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The demands of a free populace, too, are very seldom harmful to liberty, for they are due either to the populace being oppressed or to the suspicious that it is going to be oppressed...

and, should these impressions be false, a remedy is provided in the public platform on which some man of standing can get up, appeal to the crowd, and show that it is mistaken. And though, as Tully remarks, the populace may be ignorant, it is capable of grasping the truth and readily yields when a man, worthy of confidence, lays the truth before it.

Anyone who studies present and ancient affairs will easily see how in all cities and all peoples there still exist, and have always existed, the same desires and passions. Thus, it is an easy matter for him who carefully examines past events to foresee future events in a republic and to apply the remedies employed by the ancients, or, if old remedies cannot be found, to devise new ones based upon the similarity of the events.
Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy

The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy, often referred to as The Discourses or Discourses on Livy, is the second most well known book after The Prince (which is to say not very) by Niccolò Machiavelli. It covers the first ten books of Titus Livy's Ab Urbe Condita, as well as throwing in a number of other historical and (then) current examples and advice as to how to run a republic; it also includes some advice on how to run a Principality, and there is some overlap with The Prince in places.

Much of it revolves on the difference between different sets of morality, namely the old pagan morality and the current Christian morality. There is a lot of focus on doing what is necessary, even if it's not good. He also writes quite a lot about virtu (meaning those actions which are becoming of a good man) and how a republic cannot last without it, and how lacking it was in the then present day (chiefly because of Christianity). If this sounds familiar, and you've read Nietzsche, it should: Nietzsche read Machiavelli well and took this premise as an important element. His conclusions, however, are rather different.

While he's no democrat in the current sense of the term, he did believe that the masses not only had a part to play, but that their political involvement made a republic stronger and guaranteed liberty.

See also The Prince.

This work provides examples of:

  • Above Good and Evil: Necessity trumps good, since always acting good will simply result in a loss of liberty.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Well, the rural estate-owning ones, anyway. His advice upon taking over an area with a bunch of them is to start chopping some heads off.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Any state (or regime) which didn't kick sufficient ass was not around for long. Machiavelli actually had been on the wrong side of an ass-kicking while writing both this and The Prince.
  • Balance of Power: He's a large advocate of observing the balance of power, both in domestic politics (Upper and lower classes, and sometimes a prince) and in foreign relations.
  • Corrupt Church: He viewed the Catholic Church as this. At the time, he was unquestionably right.
  • Democracy Is Bad: Unrestrained democracy, anyway. He believed that democracy had a large role to play in preserving liberty, though.
  • Demoted to Extra: He viewed the Roman willingness to be demoted to extra as a great part of their virtue. He gives examples of former consuls moving to other lower ranks in the army or bureaucracy, and praises Cincinnatus as well.
  • Fair for Its Day: He didn't exactly sign on to the Geneva Conventions, but he was a believer in liberty (for those who deserved it).
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: He has a bit of a thing for the Swiss.
  • Golden Mean Fallacy: Averted. When you conquer someone, you should be either kind or completely ruthless.
    • He did believe in mixed government, though, and that no form consisting of only one could ever be as strong as one that made use of all three forms (Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy).
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Plenty of it.
  • Hired Guns: He loathed mercenaries, and encouraged every republic to fight their own wars.
  • History Marches On: Knowledge of historical events has become rather more detailed and accurate in the last 500 years.
  • Hope Springs Eternal: No, really. Not only did he advise you to gamble when your options are limited, since you still might win, he even advocated putting yourself in a bad position sometimes to force your people to do this.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: You should always do what necesita constrains you to do.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: One of the main reasons that Machiavelli gives for the strength of Republics.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Unless that good deed just happens to be part of a calculated ploy.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: He loves the Roman Republic.
  • Patriotic Fervor: He viewed it as essential in establishing and maintaining liberty and a republic.
  • Properly Paranoid: He advised most cities to be this, and wrote a very long chapter about conspiracies. He advised conspirators to be even more paranoid.
  • Renaissance Man: Machiavelli was certainly one, and many of those he singles out for praise are as well.
  • Sword Beats Artillery: While he felt firearms were useful in some circumstances, he was generally dismissive. True given the firearms of his time (see Fantasy Gun Control).
  • To Win Without Fighting: Whenever possible.
  • We ARE Struggling Together!: The Plebs and the Patricians, or the lower and upper classes anywhere else. He views it as a good thing though, since they keep each other in check at home, and unite when the time comes.
  • Worthy Opponent: He viewed plenty of people from the Turks to Hannibal this way.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: You can't dictate Fortuna, but you can try to steer it and prepare yourself to guard against her or take advantage of her.
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