What “Machiavellian” really means - Pazit Cahlon and Alex Gendler
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When the Medici fell, Machiavelli experienced a sharp reversal of fortune, and when they were re-instated, he was unable to secure his former position and devoted his time to writing. Historians Quentin Skinner, Lisa Jardine, and Evelyn Welch discuss Machiavelli’s The Prince in the context of his time in a BBC4 Radio program here.
Quentin Skinner also speaks to Nigel Warburton about The Prince regarding the historical context of the book, but looking more closely at the intellectual background to Machiavelli’s writing, as well as the structure, the core concepts and the themes of the book. Skinner discusses The Prince as a response to Cicero’s and Seneca’s ideals for virtuous and just leaders. From the Open University course “Reading Political Philosophy from Machiavelli to Mill” here.
In a special supplement to the New York Review of Books in 1971, philosopher Isaiah Berlin wondered why people were (and continue to be) so shocked by The Prince, when other texts, written earlier, had said similar, and similarly brutal things. You can explore the full piece here.
The Prince was unique in that it was written in Italian, rather than in Latin. This may have delayed the spread of the actual text across Europe, and possibly allowed for rumors about the text to precede it. Translator Tim Parks talks about the original Italian and why he agreed to tackle a new translation of The Prince here.
Historians and scholars continue to argue whether or not Machiavelli wrote The Prince in earnest or as satire. Erica Benner, in her book, Be Like the Fox, argues that Machiavelli was astute, aware, and deliberate in his send-up of political machinations, highlighting the actions of successful and failed leaders so that the citizens of a republic could recognize how they were being ruled. She writes about this in an article for The Guardian here.
Professor Paolo Carta notes that The Prince was a turning point in political thought in that Machiavelli aimed to provide leaders with a guideline for political action, much as a judge is able to use a set of laws. He delivered a talk on the 500th anniversary of The Prince in 2013 at Oxford Foundation for Law, Justice, and Society.
Machiavelli, as we have seen, was concerned with power, and he might have appreciated Eric Liu’s TED Talk on why people need to understand it.
Lastly, you might enjoy exploring more of the context of Florence from Etruscan times to the Medici and beyond. The city is a UN World Heritage site because of its many Renaissance masterpieces of art and architecture. Explore more of Machiavelli’s home town here.
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