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Alfredo Maneiro, reader of Machiavelli

Originally published: Venezuelanalysis.com on June 10, 2024 by Reinaldo Iturriza López (more by Venezuelanalysis.com)  | (Posted Jun 12, 2024)

When Alfredo Maneiro immerses himself in studying the historical significance of Niccolo Machiavelli’s work,1 he proceeds to an “elucidation of the current exercise of philosophy”. In his opinion, “the most important problem of philosophy and, at the same time, the most common problem among philosophers, is its application”. The philosophy of his time, and this is particularly true of “academic Marxism”, is an “embarrassed philosophy that pretends to hide its banality by calling itself scientific and that sings its own requiem not because it is realized, but because it is inconsequential.”

In contrast to this philosophy that is “too exegetical, dogmatic and not very dedicated to trying to be… a wise night owl,” Maneiro offers a plea for the philosophy of praxis or, to put it more directly, the kind of philosophy that distinguishes Machiavelli.

“Machiavelli is, par excellence, the philosopher of the Renaissance and the renaissance of philosophy,” he states. He then proceeds to explain the historical context that stands out for its conciseness: Machiavelli’s Florence will turn out to be “a sort of kingdom of the constructive speculation of political philosophy.” It is a place where “political activity, conscious of itself, sought in its reflection, and as part of it, a link with practical reality. The philosophy of praxis seemed to proclaim: ‘Starting from me, it only remains to find the executioner’.” He adds: “Never as in Florence, in the Renaissance, had the community been presented to political philosophy as such a malleable matter. Political speculation did not feel… seduced by the need for permanence.” On the contrary,

sudden changes appeared not only possible but natural.

It is in such a context that Machiavelli unfolds his genius. Maneiro reminds us that, before being a philosopher of praxis, Machiavelli was “a politician, Council secretary and ambassador, maker and undoer of misfortunes.” It is by leaving “the main stage” that he enters the field of theory, and in this “passage from practical Machiavelli to political theorist” it is possible to “discover, illustrate and… exemplify the content, significance and current meaning of the philosophy of praxis.”

Maneiro points out that “it is necessary to try to understand the philosophy of praxis, not from the object, but on the contrary, from the intention, purpose or program.” In this sense, “there is no reason for the usual reproach that ‘philosophy has no application’ to be assumed by the philosophy of praxis”, especially if “programmatically, as it is in the majority and the most serious cases, it simplifies its ‘technological’ mediation: politics.” Or, in other words, if it is assumed that the “general program” of the philosophy of praxis is “to become more and more of a ‘direct productive force.’”

In Machiavelli’s specific case, the programmatic aspect is directly associated with what Maneiro defines as “a firm modern national passion”, which he considers “his most important and remarkable biographical trait” and which “functions not only as a guiding thread through the multiple vicissitudes of his life, but is also the key that gives meaning to the work.” Maneiro continues:

From that passion and directed by it, as well as from his class training and his talent, Machiavelli witnessed… the tyranny of the Medicis, a democratic government, occupations, wars and conspiracies; the active, demagogic and deeply medieval and reactionary democracy of Savonarola, the adventure of the exiles, etc. Thus, employed and dismissed, respected and persecuted, highly regarded and tortured, ignored and sought after, Machiavelli lived in his time and as his time.

Perhaps the most lucid passages in Maneiro’s work are those in which he stops to analyze the question of method: “Machiavelli uses a method and makes it explicit”. Later he adds:

He is, moreover, fully aware of the importance of method and by making it explicit he not only does so thoroughly, but–and this is a constant in philosophers of praxis–he turns it into an argument: that is, he points out its advantages, having the peculiarity of being irrelevant and unattractive for speculation, but very strong and weighty for a criterion of action.

Machiavelli does not act as a “moralist” nor does he write “pamphlet literature.” That is to say,

his explanations are not mutilated by the intention to convince, even though such intention is not only evident but also constitutes the ultimate and declared purpose of his work: he writes for understanding and also for action.

That being said, contrary to the general opinion, Maneiro points out that what defines Machiavelli is not the fact that he rejects the politics of morality, but the politics of utopia, understood as “speculative opposition” against the status quo. In this regard, it is worth remembering that the Florentine intellectual lived in “an era in which the powerful and brilliant speculative tradition forced advanced social theory to tread in utopias”.

From a historical standpoint, Maneiro continues, utopia “is to the philosophy of praxis and political science what alchemy is to chemistry. Machiavelli’s true relationship with political theory is not, as practically all those who have considered the subject say, to separate it from morality but, in fact, to separate it from utopia, and it was for this reason and this alone that he turned it into a science.”

Finally, a brief comment on Machiavelli and his alleged “cynicism” in politics, an assessment closely associated with a phrase often attributed to him: “the end justifies the means.” In this regard, Maneiro writes: “I confess that I have not found the so hackneyed and Machiavellian phrase in Machiavelli’s work. What I have found is something formally similar but substantially opposite. It is the following: ‘No wise man will censure the use of some extraordinary step to found a kingdom or organize a republic; but it suits the founder that when the fact accuses him, the result excuses him’.” Maneiro dwells on the “but”:

As it is placed, it would seem to open a sentence of the type: but not any step, or, but not in all circumstances or, in short, something to that effect. In any case, the ‘but’ implies an essential precision. And what follows indicates that it is not a question of the ‘end’ as a justification of the means… but of the result.

Far from being anecdotal, this “essential precision” acquires even more importance coming from an author who, like Maneiro, went on to define the concepts of “political efficacy” and “revolutionary quality”. In speaking of the former, he referred to “the capacity of any political organization to become a real alternative of government”, for which it must “offer a possible, coherent and comprehensive solution to the stagnant and permanent Venezuelan underdevelopment issues.”

As for the second, he defined it as “the probable capacity of its members to participate in an effort aimed at the transformation of society, at the creation of a new system of human relations.” In other words, a political organization may well be politically effective and not only “become a real alternative of government” but also take power. But power is neither an end in itself nor is it appropriate to resort to any means to preserve it. Power only makes sense, from Maneiro’s perspective, if it is exercised with “revolutionary quality.”

Reinaldo Iturriza López is an activist, writer, and sociologist with a degree from Venezuela’s Central University. He is the author of several books, including 27 de Febrero de 1989: interpretaciones y estrategias and El chavismo salvaje.

Iturriza López, father of Sandra Mikele and Ainhoa Michel and Venezuelan baseball enthusiast, is a former Culture Minister and Communes and Social Movements Minister. He also headed the Audiovisual Production School at Ávila TV. He writes regularly for the blog Saber y Poder.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.


  1. Alfredo Maneiro. Maquiavelo. Política y filosofía. Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana. Caracas, Venezuela. 2023.
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