“The unarmed rich man is the prize of the poor soldier”

Special Report: Putting the Economy in Order
Machiavelli and the Financial Regime of Political Order
By Jérémie Barthas

Machiavelli’s The Prince is five hundred years old this year. Political scientists have considered this book as a founding text of their discipline, while accusing its author of offering no “genuine insights into social organization as the basis of politics”. Conceived as a synthesis of recent advances in Machiavelli scholarship, this essay aims to illuminate one of the fundamental concepts of The Prince, that of “people in arms”, interpreting it through the background of the experience of the Florentine Secretary and of the financial crisis undermining the Republic of the Great Council around 1500. Intertwining the history of political ideas with economic and political sociology, it insists on the tension between the development of democratic institutions and the forms of the public debt, showing how Machiavelli’s project of mass conscription undermined the system articulating mercenary armies together with public indebtment, on which the financial elites of Florence had built their political and economical hegemony. Contributing to reorder the relationship between debt and political sovereignty, Machiavelli’s concept of the “people in arms” was intended to establish the conditions for the autonomy of the Republic against the power of finance.

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