For the second installment in my Badasses of History series, we turn to Niccolò Machiavelli, the great Italian writer and philosopher from the Renaissance who is considered the founder of modern political science. He is best known for The Prince, one of the first works of modern political philosophy. He also wrote several other treatises, as well as poetry, histories and dramas and was a diplomat for the republic of Florence on several occasions.
So what makes him a badass? The fact that The Prince espoused a political philosophy that was very radical for its time. Idealism was a big part of the Renaissance and especially in the beginning. Machiavelli eschewed that and the concept of a leader, or ‘prince’, being wholly benevolent. He claimed that there are times when powerful men must act in their own self-interest and not of their subjects, even resorting to violence, torture or manipulation in order to ensure stability. So he basically was a maverick who just didn’t like the status quo of ruling styles. Believing that rulers needed to do what needed to be done regardless of the method or its consequences is like something out of Jack Bauer and 24.
This might not qualify him as a true badass, but there’s one story that clinches it. While working for the Florentine government, he was looking for a way to screw with Florence’s arch-nemesis Pisa. Being the evil genius that he is, he enlisted the help of Leonardo da Vinci, probably thinking the man could make some doomsday weapon that would straighten out the Leaning Tower or something else really dickish. Instead, the two of them came up with a plan to STEAL A F****** RIVER. The plan could’ve been to mess with Pisa’s crops or something, but that would be too inside-the-box for Machiavelli.
The river in question was the Arno, which runs through both Pisa and Florence. The blueprints for their plan called for remaking the entire Arno River Valley with a series of canals and dams that would divert the water to Florence and literally dry out Pisa. Basically the Renaissance equivalent of the Death Star. Unfortunately, the plan was too badass for the technology of the time and the plan failed. However, that’s irrelevant for this discussion since the fact that Machivavelli even came up with the plan shows his badass quality and way of thinking.
Because of The Prince, Machiavelli’s name became synonymous with political scheming and is a basis for the negativity we attach to the words politics and politician today. We think Congress is self-serving and slimy? You have Niccolò to thank for that. He was a badass of thought more then action and his legacy can still be felt today.