Machiavelli Is Everywhere

Maybe it's the times, but I'm seeing references to Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince everywhere. Jeffrey Pfeffer's new Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't mentions him only briefly (in a section titled "Likability is Overrated," natch) but Machiavelli's notion that he's describing the world as it is and not as we'd like it to be is Pfeffer's point as well. (If you want to read the original, there are a zillion translations; my favorite is the one by David Wootton, with an introduction that kicks off with Machiavelli being tortured by Florentine authorities.) m1.jpgWriters like Pfeffer are reinforcing how contemporary Machiavelli's ideas are, and now we have a new way to see Machiavelli, too. Artist Don MacDonald is working on a graphic novel that shows how the real mid-level diplomat in 15th-century city has no relation to the evil opportunist he's painted as in the popular imagination. m2.jpgThat's not the only reason I'm following Machiavelli as MacDonald is publishing it online a little at a time. Not only is MacDonald telling the story of the famed author in a new way, but he's using tools we don't often see (well, I don't often see) in English-language graphic novels. There's no superhero stuff, no manga influence. Indeed, it's influenced most by the pen and ink styles of artists in preindustrial Europe, especially the Renaissance and Mannerist artists. It tells an important story in an unexpected way; it's a fascinating project, expertly done. Look at it!


    1. Heh. Shows that if one leave something open for interpretation, the interpreter will inevitably get it batshit wrong.

      I find myself thinking about the issues related to the “king james edition”, and the insistence that the koran is read in its original language…

      or hell, “the street finds its own use for things”…

  1. The Prince was satire. Machiavelli was staunchly for free republics. Nice to see someone trying to communicate that frequently overlooked reality.

    1. Are you sure? Machiavelli seems to be one of those books everyone assumes is satire, but the main evidence is just how far over the top it is.

  2. Interesting, i have had a ebook copy (thanks to the gutenberg project) sitting on a pda for some time now.

  3. One of Machiavelli’s most timely points was on distribution of wealth; he made the argument that when the gap between the Rich and the Rest got too vast in a city/community/state, the Rich had more in common with the Rich of other places than they had with their own neighbors, and so they effectively left the community altogether and could no longer be counted on to act in the community’s best interest. It’s a crucial principle not only in terms of wealth distribution but in globalization, where our wealthiest capitalists aren’t truly citizens of the nations where they live any more, since so much of their business is done abroad.

  4. There was a rumor that Richard Nixon kept a copy of “The Prince” on his bedside table. Never checked it out.

    1. Nixon was a Realist. Realists tend to be fans of The Prince. So, Nixon probably read The Prince on more than one occasion.

      People often read in or near their bed. They often keep the book they are currently reading on their bedside table for this purpose. So, Nixon certainly could have kept a copy of The Prince on his bedside table at least for some period of time.

      Therefore, I’ll call this myth “Plausible”.

      1. Nixon was a Realist. Realists tend to be fans of The Prince.

        Is that what you wacky kids are calling sociopaths these days? I just can’t keep up with this modern slang.

  5. Maybe Machiavelli contributed to Nixon’s resolve to end Vietnam. (An invaded state is the hardest type of monarchy to establish and hold.) Yes, I know he tried to end it by winning it first. So did Kennedy and Johnson.

    Maybe Machiavelli contributed to Nixon’s consent to sign a nationalized health care bill, which the “wacky kids” of today would have grown up with had he not been impeached. (Institutions serving the public solidify the state.)

  6. Yes Machiavellianism is all around us now but it’s not any more so than in the past. What is new is the imminent destruction of our planet because those with “intelligence” and/or access to the tools of power are unable and/or unwilling to control themselves.

  7. Is it me or is the Machiavelli portrait on the wikipedia entry a little…out of proportion?

    It looks like the painter plopped his head on the body of Henry VIII in his later years.

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