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date: 18 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter challenges cynical understandings of Machiavelli’s conception of leadership, demonstrating the extent to which it fully comports with and uniquely enables both democratic politics and what he calls the “free way of life.” Through Machiavelli’s example of the ancient Roman statesman, Furius Camillus from the Discourses, this chapter delineates the salutary interactions between leaders and citizens that Machiavelli considered indispensable for the realization of liberty within democratic regimes. It demonstrates how the influence exerted and the prerogative enjoyed at key historical junctures by a political leader like Camillus does not constitute usurpations of popular deliberation but rather serve, in conjunction with popularly empowering institutions, as necessary complements to democratic judgment. Indeed, Machiavelli suggests that the most intimate bonds between leaders and citizens often form after the latter have angrily dismissed the former from office, or even exiled them from the polity, only subsequently to reappoint them or invite them back. Drawing upon classical humanistic sources—in particular, Livy and Plutarch—Machiavelli intimates that Camillus, Rome’s frequently appointed supreme magistrate, gained unprecedented trust and authority from the Roman people by accepting their decision to exile him, by faithfully returning to the city during a dire crisis when they summoned him back, and, on numerous subsequent occasions, by eagerly relinquishing command once he’d fulfilled his designated assignments.

Keywords: Machiavelli, democracy, leadership, Roman Republic, Camillus

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