Constitutional Economics and Public Institutions
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Constitutional Economics and Public Institutions

Edited by Francisco Cabrillo and Miguel A. Puchades-Navarro

This extensive book explores in detail a wide range of topics within the public choice and constitutional political economy tradition, providing a comprehensive overview of current work across the field.
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Chapter 7: On Machiavelli’s conspiracy paradoxes

Manfred J. Holler


In his Discorsi, Machiavelli dedicated a full chapter to the discussion of conspiracy. This does not seem to come as a surprise if we share the common, but rather questionable (and unjustified) view that ranks Machiavelli as master of cruelties and betrayals. However, the analytical and historical depth of his discussion seems remarkable and might trigger second thoughts. In this chapter, I will mainly draw from the material of Chapter VI of Book III of Machiavelli’s Discourses, entitled ‘Of Conspiracies’. This chapter summarizes most of what can be found on conspiracies in The Prince and the History of Florence, although Chapter XIX of the former and the Eighth Book of the latter contain treasures. Some of the material will be quoted below. Machiavelli (Discourses, p. 329) starts his lecture on conspiracy with a somewhat paradoxical observation: On the one hand, ‘history teaches us that many more princes have lost their lives and their states by conspiracies than by open war’, and, on the other hand, conspiracies, ‘though so often attempted, yet they so rarely attain the desired object’.

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