History of Political Thought 28 (1):30-55 (2007)

Paul Anthony Rahe
Hillsdale College
Although repeated attempts have been made over the last half-century to make sense of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy as an exposition of classical republicanism, such endeavours are bound to fail. After all, Machiavelli rejected the teleology underpinning the discursive republicanism of the ancients, and his understanding of the ends pursued by republics was profoundly at odds with the understanding predominant in ancient Greece and Rome. If he had a classical mentor, it cannot, then, have been Aristotle or Cicero or one of the ancient historians. If he had such a mentor, it was surely Lucretius, the leading Roman critic of ancient political idealism--a figure so important to the Florentine that in the late 1490s he copied by hand in its entirety De rerum natura and that he drew on it throughout his subsequent career. Machiavelli's republicanism is best understood as an appropriation, critique and reworking of ancient Epicureanism
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