October 30, 2006


Caption: The Renaissance prince, represented here by bantam rooster Denny Dimwit, needed wise counsel to stay in power.

"Am I subtle? Am I a Machiavell?"--Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor

Recently, El Cabrero has resumed an acquaintance with an old friend.

The friend in question, however, isn't a person but a little book by someone with the world's all time bad reputation.

I'm referring to The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.

Talk about a PR problem--both this guy's names became words. The Machiavellian connotation of the last name is obvious, but it may be due to him that one of the devil's nicknames is Old Nick.

Not fair!

OK, so The Prince is no substitute for the scout manual nor is it a universal guide to human conduct (although people have done and are doing worse). But it's still a fun book that will provide lots of food for thought.

And Machiavelli was no monster, either. Most people would be surprised to learn that my Florentine friend who lived between 1469 and 1527 was a lifelong and ardent supporter of republican government.

His support for and service to the republic of Florence were rewarded with arrest and torture when the Medicis regained power there in 1512.

He wrote quite a bit about the advantages of liberty and relative social equality (although you will find more of that in the Discourses on Livy than The Prince).He even indirectly influenced the thinking of the American founding fathers.

No less an egalitarian than Jean Jacques Rousseau said of him that "under the pretence of instructing kings, he has taught important lessons to the people."

Even when he wrote advice for princes, he disparaged the nobility and extolled the virtues of the common people. He noted in the Prince that

the aim of the people is more honest than that of the nobility, the latter desiring to oppress; and the former merely to avoid oppression.

Next time: down on the farm with Old Nick.


No comments: