Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Patito de Hule

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
Hoping you're much better. Hope you didn't catch it from me a couple weeks ago. I continued posting, under the influence of pain pills. But when I look back now, I can tell which posts were DUI. :D

So! I've finished my second leisurely reading, including all the footnotes in both editions I have. Also many of the ancillary readings in my Norton Critical edition. I can't call it a "close reading" because I don't know Italian. :( I remembered all the way through that there was something in chapter XXVI that I had liked. It is that Sheldon Wolin in Political Vision summarized Machiavelli with the statement that he was first and foremost a nationalist. Ch. XXVI recapitulated Professor Wolin's assessment.

Regarding Republic book II, I reread that quickly to see what I was remembering correctly. There really was no similarity in arguments, but Glaucon's theme was that people seek justice because they seek the reputation of justice. This is, in some ways, central to Machiavelli's argument that the prince should seek the reputation for justice and other virtues without necessarily having them.

I can well imagine Strauss' objection to Machiavelli as you describe it. The only one of his books I have actually read is his history of Political Philosophy co-authored with John Cropsey (iirc), and Strauss' philosophy would not shine through in that. He is much maligned by liberals who say that the neo-conservatives took much from him, but I don't see where that comes from by looking at articles by or about him on the Internet. However, I do not do extensive reading on the Internet--it quickly gives me a headache.

I could comment in passing that in reading the chapters on "Choosing Counsellors" and "Avoiding Flatterers" I was reminded of King Juan II (1st half 15th century) of Castile and his adviser Alvaro de Luna than of any of the Italian dukes he mentioned. Juan's throne was saved by Alvaro and for some time protected by him, though Alvaro got his come-uppance in the end.

I had said earlier that Machiavelli's philosophy was really contained in the Discourses on Livy rather than Il Principe--that is worth some reevaluation. I believe his Realpolitik ideas are fairly common in both. He had already started the discorsi when he wrote and published Il Principe, and it shows in both. Obviously in the latter he wrote that he was treating of Republics in a different place. (Had already treated, iirc). That has to be the discorsi. From the Discourses are a couple of interesting points of relationship.

In Book II, Chapter 1, he says "Many authors . . . have thought that in acquiring their empire, the Romans were more beholden to their good fortune than to their valour. . ." So here again is that opposition between fortuna and virtú so prominent in Il Principe. It was a thing that Machiavelli had thought a great deal about in writing this little book as well as in the earlier stages (at least) of writing the Discourses. It may well have been planted in his head by an erstwhile school teacher.

In Book II, Chapter 13, he says "I hold it as most certain that men seldom if ever rise to great place from small beginnings without using fraud or force, unles, indeed, they be given, or take by inheritance the place to which some other has already come." He goes on to say that force alone is never sufficient, but fraud is helpful. He says similar things elsewhere in the book, but this one struck me because of the word "inheritance" in this context. I have recently read the chapter on "Patrimony" in A History of Private Life Vol. I, edited by Paul Veyne. It discusses the importance of inheritance in Pagan Rome and the various shady ways in which Patrimonies or parts of them were obtained.

As I stated earlier, my real interest is in ideas and how they influenced future generations and how they were transmitted. In short, I am interested in the frame of mind of historical protagonists and populations. It is clear that Machiavelli was widely read in England. Scottish Enlightment figures, Commonwealthmen, heck even Shakespeare make frequent mention of his name, usually in a derogatory context. I like to see how many of the ideas of a Milton or a Rousseau or a Locke can be traced back to Machiavelli or traced to a reaction to him. A Locke/Sidney type of reaction to Sir Robert Filmer.
 
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avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
Hoping you're much better. Hope you didn't catch it from me a couple weeks ago. I continued posting, under the influence of pain pills. But when I look back now, I can tell which posts were DUI.
:D I can't say I noticed, but I know that you were unwell for a while back there.

…It is that Sheldon Wolin in Political Vision summarized Machiavelli with the statement that he was first and foremost a nationalist. Ch. XXVI recapitulated Professor Wolin's assessment.
Yes, I think that’s probably correct (IMHO).

Regarding Republic book II, I reread that quickly to see what I was remembering correctly. There really was no similarity in arguments, but Glaucon's theme was that people seek justice because they seek the reputation of justice. This is, in some ways, central to Machiavelli's argument that the prince should seek the reputation for justice and other virtues without necessarily having them.
It’s no coincidence that Plato’s Republic was on the reading schedule (before we changed it!!). It’s quite good bedfellows with the Machiavelli and Thomas More works. No matter. I think the section of the Plato to which you refer is my favourite part of the whole book. The ring of Gyges thought-experiment is a nice vehicle for Glaucon’s case that people are only behave in a just manner simply because they are afraid of punishment for injustice and not because justice is something admirable or even desirable in and of itself. In fact, Glaucon goes yet further by stating that not only do people prefer to be unjust rather than just, but that it is rational for them to do so and that the perfectly unjust life is more pleasant than the perfectly just life. In making this claim, he draws two detailed portraits of the just and unjust man. He gives a stereotypically ‘machiavellian’ (note the lower-case ‘m’) example in that the altogether unjust man is rewarded (in this case with wealth) whilst, on the other hand, the entirely just man is disparaged and ridiculed. So yes, I agree. Pretty much the rest of the book is taken up with Socrates rising to Adeimantus’ challenge of showing that justice is desirable in itself.

Plato’s ‘prince’ is the philosopher ruler drawn from a pool of highly educated, trained young men. It is a meritocracy. This ruler is intelligent, thoughtful, and virtuous. He understands justice (in the mould that Socrates sets out in The Republic) and - most importantly - acts accordingly: virtue. Machiavelli’s prince may know what justice is but acts according to exigencies of the moment: virtù. (My comparison is clearly overly simplistic.)

I can well imagine Strauss' objection … However, I do not do extensive reading on the Internet...
I can easily sympathise with your attempt to ‘nail-down’ or categorise Strauss. It’s not easy. Strauss’ critique of modern liberalism came down to his understanding it as the manifestation of a kind of nihilistic modernism - it was that lack of value (perhaps ‘virtue’?) that would ultimately destroy civilization. It lacked decency and self-restraint. If we remember that Strauss lived through Weimerian Germany and watched it slide into National Socialism due to (he believed) it’s own moral decadence, his ideas become a little easier to comprehend. Large sections of the modern right-wing will draw the Weimar Republic analogy in reference to today’s multiculturalism. Strauss, who has been dead a while now, get dragged along.

I think it is also reasonably apt to mention that Strauss once noted that America was, in part, founded on Classical principles. A kind of modern-day Rome or Athens (I don’t fully remember his exact analogy). Within his weltanschauung, it would be the modernism that began with Machiavelli that would undermine that ‘Roman Empire’.

So, his political sensibilities are clear - he was very much the conservative - and I think liberals are entirely correct in saying that neo-conservatism owes much to him. It might be said that he was one of their central ideologues (this is the man who taught Wolfowitz how to be a neo-con!).

On the relationship between The Prince and the Discorsi, I’ll need to return to that later when I have more time.

As I stated earlier, my real interest is in ideas and how they influenced future generations and how they were transmitted. …
I found this in Maryanne C Horowitz, ed., New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, vol. 4, Machiavellism to Phrenology, (2005), pp. 1327-8. (EDIT - Because it is copyrighted material, I have since removed this material.)

...

I am particularly impressed by both Montaigne’s reading as well as Hegel’s. The issue of nationalism is one that you mentioned above. But I have a caveat of sorts: what kind of nationalism is Machiavelli looking for? It seems to me that any notions of a united Italian nation would not have impressed Machiavelli very much. Wouldn’t it be more apt to refer to M. as a Tuscan Nationalist rather than an Italian?

Now, where's that copy of Discourses?
 
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Patito de Hule

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
I am particularly impressed by both Montaigne’s reading as well as Hegel’s. The issue of nationalism is one that you mentioned above. But I have a caveat of sorts: what kind of nationalism is Machiavelli looking for? It seems to me that any notions of a united Italian nation would not have impressed Machiavelli very much. Wouldn’t it be more apt to refer to M. as a Tuscan Nationalist rather than an Italian?

Tuscany, of course. There was no Italian nation.

I appreciated your thoughts on his influence on his contemporaries. I had not considered Hegel or Montaigne at all, for example. The idea that was newest to me was the suggestion that Il Principe may have been satirical; after reading and thinking about it, I really can't accept that idea, but it was an interesting thought. After all this, about all I can say is . . .

It is a tale/told by and idiot; full of sound and fury/signifying . . .
What?

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I will read The Country of the Blind
 

Patito de Hule

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
Sometimes when I have a little time to read, but not enough to read something substantial, I sit down with a book of documentary history or, in this case Cato's Letters. By coincidence, I was up to Letter #63, Jan. 27, 1721 (OS) by G (Thomas Gordon). After mentioning Roman Emperor Pertinax who, iirc, cut the donaria to the Praetorian Guard and was assassinated by him. They then sold the Empire to the highest bidder (whose name I don't remember) who lasted about 90 days. Gordon continues:

Machiavel has told us, that it is impossible for such a prince to please both the people and his soldiers: The one will not be satisfied without protection, nor the other without rapine: To comply with the people, he must give up his power; to comply with his soldiers, he must give up his people. So that to continue what he is, and to preserve himself from the violence of his followers, he must countenance all their villainies and oppression, and be himself no more than an imperial thief at the head of a band of thieves; for which character he is generally well qualified by the base and cruel maxims of that sort of power, and by the vile education almost always given to such a prince by the worst and most infamous of all men, their supple and lying sycophants. footnote: Il Principe, Ch XIX
So here's another Enlightenment Author in Feb., 1722, who mentions Machiavelli, and not in a derogatory way. I thumbed through the notes on the book and found one other reference to Ch. XIX and several quotes from the Discorsi. Obviously he was widely read and taken seriously.
 
Dec 2009
19,933
Sometimes when I have a little time to read, but not enough to read something substantial, I sit down with a book of documentary history or, in this case Cato's Letters. By coincidence, I was up to Letter #63, Jan. 27, 1721 (OS) by G (Thomas Gordon). After mentioning Roman Emperor Pertinax who, iirc, cut the donaria to the Praetorian Guard and was assassinated by him. They then sold the Empire to the highest bidder (whose name I don't remember) who lasted about 90 days. Gordon continues:

So here's another Enlightenment Author in Feb., 1722, who mentions Machiavelli, and not in a derogatory way. I thumbed through the notes on the book and found one other reference to Ch. XIX and several quotes from the Discorsi. Obviously he was widely read and taken seriously.
CHAPTER XIX That One Should Avoid Being Despised And Hated.

There is first to note that, whereas in other principalities the ambition of the nobles and the insolence of the people only have to be contended with, the Roman emperors had a third difficulty in having to put up with the cruelty and avarice of their soldiers, a matter so beset with difficulties that it was the ruin of many; for it was a hard thing to give satisfaction both to soldiers and people; because the people loved peace, and for this reason they loved the unaspiring prince, whilst the
soldiers loved the warlike prince who was bold, cruel, and rapacious, which qualities they were quite willing he should exercise upon the people, so that they could get double pay and give vent to their greed and cruelty. Hence it arose that those emperors were always overthrown who, either by birth or training, had no great authority, and most of them, especially those who came new to the principality, recognizing the difficulty of these two opposing humours, were inclined to give satisfaction to the soldiers, caring little about injuring the people. Which course was necessary, because, as princes cannot help being hated by someone, they ought, in the first place, to avoid being hated by every one, and when they cannot compass this, they ought to endeavour with the utmost diligence to avoid the hatred of the most powerful. Therefore, those emperors who through inexperience had need of special favour adhered more readily to the soldiers than to the people; a course which turned out advantageous to them or not, accordingly as the prince knew how to maintain authority over them…
But Pertinax was created emperor against the wishes of the soldiers, who, being accustomed to live licentiously under Commodus, could not endure the honest life to which Pertinax wished to reduce them; thus, having given cause for hatred, to which hatred there was added contempt for his old age, he was overthrown at the very beginning of his administration. And here it should be noted that hatred is acquired as much by good works as by bad ones, therefore, as I said before, a prince wishing to keep his state is very often forced to do evil; for when that body is corrupt whom you think you have need of to maintain yourself — it may be either the people or the soldiers or the nobles — you have to submit to its humours and to gratify them, and then good works will do you harm.
The highest bidder was Didius Julianus, with whom Machiavelli briefly dealt too:
Knowing the sloth of the Emperor Julian, he (Severus) persuaded the army in Sclavonia, of which he was captain, that it would be right to go to Rome and avenge the death of Pertinax, who had been killed by the praetorian soldiers; and under this pretext, without appearing to aspire to the throne, he moved the army on Rome, and reached Italy before it was known that he had started. On his arrival at Rome, the Senate, through fear, elected him emperor and killed Julian.
Machiavelli used as examples the trajectories of the row of Roman Emperors from Marcus Aurelius to Maximinus for this chapter; his main primary source was presumably Herodian's Roman History.
 

Patito de Hule

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
Sometimes when I have a little time to read, but not enough to read something substantial, I sit down with a book of documentary history or, in this case Cato's Letters. By coincidence, I was up to Letter #63, Jan. 27, 1721 (OS) by G (Thomas Gordon). After mentioning Roman Emperor Pertinax who, iirc, cut the donaria to the Praetorian Guard and was assassinated by him. They then sold the Empire to the highest bidder (whose name I don't remember) who lasted about 90 days. Gordon continues:



So here's another Enlightenment Author in Feb., 1722, who mentions Machiavelli, and not in a derogatory way. I thumbed through the notes on the book and found one other reference to Ch. XIX and several quotes from the Discorsi. Obviously he was widely read and taken seriously.
As Sylla pointed out, the emperor who bought the empire from the Praetorean Guard was Julian who was soon replaced by Severus. I went back to Gibbons and read the pertinent part of that passage (Book 1, Chapter V). Having recently read Machiavelli's Prince and his Discourses on Livy, I found new meaning in that chapter. I won't say Gibbons was influenced by Machiavelli on this, but in one interesting passage in that chapter he wrote:

The true interest of an absolute monarch generally coincides with that of his people. Their numbers, their wealth, their order, and their security, ate the best and only foundations of his real greatness; and were he totally devoid of virture, prudence might supply its place, and would dictate the; same rule of conduct. Severus considered the Roman empire ass his property and had no soooner secured thee possession, than he bestowed his care on the cultivation and improvement of so valuable an acquisition. Salutary laws, executed with inflexible firmness, soon correcteed most of the abuses with which, since the death of Marcus [Aurelius] every part of the government had been infected. In the administration of justice, the judgments of the emperor were characterisecd by attention, discernment, and impartiality; and whenever he deviated from the strict line of equity, it was generally in favour of the poor and oppressed; not so much indeed from any sense of humanity,, as from the natural propensity of a despot, to humble the pride of greatness, and to sink all his subjects to the same common levell of absolute dependence.
This is quite a contrast from the cruelties of Severus of which Gibbons spoke and a contrast from Gibbons declaring Severus a principal author of the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. I could almost believe that Machiavelli was reading Gibbons for his lessons, though the latter wrote in 1776.
 

EmperorTigerstar

Ad Honorem
Jun 2013
6,397
USA
I finished reading it a few weeks ago. An interesting read. I liked it at the concluding chapter when he said the occupation by the French stinks. I didn't expect a more modern blunt statement in there. :lol: