The Rise of Modern Philosophy

By Anthony Kenny | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Political Philosophy

Machiavelli's Prince

Two works of the decade 1511–20 mark the beginning of modern political philosophy: Machiavelli's Prince and More's Utopia. Both books are very different from the typical scholastic treatise which seeks to derive, from first principles, the essence of the ideal state and the qualities of a good ruler. One is a brief, stylish, how-to manual; the other is a work of romantic fantasy. The two works stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum. A Machiavellian prince is an absolute autocrat, while Utopia holds out a blueprint for democratic communism. For this reason, the two treatises can be regarded as setting out the parameters for subsequent debate in political philosophy.

It should be said, however, that The Prince was not Machiavelli's only political work. He also wrote discourses on Livy in which he set out recipes for republican government parallel to his recipes for monarchical rule. In the course of those discourses he enunciates the following principle:

When a decision is to be taken on which the whole safety of one's country
depends, no attention should be paid either to justice or injustice, to kindness
or cruelty, to praise or shame. All other considerations should be set aside, and
that course adopted which will save the life and preserve the freedom of one's

Salus populi suprema lex—'the welfare of the people is the highest law'—was not a wholly new doctrine. Cicero had proclaimed it in theory and acted

1 Quoted in Janet Coleman, A History of Political Thought from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance
(2000), p. 248.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Rise of Modern Philosophy


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 356

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?