History lessons | The faces of power

MICHELE CILIBERTO. Machiavelli, the power of words and guns

On the scene of political action, the man of power must also be able to leverage the ambition and weaknesses of his interlocutors, juggling with skill and cunning in favorable moments as well as in sudden reversals of fortune. For the attainment of one’s ends, the strength of the word is certainly no less important than that of arms. A message that, if it already comes to us from classical and humanistic rhetoric, is all the more relevant today, in the age of communication.

Michele Ciliberto is President of the National Institute of Renaissance Studies and national partner of the Accademia dei Lincei, he teaches History of modern and contemporary philosophy at the Scuola Normale Superiore.


Power is ambivalent. He has associated or divided men, married with justice or manifested himself in the most brutal way. In the most diverse forms it has crossed history, incarnating itself in a small number of people who have become symbols destined to be projected over the centuries. In the past, as today, power is not personified only in the actions of shrewd simulators, draggers of crowds, ferocious dictators: its faces and the tools to exercise it are many. Four great historians tell us what has happened over the centuries.

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