Republicanism as a Political Ideology, Essay Example

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Essay

Explain why is Machiavelli considered an important figure in republican political thought. What does republicanism mean as a political ideology and what republican values does Machiavelli emphasize?

Insofar as one interprets Machiavelli’s political thought in terms of a commitment to a form of realism, whereby the exercising of sovereign decisions in order to maintain and consolidate power defines the basic purpose of politics itself, it would seem that republican thought is thoroughly at odds with this account. This is because republican thought, despite its variations over time, seems to stress a certain de-centralization of political power, according to which the greater inclusive form of the state is given importance. That is to say, republican thought is commonly understood as antagonistic to forms of hegemony as they are isolated in individuals, i.e., in the form of monarchy, or in repressive elites. Republic thought can traditionally be understood as a political rule dedicated to the law and the people, to which no exceptions exist. In such a reading, the importance of Machiavelli to republic thought would therefore take the form of an antipode and a general contradiction: does not Machiavelli’s apparently radical confirmation of the “whatever means necessary” approach to maintaining political power not provide a clear antithesis to the non-exception at the heart of republic thought? In other words, Machiavelli, in works such as The Prince, continually emphasizes the importance to uphold hegemony at whatever cost, thus engendering a clear Schmittian “state of exception” between the one or ones who hold sovereign power and those who are excluded from this same power: the latter are entirely prone to the arbitrary decisions of the hegemonic sovereign or class, irrespective of any type of law that would attempt to create an egalitarian political system.

In this regard, the importance of Machiavelli to republican thought would lie in the notion that Machiavelli is the radical antagonist of republic thought: the influence Machiavelli possesses on republican thought is entirely a negative one, whereby republican thought can only assert its own principles in opposition to the Machiavellian world view. Hence, as Maurizio Viroli writes, “what seems to be beyond dispute is that Machiavelli rejected the republic idea of politics and provided us with a new account of what politics is all about. Against the classical view that politics is the art of establishing and preserving a good community, Machiavelli, it has been argued emphasized that the goal of politics is the pursuit of power.”[1] Following these exegeses, it is therefore that Machiavelli’s political system is irreconcilable with republicanism. This irreconcilablity with Machiavelli, however, does not mean that republicanism cannot be defined by Machiavelli’s thought: the enormous influence of this theoretician, insofar as he presents a realist theory of politics, can precisely be determined in light of Machiavelli’s texts with regards to how republicanism can avoid the reduction of politics to hegemonic appropriations of power. In this regard, Machiavelli becomes something like the negative image of republican thought: Machiavelli’s relationship to republican thought is that of the anti-republican, a negation that nevertheless helps republicanism define itself.

[1] Maurizio Viroli, »Machiavelli and the Republican Idea of Politics«, in Machiavelli and Republicanism, Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner and Maurizio Viroli (eds.) (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 143-172.

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