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History and Stories



Niccolò Machiavelli

The Impossible Interviews

The second character we meet in the impossible interviews feature is Niccolò Machiavelli.
Fiorentino, born in 1469 and died in 1527, he was one of the most important political thinkers of that period.
A statesman, he served the Fiorentino republic on diverse political diplomatic assignments demonstrating right from the beginning a great capacity for analysing and interpreting political facts.
The vulgate population want the name of Machiavelli surrounded with an aura of cynicism and immorality, at the limits of the diabolic.
But was it really like that?

Here we are face to face with the perfidious Machiavelli. With what title should I call you?
I would say your Excellency, most appropriate to one who has passed his life dealing in politics, fundamentals and other humane things.
Excuse my antique language, but I really cannot speak in your modern tongue, Italian but a close friend to Britannic terminology.

Your Excellency began your political and diplomatic career in 1498, after the end of Savonarola. What memories do you have of him?
He was a man who was incapable of acknowledging reality.

Exactly, in politics the worst mistake that man or prince can make, is that of not acknowledging reality, not understanding how things really are and how the laws which govern them stand. To see what is the actual reality.
How did I have the foresight to write about the Prince: “he who leaves what is to be done for that which should be done soon learns his ruin rather than his preservation”.

What was it that Savonarola did not understand?
Poor Girolamo did not understand that he had become a menace for everyone, humble and powerful, rich and wretched, and thus everyone wanted to eliminate him, starting with Pope Alessandro VI. Savonarola recognised the cord and the stake as soon as the Pope threatened interdiction for the city of Firenze.

Did the Fiorentini fear this?
Yes but not because they were devoted to the Pope. The interdiction would have left the outside debtors freer to not honour their debts towards the Fiorentini merchants and money lenders.
Would Firenze have accepted such a grave threat to its sustenance?

What was Firenze like in those times?
Rich, lively, and proud as a woman fighting and yelling but refusing to submit. Yet full of danger.

Yes because there were many threats. Conspiracy, treason, invasions: just the memory of the French invasion in 1494 is enough, and it didn't take much to be considered a conspirator, a danger for the independence of the city and therefore considered deserving of the worst of deaths.

Let us come to the question which is perhaps of most interest to our readers.
Your Excellency is considered a cold and political thinker, so much so that the adjective Machiavellian has become synonymous with diabolical.

Very frequently the readers of my writings, often with simple minds unaccustomed to the difficult exercise of political analysis, have not fully understood my thoughts.

I could not be considered immoral since I never preached against it, rather I kept at a distance any temptation to see politics according to moral rules, which are without doubt good and admirable, but have little to do with reality.
Therefore my stern warning to the princes was: consider that politics has its laws and if you want to win over your enemy you must recognise such laws and adapt to them.
If need be I should be considered amoral never immoral.

For you the Prince is he who is able to establish and defend the State with force and authority. Wont you admit that is a rather strong idea and perhaps a bit democratic.
I did say that the Price is he who founded the State and I defend him about the wise use of force, but I did also say that this state of affairs must be transitory and progress towards the lesser use of force, so that the subjects do not nurture ideas of vendettas against a Prince who is too hard.

These are the same things that German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, he who passed through your world three centuries after me. He admired the King of Prussia Federico II, who certainly did not want for force and authority.

Since your time the world has changed much. How do you see it?
Before replying I would like to remind you that the great changes and revolutions were nearly always less that what they appeared at the beginning.
Enough to think of the French Revolution which started against a King and finished with a halleluia to an Emperor. Certainly that little Corsican knew the art of politics well.
Have you ever thought that the word revolution could be considered in two opposite ways?
Revolution is radical change, but also the lack of change. The earth, as studied by the genius Copernico and Galileo, completes a revolutionary motion, turning on itself to return to the beginning without any change.

What do you think of the heads of government and of State who today decide the destiny of the world?
Never forget the law of foxes and lions.

What is that?
It is a metaphor which another Italian intellect, Vilfredo Pareto, gave me the honour of recapturing.
The Foxes are the politicians who have no power and use astuteness, deception and any other artifice to obtain it, but once they have obtained it they become lions, inclined to use force, power more than intellect.

To the lions I say: beware, because the foxes are ready to take your places, and to those who trust the foxes I say: beware because they will also become lions.

How are you up there?
I tried to become consultant to the Prince as I was for all of my terrestrial life, but even here there is a lot of prejudice against me.


Text by Text by Roberto Adriani
Pictures by Sandro Santioli

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