Redeeming "The Prince"

Redeeming "The Prince": The Meaning of Machiavelli's Masterpiece

Maurizio Viroli
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fgzg0
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  • Book Info
    Redeeming "The Prince"
    Book Description:

    In Redeeming "The Prince," one of the world's leading Machiavelli scholars puts forth a startling new interpretation of arguably the most influential but widely misunderstood book in the Western political tradition. Overturning popular misconceptions and challenging scholarly consensus, Maurizio Viroli also provides a fresh introduction to the work. Seen from this original perspective, five centuries after its composition, The Prince offers new insights into the nature and possibilities of political liberation.

    Rather than a bible of unscrupulous politics, The Prince, Viroli argues, is actually about political redemption--a book motivated by Machiavelli's patriotic desire to see a new founding for Italy. Written in the form of an oration, following the rules of classical rhetoric, the book condenses its main message in the final section, "Exhortation to liberate Italy from the Barbarians." There Machiavelli creates the myth of a redeemer, an ideal ruler who ushers in an era of peace, freedom, and unity. Contrary to scholars who maintain that the exhortation was added later, Viroli proves that Machiavelli composed it along with the rest of the text, completing the whole by December 1513 or early 1514.

    Only if we read The Prince as a theory of political redemption, Viroli contends, can we at last understand, and properly evaluate, the book's most controversial pages on political morality, as well as put to rest the cliché of Machiavelli as a "Machiavellian."

    Bold, clear, and provocative, Redeeming "The Prince" should permanently change how Machiavelli and his masterpiece are understood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4842-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    The majority of scholars have damned Machiavelli’s The Prince as the work of a teacher of evil. Those few who have written words of praise have interpreted it as the “book of Republicans,” to cite Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous sentence from the Contrat Social;¹ or as the text that inaugurates modern political realism and modern political science; or as the courageous essay that at last has explained to us that the actions of princes cannot be judged using the same criteria that we use for human actions in general and that therefore politics is autonomous from ethics.

    In my opinion, none...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Prince as a Redeemer
    (pp. 23-65)

    The redeemer appears in the Prince, along with the armed prophet, in chapter VI (“Of new principalities acquired by one’s own troops and virtue”). Until then, Machiavelli had discussed, in a cold and detached tone, the various types of principalities—new, hereditary, mixed—and had isolated one of the general principles of his work: “I say, therefore, that in completely new principalities, where there is a new prince, greater or lesser difficulty in maintaining them exists according to the greater or lesser virtue of the person who acquires them.” Then he cites the great men who became princes by their...

  7. CHAPTER TWO A Realist with Imagination
    (pp. 66-91)

    At this stage of my argument, I must address another serious objection to the view that The Prince’s fundamental message is about political emancipation and redemption—namely, Machiavelli’s much celebrated (or blamed) realism. The image of the founder and redeemer that he shapes is clearly a work of imagination, even if he was exhorting real human beings like the Medici to assume that role and suggested that someone like the Duke Valentino had some of the necessary qualities of a new prince. By imagination, I mean here the intellectual effort to conceive a political and moral reality that is radically...

  8. CHAPTER THREE A Great Oration
    (pp. 92-112)

    Machiavelli composed The Prince to give life, with his words, to a redeemer capable of arousing “obstinate faith,” and “piety,” and to revive the “ancient valor” in the hearts of the Italians. He had in mind similar goals when he set down to write the Discourses on Livy. He was hoping to shape the “spirits” of youths in order to encourage them to eschew their own times, filled with “every extreme misery, infamy, and reproach,” and to emulate the times of antiquity, so filled with virtue and religion. In The Art of War, he wanted to encourage his contemporaries and...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR A Prophet of Emancipation
    (pp. 113-148)

    The interpretation of The Prince as a text on political redemption has a long and fascinating history, although much less studied in comparison with the readings of Machiavelli’s treatise as a theory of statecraft independent from ethics, or as the foundation of modern political science, or as a disguised book for republicans. What follows is only a partial reconstruction of the impact of the myth of the redeemer that Machiavelli designed in The Prince.

    In Machiavelli’s lifetime, and for many years to come, until the late eighteenth century, his invocation of a redeemer had no intellectual or political impact. As...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 149-180)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 181-190)