Ruthless struggles for political power. Calculating political families wielding their vast wealth and influence with the prevailing religious institution to further their ambition. Men and women spending years networking
, forging relationships, currying favor and patronage all for personal political and material gain...
A description of contemporary American politics? An episode of Dallas? No, this is a description of Renaissance Florentine politics, the type navigated by Niccolo Machiavelli in 16th-century Italy.
Best known for The Prince, his book illustrating the philosophy of political realism, Machiavelli's name has become synonymous with unscrupulous cunning and deception. This is a misnomer, one which embraces only the most extreme viewpoints in The Prince. Following the execution of Savonarola, Machiavelli served the Florentine people in their struggle against the ruling factions of his day — the Albizzi family, the Medici, and the Borgias.
The custom of the Pope changing his name upon his accession is a fabulous public relations coup; "Pope Alexander VI" sounds pleasant enough, but it was Rodrigo Borgia under those crimson robes. Honestly, the Ewings had nothing on the people Machiavelli knew.
Our copy of Princeps was printed in 1595. It is lovely in a later full calf binding, nicely rebacked. Written to curry favor with the Medici, The Prince was never published during Machiavelli's lifetime. He published The Art of War in 1521 while his histories — Discourses on Livy and History of Florence — were printed after his death in 1527.
The political, moral, and social theories of Machiavelli endure, as this photo of the contents of a book vending machine shows. He believed in the idea of a republic. What might he have thought of democracy and the Internet?
Thanks to all who voted in the 2008 election.