Top positive review
14 of 14 people found this helpful
It's not enough to read "The Prince" to say you know he was about
on January 6, 2010
Many people have never read anything by Machiavelli except The Prince, and they assume that's all they need to know about his writings. But The Prince is the equivalent of Marx's Communist Manifesto--Machiavelli's real political treatise is The Discourses, just as Marx's was Das Kapital.
You have to understand that The Prince was a piece he wrote in an effort to get a job with a particular ruler. And while the Prince is much more pithy and quotable than the Discourses, it's in the Discourses that you'll find where his real sympathies lay. Here are some quotes from the Discourses:
"Now in a well-ordered republic it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures" (ch. XXXIV, p. 203 in this edition)
"...there can be no worse example in a republic than to make a law and not to observe it" (ch. XLV, p. 229)
"...if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious." (ch. LVIII, p. 264)
The Discourses talks all about politics and governing, and it makes you want to go out and rule a country! Very cool. At times he betrays an attitude that's almost modern, and maybe that's part of why he was vilified in his day. At other times he sounds strangely archaic, but that's hardly surprising for a fifteenth-century Italian.
That said, this translation of the Prince is very mediocre, and for that I give the book four stars instead of five. It talks a lot about calumnies, for instance, which is unsettling if you don't happen to know what a calumny is before picking up the book. And it uses "contemn" as a verb, which is also archaic (we still use the noun--contempt--but not the verb!).
More seriously, it makes the common mistake of translating the Italian word "vertu" as English "virtue". It's partly because of that sort of translation error that Machiavelli has a bad reputation in the English-speaking world. While "vertu" can mean virtue, it also has other meanings that have nothing necessarily to do with virtue, including strength, force of character, etc. So this translation, in a particularly egregious passage, talks about Hannibal's "inhuman cruelty...together with his infinite other virtues" (ch. XVII, p. 62)--which gives an English speaker a jaw-dropping "WTF?" moment.
That said, it's not a BAD translation of the Prince, just a middling one (the translation of the Discourses is good), and this volume is worth picking up to see what Machiavelli had to say about politics and government. This was a guy who understood politics better than most people then or now, and who loved watching and studying the operation of government--almost like an engineer appreciates the functioning of machinery. He wanted to explain what works and what doesn't, and he had an uncanny grasp of how politics fits together.