchusbabeuf

French journalist for "Le tribun du peuple".
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1 Response to White Paper – GracchusBabeuf

  1. davidbdale says:

    When you first posted it, this was a preliminary assignment. It was among the better White Papers then, and it’s still among the best, Gracchus, but I don’t see much evidence that you’re using the space except to report to me.

    Use this White Paper to take Notes and record your impressions of your sources AS YOU READ THEM, the best way to begin converting your research material into language of your own you can export to your short arguments when it’s time to draft them. You don’t appear to have updated your preliminary notes since you first posted them.

    This post will be regraded from time to time, or on your specific request.


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