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The Prince ()


Amazon.com Top 100 Books of the Millenium

    [S]ince my intent is to write something useful to whoever understands it, it has appeared to me more fitting to go directly to the effectual
    truth of the thing than to the imagination of it.
           -The Prince, Chapter XV, Of Those Things for Which Men And Especially Princes Are Praised or Blamed (translated by Harvey C. Mansfield)

It was this one revolutionary idea, as much as any of the specific advice that Niccolo Machiavelli actually gives in the book, that so shocked, and continues to shock, the world.  Though politics has been called the "art of the possible", we remain impossibly idealistic about it.  Particularly here in the liberal democratic West, we yearn for "clean" politics (witness the continual and utterly futile efforts at campaign finance reform), noble and selfless civil servants, wise legislation, and salutary results from those laws.  We've even reached the fantastical point in recent years where partisanship has become suspect, as if there were something illegitimate about the two parties jockeying with one another for political advantage.  Small wonder then that we have such a difficult time appreciating a work whose sole purpose is to instruct a prince in the obtaining and the maintenance of power.

Machiavelli's concern here is particularly foreign to us because our own government has been so stable for so long (even during the Civil War, during which that stability was most threatened, we managed to hold a presidential election).  But if there is ever going to be a time when we can catch even a tiny glimpse of what motivated Machiavelli and how sound was his counsel, perhaps it is during this current crisis.  On September 11th, we got just a tiny taste of instability and we did not much like it.  In the weeks since, we have countenanced actions by our national leaders that would be unthinkable in normal times, from rounding up a thousand suspects to military tribunals on the domestic front, to allying ourselves with reprehensible regimes and toppling a foreign government (The Taliban) simply for hosting terrorism suspects, on the international front.  The American people, normally rather squeamish about the exercise of governmental power,  have suddenly discovered an awfully high tolerance for its swift, brutal, and decisive application.  You might almost think that they'd read the following :

    Someone could question how it happened that Agathocles and anyone like him, after infinite betrayals and cruelties, could live for a long
    time secure in his fatherland, defend himself against external enemies, and never be conspired against by his citizens, inasmuch as many
    others have not been able to maintain their states through cruelty even in peaceful times, not to mention uncertain times of war.  I believe
    that this comes from cruelties badly used or well used.  Those can be called well used (if it is permissible to speak well of evil) that are
    done at a stroke, out of the necessity to secure oneself, and then are not persisted in but are turned to as much utility for the subjects as
    one can.  Those cruelties are badly used which, though few in the beginning, rather grow with time than are eliminated.  Those who
    observe the first mode can have some remedy for their state with God and with men, as had Agathocles; as for the others it is impossible
    for them to maintain themselves.
            -Chapter VIII, Of Those Who Have Attained a Principality through Crimes

But, of course, no one needed to because, as Machiavelli well understood, such is the reality of how states behave, as opposed to the flowery rhetoric with which they drape themselves in times of peace.  And, as he said, the administration has a limited time during which they wield a free hand, but it is important that the measures they've adopted be seen as temporary and directed only at the present danger.  they must act "at a stroke."

Similarly, after at least a decade (the post-Cold War period) in which America has sought to be loved, we've suddenly relearned the value of being feared.  One watches the Yemenis, the Pakistanis, and others leap to do our bidding and easily understands the following :

    [A] dispute arises whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse.  The response is that one would want to be both the one and
    the other; but because it is difficult to put them together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one has to lack one of the two.

Particularly in the field of foreign affairs, we should cultivate such fear.

On the other hand, Machiavelli, for all his evil reputation, never lost sight of the realities of governance, the most important of which is that true tyranny is ineffective in the long run :

    The prince should nonetheless make himself feared in such a mode that if he does not acquire love, he escapes hatred, because being
    feared and not being hated can go together very well.  This he will always do if he abstains from the property of his citizens and his
    subjects, and from their women; and if he also needs to proceed against someone's life, he must do it when there is suitable justification
    and manifest cause for it.  But above all, he must abstain from the property of others, because men forget the death of a father more
    quickly than the loss of a patrimony.  Furthermore, causes for taking away property are never lacking, and he who begins to live by
    rapacity always finds cause to seize others' property; and, on the contrary, causes for taking life are rarer and disappear more quickly.
            -Chapter XVII, Of Cruelty and Mercy, and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved Than Feared, or the Contrary

Remarkable, isn't it, that this five hundred year old treatise on politics should remain as timely and insightful as it has?  Mr. Mansfield, in his very helpful Introduction, says that :

    Machiavelli's The Prince...is the most famous book on politics when politics is thought to be carried out for its own sake, unlimited by
    anything above it.  The renown of The Prince is precisely to have been the first and the best book to argue that politics has and should
    have its own rules and should not accept rules of any kind or from any source where the object is not to win or prevail over others.

Readers may (almost certainly will) still find much of The Prince shocking, but I think there's one easy mental trick that you can play that will make it much harder to reject out of hand.  Try substituting the words "our government" every time Machiavelli refers to "the prince", and see if you don''t find yourself agreeing that that what seemed like the most cynical and amoral suggestions don't now seem entirely reasonable when it comes to preserving our state.  If that doesn't work for you, try substituting "the next leader of Afghanistan", and see if the prospect of trying to impose order where there is only chaos doesn't make some of Machiavelli's policy prescriptions more palatable.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

Niccolo Machiavelli Links:

    -REVIEW: of J. R. Hale. Machiavelli and Renaissance Italy (Hans Baron, American Historical Review)

Book-related and General Links:

NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI (1469-1527) :
    -Niccoló Macchiavelli (kirjasto)
    -The San Antonio College LitWeb Machiavelli Page
    -Niccolo (di Bernardo) Machiavelli 1469-1527 (PROFESSOR ANDREAS TEUBER)
    -E Machiavelli
    -ARCHIVES : machiavelli (Find Articles)
    -ETEXT : The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli Written c. 1505, published 1515 Translated by W. K. Marriott
    -ETEXT : The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli (Classic Reader)
    -ONLINE STUDY GUIDE : The Prince (Joel Walsh , SparkNotes)
    -ONLINE STUDY GUIDE : The Prince (Novel Guide)
    -Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) (Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy)
    -Niccolo Machiavelli : Italian Statesman and Political Philosopher 1469 - 1527 (Lucid Cafe)
    -Niccolo Machiavelli (Richard Hooker)
    -About Niccolo Machiavelli (Classic Notes)
    -Niccolo Machiavelli, 1469-1527 (The History Guide)
    -Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) (The Academy Site)
    -OUTLINE : of The Prince
    -Landmarks in Critical Thinking Series: Machiavelli's The Prince (Merrilee H. Salmon)
    -Machiavelli's The Prince
    -ESSAY : Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli�s Iron Rules Are as Timely Today as Five Centuries Ago (Michael A. Ledeen, AEI)
    -ESSAY : Machiavelli: Prince of Politicians? (About.com)
    -ESSAY : To Serve and Protect : Machiavelli's Views on Virtue, Neccessity, and Fortune (Nick Russo, 09 December 1996)
    -ESSAY : The Morality of The Prince
    -ESSAY : Machiavelli and the Moral Dilemma of Statecraft
    -ESSAY : The Pillars of Unbelief � Machiavelli (PETER KREEFT, Catholic Educator's Resource Center)
    -ESSAY : A Communication between Two Great Philosophers in History : This piece was written as a letter to Aristotle from Machiavelli. He is responding to Aristotle's statements regarding The Prince. (Anna Rankin, Res Publica, Winter 1997)
    -ESSAY : The Return of Ancient Times : Why the warrior politics of the twenty-first century will demand a pagan ethos (Robert D. Kaplan, June 2000, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Machiavelli and Plato: virtue vs. justice
    -ESSAY : Clinton: Machiavelli's Indolent Prince (Michael Ledeen, FrontPage Magazine on April 29, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Machiavellian Virtue and Vice in Richard III (Marilyn Walker, 9/18/97)
    -The Renaissance Conflict Between 'Virtu' and Christian Virtue
    -ESSAY : Starship Troopers, Civic Virtue, and the American Civil War (Mark Grimsley)
    -ESSAY : POLICY OF TERROR AND WESTERN VIRTUE IN EUROPEAN INSECURITY (Anssi K. Kullberg, August, 2000, The Eurasian Politician)
    -ESSAY : The P/E Ratio That Really Counts (Carole L. Jurkiewicz, Ph.D. and Roger G. Brown, Ph.D., Department of Political Science,
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Journal of Power & Ethics)
    -ESSAY : Republicanism and Democracy (Bo LI, Perspectives)
    -Journal of Power and Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Review
    -REVIEW : of Niccol's Smile A Biography of Machiavelli. By Maurizio Viroli (Alexander Stille, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Niccolo's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli by Maurizio Viroli (John Adamson, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of Niccolo's Smile by Maurizio Viroli (John Gray, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of Niccolo's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli By Maurizio Viroli (Patrick J. Walsh, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW : of Prince of the City For much of the fifteenth century, Cosimo de' Medici and his family were the most important patrons of art in Italy. Dale Kent is the first person to attempt a synthetic account of Cosimo's patronage (Andrew Butterfield, The New Republic, June 11, 2001)
    -REVIEW : of Hypocrisy and Integrity: Machiavelli, Rousseau, and the Ethics of Politics, by Ruth W. Grant (Peter Berkowitz, THE NEW REPUBLIC,  September 1, 1997)
    -REVIEW : of DEFINING MOMENTS : When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right By Joseph L. Badaracco Jr. (KEITH H. HAMMONDS, Business Week)
    -REVIEW : of THE NEW PRINCE Machiavelli Updated for the Twenty-first Century. By Dick Morris (Andrew Sullivan, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Leo Strauss on Machiavelli (Robert J. McShea, December 1963, The Western Political Quarterly)

Comments:

This review stands out among some of the reviews that I have read about NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI. It exposes both views of Machiavelli, which is what a review is supposed to be about. But many students, or even intructors, get caught up by inserting their own personal political views in some of the reviews that I have read, which is unfair to new learners. Keep up the good work. Dierry Dubosse

- Dierry Dubosse

- Mar-08-2005, 16:02

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i was assigned a task to write a review ofthe prince and was not clear in my thoughts.this review helped me alot as to how to write a good review.

- nadia mahboob

- Oct-23-2004, 12:54

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Thank you for taking the time to review this book. I'm doing a Project on "The Prince" and do you have any idea how rare reviews are for a 500 year old book?

- Aaron

- Jan-28-2004, 11:04

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I think this review is remarkable because it really makes me think about modern politics in todays society!

- shuhnaynay

- Dec-29-2003, 17:10

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-

- Dec-29-2003, 16:51

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I think that this review is more of an overlook of modern politics and not just the art of politics in general.

- Jared

- Dec-29-2003, 16:51

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I think that this review is more of an overlook of modern politics and not just the art of politics in general.

-

- Dec-29-2003, 16:49

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You misspelled Reagan, sillyhead

- Bob Edgar

- Nov-11-2003, 19:32

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I Think these people are amazing writers

- Daniel

- Mar-24-2003, 12:05

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