Machiavelli's RealismIssue: Fall 1998
This new translation of Machiavelli's The Prince appears as part of a series called "Rethinking the Western Tradition." Now, the Western tradition is rather odd as traditions go, for it is a tradition of subversion. The tradition that Machiavelli was heir to was a compound of classical and Christian thought. Neither of the founders of those traditions endeared themselves to the holders of power; Socrates was put to death by the Athenians and Jesus by the rulers of Rome. Those who followed in their wake (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, and Aquinas), although they found ways to adjust themselves to political power, did not relent on the essential point: namely, that there is a law higher than the laws of men. This natural law (or moral law, or divine law) offers a transcendent standard by which to judge political life and, potentially, offers a principled ground for disobedience to authority.