Discourses on Livy by Machiavelli: Summary, Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Machiavelli's Perception
  • 1:05 Discourses on Livy Summary
  • 2:14 Discourses on Livy Analysis
  • 4:56 Discourses on Livy Quotes
  • 6:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

'Discourses on Livy', by Niccolo Machiavelli, is a collection of Machiavelli's thoughts on politics, war, and affairs of state. His writings are plain and straightforward commentaries using the ancient Roman Empire as a general backdrop on which to paint his own philosophies.

Machiavelli's Perception

The famous Italian political writer, Niccolo Machiavelli is known for his no-nonsense take on matters of war, ruling, and power in affairs of state. His treatise on these matters, Discourses on Livy, is no different. In this work, Machiavelli openly states his educated opinion on how governments of his time should manage their people, goods, wealth, and other resources.

Machiavelli accomplishes his vision through a comparison of governments of his day to the political and religious systems of ancient Rome. His comparison is not so much a mandate to adhere strictly to the Roman ideal, but an application of Roman principles to many different areas. Through applying concepts, rather than making hard and fast rules, Machiavelli is able to speak directly to potential adjustments within the political systems of his time.

In this lesson, we'll examine a summary of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy, analyze the major aspects of this work, and see how some of Machiavelli's quotes from the book apply to its overall philosophical principles.

Discourses on Livy Summary

Machiavelli's deeply held political philosophies are at the very center of Discourses. This is plain in how he organizes and writes the work. He begins by laying out the ways in which Rome was established, governed, and how freedom was imparted to its people.

He begins with how Rome rose to power by way of its organization and commitment to stable government and free populace. Machiavelli scrutinizes the tension between the Roman Senate and the people in an effort to show how this tension actually provided a way to progress Roman political ideals. It identified problems at the base level and then sought to heal those issues before they became insurmountable.

Machiavelli then transitions into a more universal view of political structures built from his initial analysis of Roman ideals. He delves into how religion, culture, and values affect and sometimes corrupt people and governments.

Toward the end of Discourses, Machiavelli looks at how war, occupation, and the aftermath of such measures affect a republic and how these incidents might best be managed. All of these thoughts culminate in the question of how to win the people of a conquered nation, thereby assimilating them into the republic.

Discourses on Livy Analysis

Machiavelli's Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy is probably the most important and clearly rendered of his political works. While some may argue that his most famous work, The Prince, holds this distinction, Machiavelli is far more open and complete in his political leanings in his Discourses.

Machiavelli was dedicated to the republican political philosophy. Within this political system, the government is meant to be a strong institution that balances power for the people, while simultaneously ensuring the nobility has the means by which to rule, govern, employ, and prosper. According to Machiavelli, through a balanced system, freedom should be able to exist and thrive allowing for the prosperity and security of all.

Machiavelli also delves into areas of politics outside of the republican philosophy, analyzing the monarchy of France. In his earlier career, Machiavelli was a diplomat in France and was able to see firsthand how their political system operated. While the monarchic system was less than desirable to Machiavelli as a whole, he did see aspects of the overarching philosophical system that paralleled his own ideas. The most marked area where these philosophies intersected was in the French government's deep adherence to the law. In this positive attribute, Machiavelli saw a strong addition to his own republican ideals and afterward incorporated these into his Discourses on Livy.

A second area Machiavelli analyzed deeply in Discourses was security. This is probably the most significant and applicable area of this work for modern times in that the concepts of security are very transferable. Machiavelli places a great deal of emphasis on internal security, or security within the society from nefarious sources within it, noting that the freedom of the people and the heart of the people must be strongly rooted in order to ensure no revolt, riot, or other internal threat could topple or weaken the government.

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