History of Political Thought 32 (5):751-772 (2011)

The paper examines two aspects of empire in Machiavelli's thought. First, Machiavelli's model of the empire-building state is analysed.Machiavelli's answer to a classical question of the best form of government is discussed, establishing (1) why Machiavelli prefers a republic to a principality, and (2) why he prefers the expansionistic model of the republic based on Rome over the non-expansionistic model based on Sparta and Venice. In both cases, it is argued, Machiavelli's choice is dictated by his understanding of greatness: the Roman Republic is the ultimate example because it has achieved the greatest empire the world has ever seen. Accordingly, Machiavelli develops his political ideal, the model of the expansionistic republic that should closely follow the Roman example. The crucial role of Machiavelli's reading of the ancient historians, Livy, Sallust and, particularly, Polybius, is strongly emphasised. A second thread is developed later in the paper. Following Pocock's account(s), the author examines various causes of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire that Machiavelli offers in different places in his opus, trying to find a description of the most general cause, that would encompass all others. In the final part of the paper both threads converge; a key passage from Arte della guerra is analysed, with important conclusions reached: (1) It is shown that Machiavelli fully realised the unavoidable final destiny that awaits his model state. (2) Machiavelli also described the 'main', most general cause for Rome's downfall; a general mechanism of this process is outlined
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