Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A kinder, gentler Machiavelli?

This week, my book post on s+b's blogs is about scholar Maurizio Viroli's new interpretation of Machiavelli and The Prince:

A Call for True Machiavellian Leadership

It’s been 500 years—half a millennium—since Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince, and for nearly as long, the man and the book have stimulated controversy and debate. The Catholic Church banned
Machiavelli’s works in 1559 (putting him in the company of Plato, Aristotle, and Homer). Since then, The Prince, a foundational text in statecraft that served as the basis for the realist school of politics, has been characterized as a “handbook for tyrants” and condemned for separating ethics and politics.

So I was understandably curious when a review copy of Redeeming The Prince: The Meaning of Machiavelli’s Masterpiece (Princeton University Press, 2013) arrived a couple of weeks ago. In it, Maurizio Viroli, a leading Machiavelli scholar and politics professor emeritus at Princeton who currently teaches at the University of Italian Switzerland, makes a strong argument for rethinking widely held assumptions about The Prince.

Viroli suggests that our understanding of the book has been skewed by misinterpretations of its historical setting and by a lack of attention to several of its key sections. As a result, we’ve unfairly demonized The Prince and its author. Machiavelli (1469–1527) was calling for a more unified and free Italy, Viroli says, and The Prince was intended to be a handbook for a leader who would undertake the task of restoring the republic—a redeemer, not a tyrant. 

Since The Prince has been widely read by business leaders, I asked Viroli if his new interpretation should prompt them to think differently of his response here.

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