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On Niccolò Machiavelli

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For some reason I couldn’t read the book as the format turned out a weird string of jumbled letters/numbers

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A hypothetical question: should we impose increasingly severe sentences on criminals? Or should we prefer a system that actually prevents re-offending, since, in the UK, the majority of those imprisoned have done time before? The first option might be based on ideology, the second on practicality.

I ask this because it highlights one aspect of Machiavelli's clear-sighted analysis of society and statecraft. Never mind the ideal; this is the reality. To achieve a peaceful and stable society, “the Prince” must first gain then hold power, and have the respect and co-operation of all citizens. Doing so could include violence to begin with, and continuing force to uphold a rule of law that covers both rich and poor. But this does not equate to “the end justifies the means” — a phrase Machiavelli never wrote. Gabriele Pedullà's excellent book illuminates this, and has taught me much more about Machiavelli the man, the background to his ideas, and the war-torn context of 15th/16th-century Italy.

In advising the new ruler of Florence (in “The Prince”), shockingly, Machiavelli did not consider the ethics taught by Christianity. For this, he was condemned by contemporary Humanists as well as the Church. In later centuries, he was denounced as immoral, praised as a rationalist, and claimed as a revolutionary by both fascists and communists. Pedullà points out that, in fact, Machiavelli was far more interesting and original in “his attention to social and political bonds, his fiercely anti-oligarchic stance, his appreciation for self-made leaders who did not rely on family privilege in their ascent, [and] his full awareness of the economic aspects of power relations.” His influential works certainly deserve continuing study — very ably supported by this book.

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This book cleverly presents Machiavelli in terms of his historical context as well as showing his relevance to a modern audience. This is important as readers seek to understand the context in which Machiavelli lived and wrote while also understanding his works through modern eyes. Very well written, the book is accessible and engaging to anyone interested in the person or the period.

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