10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This book is about power and the politics of maintaining it for an individual. It is a classic of Renaissance Literature which inspired hot debate in its day and continues to exercise us now. This translation by Peter Bondanello is marvellous and really makes the work accessible and makes it seem incredibly modern and pertinent.
The book is written as a kind of rhetorical set piece, supposedly to the head of the Medici family in which Machiavelli purports to curry favour and gain a position of his own by explaining how someone powerful might go about becoming the saviour of Italy from the ravages of the foreign invaders it was suffering from at the time.
The Introduction by Maurizio Viroli is well worth reading, explaining some of the more complex issues and high lighting key themes in the text. He also debates whether this was in fact a begging letter from Machiavelli or more a show of skill on his part for the sake of skill itself.
My one criticism would be that the idea of 'virtu' is here translated as 'virtue', and further readings (particularly of the excellent OUP A Very Short Introduction To) show that the Renaissance idea of 'virtu' and our modern definition of 'virtue' are not the same, and yet the idea of 'virtu' is what a great deal of Machiavellian thought hinges upon.
103 of 109 people found the following review helpful
In the course of my political science training, I studied at great length the modern idea of realpolitik. In that study I came to realise that it was somewhat incomplete, without the companionship of The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine governmental official in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The Prince is an oft quoted, oft mis-quoted work, used as the philosophical underpinning for much of what is considered both pragmatic and wrong in politics today. To describe someone as being Machiavellian is to attribute to the person ruthless ambition, craftiness and merciless political tactics. Being believed to be Machiavellian is generally politically incorrect. Being Machiavellian, alas, can often be politically expedient.
Machiavelli based his work in The Prince upon his basic understanding of human nature. He held that people are motivated by fear and envy, by novelty, by desire for wealth, power and security, and by a hatred of restriction. In the Italy in which he was writing, democracy was an un-implemented Greek philosophical idea, not a political structure with a history of success; thus, one person's power usually involved the limitation of another person's power in an autocratic way.
Machiavelli did not see this as a permanent or natural state of being -- in fact, he felt that, during his age, human nature had been corrupted and reduced from a loftier nobility achieved during the golden ages of Greece and Rome. He decided that it was the corrupting influence of Christianity that had reduced human nature, by its exaltation of meekness, humility, and otherworldliness.
Machiavelli has a great admiration for the possible and potential, but finds himself inexorably drawn to the practical, dealing with situations as they are, thus becoming an early champion of realpolitik carried forward into this century by the likes of Kissinger, Thatcher, Nixon, and countless others. One of the innovations of Machiavelli's thought was the recognition that the prince, the leader of the city/state/empire/etc., was nonetheless a human being, and subject to all the human limitations and desires with which all contend.
Because the average prince (like the average person) is likely to be focussed upon his own interests, a prince's private interests are generally in opposition to those of his subjects. Fortunate is the kingdom ruled by a virtuous prince, virtue here not defined by Christian or religious tenets, but rather the civic virtue of being able to pursue his own interests without conflicting those of his subjects.
Virtue is that which increases power; vice is that which decreases power. These follow Machiavelli's assumptions about human nature. Machiavelli rejected the Platonic idea of a division between what a prince does and what a prince ought to do. The two principle instruments of the prince are force and propaganda, and the prince, in order to increase power (virtue) ought to employ force completely and ruthlessly, and propaganda wisely, backed up by force. Of course, for Machiavelli, the chief propaganda vehicle is that of religion.
Whoever reads Roman history attentively will see in how great a degree religion served in the command of the armies, in uniting the people and keeping them well conducted, and in covering the wicked with shame.
Machiavelli has been credited with giving ruthless strategies (the example of a new political ruler killing the deposed ruler and the ruler's family to prevent usurpation and plotting is well known) -- it is hard to enact many in current politics in a literal way, but many of his strategies can still be seen in electioneering at every level, in national and international relations, and even in corporate and family internal 'politics'. In fact, I have found fewer more Machiavellian types than in church politics!
Of course, these people would be considered 'virtuous' in Machiavellian terms -- doing what is necessary to increase power and authority.
The title of this piece -- the virtues of Machiavelli, must be considered in this frame; certainly in no way virtuous by current standards, but then, it shows, not all have the same standards. Be careful of the words you use -- they may have differing definitions.
Perhaps if Machiavelli had lived a bit later, and been informed by the general rise of science as a rational underpinning to the world, he might have been able to accept less of a degree of randomness in the universe. Perhaps he would have modified his views. Perhaps not -- after all, the realpolitikers of this age are aware of the scientific framework of the universe, and still pursue their courses.
This is an important work, intriguing in many respects. Far shorter than the average classical or medieval philosophical tome, and more accessible by current readers because of a greater familiarity with politics than, say, metaphysics or epistemology, this work yields benefits and insights to all who read, mark, inwardly digest, and critically examine the precepts.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The end justifies the means. This simple, pragmatic maxim underpins Niccolò Machiavelli's classic work, The Prince. Written in 1513, when Machiavelli was a Florentine registry official, this handbook of political power provoked controversy like no other. Its central theme is how Renaissance rulers should act if they want to prevail. According to the author, a strong state requires a leader who is able to defend his power at all costs. Machiavelli maintains that a ruler may deceive, trick, oppress and even murder his opponents, as long as his misdeeds serve the state's stability. Without question, this short treatise offers enough material to demonize its author. However, Machiavelli does not champion unlimited ruthlessness and violence. Nor does he justify any objectives that seem to warrant violence. However, he also does not try to align his work to Christian morals as he examines the practice of statecraft and leadership. The term "Machiavellian" emerged in the 16th century to describe a devious, cruel tyrant, who uses any means to achieve his goals. When 20th century dictators praised Machiavelli's masterpiece, it came into disrepute, but in contemporary thought, its literary foresight makes it a classic. Modern readers will be able to understand the book's significance thanks to the accessible translation and annotations by Peter Bondanella. To put the treatise in context, Maurizio Viroli explains in his introduction, "For Machiavelli, the old way of building and preserving a regime...had to be abandoned in order to embrace a new conception...based on the principle that no state is a true dominion unless it is sustained by an army composed of citizens or subjects." getAbstract recommends The Prince to literature and history buffs, be they subjects or citizens, and to strategists and political scientists as a core work in their field.