Machiavelli vs. Plato

I missed this when it was originally published last summer, but this is a fascinating interview with Catherine Zuckert, author of Machiavelli’s Politics and professor at Notre Dame. I’m particularly interested in how she contrasts Machiavelli to Plato here:

What I did not see so clearly until I had completed the book was that in Machiavelli I had found the great alternative to Plato. Plato presents philosophy as the simply best form of human existence. Machiavelli challenges that conclusion by arguing that the most important aspects of human life are political. There is no great human achievement that does not presuppose the existence of a political order; yet political order is extremely difficult to establish, and even harder to maintain. As Xenophon indicated when he presented political leadership as the competitor to Socratic philosophy as the best way of life, great statesmen are characterized by extraordinary virtues—both practical and intellectual. Machiavelli goes beyond Xenophon, however, by showing how a political order can be founded and maintained that satisfies the desires of most human beings to secure their own lives, property, family, and liberty rather than serving the interests of a few.

Machiavelli represents, to me, a transitional figure in the shift from natural philosophy to that of modern science. He observes and reports the outcomes of political action with an empiricism that very much anticipates the way that scientists like Francis Bacon and Galileo would approach their experiments in the physical world.

Machiavelli’s writing desk in his villa

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