Russia Machiavellian Encyclopedia

By | March 10, 2022

The first concrete references to the texts of M. in Russia date back to the second half of the 17th century. It should be remembered, however, that historiography has nevertheless reread in ‘Machiavellian’ terms some moments of Russian political history of the 15th and 16th centuries. Among these moments is, for example, the reign of the ‘premachiavellico’ Ivan III (1440-1505), Grand Duke of Moscow, who reunited many territories with the use of force and cunning, repelled the Tartars, built the Kremlin by Italian architects and married Sofia Paleologa, niece of Constantine XII, the last Byzantine emperor. The most interesting case, however, is that of the famous Ivan IV called the Terrible (born in 1530, reigned from 1533 to 1584), Grand Duke of Moscow and then Tsar of Russia, who defined himself as “severe with the malicious and magnanimous with the good “. Ivan S. Peresvetov, a gentleman in his service, he presented him with a group of particularly important writings, the content of which has been associated several times with the Machiavellian precepts. Peresvetov claimed to have brought with him from his wanderings in various Eastern European countries books by “Latin doctors and Greek philosophers” containing advice on good governance. In this work it was argued that in politics justice (pravda) always precedes any religious question and that the prince must be very cautious towards the idle rich and must rather base his power on the army of his faithful. Some have argued that Tsar Ivan IV himself was hiding behind the name of Peresvetov, who was even considered a reader of the Prince by M.; but the hypothesis is somewhat unlikely. The Italian Jesuit Antonio Possevino, an advocate of anti-Milky Way, who was papal legate and was, among other things, one of the tutors of the so-called false Demetrius, who ascended the throne of Russia (1605-06) with the help of the Poles. Precisely from Poland some first traces of the theories of M. in Russia could come: already at the end of the 16th century, in Polish territory, the accusation of Machiavellianism in political disputes was recorded. A certain opening in the 17th century, which led Russia to look with insistence on European culture, guaranteed the circulation, in the libraries of the most educated men, of foreign books in which M. was explicitly mentioned.

The first author to expressly mention M. in Russia was a Croatian, the Jesuit and Pan-Slavist Juraj Križanić (1617-1683), who, during his stay in Russia (1659-76), was sent to Siberia where he wrote, between in 1663 and 1666, a political treatise remained manuscript, Razgovori ob vladateljstvu (Discourses on the art of governing). According to a customary practice in the Jesuits, he did not hesitate to criticize the ‘Machiavellian’ politicians, but then ended up quoting the Florentine Histories confirming some of his theses. The direct acquaintance of M. in Russia began during the reign (1682-1725) of Tsar Peter I called the Great. In the libraries of his comrades in the war – among which there were many foreigners or people who in any case had completed their studies abroad, even arriving in Italy – there were editions of the works of the Florentine Secretary, both in Italian, both in Latin, and in French.

However, the first accusations of Machiavellianism in Russia date back to the same period. The first to be condemned, also because he was found in possession of a handwritten Russian translation of the Prince of M., was Prince Dmitry V. Golicyn, one of the courtiers who had tried to limit the absolute power of Empress Anna I (nephew of Peter), inviting her, in 1730, to accept the throne with the explicit obligation to respect certain ‘conditions’. After a coup, the empress had Golicyn imprisoned. Even a minister of Anna, Artemij P. Volynskij, was later (in 1740) sentenced to death for criticizing the government in its ‘confidants’ circle. During the investigation he confessed to being in possession of the aforementioned handwritten translation of the Prince, which he recovered from Golicyn’s papers while he was a member of the court that had accused the latter. Machiavelli’s books were also found in the libraries of Volynsky’s judges – later sent into exile by Empress Elizabeth. As for the aforementioned manuscript, which has gone missing, the translation has been attributed to Count Pëtr A. Tolstoy, one of the many accused of being a ‘Russian Machiavelli’. It can be said that from that moment onwards the fortune of M., hitherto considered in Russia a tutor of tyrants, was rather connected to the revolutionaries and to those who wished to subvert power and authority. In 1779, with a dedication to the Empress Catherine II, the translation of the Anti-Machiavel of the king of Prussia Frederick II was published. In the same years the Italian publisher of Works by M., Gaetano Cambiagi, donated the entire collection to the Russian Academy of Sciences. Numerous editions of Machiavellian works appeared in the libraries of eminent personalities of the Russian aristocracy of the time.

In the 19th century. M. became a full part of the Russian cultural world, often through the influence of French culture, and therefore not only as a master of modern politics, but also and above all as a patriot and philosopher. The poet and writer Aleksandr S. Pushkin judged M. “an excellent connoisseur of human nature”. He referred to the thought and work of M. to trace in his works those lines that marked the subsequent developments of classical Russian literature: the combination of genius and wickedness, the moral choice between the good of the community (the reason of state) and the individual conscience, the drama of the moral-political compromise. These themes were taken up again in the second half of the century by Fëdor M. Dostoevskij and by Lev N. Tolstoj (who also left a comment to M.). The Decembrist revolutionaries belonging to Pushkin’s generation, who rose up against Emperor Nicholas I in December 1825, had read the works of M.; and one of their leaders, Pavel I. Pestel ‘, was called the Russian Machiavelli. After anthological editions, M.’s texts were translated and published in Russia in the decades around the mid-nineteenth century (in 1839 the Art of war, in 1869 the Prince – in two different editions – and the Discourses).

In the 20th century. M. was for a long time considered an ambiguous writer and was regarded with suspicion by a Soviet power in the process of consolidation. Vladimir I. Lenin mentioned him in 1922 in a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, without however naming him, as “an intelligent writer of political questions”. An attempt to publish the Works of M. in the context of the Academia project dates back to the period of the struggle for power between Iosif V. Stalin and his opponents, of which only the first volume (1934) was released, containing the Prince and the minor works. The ‘enemies of the people’ judged in the ‘trial of the sixteen’ (August 1936) – including Lev B. Kamenev, author of the introduction to the Prince in the aforementioned edition of Works – were accused of ‘Machiavellianism’. With regard to Stalin himself, Machiavellianism has often been spoken of, and it must be said that there is evidence of his careful reading of Machiavelli’s works. In general M. was considered by Soviet scholars to be an author who belonged to the ‘early days of the birth of the bourgeoisie’: on the one hand progressive and revolutionary, on the other ‘historically limited’. Only after the seventies on M. did some original and well-considered considerations appear in Russia of the Florentine Histories in 1972.

Starting from the end of the 20th century. M. has become a political author in vogue among Russian scholars, and the most diverse interpretations of his thought and even the most bizarre have emerged, in many cases not based on a reading of the texts, despite the fact that there is a wave of reprints. and new translations. Today the range of opinions in Russia on M. is quite wide and not far from what circulates in the world. They range from those who paint him as a revolutionary, a patriot and the founder of political science, to those who make him a pious Catholic or even the alleged inventor of the maxim ‘the end justifies the means’.

Russia Machiavellian Encyclopedia