05 April 2012

The Prince

Basics, Part 2

The Prince

Like the communists of today, Niccolò Machiavelli cultivated “long experience in contemporary affairs and a continual study of antiquity”. Both Machiavelli and Marx were familiar with the politics of ancient Greece and Rome.

Machiavelli’s “Prince” was written about 500 years ago, in Florence, Italy, and published in 1512. According to Karl Marx the sixteenth century was when capitalism first arose on the earth, especially in the Netherlands and in England, but it was Italy that had the most developed political culture at that time.

Hence The Prince  appeared much earlier than the first writings on Political Economy such as those by Thomas HobbesWilliam Petty and Nicholas Barbon, which appeared between 1650 and 1700. Karl Marx was familiar with all of these, while Machiavelli’s work has been foundational for politicians throughout the five centuries of its existence.

Machiavelli was needing employment when he wrote this user-friendly text for the 20-year-old Florentine prince Lorenzo di Piero De’ Medici (pictured above), in the hope that the young man would give Machiavelli a job as a consultant, consigliore, or something of that sort. No job resulted for Machiavelli but what he left us as a result of this attempt was a set of “short texts” of very frank and still-useful political education, not very different in conception from a Communist University “Generic Course”.

The chapter in this selection of four that corresponds most closely to the politics of today is Chapter IX, “Concerning a Civil Principality”. All of them are very interesting and all contain advice that is still good after 500 years. Our discussion should be about this advice. If people have not read the material in advance, one chapter could be selected and read out loud. The chapters are very short, but powerful.

Machiavelli had a good basic understanding of class politics, which is perhaps why his works were put on the Pope’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) not long after his death – thereby quickly guaranteeing their eternal fame.