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Valin

The Machiavelli We Deserve

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Gladden J. Pappin
Mar. 24 2017

The Quotable Machiavelli is a wry title for Maurizio Viroli’s new collection. Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532) immediately became one of the most widely quoted handbooks on political prudence in Western history. The Prince’s twenty-six chapters organize pithy sayings and short lessons under titles such as “What a Prince Should Do Regarding the Military” and “Of Avoiding Contempt and Hatred.” The busy prince faces no more than one hundred pages of text in the typical edition of The Prince. Every reader of Machiavelli’s signal volume keeps memorable verses in mind, or can find them after a brief perusal of the volume.

Viroli’s new volume, by contrast, presents the reader with 285 pages of carefully culled quotations from The Prince, Discourses on Livy (1531), as well as Machiavelli’s plays, histories and personal correspondences—including the observations of others. The quotations are classified under seven general headers: “Machiavelli on Himself, His Family, and Friends,” “Machiavelli Described by His Relatives, Friends, and Lovers,” “Man and Cosmos,” “The Human Condition,” “Political Life,” “Machiavelli on His Contemporaries” and “Past and Present.” Within the seven general headers Viroli introduces 155 subsections, with headers ranging from the seemingly un-Machiavellian “God’s Mercy,” the unusually modern “The Death Penalty,” and typically Machiavellian topics such as “Accusations and Calumnies.” Readers seeking Machiavelli’s opinion on “Turks and the Turkish Empire” will find it in its appropriate place.

The mix-and-match approach has one distinct advantage, however, over the commonplace scholarly approach that divides The Prince from Discourses on Livy and Machiavelli’s other works. By joining what the separate texts divide, it points readers to the consistency in Machiavelli’s reflection beyond the putative separation of reflections on principalities from those on republics. Viroli’s section on “The Founders and Reformers of States,” for example, interposes quotations from The Prince and the Discourses, as well as Machiavelli’s lesser known Discourse on Remodeling the Government of Florence (1520). While the contexts are necessarily missing in collections of quotations, readers will still find enough material to begin considering whether Machiavelli’s quotable advice is consistent, contains modifications, or hides its consistency behind necessary modifications. Readers’ eyes naturally gravitate toward shorter quotations in books such as this one, as they seem punchier and presumably carry more weight. Viroli’s selections on foundings thus highlight Machiavelli’s short remark in the Discourses that, “In proportion as the founders of a republic or monarchy are entitled to praise, so do the founders of a tyranny deserve execration.” From The Prince he draws the comment that “Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as the undertaking of great enterprises and the setting of a noble example in his own person.” The surrounding quotations gather important additional statements that form a beginning point for Machiavelli’s complex teaching on foundings.

(Snip)

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