Machiavelli's Political Trials and “The Free Way of Life”

Political Theory 35 (4):385-411 (2007)
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Abstract

This essay examines the political trials through which, according to Machiavelli's Discourses, republics should punish magistrates and prominent citizens who threaten or violate popular liberty. Unlike modern constitutions, which assign indictments and appeals to small numbers of government officials, Machiavelli's neo-Roman model encourages individual citizens to accuse corrupt or usurping elites and promotes the entire citizenry as political jury and court of appeal. Machiavellian political justice requires, on the one hand, equitable, legal procedures that serve all citizens by punishing guilty parties and discouraging retaliatory reprisals, including foreign intervention. On the other hand, frankly acknowledging the power disparities that exist in every republic, Machiavelli outlines how political trials enable pro-plebeian magistrates and populist reformers to thwart patrician-generated smear campaigns and oligarchic conspiracies.

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