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Reading Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince and Ch. 1-20 of The Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy.
What's a philosophically astute approach to political matters? What makes a government successful? Should you keep that fortress or sell it for scrap? If you conquer, say, Iraq, do you have to then go and live there for the occupation to work out? Is it OK to display the heads of your enemies on spikes, or should you opt for a respectful diorama?
Besides the famous Prince, Mr. M. wrote, at about the same time, the Discourses on Livy which focus on republics instead of princedoms, so the combined picture is less out of sync with our time than you might think, meaning we talk about G.W. Bush for a bit (sorry).
Plus: An inspirational speech to play at middle school assemblies across the land!
Skim the texts at here and here, or you can buy this book that includes both works.
The Isaiah Berlin article we talk about a bit is "The Originality of Machiavelli," which you read most of if you search for the essay title in this book preview.
End song: "Se Piangi, Se Ridi" (Mogol/Marchetti/Satti), recorded by Mark Lint in 2000.
hi, loved the show. Just finding you guys for first time! I am wondering if you have a link or text copy of the “I am awesome” speech at the end of the podcast… it was super hilarious and I thought it would be fun to share as I work at a mental health facility with therapists!!
Seth Paskin says
Thanks Beth! Mark claimed to have written the inspirational speech down (he couldn’t possibly have memorized it!) and was going to post it here. I’ll make sure that he does.
First I’d like to thank and congratulate all involved for this oasis in an internet sea of banality.
I think when discussing the influence of Machievelli we need not focus on The State as such. The only example of a State that may have used Machievelli’s text that I can think of offhand is North Korea and the Jong-Il dynasty. Even if his text was not an influence, I believe he could point to the application of his ideals for Statecraft.
Now if we turn the discussion to Business, I think we’ll find Machievelli has had a dramatic impact. Reading The Prince as the leader of a multinational, in a very competitive industry, I see many parallels to current and past strategies. Plus it’s fun to picture CEO’s sitting in their offices with a dog-eared copy attempting to apply Machievellian theory for an upcoming Shareholder meeting.
Seth Paskin says
Thanks Thom. I can’t remember if we addressed this issue or not, but you are correct that the connection is obvious. Whether M. holds truly relevant lessons for CEOs…well, some people think so. Just Google “Machiavelli for business” and see what you get. One clear issue is whether his kind of statesmenship would be applicable where labor has mobility – where you can work someplace else.
Kyle Thompson says
I just wanted to mention that Lee Kwan Yew is a good example of someone who successfully applied the principles of The Prince. The terror he used to establish the modern Singaporean state was fairly brief. He then proceeded to try to set up a “non-expansionist” state similar to how Machiavelli described Sparta in The Discourses (That is, the non-Roman type of state he says can work).
Seth Paskin says
Interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing. I’m not well informed enough to judge and I don’t remember all the details of this discussion well enough to comment but I appreciate your bringing an example outside our horizon to the table.
I’m a decade late to the party, but great job all. I wanted to make two points: Machiavelli’s model of degenerating forms of government comes straight from Polybius, the Greek historian who mapped Roman mixed government. Though M never credits him, this could only have come from Polybius. And our founders, particularly John Adams, studied carefully both Machiavelli and Polybius – and implemented their lessons far better than the French and Russian revolutionaries did! As a historian with an interest in making history more philosophically sound, and making philosophy more historically grounded, I really appreciate you. Keep up the good work!
A link to a complete PDF of “The Originality of Machiavelli” by Isaiah Berlin (source seems stable, may be worth updating the post):
Wes! You can’t correct Seth’s pronunciation of Consul if you’re gonna call the Medici the Demici the whole time!
Other than tearing my hair out, great episode!
Steven Toh says
Good blog, thanks for sharing….. Niccolo Machiavelli quoted “It is about a citizen who becomes the prince of his country not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens. We can call this ‘civil principality’. Now, this kind of principality (princely state)—·this way of becoming a prince·—is obtained with the support of the common people or with the support of the nobles.”
I tried to write a blog about him, hope you like it: https://stenote.blogspot.com/2018/02/an-interview-with-niccolo.html
This discussion is frighteningly prescient. How did you guys know that a right wing gang of maniacs was going to invade the capital?