Left and Right

Niccolò Machiavelli Was the Philosopher of Left-Wing Populism

Gabriele Pedulla, The Jacobin

For centuries, detractors of Niccolò Machiavelli have presented him as the founding father of political cynicism. But the Italian thinker was really a republican idealist whose support for popular rule can inspire struggles against the oligarchies of today.

Almost five centuries after his death, the Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli remains one of the most influential figures in the history of political thought. The author of The Prince would probably be astonished to find himself the subject of books on leadership skills aimed at business CEOs, or mistakenly referred to as “Prince Matchabelli” by Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos.

A misleading view of Machiavelli as the founding father of political cynicism — or even political evil — is almost as old as the man himself. But John P. McCormick, author of influential works like Machiavellian Democracy, argues that the Florentine thinker is better understood as a forerunner of today’s left-wing populism. Far from being outdated, some of Machiavelli’s arguments are still ahead of our own time, and a truly “Machiavellian” approach to politics can help strengthen popular democracy.

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