We all know what deceitful manipulation Machiavellian politics are and what foul leaders Machiavellian politicians are. At best Machiavelli is displayed as the first and one of the smartest political theorists, with a realist inclination, a describer of how power works and can be wielded best. Is there more to be learned? Philosophy Bites gives the old Florentine a chance by interviewing Quentin Skinner on the man who remains influential since the sixteenth century.
What immediately was new for me were three facts Skinner tells about Machiavelli. One, he was a successful playwright in his time. Two, Il Principe was unique for being written in Italian, not Latin and three, the book stood in a tradition of advice treatises for the rulers, which were generally written in Latin and bore on the antique writers such as Seneca, Livy and Tacitus . So, the former diplomat, ventures to write in the common vernacular a book with advice for the ruler.
We know what the profound difference is and it struck his contemporaries already. Machiavelli doesn't waste his time in morality rules, he concentrates on what works. If immoral conduct is what is required of the prince, then so be it. He just has to keep up appearances. The deeper level Skinner reveals is that eventually Machiavelli pushes the ruler toward achieving glory. In his realism, he is intelligent enough to understand and to write down, that even though all means are open to acquire the power and to remain there, but that the ultimate efficacy lies herein to be a glorious ruler. And should you want to be credible in this department, better than being a hypocrite, it is to be truly just and fair.
More Philosophy Bites:
Life on the Scales,
Several issues of Philosophy Bites,
Free rider problem.