Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Machiavelli and the World that He Made

by Philip Bobbitt

Pub Date: June 11th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2074-8
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

A convoluted return to the misunderstood work of the wily Florentine bureaucrat and philosopher.

Bobbitt (Law, Center for National Security/Columbia Univ.; Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century, 2008, etc.) aims to strip some of the disfiguring tarnish from Machiavelli’s work by redefining his authorial aim as one providing a map for the new constitutional order that was emerging from republican Florence in the early 16th century. The author rejects the “five particular ideas” about The Prince that developed soon after its posthumous publication in 1532: that it is a “mirror book” composed for the edification of a ruling prince at court on how to behave in the tradition of Cicero or Erasmus; that the book is incompatible with his previous writing on republican government; that Machiavelli was unable to reconcile his essential notions of destiny and fate; that The Prince was a kind of “employment application” for work in the new republic; and that it separates ethics from politics, thus allowing it to become bedside reading for Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler. Bobbitt finds in Machiavelli a prophetic poet of the new age, whose cleareyed exhortations on realpolitik (“princes who have actually accomplished great things are those who cared little for keeping faith and knew how to manipulate men with cunning”) reversed expectations of the Renaissance humanist. The author looks carefully at problematic passages that seem to question Machiavelli’s moral values, yet sees in him “an intense moralist” whose allegiances were to the good of the state rather than the good of the prince. Machiavelli’s ideas of consequentialism, “good laws and good arms” and virtù e fortuna were all rather shocking at the time and heralded a new world order. Bobbitt examines these and more, but the narrative is oddly structured and likely to appeal only to other academics.

Dense, repetitive commentary that may lead some readers back to The Prince.