The Prince and Other Writings (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Prince and Other Writings (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080600
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 10/01/2003
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 38,644
Product dimensions: 5.84(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.74(d)

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From Wayne Rebhorn’s Introduction to The Prince and Other Writings

All of Machiavelli’s works, and especially The Prince, can be read as a series of responses to the crises he was living through, to the personal crisis he experienced when the Florentine republic fell in 1512, and to the larger crises involving Italian and international politics, the theoretical conception of the state, and the vision of the ruler. Or perhaps it would be better to say that his texts are not just passive responses to those crises, but active attempts to define, to give voice to, what was happening in the world around him, and indeed to promote action in that world as well. In them Machiavelli is asking over and over the same questions: why are we Italians so weak, so much unlike our Roman ancestors? Why have we become the prey of the larger states around us? And how can we remedy this situation? What sort of state and what sort of ruler will allow us not just to maintain our independence, but perhaps to regain some of the glory of ancient Rome? Bound up with these questions was Machiavelli’s more personal one: why did I fail, and how can I get back the political role I once played in the republic? As he tries to answer these questions in The Prince, the Discourses, and his other works, he also grapples with the problem of how to make sense out of history, how to extract useful lessons from it so that we can avoid the mistakes of the past.

Although Machiavelli theorizes about politics throughout his works, he takes pains to separate what he is doing from the work of pure theorists. Thus, at the start of chapter 15 in The Prince, he distinguishes himself from those who “have imagined republics and principalities for themselves which have never been seen or known to exist in reality.” Instead, he tells us, he writes about la verità effetuale della cosa, “the effectual truth of the matter.” By “effectual truth” he means a truth—about politics as well as about human nature—that has an effect in the real world, rather than something more purely speculative or contemplative. Although More’s Utopia might seem to be the sort of work about an imaginary republic that Machiavelli is objecting to here, it was written in 1515 and 1516, some two years or so after Machiavelli started working on The Prince. Nevertheless, More’s thought-experiment about the best of all possible states grows out of a long tradition, which Machiavelli surely knew, of imagining ideal states and rulers, a tradition that stretches back into antiquity and that has Plato’s Republic as one of its clear progenitors. Moreover, there was a genre of political writing to which both authors are responding in their books, a genre called the speculum principis, the “mirror for princes,” in which authors composed idealized portraits of princes and their duties in order to offer instruction to rulers and rulers in training. The great Dutch Humanist Desiderius Erasmus had written just such a volume, the Institutio principis christiani (The Education of a Christian Prince), for Charles V, and published it in 1516. Like many works in this genre that stretch back well into the Middle Ages, Erasmus’s book offers sober advice stressing the importance of Judeo-Christian morality as the basis for governing. While More’s Utopia fits quite comfortably into this genre in many ways, Machiavelli’s Prince can almost be read as a parody of its idealistic moralizing, for his book repeatedly underscores the gap between morality and politics, insisting that a prince who tries to do good in a world full of bad people will inevitably come to grief. Machiavelli takes the name of the genre seriously: he tries to reflect in the “mirror” of his book what real princes really do—and must do—in the real world if they are to obtain and maintain political power.

In keeping with his preference for an effectual truth that bears fruit in the real world, Machiavelli stresses the importance of judging human beings and their deeds in terms of how things turn out in the end. This is not the same thing as saying that the end justifies the means, although sometimes Machiavelli is interpreted that way. Revealingly, in chapter 18 of The Prince, “How Princes Must Keep Their Word,” he uses a phrase that shows just how different his thought is on this subject. The phrase occurs just after Machiavelli has declared that a prince must appear to be “all mercy, all loyalty, all sincerity, all humanity, all religion,” although he need not actually have any of these qualities. The reason is that men in general judge things by appearances and that the few who may perceive the truth will be overwhelmed by the many who do not. Moreover, he continues, “in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no court of appeal, one looks at the outcome.” “One looks at the outcome”: si guarda al fine. Machiavelli’s statement here may seem to suggest he is saying that the end or outcome justifies whatever means the prince might use to achieve it—in other words, that a good end makes even the most wicked means morally acceptable. But what he is really saying is that people will judge a prince’s means to be good as long as he succeeds and the outcome is beneficial to them. Machiavelli admits, both here and in his works generally, that morality may be a good thing, but it is not what drives people’s behavior in the real world. What he is not saying, however, is also important, for by not declaring that the end justifies the means for the prince, he is not offering the prince a convenient way out of the moral dilemma he faces, which results from the fact that if he wants to gain and keep political power, he has to do despicable things that cannot really be justified morally by the end he pursues. If one could argue that a prince who does evil does it simply in order to bring about some greater moral good—defined as, say, political stability or economic welfare— then this problem would vanish. Such a move was precisely the one made by political theorists in Machiavelli’s wake who came up with the idea of ragione di stato or raison d’état—namely, that some serious and morally unimpeachable “reason of state” could justify the most criminally culpable acts. By contrast, what Machiavelli is saying is harder, more uncomfortable, more thought-provoking, and more cynical: sometimes the prince must do evil simply because he cannot gain or preserve power otherwise, but as long as he succeeds and people benefit from it, they will not be upset.

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The Prince and Other Writings 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
flowersophelia More than 1 year ago
If you are a collector of classic books, like to have a well stocked personal library, are looking to familiarize yourself with those books that "any well educated, well read person should read", or are just a fan of Machiovelli, this is a great buy for you. This edition of The Prince is a beautifully bond book that will look great on a collector's shelf or as part of a set of Niccolo Machiovelli's work. I picked this book up simply because Machiovelli is referenced in so many books anymore that I felt I should read his work in order to better understand the references. Now I am glad I did because it is just so interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What sticks with me after reading 'The Prince' is how blunt the text is regarding the value of human life. The most interesting feature, to me, was the purposeful lack of discussion regarding moral obligation. Machiavelli makes no mention of right or wrong only of what is necessary. This is a fast read, however, agree with the methods or not, you will be intrigued by this look into the political theory of conquests.
DeneMD More than 1 year ago
Just a great little volume in hardback showing the political mind and humor of the time. Please check it out.
carterchristian1 on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Excellent introduction to this figure so important to the development of the state and politics. There is a very good biographical sketch of Michiavelli that places him in the historical and geographical context of the time, begins with a chronology, has maps, then selections of his writings. He lived a full life in difficult times.
chellinsky on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Reading The Prince made me realize that I liked Machiavelli's take on the justness and rightness of war better than the Catholic philosophers. To use a metaphor from a class I took on the Great Books on World Politics, where the Catholics tried to fit a square peg into a round hole, Machiavelli just used the round peg. In other words, rather than using convoluted logic to make a dubious argument as Aquinas insisted upon, Machiavelli used one maxim--uphold the benefit of the people of the state above all else--and drew conclusions from that. Sure, this may require unsavory acts, but at least he is upfront and honest about it. He doesn't cloak it in the way Aquinas and Augustine do.
julsitos2 on LibraryThing 21 days ago
The best way to manipulate a group of people. Very readable translation. GMA's bible in controlling the Filipino masses.
davidpwithun on LibraryThing 21 days ago
This was a very interesting read. Machiavelli was certainly an interesting man with some interesting, and somewhat complicated, ideas. I appreciate that this particular translation of The Prince included other related works by Machiavelli, including even some portions of his Discourses on Livy. The translation was also spectacular and I especially appreciate that the translator pointed out in the text each time that Machiavelli used the Italian word "virtu" or a related word, a word that is very important in Machiavelli's lexicon and has great implications for his philosophy. The introduction and notes at the end of each chapter were also excellent resources for further information about references that Machiavelli makes to events and people in his own life as well as throughout European history. The Prince is an interesting work all on its own, a foundational work for modern political philosophy, but this particular version made it much more accessible and for that I am very grateful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay read. A bit historical for my taste.
AlexeyB More than 1 year ago
Excellent read! This is how a true book should be presented; no introduction, or an attempt to explain the authors meaning, which usually turns into someones opinion, that totally distracts from enjoyment of the book and wastes pages. I will highly reccomend this edition, keeping in mind that one should know who Machiavelli was.
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Lockhart7 More than 1 year ago
Definitely worth it if you're interested in 15th century literature. It can be confusing at times (which makes the Barnes & Nobles Classics footnotes all the more appreciated). Read it carefully. Not only is it packed full of intricate & stern advice, it's based on a lot of Italian history that not many readers (myself included) might be aware of. In a few instances, Machiavelli comes off as an unbelievable sexist, comparing "Fortune or fate" to a female who must be beaten upon to be conquered. But closer analysis shows many of his ideas have double meanings. If you can get past his pigheadedness, Machiavelli does actually have some valuable advice for rulers and regular people alike.