This in-progress student-generated study guide provides argument summaries, keyword vocabulary, and other learning resources.A cover of the Chicago UP edition of Art of War

Argument Summaries

We began our study of Machiavelli’s Art of War with Christopher Lynch’s introduction to the translated text. Students summarized Lynch’s main arguments regarding The Art of War using templates inspired by They Say, I Say: Moves that Matter in Academic Writing:

  • In the discussions of Machiavelli’s The Art of War, one frequently-discussed topic has been his stance on gunpowder weapons – particularly artillery. While many scholars have maintained that Machiavelli fails to anticipate the speed and size of the changes artillery would bring to warfare, the author of the introduction maintains that in fact not only did artillery change warfare slower than it is commonly held to, Machiavelli took into consideration as much of it as was necessary for the manual he was writing. Considering both sides, I believe that the question is mostly irrelevant: while weapons do have bearing on military tactics, the fundamental doctrines are much longer lasting than the particular weapons they are implemented with.
  • In discussions of military professionalism, one controversial issue has been the motivations of professional armies. On the one hand, Hans Baron believes it is essential for all soldiers to be selflessly devoted to the common good. On the other hand, Machiavelli sees no problem with military professionalism as long as they’re paid and controlled by political authorities
  • In discussion of art in the context of war, one controversial issue has been the lack of knowledge on affairs regarding to the military and the indecisiveness on whether or not one should engage in war. On one hand the art of war is indeed a beneficial practice for the country. On the other hand, it masks the good traits found in people because of the role that they have to play when they become a soldier. Others even maintain that this kind of art does not generate peace but at the same time, Machiavelli says that they can engage in war and achieve the peace that comes with the success of war or avoid going to war and living in a state of uncertainty and ambiguity. My own view on this issue is war can be pursued if the goals/intentions, means, and consequences of the war is majorly ethical
  • In the discussions of The Art of War a frequently discussed topic is Machiavelli’s ideal view on an army that contributes to the common good. Leo Strauss believes that rather than relating to the common good implied by republicanism, a term used by Machiavelli, Machiavelli’s view more reflect service to the public good by a military because it serves their person private goods as well. (10)
  • In the very beginning of the Introduction to Art of War, the author argues that it is mostly a compilation of previous information due to the frequent historical references he makes. However, the author also argues that Machiavelli uses what he has seen in his own lifetime, and that makes his book a powerful combination of past knowledge and real-life experience. We are interested in which of the two is a more effective method of war, and what the results are.
  •  In the discussions of firearms and weapons, one controversial issues has been the use of technology. On one hand Machiavelli argues that technological advancement is necessary but this does not get rid of the need for human excellence. On the other hand, in Discourses on Livy, artillery was treated as a way of freeing warriors from the harsh realities of killing and the dangers of being killed. I am interested in how strategy must drive the use of technology instead of technology determining strategy
  • In the discussions of Machiavelli’s Art of War, one controversial issue has been his belief in humanism. On the one hand, Baron asserts that Machiavelli believed in “medieval Aristotelian tradition,” and that the Art of War advocates humanism. On the other hand, Strauss contends that Machiavelli wasn’t humanist, but rather he believed that people “serve the public good because it serves their respective private goods”, and the Art of War is a piece on how to manipulate people to serve the general public welfare


Students identified a number of keywords to guide our discussion of The Art of War. Below are a few synthesized ones with links to further information.