Machiavelli and Politics Today

Machiavelli and Politics Today

  • Submitted By: anto
  • Date Submitted: 11/24/2008 1:23 AM
  • Category: History Other
  • Words: 1074
  • Page: 5
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Machiavelli offers crucial theoretical insights into the American presidency, as some of our leading scholars of the presidency have both implicitly and explicitly demonstrated. James MacGregor Burns (1956), for instance, drew on Machiavelli for both the title and one of the main themes of his classic book, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. To take another prominent example, Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power parallels Machiavelli's The Prince in certain key respects, as Stephen Wirls (1994) has shown. And most recently, in The President as Leader, Erwin Hargrove (1998) employs Machiavelli (as well as Aristotle) to explore the nature of presidential leadership.

The importance of Machiavelli for understanding the presidency, then, has often been noted. However, there have been few, if any, sustained accounts of how Abraham Lincoln in particular can be fruitfully understood in the light of Machiavelli's writings. In this article, I argue that Machiavelli's political theory provides us with a framework that can be used to illuminate the words and deeds of Lincoln, one of our most important presidents.

Machiavelli has, of course, been interpreted in a wide variety of ways. In this article, I draw primarily on the competing interpretations of Machiavelli offered by J.G.A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner, on one hand, and Harvey Mansfield on the other. If one surveys the voluminous contemporary scholarship on Machiavelli, one will notice that these two interpretations stand above the rest in terms of their influence on academic debates. On one hand, Pocock (1975) and Skinner (1978, 1981) have made the highly influential argument that Machiavelli was a civic humanist concerned above all with republicanism. On the other hand, Mansfield (1989) has forcefully argued for the more traditional view that Machiavelli should be interpreted as a kind of "spokesman for the Devil" (p. 281) who recommended not republican virtue but rather "ferocious aggrandizement" (p. xx)....

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