Christopher Lynch, professor of political science at Carthage College in Wisconsin, was the guest speaker at a School of Public Affairs Political Theory Colloquium, in which he attempted to unpack what the 15th-century Italian Niccolò Machiavelli thought of ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.
"It is worth paying attention to the details of "Machiavelli's Philosophical Denigration of Philosophy," said Lynch. "I'm talking about what the greatest modern political philosopher thinks about the greatest classical political philosophers. To really get at that in a nonarbitrary way, you have to do the scholarly footwork."
"Machiavelli wrote very little about the Greek philosophers, so insights take some digging," said Lynch.
He tried to make the case that Machiavelli rejected the writings of Plato and Aristotle not because they were bad for politics, but because they were bad for philosophy.
"His dismissal of the ancient thinkers is more linked to the manner of their teaching than the content of their writing," said Lynch, who is currently writing a book on Machiavelli.
"Machiavelli attacks the glorification of the humble, contemplative men over strong and active men," said Lynch. "Yet, in some writings, he leaves the door open to the idea that 'the philosophic life is in fact that best way of life, as maintained by the very tradition he attacks. While Machiavelli challenges ancient priorities, elsewhere, he suggests that reason is the highest standard."
American University Political Theory Institute Director, Alan Levin, said that Lynch spoke at a high level about a very difficult issue.
"It was a Machiavellian talk about Machiavelli. He was doing what Machiavelli recommends: you can't just simply be out front. You have to be cagey and approach your topic from the side in order to win," said Levin. "Machiavelli takes you so far, but he doesn't take you to the end of what you need to know. That's up to you, and that's what [Lynch] did in the talk. He took people far, but not quite to the end."