Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Full article here.

“The notion that The Prince is what it pretends to be, a scientific manual for tyrants, has to contend not only against Machiavelli’s life but against his writings, as, of course, everyone who wants to use The Prince as a centerpiece in an exposition of Machiavelli’s political thought has recognized…”

Mattingly (wikipedia), a historian, argues that this short work of Machiavelli’s overshadows his attempts at plays, poems and prose, and overlooks the following:

“‘…Popular rule is always better than the rule of princes.’ This is not just a casual remark. It is the main theme of the Discorsi and the basic assumption of all but one of Machiavelli’s writings, as it was the basic assumption of his political career.”

Well, perhaps Machiavelli did really believe in the traditional virtues (Christian, Aristotelian?) and thus did not truly question those traditional beliefs…

…and instead perhaps The Prince should be viewed more as work of art in the vein of his other works (and not as philosophy necessarily?) as Mattingly argues…

Are you convinced?

See Also On This SiteFrom Nigel Warburton’s Virtual Philosopher: Machiavelli Is Always RelevantFriday Quotations: Machiavelli And The Founders

Niccolo Machiavelli by Crashworks

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4 thoughts on “Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

  1. “…and instead perhaps The Prince should be viewed more as work of art in the vein of his other works (and not as philosophy necessarily?) as Mattingly argues…”

    I have just finished reading The Prince, but am innocent of Machiavelli’s other works. I don’t see it as either philosophy or satire. I see it as a political handbook of techniques and attitudes for making your way in a difficult world. If you don’t know, realistically, how that world works you are going to stumble badly. My post:

  2. (Cross posted at the link above):


    Machiavelli’s analysis of how to actually behave in statecraft, conquest, and well, as a Prince might need to… opens up and world of understanding, and is drawn from much practical experience. You can certainly read it as a handbook and gain much from it.

    In fact, you do so to some effect with regards Afghanistan, though I’d have some disagreements.

    As regards morality, though, Machiavelli, raises some other interesting questions. In this sense, many philosophers (especially moral ones) have a lot of trouble with what Machiavelli puts in and leaves out.

    I think our author is after this: see him in the context of his other, more literary works, and perhaps (I’m not necessarily convinced) that in some way Machiavelli wasn’t entirely serious, or at least as morally serious as some of the deeper thinkers.

  3. Mattingly certainly convinced me as a graduate student. Above all, he makes the point that one must view The Prince in the context of Macchiavelli’s career and other writings. To read it in isolation is truly to misunderstand its significance to the author himself. Macchiavelli was in fact a christian idealist. Mattingly, of course, was one of the foremost English-speaking historians of the Renaissance of his generation.

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