Machiavelli’s military virtue : lessons from a 16th century political theorist
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In recent years, civil-military relations experts have identified growing strains on civil-military relations within the United States. They view as problematic the growing cultural divide between the public and a professional military, the politicization of the military as an institution, and the rise of celebrity generals that play an increasingly political role, particularly in terms of deference to them on matters of strategy by elected officials. These problems are strikingly similar to the problems faced by Niccolò Machiavelli in 16th Century Italy. Naturally there are some differences; however, Machiavelli addresses the same fundamental issues of civilian control and civil-military relations that we face in America today. His primary works, The Prince, The Discourses on Livy, and especially the Art of War, all provide unique insight into modern problems of civil-military relations and the necessity of having a military dedicated to the common good. The importance and benefit of Machiavelli for us is his unique blending of antiquity and modernity. He fully appreciates the need for discipline within the military, but he never overlooks the fundamental need for virtú. In fact, one of his overarching goals in the Art of War is to instill “some form of past virtue” in the military. Therefore, in this thesis I seek to distill Machiavelli’s conception of military virtue, in terms of military excellence, and to understand its application to modern day civil-military relations through a close textual reading of Machiavelli’s primary works. In an age of professionalism, Machiavelli reminds us that it is not enough to solely exert civilian control; ultimately the military must be imbued with a sense of civic virtue that motivates and internally constrains its members. By dissecting Machiavelli’s framework for harmonious civil-military relations, we can see that Machiavelli still has much to offer us that is directly applicable in the 21st century.
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