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Letter: Machiavelli also championed republics and the common good

In “Machiavelli and His Enduring Appeal as a Man for All Times,” (Life & Arts, FT Weekend, April 29), Tony Barber argues that the Italian political thinker is relevant to contemporary debates, but he overlooks Machiavelli’s most pertinent contribution to today’s headlines. As the US and China struggle to recover from Covid-19 and engage in an increasingly intense geopolitical rivalry, observers are once again asking, which is the better system, democracy or autocracy?

Machiavelli had a clear and powerful answer, and it is not what you think. While he provided a handbook for dictators in The Prince, his arguably greater work, Discourses on Livy, is a full-throated defence of republics. He even goes so far as to advise a wise prince to give up power and establish a more open system of government. As he writes: “For it is seen through experience that cities have never expanded either in dominion or in riches if they have not been in freedom.” He explains that “the reason is easy to understand, for it is not the particular good but the common good that makes cities great. And without a doubt this common good is not observed if not in republics.”

In these challenging times, Machiavelli offers a much-needed dose of optimism for readers in the free world.

Matthew Kroenig
Professor of Government,
Georgetown University,
Washington DC, US

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