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June 14, 2014 2:22 PM   Subscribe

How relevant is Machiavelli's manual The Prince in contemporary Politics ? This Documentary finds out.
posted by sgt.serenity (21 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Fear > love.
posted by Fizz at 2:48 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's been (quite) a few years, since I read The Prince, but I remember being impressed with the directness and clarity of the text compared to how circumspect and difficult many other texts of the same approximate age were.

I recall seeing another program on Thatcher and Machiavelli (I just briefly scanned this one and the tories are featured here as well) a few years ago. Apparently, she never read him, but was otherwise a natural. The Argentine war was played just as Machiavelli would have done it. She failed ultimately (according to that program), because she could not do away with former allies quite as decisively as an Italian prince of that age might have been able to.
posted by bouvin at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is this show high middle brow or is it low middle brow?
posted by bukvich at 3:51 PM on June 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Doctor has really deeply changed with this new regeneration!
posted by hippybear at 4:10 PM on June 14, 2014

We have not seen great things done in our time except by those who have been considered mean; the rest have failed. Fuckity-bye!
posted by dhartung at 4:52 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

That was interesting and I'm glad I watched (most of) it; I didn't know, for example, that Machiavelli himself had been very briefly arrested and tortured prior to writing The Prince, or that it was circulated only privately until after his death and was untitled until publication.

But by about 45 minutes in, I couldn't help thinking that the raison d'etre of this documentary was the rehabilitation of Tony Blair; first, cutting off his poodle collar by portraying him as a strong, clever, and effective leader in the mold of Nixon, Kissinger, Thatcher, Stalin, and etc.; and second, by emphasizing Machiavelli's advice to princes that they should abandon all personal morality and be prepared to perpetrate vicious crimes for the greater good, to help keep him out of the dock at the Hague, which is exactly where he ought to be for his violations of human rights in Bush's War on Terror and for war crimes in Iraq.
posted by jamjam at 4:57 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If by "great things," you mean things that turned out to be pretty awful for most other people involved, then sure, I'll grant that point.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:10 PM on June 14, 2014

I'm pretty sure that what the documentary was saying was perpetrating vicious crimes for the greater good was not, per se, something from which the perpetrator should be excused from prosecution, but rather that a "good" leader (not Good, but effective) should be willing to make really difficult choices which may in fact be quite bad things in order to effect an outcome which is, in the end, what needs to happen.

I don't think at any point that Machiavelli says that anyone should be immune from prosecution. He only says that an effective leader may need to choose evil means to achieve a just end.
posted by hippybear at 5:12 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Isn't The Prince supposed to be a satire?

Garrett Mattingly thought so.
posted by BWA at 6:27 PM on June 14, 2014

I've always wondered whether it's an early example of Poe's law in action, although if that's the case I assume the political climate at the time would have made it dangerous to make the intent more obvious.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 6:49 PM on June 14, 2014

KokuRyu: "Isn't The Prince supposed to be a satire?"

Among the awkward advice, one that stands out in my memory is the bit where he suggests rules arm the populace. I'm sure that'd work out swimmingly.
posted by pwnguin at 10:26 PM on June 14, 2014

Fear > love

- A bumper sticker.
posted by graphnerd at 12:05 AM on June 15, 2014

Machiavelli was perhaps just a classical whistle-blower. If you have power why would you need a guide book. Who was he really writing for?

In terms of what might qualify as modern Machiavellian theory; there is this thing I keep seeing mentioned called the OODA loop. If you apply it then you end up conducting your affairs in the wrapper of a permanent revolution where all your actions are pre-emptive. I find that an ugly idea but while I'm analysing the idea for merit, it becomes orthodoxy. Doh!
posted by vicx at 4:40 AM on June 15, 2014

I personally don't have a problem with Machiavelli, in that a lot of his advice emphasized being a good ruler, mostly by being, for lack of a better word, good.

Most. Not all. Most. The rest being done in the interest of the state. I don't see much of an issue with wielding power well, because nature abhors a vacuum... and wielding power poorly and unwisely is far more dangerous.
posted by markkraft at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The trick is, no one can really wield power--the very idea is a human fantasy--but everyone always thinks they can, that they're the special exception to the rule who can control and use the ring (to borrow Tokein's metaphor) safely, but in the end, the illusion/fantasy of power only corrupts anyone deluded enough to think they can master it. I think Machievelli's advice was meant to be poison to any would-be Princes foolish enough to take it at face value; he was an anti-royalist and republican who had no real interest in helping maintain royalty based systems of state control.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:01 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been interested in Machiavelli for a while, and lately there was a previous post about Ada Palmer leaning towards a more humanist view of his ideas. There is a more nuanced interpretation of his ideas which tends to be "take care of business first" rather than "just be a bastard".

This featured doc started well with Mr Thick of It nicely declaiming, but later bogged down into dumbDragon'sDen & some dubious Blairism, as jamjam mentioned.

The other thing about arming the peasant militias makes a bit more sense in the context of the massive French Army marching back and forth across Italy at that time, threatening every city-state they go across.

As a digression, I could mention an interesting anecdote where Nicco gets taken down a peg. I recently read Elizabeth Lev's biography of Caterina Sforza. Machiavelli was sent to Caterina to requisition the loan of a Forli Militia for Florence, and he figured that he could convince this mere woman to supply him with the troops by his masculine diplomatic wiles. After hearing his carefully constructed arguments, she said: "Umm... yeah, No." He went home disappointed.
posted by ovvl at 5:37 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

saulgoodman: The trick is, no one can really wield power--the very idea is a human fantasy...

That's a pleasant little Jesus-Before-Pilate fantasy.

Go tell that to the memory of everyone killed by those in power.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:29 AM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

So true. There's a really great interpretation of Tony Soprano using The Prince (using the conventional reading of the book, rather than as satire, although I guess The Prince works as satire in the context of the Sopranos, too).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:06 AM on June 16, 2014

ovvl: "There is a more nuanced interpretation of his ideas which tends to be "take care of business first" rather than "just be a bastard"."

So The Prince was the forthright pamphlet, and Discourses was a 10 volume satirical take on republics?
posted by pwnguin at 6:03 PM on June 16, 2014

So The Prince was the forthright pamphlet, and Discourses was a 10 volume satirical take on republics?

I'll have to get back to you on that one.
posted by ovvl at 8:30 PM on June 19, 2014

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