NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI THE PRINCE. ‘Under the pretext of teaching kings, he has taught important lessons to the peoples. Machiavelli’s The Prince is the book of republicans.’ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Book III, Chapter VI in The Social Contract
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NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLITHE PRINCE
‘Under the pretext of teaching kings, he has taught important lessons to the peoples. Machiavelli’s The Prince is the book of republicans.’
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Book III, Chapter VI in The Social Contract
‘The employment of cunning or duplicity in statecraft or general conduct.’
From the description of ‘Machiavellianism’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.
If to ask what are the ends of life is to ask a real question, it must be capable of being correctly answered. To claim rationality in matters of conduct was to claim that correct and final solutions to such questions can in principle be found. (Berlin, 68)
Berlin’s point, which he also sees as Machiavelli’s, is that there is no determinate or objective ‘end of life’, only the subjectively determined ‘ends’ of individuals. An individual in power is in a relatively unique position to be able to realise their ‘ends’.
‘Men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.’ (Machiavelli, XV)
‘The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other [feared and loved]; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.’ (Machiavelli, XVII)
‘Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite. ’(Machiavelli, XVIII)
the commonest view of him, at least as a political thinker, is still that of most Elizabethans, dramatists and scholars alike, for whom he is a man inspired by the Devil to lead good men to their doom, the great subverter, the teacher of evil, le docteur de la scheleratesse, the inspirer of St Bartholomew's Eve, the original of Iago. This is the ‘murderous Machiavel' of the famous four-hundred-odd references in Elizabethan literature. His name adds a new ingredient to the more ancient figure of Old Nick. For the Jesuits he is 'the devil's partner in crime', 'a dishonourable writer and an unbeliever', and The Prince is, in Bertrand Russell's words, 'a handbook for gangsters' (compare with this Mussolini's description of it as a 'vade mecum for statesmen', a view tacitly shared, perhaps, by other heads of state). (Berlin, 35)
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile;And cry content to that which grieves my heart;And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,And frame my face to all occasions.I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk;I'll play the orator as well as Nestor;Deceive more slily than Ulysses could;And, like a Sinon, take another Troy:I can add colours to the cameleon;Change shapes with Proteus for advantages;And set the murderous Machiavel to school.Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?Tut, were it further off, I'll pluck it down!
Henry VI (Part III, Act III, Scene ii, 182-95)
However this ‘Machiavellian’ reading of The Prince is only one of the legacies of Machiavelli’s short but potent text.
[Machiavelli’s] name and the adjective ‘machiavellic’ still recall the brutal and perverse aspects of political power, because he ‘described’ what politics really was (and perhaps always will be), rather than suggesting what politics could be.
Gramsci and Machiavelli leave us with an important question: what is the ‘educational’ function of a precise description of the mechanisms of political power, and, in the case of Gramsci, of the mechanisms of ideology? That of educating people toward a realistic approach and therefore towards the political struggle opposing one power with another, or that of revealing to the people the hidden side of politics, to make them diffident and independent from political power in living their lives and choosing their opinions?...Gramsci poses to himself and to all of us these questions: ‘whom’ was Machiavelli addressing when writing The Prince? and what was his aim and his ‘policy’? It seems to be evident that he did not wish, and he did not need, to teach rulers how to achieve power and how to maintain power, but rather he wanted to explain and make known the real mechanism of politics. The ‘policy’ of Machiavelli is not ‘politics’ according to Machiavelli, because the educational effect of a critical understanding of politics made new classes more aware and therefore more powerful against the old aristocratic ruling class. (Monasta, 8)
Anglo, S. (2005) Machiavelli: the first century studies in enthusiasm, hostility, and irrelevance, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Berlin, I. "The Originality of Machiavelli." ( 1972). In Studies on Machiavelli, edited by Myron P. Gilmore. Florence: Sansoni.
Chabod, F. (1958) Machiavelli and the Renaissance,London: Bowes & Bowes
Derrida, J. (2009) The Beast and Sovereign: Volume One, London: University of Chicago Press
Gramsci, A. (1991) Prison Notebooks Oxford: Columbia University Press
Jones, J. (2010) The Lost Battles Leonardo, Michelangelo and the artistic duel that defined the Renaissance London: Simon & Schuster
Machiavelli, N. The Prince
Available here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1232/1232-h/1232-h.htm
Marlowe, C. (1997) The Jew of Malta,Manchester: Manchester University Press
Monasta, A. (1993) Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education(Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 3/4, pp. 597-612
Available here: www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/archive/publications/ThinkersPdf/gramscie.pdf
Shakespeare, W. (2005) Othello,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press