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The Prince [Norton Critical Edition] by…
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The Prince [Norton Critical Edition]

by Niccolo Machiavelli

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471334,213 (4)2
Accurate, highly readable, and thoroughly revised for the Second Edition, this translation renders Machiavelli's 1513 political tract into clear and concise English."Backgrounds" relies entirely upon Machiavelli's other writings to place this central Florentine in his proper political and historical context. Included are excerpts from The Discourses, a report from a diplomatic mission, a collection of private letters, and two poems from Carnival Songs."Interpretations" retains three of the previous edition's seminal essays while adding five selections by Felix Gilbert, Federico Chabod, J. H. Whitfield, Isaiah Berlin, and Robert M. Adams."Marginalia" is an eclectic collection of writings germane to both Machiavelli and The Prince. Of the eight selections represented, five of them are new to the Second Edition, including Pasquale Villari's comic portrayal of Machiavelli's first diplomatic post in 1499, Francesco Guicciardini's lofty rebuttal to Machiavelli, and a collection of Tuscan Sayings to further the reader's understanding of this timeless text.An updated Selected Bibliography is also included.… (more)

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This is the Norton Critical Edition. Robert M. Adams's translation has his invaluable notes. No other edition has these notes which are concise and explain all the personalities and military exploits which inform Machiavelli's narrative. So one is able to see what clarity Machiavelli brought to his task. He lays out his rules for a prince and then marshalls pertinent examples. Augmenting the classic text is a section called "Backgrounds" which are selections of other Machiavelli writings. There is some correspondence from the time he served as Florentine diplomat to the court of the rapacious Cesare Borgia, illegitimate son of Pope Julius II.
1 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
I better read on this.
  ChrisBriden | Nov 17, 2013 |
“This is why armed prophets always win and unarmed prophets lose”

“A prince therefore should have no other object, no other thought, no other subject of study, than war; its rules and disciplines”

“It is good to appear merciful, truthful, humane, sincere and religious, it is good to be so in reality, But you must keep your mind so disposed that in case of need you can turn to the exact contrary”

“If you have to make a choice; to be feared is much safer than to be loved. For it is a good general rule about men; that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain.”

These quotes from Machiavelli’s The Prince are one of the reasons he has received such a bad press, however most successful politicians and all ruling tyrants would wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments. This is a clue I think to why when we read Machiavelli today we still find him disturbing, it is as though he has lifted a stone to let us peer beneath and our only concern is to replace the stone as quickly as possible.

Machiavelli was concerned to give technical advice to a Prince (and for Prince we can substitute any ruler including republicans) on how he should retain power and rule his subjects. Some of this advice has become notorious, for instance; one must employ terrorism or kindness according to the situation faced, it is best to keep people poor and always prepared for war, competition between classes in society is desirable because it promotes energy and enterprise, religion must be promoted even though it may be false as it preserves social solidarity, if your actions must be drastic get it over with quickly so that it is soon forgotten and do not advertise it beforehand or your enemies might destroy you, ensure that you extinguish the line of any previous rulers. There are plenty more gems like this but Machiavelli was not out to promote wickedness, he was concerned with writing a treatise that would appear real, practical and useful to its recipient. He says:in a note to the magnificent Lorenzo de Medici:

“I wanted my book to be absolutely plain, or at least distinguished only by the variety of the examples and the importance of the subject”

To understand Machiavelli it is useful to know more about the circumstances of his composition of “The Prince”

Machiavelli served for 15 years in public service to the republican rulers (committee of ten) in Florence. He carried out many diplomatic duties, some of which involved negotiations with the infamous Cesare Borgia. (whom he admired). The Florentine state had no regular army and had to rely on mercenaries and at that time both France and Spain were pushing to annexe territory in Italy. The Florentines survived by diplomacy and skills as merchants, but Machiavelli realised this was not enough and put together his own army. His worst fears were confirmed when the Florentine army was easily routed by Spanish regulars who restored the Medici as the ruling faction in Florence. Machiavelli was imprisoned and tortured but finally allowed to retire to the countryside with the proviso that he should take no further part in politics. He therefore had a wealth of experience as a politician in renaissance Italy, which was a time when force prevailed and murder and war were common place. Machiavelli lived for his public life and almost in desperation penned The Prince in 1513, which he planned to give to Lorenzo Duke of Urbino, as a way back into public life. He was therefore intent on writing a guide for rulers, ones who were steeped in the practicalities of surviving in turbulent times and who were not interested in idealism or dogma. As far as we know he never got his treatise presented to Lorenzo and manuscript copies leaked out, with a bowdlerised copy printed just four years before Machiavelli’s death in 1523.

The Prince takes just 68 pages to say what it has to say, but ever since its publication it has proved to hold a fascination for political thinkers and philosophers, much has been written about it and |I am sure that Machiavelli would be flattered by the attention it has received, but what makes it so worthy of our attention apart from the obvious fact that it is an important social document. Isaiah Berlin thinks he has the answer in his essay “The Question of Machiavelli” included here in The Norton Critical Edition. Machiavelli’s huge step forward was to deny that morality (Christian Morality) had a place in politics. He did not deny the validity of Christian morality but said that if you wanted to bring morality into politics you would be destroyed. In politics crimes might have to be committed it did not make them right, but all the same they were necessary for the greater good (of the ruler certainly). If you wanted to follow a moral code then stay out of politics and take the consequences.

Also I think there were other reasons why Machiavelli’s treatise seemed so radical. He thought that the idea of fortune’s wheel was an anachronism. Man could to a certain extent control his own destiny. Sure fortune could be good or bad but the wise ruler could use both to his own advantage. Machiavelli’s ideas on the creation of an army of local volunteers loyal to the state were also extremely relevant to the times in which he lived and if he had been successful in getting such an army up to speed, he would have been as great an expansionist as Cesare Borgia. Machiavelli was also concerned to use plenty of examples of ‘good practice’ from antiquity and so the book has a feeling of paganism about it, there are also examples used from recent Florentine history, but these are more often than not negative.

The Prince is not a difficult read especially in The Norton Critical edition translated by Robert M Adams. It is well annotated and the edition also contains excerpts from Machiavelli’s discourses, letters from his time as a working diplomat and some poetry. There is also an excellent selection of essays by critics and historians that add considerably to the reading experience and certainly to the size of the book, which including appendices and an index clocks in at over 300 pages. I thoroughly enjoyed it and as an example of putting a text in context then the Norton edition works superbly. It is “The Princes” 500th birthday next year and I wholeheartedly recommend it. A five star read.

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14 vote baswood | Aug 9, 2012 |
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