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The Discourses (Classics) Paperback – 31 Dec 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall; New Ed edition (31 Dec. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140444289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140444285
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 142,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Niccolo Machivaelli (1469-1527) was appointed secretary to the Florentine Republic in 1498. He was dismissed from this post in 1512 and forced to withdraw from public life, after which time he wrote The Prince, a handbook for rulers. Leslie Walker translated many texts from Italian over the course of a distinguished career.


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The 16th century Florentine statesman Niccolò Machiavelli is mostly known for his work "The Prince", arguably the most ill-reputed book ever written, perhaps apart from Hitler's "Mein Kampf". However, "The Prince" seems to have been a purely empirical study of Italian politics, or perhaps even a rhetorical exercise. In other words, Machiavelli didn't really mean it! At least that's one possible interpretation (yes, the most charitable one).

So what were Machiavelli's real positions? Many scholars believe that these are laid out in "The Discourses", a work almost unknown to the general public. Its full title is "Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy". Using the ancient Roman Republic as his model, Machiavelli attempts to analyze the role of fortune and virtue in history, the art of war, and the best system of government. There are certain similarities between "The Discourses" and "The Prince". Both works contain their fair share of pragmatic Realpolitik. On the whole, however, "The Discourses" show Machiavelli in a much better light than "The Prince". Machiavelli actually turns out to be an advocate of a democratic republic! Indeed, since Machiavelli supported the republican side during the political conflicts in Florence, it's safe to assume that *this* is the real Machiavelli.

"The Discourses" is not a particularly systematic work. It contains no fully worked-out political theory, and suffers from bad editing. (Machiavelli even admits this in his foreword.) The most interesting part is Book One, which deals with constitutional issues. Book Two, about the expansion of the Romans, is moderately interesting, while Book Three is the most disjointed.
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The astute comments on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius show the author of `The Prince' in a slightly different daylight, as a rather more balanced political analyst than the staunch defender of Leviathan rule.
His comments cover such important issues as war and peace, corruption and justice, the role of religion, the essential forms and players in the political theatre at home and abroad.
They reflect Machiavelli's pessimistic vision on mankind.

The nature of mankind
For Machiavelli, men are more prone to evil than to good. Men never do good unless necessity drives them to it. Hunger and poverty make men industrious and laws make them good. All men are ill content, for desire always exceeds the power of attainment. They are also deceitful, organize conspiracies and speak with a double tongue.

Forms of government
Machiavelli discerns three good typed of government, which, however, can easily become corrupt. Principality (Monarchy) can turn into Tyranny; Aristocracy can become Oligarchy; Democracy can break up in Anarchy.
His ideal is a blend of the three good types, like the one introduced by Lycurgus in Sparta, which lasted for 800 years.

The players at home
The core conflict in a State is the clash between those who want to keep (the haves, the upper class) and those who want to acquire (the have-nots, the plebs).
Fearing that they might loose everything, the haves in Rome granted the plebs a say in political affairs by creating the tribunate. In order to fight corruption and `malignant humours' they built a judicial network with many (not few) judges.
Rome's army was based on a mix of Roman and foreign soldiers under the helm of Roman generals.
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If you want to understand Machiavelli _this_ is the place to look. Of course you should also read the Prince but this is the true centre of gravity for Machiavelli's political philosophy. - It details the design of Republics in great detail and with good parallels to the Roman Republic.

This volume, moreover, comes with a good, polemic introduction.
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I preferred this to The Prince but I found it more revealing of the man himself than of what he is imparting. A bit complicated.
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I personally like it. It's quite interesting. I cannot make muvh of a comparison because it's the only version I have read.
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Great complement volume to the prince.
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