Machiavelli on Liberty and Conflict
EDITED BY DAVID JOHNSTON, NADIA URBINATI, AND CAMILA VERGARA
There is much controversy about the relation between liberty and conflict in politics. While some thinkers argue that liberty is only possible under the stability given by the law, and thus conflict should be avoided and replaced by consensus and order, others warn that the lack of conflict evidences the death of political liberty. In the wake of the 2007–2012 financial crisis, when representative democracy is being challenged through popular mobilizations, populist and proto-totalitarian leaders, it seems imperative to revisit the role of conflict in politics and its relation to liberty.
Machiavelli was among the first thinkers in the modern era to explore extensively both the constructive and destructive potential of conflict in the making of a republic and the maintenance of its liberty and vitality. In this panel we will discuss two essays from the recent book Machiavelli on Liberty and Conflict (Chicago University Press 2017) analyzing the relation between military power, finance, and political liberty in Machiavelli’s work. Jérémie Barthas explores Machiavelli’s effort to establish the autonomy of the Republic of Florence from the financial power of the grandi through a project of mass conscription, arguing that we should understand the Machiavellian concept of “people in arms” as a strategy to gain liberty by decoupling a military system based on mercenary forces from a financial system based on public debt. Following Barthas’s analysis, Michele Battini analyzes the relation in Machiavelli between military and political reform, force and consent, through the interpretations of three representative Italian scholars of the twentieth century: Federico Chabod, Antonio Gramsci, and Adriano Sofri.