I've been reading Machiavelli and I've noticed that his is very critical of Christianity in a way that reminds me of Nietzsche's Master-Slave morality; he does so by comparing the focus on 'heroic achievements' that the religions of Ancient Greece and Rome had with the focus on humility in Christianity, just like Nietzsche did:

Our Religion [Christianity] has glorified more humble and contemplative men rather than men of action. It also places the highest good in humility, lowliness, and contempt of human things: the other [ancient religions] places it in the greatness of soul, the strength of body, and all the other things which make men very brave. And, if our Religion requires that there be strength (of soul) in you, it desires that you be more adept at suffering than in achieving great deeds.

This mode of living appears to me, therefore, to have rendered the world weak and a prey to wicked men, who can manage it securely, seeing that the great body of men, in order to go to Paradise, think more of enduring their beatings than in avenging them. (Discourses, Second Book, Chapter II: with what people the Romans had to combat, and how obstinately they defended their liberty; p.92 in this pdf)

The Encylopedia Britannica says the following:

Throughout his two chief works, Machiavelli sees politics as defined by the difference between the ancients and the moderns: the ancients are strong, the moderns weak. The moderns are weak because they have been formed by Christianity, and, in three places in the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli boldly and impudently criticizes the Roman Catholic church and Christianity itself. For Machiavelli the church is the cause of Italy’s disunity; the clergy is dishonest and leads people to believe “that it is evil to say evil of evil”; and Christianity glorifies suffering and makes the world effeminate. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

My question is whether Nietzsche knew about Machiavelli and whether he mentioned him in one of his writings? Was he influenced by Machiavelli?


Yes, yes, and yes.

Look what I found. (Everything can be found in, and was taken from, the next to last link provided.)

Machiavellianism pur, sans mélange, cru, vert, dans toute sa force, dans toute son âpreté, is superhuman, divine, transcendental, it will never be achieved by man, at most approximated.

Nietzsche WP 304

Macchiavell ... [ist einer der] ... Grossen Moral-Philosophen

Nietzsche, Nachlass 1888

‘Machiavellism of power’ [as a] love of humanity

Nietzsche WP 776

[As Machiavelli says] the ‘form of government is of very little importance; although the half-educated think otherwise. The great goal of statesmanship should be duration, which outweighs everything else because it is far more valuable than freedom.’

Nietzsche HH V. 224 108

Thucydides and perhaps Machiavelli’s Principe are most closely related to me by the unconditional will not to gull oneself and to see reason in reality—not in “reason,” still less in “morality.”

Nietzsche, TI 558

[W]hen reformers indulge in politics, as Luther did, one sees that they are just as much followers of Machiavelli as any immoralist or tyrant.

Nietzsche WP 211

We can start by pointing out (without claiming that this is the essence of their relationship) that he makes direct reference to him in eight passages of his published work and in nineteen of his unpublished notes.21 In all of these, he is portrayed as among Nietzsche’s most important influences.

21. Once in HH, BGE, TI, GS and four times in WP, even though Nietzsche did not publish this last text. The Intelex© database of the Nietzsche Werke Kritische Gesamtaugabe was also used for review of the notes. The terms Machiavelli, Machiavellianism, and The Prince were the foci.

Nietzsche’s Machiavellism

NB: I'm wildly guessing that it (the linked pdf) is part of von Vacano's The Art of Power, but perhaps somebody else may confirm that... Ah, I just confirmed that myself.

Edit. Now, if this indeed answers your question, I feel sort of at liberty to also provide this link. :)

  • 1
    I would like to see more details of the interesting connection between Machiavelli's Christianity view and Nietzsche's Christianity view. However, you showed interesting links, and the Google show many links about Machiavelli's and Nietzsche's Christianity views. – Annotations Jun 27 '13 at 19:00
  • It answers my question partially, but as @RicardoBevilaqua points out, I'm specifically interested in their similar views on Christianity. – Ben Jun 28 '13 at 19:33

It would be a long task to juxtapose Machiavelli's and Nietzsche's views about Christianity, but there is solid material in Machiavelli which is explicitly ant-Christian and which, on reading, matches a wide segment of Nietzsche's critique of Christianity.

Did Nietzsche read Machiavelli ?

Von Vacano identifies references made by Nietzsche to Machiavelli (in e.g., Human,All too HumanH V:224; Beyond Good and Evil 28; Twilight of the Idols, "Ancients" 2; Will to Power, 201, 304, 776; and a passage from Nachlass 1888), counting references to Machiavelli in "eight passages of his [Nietzsche's] published work and in nineteen of his published notes" (76n21, 105). (Rebecca Bamford, 'The Art of Power: Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and the Making of Aesthetic', Journal of Nietzsche Studies, No. 38 (FALL 2009), pp. 95-99 : 96; Diego von Vacano. The Art of Power: Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and the Making of Aesthetic Political Theory. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2007. xi + 215 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-7391-1088-1.)

Reading is one thing; influence another but given the similarities of viewpoint outlined below, influence appears probable.

Much evidence exists in the Discourses to bear out Hulliung's view that Machiavelli's "anticlericalism ... marks only the first layer of his condemnation of Christianity. . . . Christian values per se are attacked as corrupt and contrasted with the virtuous values enshrined by pagan religion." Indeed, Machiavelli's preface to the first book characterizes his intent as one of imitation of the pagan world. He states there that although the methods of antiquity hold authority in certain disciplines, in matters of the military and political arts the moderns do not recur to the examples of the ancients. In ascertaining the cause for this neglect of ancient examples, he says cautiously that he believes that

this arises not so much from the weakness that the present religion has conducted the world or from that evil done to many Christian provinces and cities by an ambitious idleness [uno ambizioso ozio], as from not having a true understanding of histories, reading them, but tasting neither the sense nor the flavor that they have in them.

Although he hesitates to state directly that Christianity is responsible for the failure to appreciate ancient history, Machiavelli forthrightly associates Christianity with the world's weakness. This weakness seems evident in the fact that people judge that the imitation of the ancients "is not only difficult but impossible, as if the heaven, the sun, the elements, and human beings, had changed their motion, order, and power from what they were formerly." ...

It appears that, in Machiavelli's view, Roman history can instruct moderns even in matters of religion, for early in his section on religion, I 11-15, he asserts that a return to the methods of the Romans is possible. He proclaims: "Let no one be discouraged about being able to achieve that which was done by others, because human beings, as was said in our preface, are born, live, and die always in the same order" (I 11). By placing this emphatic statement in the context of his discussion of the pagan religion, he appears to offer his examination of the former religion with a view toward the possibility of achieving "that which was done by others."

Machiavelli makes the need for such imitation in matters of religion prominent in II 2, when he treats the political effects of Christianity. He ponders why modern states do not demonstrate the same degree of determination in the pursuit of their liberty as did the ancient Italian republics that stalwartly defended themselves against the Roman threat. He answers his question by referring to the difference between the education of the ancients and that of the moderns, which is itself a product of their divergent religions. The pagan religion was more conducive to politics because it considered virtuous those deeds that were likely to bring glory to a man, whereas the Christian religion considers these pagan virtues sinful:

Our religion has glorified humble and contemplative men, more than active ones. It has placed its greatest good in humility, abnegation, and in contempt for human things, while the [pagan religion] places it in greatness of spirit, in strength of body, and in all other things fit to make men very strong. And if our religion asks that in you there be strength, it wishes that you be fit to suffer more than to do a strong thing. (II 2)

Thus, Christianity "has rendered the world weak" because it teaches that the state for which one must fight is "paradise" in the next life and that this battle requires virtues very different from those that enable one to glorify the homeland (II 2).8 In this manner, his explicit censure of Christianity in this chapter accords with his treatment of Christianity's "ambizioso ozio" in his preface to the first book. At this point, a return to paganism's exaltation of the homeland appears to be the obvious remedy. (Vickie B. Sullivan, Neither Christian nor Pagan: Machiavelli's Treatment of Religion in the "Discourses", Polity, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Winter, 1993), pp. 259-280 : 261-3.)



Vickie B. Sullivan, Neither Christian nor Pagan: Machiavelli's Treatment of Religion in the "Discourses", Polity, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Winter, 1993), pp. 259-280.

Mark Hulling, Citizen Machiavelli, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Rebecca Bamford, 'The Art of Power: Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and the Making of Aesthetic', Journal of Nietzsche Studies, No. 38 (FALL 2009), pp. 95-9.

Diego von Vacano. The Art of Power: Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and the Making of Aesthetic Political Theory. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2007. xi + 215 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-7391-1088-1.

It should be added that Sullivan does not fully endorse the account of Machiavelli given above, but the quotes and commentary speak for themselves.

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