Imperfect Good and Evil

Savonarola, Soderini, and Machiavelli’s Excusing of Failure


  • Zachary E. Shufro University of North Carolina



deception, excusing failure, Livy, Machiavelli, political philosophy, political theory


In his Discourses on the First Decade of Livy, Machiavelli relies upon the example of his Tuscan contemporaries to tease out an understanding of the role of evil intentions in the founding of a political state. Through the examples of the Perugino Giovampagolo Baglioni and the Florentines Girolamo Savonarola and Piero Soderini, Machiavelli implicitly defines good and evil intentions for founding a state, as well as the corresponding ‘good’ and ‘bad’ means through which such a state is founded. When Machiavelli examines the failings of these men considering their respective motivations and means, he advocates in favor of excusing the failures of those who failed to be ‘perfectly evil’ through willingness to act over those of one who failed to be ‘wholly good’ through passive acceptance. This advocacy, in turn, reveals Machiavelli’s belief in the expedient nature of deception in the foundation of a durable political order.

Author Biography

Zachary E. Shufro, University of North Carolina

Zachary E. Shufro, 23, from Avon, Connecticut (United States), is a graduate who received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, International Relations, and French Literature at Tufts University in 2017. He wrote his thesis on Montesquieu’s analysis of the influence of Roman law on French and English law, focusing on the roots of despotism in early modern politics. He currently attends the University of North Carolina School of Law, pursuing a J.D. with a focus in international corporate law. His interests include security studies, mass migration, the role of religion in early modern politics and law, legal history, alternative dispute resolution, political theory, and early modern European history.




How to Cite

Shufro, Z. E. (2018). Imperfect Good and Evil: Savonarola, Soderini, and Machiavelli’s Excusing of Failure. Politikon: The IAPSS Journal of Political Science, 37, 60–73.



Research articles