What were Machiavelli's views on religion

The religion in Niccolò Machiavelli. Significance and relationship to religion and church


1 Introduction

2. The ideal of the republic

3. The Church and Christianity

4. Religion

5. Summary

6. Bibliography.

1 Introduction

Alongside Thomas Hobbes, Niccolò Machiavelli is considered to be one of the founders of modern political thought. With Machiavelli's political realism, there is a decided break with the ideas of the Middle Ages. Away from the question of the good and the just to a form of government in which politics and morality are viewed separately from one another.

Niccolò Machiavelli's empirical-historical approach was a novelty at the time and distinguishes it from Thomas Hobbes, who tried to turn politics into an exact science. Machiavelli, however, tried hard with his works the Prince1 and Discorsi2 to create a practice-oriented approach.3

From the dark time, the culturally stunted Middle Ages, the modern age unfolded with modern approaches. Inner-worldly matters gained relevance, a turn to this world and the turning away from the hereafter were decisive for that epoch.

It also featured Mobility, competition, economic dynamism and economic [...] calculation this beginning new epoch.4

Machiavelli deliberately dealt with religion and the Catholic Church. Here, many opinions collide as to what role religion played for Machiavelli in his concept of states. On the one hand, there are the proponents of the thesis that Niccolò Machiavelli represented pagan world views and was a critic of the church. These include Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Leo Strauss and Quentin Skinner. On the other hand, representatives of the opinion are forming that Machiavelli was inspired by religion and that his republican views merged with basic religious motifs. 5

Due to the disagreements in research, this topic caught my interest. So my question is: What is the meaning of religion for Niccolò Machiavelli?

After the introduction, in the second chapter, it is discussed which approaches Machiavelli pursued and how he imagined the ideal republic. The third chapter is about the Church and Christianity. It is examined what relationship Machiavelli had to the church and to the Christian faith. In the fourth chapter we consider religion. What was the role of religion in the ideal republic and how was it used. The fifth chapter comprises the résumé, in which the question should find its answer. The sixth chapter is the bibliography.

2. The ideal of the republic

To understand the implications and meanings religion had for Machiavelli, one has to understand how he envisioned the ideal republic. In his political realism, the individual sets his own purpose in life. It was previously assumed that nature, a cosmological world order or a transcendental being would take on this. The individual therefore plays a more important role. Political action predominantly focuses on the acquisition and maintenance of power and man is fundamentally bad because it is in his nature. The pessimistic anthropology leads to the initial situation that lessons for the current time can be drawn from history, since man has always been a bad being and continuities arise from this. As a result, politics can best be shaped by looking at history.

Machiavelli's central terms are: "Fortuna" (fate) and "virtù" (skill). Someone who has theoretical knowledge but does not know how to use it skillfully falls victim to his fate. This results in a very practical exercise of politics.6 Another core idea of ​​Machiavelli is to separate politics and morals from one another. Political action no longer has to be bound by normative principles. According to Machiavelli, virtuous behavior leads to failure in politics.

A ruler has to be clever enough to avoid the bad reputation of those vices that could bring him out of power [...] because if you look at everything carefully, you will find that some things that are considered virtues are ruined f and that some other things that apply to vice bring security and prosperity.7

In terms of political theory, Machiavelli advocates a mixed constitution. For him the best form of government lies in the combination of monarchy, aristocracy and popular rule. Every stratum of the population, i.e. princes, nobility and the people of a state, is appeased through political participation. The prince should have unlimited power, but should also be ready to renounce his power for the benefit of the common good.8

In the cycle of states and forms of government from Machiavelli, the form of rule changes cyclically through the inheritance of leadership positions. The cycle begins with the monarchy. The monarch is valued and elected by his subordinates, the law prevails. By the death of the monarch, the son who does not know how to lead the people inherits. In order to bring it under control he uses violence, a tyranny arises without law. After popular uprisings, an aristocracy emerges for a short time, where justice is again valid. This generation dies and the next generation loses its awe of this form of rule. The aristocracy then evolves into an oligarchy with no applicable law. On the same principle, it is followed by popular rule, then anarchy and again a dictatorship of the leaders that leads to monarchy. All the forms mentioned are therefore ominous, because of the shortness of the life of the three good ones, and because of the corruption of the three bad ones.9 Good legislation and the participation of the prince, the nobility and the citizens in power should prevent this and create as continuous stability as possible.

3. The Church and Christianity

In the Renaissance, the rebirth of antiquity, there was an individualization, rationalization and the greater importance of natural sciences. Book printing as a means of intellectual and political debate is invented. Through Luther's Reformation, the unity of Christianity was broken. These are all circumstances that increasingly restricted the power of the church and religion. Nonetheless, the church and religion continued to play a vital role in society and politics in Machiavelli's day.

The church and the Christian faith therefore play a decisive role in Machiavelli's works. Machiavelli, who was a patriotic Italian, blamed the Church for the division of Italy.

A country was never united and happy unless the whole country obeyed a republic or a prince, [...]. The reason why Italy is not in the same situation and is not also ruled by a republic or prince is solely due to the Church I ...].10

According to Machiavelli, a country could never be happy as long as the entire state is not run by a prince or a republic. The church made this impossible because it was too weak to conquer all of Italy but at the same time prevented other princes from ruling over all of Italy.

So since the Church was unable to conquer Italy. And if it did not allow it to be conquered by another, it was the cause that it could not come under one head, but remained under many princes and lords.11

Another point of criticism of the church is Machiavelli about the spiritual principalities. According to him, there are different ways to get a principality. This can happen through inheritance, through luck, through one's own or someone else's armed force, and through skill. In all of these forms it is necessary to maintain these virtues continuously, otherwise the sovereignty of the princes threatens to decline.12 In the spiritual principality, on the other hand, the "fortuna" and the "virtù" are also required, but not the preservation of these virtues.

For they are based on traditional institutions of religion which are so powerful and of such a nature that they keep their princes in power, however they may act or live13 Although these clerical rulers have no army of their own and cannot divide themselves, they are not attacked. Citizens are not properly governed, but still have to remain part of the state. This example of Machiavelli can be projected onto the entire church and state. The church does not have its own army, but because of the fear of God it is not attacked by any other state and the citizens have no civic virtues or love of the country, but the state is stable.

For Machiavelli, this phenomenon is a paradox. For him, this illogic is based on the extraordinary power of the church and the age of the institution. The older an institution is, the more power it can exercise over its citizens. For Machiavelli, however, the church is a non-republican institution because it is directed against the freedom of individuals.14

Machiavelli's allegations become even more comprehensive. He not only regards the actions of the popes and the spiritual principalities as daring, he goes even further. He understands the Christian religion as a wrong interpretation of faith. For him, Christianity is not a politically useful religion.

Furthermore, the religion of the ancients spoke only men, covered with worldly glory, holy, like generals and rulers of the republics. Our religion has raised the active and contemplative people more than the active ones.15

Machiavelli does not recognize the virtue of the Christian religion virtù ". Christianity turns people away from this world, towards the hereafter. This results in a powerlessness and indifference of people. In order to achieve salvation, one only has to endure life and then reach paradise. Humility , Denial, and contempt are words Machiavelli uses to describe the effect on believers' behavior. 16

Taking Rome as an example, the dissolution of the balance of power between the consuls, the senate and the emperor and the recruitment of foreign mercenary armies played a role in the fall of the Roman Empire. Machiavelli, however, sees the Church's fault here as well. Christianity was introduced as the state religion and made sure that the old religion was neglected and that the tradition decayed as a result. The institution of religion, which had existed for ages, lost its legitimacy and worsened the stability of the state. The empire slowly began to erode. 17


1 Niccolò Machiavelli, Der Fürst, Stuttgart 2007.

2 Niccolò Machiavelli, Discorsi. From the state, Hamburg 2017.

3 Cf. Christian Schwaabe, Political Theory 1. From Platon to Locke, Paderborn 22007 pp. 103-106.

4 Ibid.

5 See Alessandro Pinzani, Machiavelli and religion. in: Brantl, Dirk / Geiger, Rolf / Herzberg, Stephan (eds.), Philosophy, Politics and Religion. Classic models from antiquity to the present 2013, 91-104.

6 See Vierecke, Andreas / Mayerhofer Bernd / Kohout Franz, dtv-Atlas Politik. Political Theory - Political Systems International Relations, Munich 12010. p. 39.

7 Machiavelli, The Prince (see note 1).

8 See Vierecke, Andreas / Mayerhofer Bernd / Kohout Franz, dtv-Atlas Politik (see note 6). P. 41.

9 Machiavelli, Discorsi (see note 2). P. 27.

10 Ibid. P. 58.

11 Ibid. P. 59.

12 Cf. Machiavelli, Der Fürst (see note 1). Pp. 8-74.

13 See ibid. Pp. 87-89.

14 See Pinzani, Machiavelli and religion (see note 5) pp. 89-90.

15 Machiavelli, Discorsi (see note 2) p. 169.

16 See Henning Ottmann, History of Political Thought. The modern age, from Machiavelli to the great revolutions (3), Stuttgart 2006 pp. 35-36

17 See Schwaabe, Political Theory 1 (see note 3). Pp. 120-121.

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