In his writings Machiavelli repeatedly discusses liberty in the context of republican virtue. It is tempting to consider him the forefather of our modern liberalism. There are three main reasons why this is incorrect.
Firstly, Machiavelli was outright opposed to the notion of a licentious mob unimpeded by any moral restraints. Secondly, he promoted religion as a means of constraining bad habits and social diseases. Lastly, he was convinced that dictatorships and revolutions were healthy and necessary: the specific reason was that they restored virtue and purged corruption.
This last point – whereby he supported the suspension of freedom for basically puritanical reasons – offers us the clearest glimpse into Machiavelli’s anti-liberal mind.
Under normal circumstances, Machiavelli supported civic equality, although he was not an egalitarian. Public offices were to be kept open and not used as personal fiefdoms, but only the cream of society would be likely to fill them and wield power. A free society was seen as a good thing, but not a good in and of itself. Nonetheless, he drew the line at an irreligious disorder, recognizing that as much as republicanism involved freedom from domination, it also involved freedom from decadence.
When we think of Machiavelli the republican, we should have a picture of someone who envisioned responsible adults regulating themselves and sometimes being harsh on their own inclinations.
I am currently writing a book exploring themes relating to Machiavelli, as well as Carl Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun. Stay posted for details.