Vickie Sullivan

Tufts University, USA


Machiavelli’s Argument for ‘Roman Greatness’ and Its Dominion over the English Republicans 




In the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli considers two possible alternatives for a republic: the path of domestic quiet, exemplified by Venice and Sparta, that does not accept foreigners into the republic’s midst and does not use the plebs in war; or that of domestic tumult, exemplified by Rome, which welcomes foreigners and gives the people a voice in government and which, in turn, gives rise to a formidable and conquering army. After considering these two possibilities, Machiavelli adamantly maintains that a republic must seek expansion abroad and endeavor to hold its acquisitions through a large army. Machiavelli’s is a voice in support of a republic that is aggressive abroad and tumultuous at home. His case for “Roman greatness” had an impressive life among the English republicans of the seventeenth century. The writings of James Harrington, Algernon Sidney, and Walter Moyle reveal a deep reliance on the details of Machiavelli’s reasoning in the Discourses. As a result, their works are vessels for the transmission of the Machiavellian argument for the necessity of war that leads to greatness. Nevertheless, the methods of their transmission are different. Whereas Harrington bestows lavish public praise on Machiavelli, Moyle and Sidney do not. Indeed, in key places they neglect to note the source of their authentically Machiavellian musings. In this manner, Sidney and Moyle clearly find the teachings much more attractive than the name of the man from whom they learned them.