Machiavelli’s fortune in the United States. – The reception of M. first in the colonies and then in independent America is not a linear affair. If, at a first analysis, there are very few Americans who have dealt with his doctrines, or who have explicitly referred to his name, before the twentieth century, the figure of the author of the Prince was, instead, at the center of a historiographical review of the entire American Revolution and its ideological roots, which in the last forty years has profoundly innovated this field of study. So the figure of M. insinuates itself into the debate on the nature of the American Revolution, assuming a role that goes far beyond the textual quotations by the founding fathers.
In particular, we owe the volume of John Greville Agard Pocock (→), The Machiavellian moment published in 1975, an interpretation that placed the Florentine Secretary at the center of the American revolutionary movement. Pocock’s thesis is that “an organic group of ideas and evaluations on Greece and Rome […] [has] acclimatized to Florence [and then […] passed to England and America where it was to help organize the respective political systems “(1975; trans. it. 1981, p. 68).
- becomes for Pocock and the tradition of studies that refer to his interpretation, the champion of a revival of political Aristotelianism that would also have conditioned the New World. The American Revolution would therefore not be an ideologically ascribable work to ‘classical liberalism’ and its noble father, John Locke. At the center of the intellectual scene there would be the search for the common good, for virtue, for that ‘civil life’, or ‘civic humanism’ which has an exceptional interpreter in M. This would mean that various “Machiavellian assumptions” – as Pocock calls them – would have been current ideological currency in America regardless of the (very small) number of direct references to M. in the revolutionary period.
The revolutionary and constitutional period. Although M.’s writings focus on the formation of new states, on the reform of ‘corrupt’ states, that is, on the foundation or re-foundation of a political community, within the political discourse of the founding fathers of the US his presence is barely perceptible..
Donald Lutz analyzed the number of explicit citations in the most important political pamphlets of the American revolutionary and constituent period (1760-1805). The most cited authors are Locke and Montesquieu, while M. is only twenty-eighth among European political writers (Lutz 1984). A collective volume of 2006, Machiavelli’s liberal republican legacy, however, shed new light on the real frequentation of M.’s work by the founding fathers. Six of the most relevant of these (Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) are examined to see if and what they had learned from M., or even if they can only be considered ‘ Machiavellians in disguise ‘.
It is almost a cliché to consider Franklin’s vocation for an unscrupulous and realistic foreign policy to be ‘Machiavellian’, but, in fact, there is no evidence of his reading of the Florentine. While Washington could aspire to the title of ‘prince’ in the American context, there are no explicit references to M. in his writings. The same can be said in the case of three very great figures such as Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton (although a couple of generic references can be found for the latter). Although a biography of Hamilton, due to John Lamberton Harper, is entitled American Machiavelli (2004), the juxtaposition is justified in facts and not as an intellectual encounter.
On closer inspection, the only one of the founding fathers to whom a genuine interest in the work of M. can be traced is Adams, who read M. in Ellis Farneworth’s translation of 1775. In a well-known letter, Adams even declares himself ” pupil of Machiavelli “even if he confesses that he never understood whether M.” was celiastic or was speaking seriously “(Machiavelli’s liberal republican legacy, cit., p. 190). In his A defense of the constitutions of government of the United States, from 1778, M. is mentioned several times. His authority serves him to defend the uniqueness of the American Revolution and to minimize the role played by violence in the secession of the thirteen colonies. M. is also used against the idea of a single-chamber parliament without institutional counterweights. Adams openly pays homage to M. as the first modern theorist of politics, who would have an enormous debt, not always explicitly recognized, towards the ancients. In summary, according to Adams, all that is good in great political thinkers is used by M., so much so that he is “the great restorer of true politics”, exactly as James Harrington (→) considered him.
Outside this small circle, there are not many references to Machiavelli. Among the antifederalists, opponents of the constitutional project approved in Philadelphia, the name of M. appears on only five occasions and all of them are rather conventional. Centinel considers him a “profound but corrupt politician” and cites him to blame the political hypocrisy of the Philadelphia constitutionalists (Letters of Centinel, in The complete Anti-federalist, ed. H. Storing, 2nd vol., 1981, 157) while A Columbian patriot (pseudonym of Mercy Otis Warren) invokes its authority in a 1788 writing in favor of a bill of rights to be approved together with the Constitution (Observations on the new Constitutions and on the federal and State conventions, in The complete Anti-federalist, ed. H. Storing, 4th vol., 1981, p. 279).
The nineteenth century. In the 19th century, M. did not completely disappear from the American political horizon. The major magazines published comments on the new translations of his works, and extensive reviews of an important work such as that of Pasquale Villari (→). In 1817 a long review appeared in the North American review, which is also a review of historiography, of the Milanese edition in ten volumes of the Works of Niccolo Machiavelli, Florentine Citizen and Secretary. In 1845 “The American Whig review” hosts an essay that summarizes some themes of the Discourses. A couple of years later, Gian Francesco Secchi de Casali, a Piacenza emigrated to New York and founder of America’s first Italian-language newspaper, “L’eco d’Italia”, published an informative article on M. in the “United States democratic review “. In 1850 George Washington Greene devoted a large, albeit rather conventional, study to M. in his Historical Studies.
Only in 1894 an eclectic author, cantor of industrialism and its consequences, David McGregor Means, under the pseudonym of Henry Champernowne, published an essay that uses M. with a certain acuity. “Although I never contradict Machiavelli – Means writes – […] I felt the need to extend and adapt his scheme to make it applicable to present times” (Means 1894, p. 3). After affirming the full compatibility of the Florentine doctrines and those of Aristotle, the author develops a parallelism between the Machiavellian people-large couple (→ large and people) and the reality of the American cities of his time, with politicians in place of the nobles.
In the 1980s, Woodrow Wilson, then professor of history at Harvard, used M. in his courses, while Louis Dyer, professor of history at the same university, in 1899 devoted three lectures to M. at the Royal Institution of London, then published in 1904 with the title Machiavelli and the modern state.
From the twentieth century to today. Historian Frank Preston Stearns in 1903 published a rather bizarre study, Napoleon and Machiavelli ; twelve years later the playwright Franklin P. Norton published Machiavelli, a drama. If in England, in 1911, Herbert George Wells published The new Machiavelli, a satire on sex and politics inspired by the story of the Webb spouses, the American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in response to Wells, published Benigna Machiavelli in 1914. It is a novel in which the author of the Prince acts as the inspirer of the maneuvers of a young woman who uses her maxims to emancipate herself.
During the twentieth century, American interest in M. grew steadily, both from the point of view of scientific research and at the popular level. And nothing was more relevant to the dissemination of the works of the Secretary of the Burnham episode. The story arises from a true misunderstanding about the doctrinal position of Gaetano Mosca (→), the teacher of the school of elitism. Arthur Livingston, in fact, editor of the English translation of the Sicilian theorist’s work, placed it without delay in the “Italian Machiavellian thought” (A. Livingston, introduction to G. Mosca, The ruling class, 1939). The declared Machiavellianism of Vilfredo Pareto was therefore immediately attributed to the other great exponent of elitism (who also professed himself if anything Guicciardiniano). Thus an American tradition was inaugurated which connected M. first to the entire school of elitism and then to a large part of the political thought of the Italic areas. In fact, a few years later, James Burnham, in his well-known 1943 work, The Machiavellians. Defenders of freedom, in search of a unitary connotation for a tradition of thought, he chose the Florentine as an ‘amalgamating’ author. The intent of the American sociologist was to show the scientific nature of a way of conceiving politics that he traced back to Machiavelli. Furthermore, presenting this tradition as a ‘defense of freedom’ greatly favored the fame of M. himself.
In the 1950s in the US there was a sort of intellectual rebirth of the so-called oblique interpretation of the Prince, one that considered the book not sincere, but rather a way of revealing to the world “what tears and what blood” the throne, according to the famous verses by Ugo Foscolo (I Sepolcri, v. 159). This interpretation, shared by Baruch Spinoza, taken up by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and then by Vittorio Alfieri, was revived (albeit perhaps jokingly) first by Garrett Mattingly and then by Mary G. Dietz, respectively in 1958 and 1986. For Mattingly the Principe would be a diabolical farce, of a more literary than political nature, written to shock and amuse, a bit like the Mandrake (Mattingly 1958). While for Dietz it would be a recipe for bringing the prince to disaster, a sort of ambush to the Medici destined to drag them towards collapse, thus favoring the rebirth of republican freedom (Dietz 1986).
But the nerve center of the republican interpretation of M. must be found first in the studies of Hans Baron (→) of the fifties and sixties and then in the work, already mentioned, by Pocock of 1975. For Baron, in a nutshell, M. wrote a manifesto of classical republicanism, the Discourses, produced entirely after writing the Prince. Chronologically later, the Discourses belong to a more mature and therefore firmer phase of his political thought. According to Pocock, M. is a great exponent of political Aristotelianism, but the virtue lies not so much in ‘simple’ political participation, as in military one:
The republic is the common good; the citizen, directing all his actions towards that good, can be considered as someone who dedicates his life to the republic; the warrior patriot dedicates his death to it, and the two are equal in carrying out their human nature by sacrificing particular goods in order to pursue the universal good (Pocock 1975, trans. it. 1981, p. 201).
At the same time, since the 1930s, a genuine academic interest in the figure and thought of M. was born in America, the result of a new wave of studies on the Renaissance. The displacement of the world center of studies on the Italian Renaissance from Germany to the US occurred as a consequence of the expatriation of scholars persecuted by Nazism: from Paul Oskar Kristeller to Felix Gilbert (→) and Baron. German migrations from the 1930s onwards have generally guaranteed a philological attention that scholars cannot fail to appreciate, so much so that by now most of the American Machiavellists are well versed in the Italian language.
In 1938 Allan H. Gilbert, professor at Duke University, published a successful study, Machiavelli’s Prince and its forerunners, in which the fundamental intuition, later taken up by ranks of scholars, is that the Prince is the masterpiece of a genre that has already been tested. a treatise on the ‘principality’ that has its roots in the Middle Ages. But it is due to another Gilbert, Felix (→; former student of Friedrich Meinecke in Germany), who had started working on M. since the Thirties, a significant analysis of M.’s place within the Florentine politics of the its time. An indefatigable investigator of Machiavellian thought, Gilbert provided very important contributions for over forty years, many of which are collected in his 1977 volume, Machiavelli and his time. In the US, his most influential work is undoubtedly Machiavelli and Guicciardini. Politics and history in Sixteenth century Florence, from 1965.
The philosopher Leo Strauss (→), who exerted an enormous influence in post-war American political culture, with his Thoughts on Machiavelli, of 1957 presents the Secretary as an author whose certain wickedness derives from the fact that he proclaims “openly and triumphantly a corrupting doctrine, which ancient writers have taught secretly or with clear signs of dissent” (Strauss 1957, trans. it. 1970, p. 2). M. is in any case responsible for the schism between ancient politics and modern politics, which is celebrated when the pre-eminence of spiritual salvation is guaranteed to the preservation of the homeland. Strauss blames the Florentine’s attempt to build a civil religion. This is an intellectual operation of the opposite sign to the one that Pocock will carry out less than twenty years later.
In 1983, in his Citizen Machiavelli, Mark Hulliung instead proposes a deeply unitary reading of M.’s thought and also offers a critique of many interpretations. In his opinion, the question of M.’s republicanism has been greatly exaggerated, since
the goal is greatness and Italian unity is only a possible by-product of the glorious, violent and conquering works that are optimally accomplished by citizens of a republic rather than subjects of a monarchy (Hulliung 1983, p. 220).
Sebastian de Grazia, in the 1989 volume Machiavelli in hell, actually proposed to free Niccolò from hell, showing how deceptive the idea of his irreligiousness is. The volume, not without gaps and errors, had great popular resonance, so much so that it won the Pulitzer Prize. In Between friends of 1993, John Michael Najemy (→) reconstructs M.’s political vision through the correspondence with Francesco Vettori.
Practical politics, business and family. However, the Secretary does not belong only to the world of studies: politicians, managers, feminists have used the maxims in the US over the last few decades with great freedom.
1999, in particular, was the annus mirabilis of M. dei politicians. Dick Morris, a powerful advisor to Bill Clinton, and Michael A. Ledeen, an advisor to the Republicans, published two volumes that paid homage to Machiavelli. The first, The New Prince, actually speaks only of Clinton, while the second questions big political issues that M. undoubtedly had at heart. The volume Machiavelli on modern leadership its center of inspiration is in the search for religion useful for American ‘imperial’ power. Ledeen is convinced that “American evangelical Christianity is the kind of ‘good religion’ that M. hoped for” (Ledeen 1999, trans. It. 2004, p. 159), but he must recognize that evangelicals, beyond a generic support for the Republicans, they reject this role. In general, around the American enterprise institute gathers a group of neoconservatives, Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Ledeen himself, who played a not insignificant role in American foreign policy during the presidency of George W. Bush. Curiously, these intellectuals present themselves as admirers of M., and at the same time intellectual heirs of Strauss, his greatest detractor.
There is no shortage of feminist analyzes of Machiavelli’s thought. One of the best known is that of Hanna Fenichel Pitkin who argues that the rational world of law and order is masculine, and this is contrasted, for M., by a disorder represented by nature, women and animals: a universe that the male is called to dominate (Pitkin 1984).
In recent decades, in the US, the figure of M. stands out in a sector, that of the world of large joint-stock companies which, in the opinion of many, could be analyzed as an arena of power. In general, the books on M. in power games in economics and high finance do not present insightful analyzes by the Secretary, but a certain result is that not a few American business schools now offer courses on Machiavelli. The fundamental assumption is not only the burning relevance of M., but also the possibility that his ‘maxims’ migrate from politics to the business world. As Anthony Jay stated many years ago in his pioneering work: “Management can only be properly studied as a branch of government” (Jay 1967, p. 10).