Good Arms and Good Laws: Machiavelli, Regime-Type, and Violent Oppression

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Wittels, William David


Grant, Ruth W

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The problem of violent oppression is a persistent one. Every regime - autocratic or democratic - has an obligation to prevent the violent oppression of its citizens. My dissertation "Good Arms and Good Laws: Machiavelli, Regime-Type, and Violent Oppression" uses Machiavelli's understanding of different regime-types and their political dynamics to explore the means by which democracies and autocracies alike can prevent violent oppression within their borders. My exploration produces a standard for praiseworthy political regimes and action, based on what Machiavelli identifies as the people's desire "not to be oppressed."

Machiavelli's analysis of this problem of political violence leads to the conclusion that all types of regimes are united in needing an interdependent, yet competitive political relationship between their leading political figure(s) and the people at large. Different kinds of regimes vary, however, in the roles that their primary political classes must play in order to prevent oppression within their borders. After using the Florentine Histories to identify the lines of thinking central to Machiavelli's work, in chapter 1 I turn to Machiavelli's discussion of the citizen-militia in The Art of War. In chapters 2 and 3, I detail Machiavelli's recommendations for praiseworthy principalities in the Prince, where Machiavelli actually exhorts princes to arm their people (chapter 2) while simultaneously crafting for them the political ethics for which the text is notorious (chapter 3). In Chapters 4 and 5, I detail Machiavelli's recommendations for praiseworthy republics in the Discourses on Livy, where Machiavelli charges the people with policing the elites that would engage in projects of oppression if left to their own devices (chapter 4) while simultaneously praising elites who help to create and maintain mechanisms of violence (chapter 5). Machiavelli's analysis compels us to recognize that it is the particulars of these interdependent, yet competitive relationships between the people and their leading political figure(s) that define a regime and that our praise of that regime ought not depend categorically on whether the people rule, but rather whether the a regime's political classes effectively cooperate to prevent violent oppression.





Wittels, William David (2014). Good Arms and Good Laws: Machiavelli, Regime-Type, and Violent Oppression. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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