EPUB Machiavelli's the Prince

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Machiavelli: Translation and Interpretation

This is a review of Mark Musa's translation of 'The Prince' in the excellent 1964 bilingual edition. Since this is an old edition I will start my review with the table of contents.

Table of Contents:

Introduction, v;
Note to the Text, xvii;
Selected Bibliography, xviii;
Contents, xxi;

Niccolò Machiavelli to the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, 1;
I. On Principalities, 5;
II. Hereditary Principalities, 7;
III. On Mixed Principalities, 9;
IV. Why the Kingdom of Darius, Which Was Occupied by Alexander, Did Not, After the Death of Alexander, Rebel Against His Successors, 29;
V. How Cities or Principalities that Lived by Their Own Laws Before They Were Occupied Should Be Governed, 37;
VI. On New Principalities Acquired by Means of One's Own Arms and Ingenuity, 41;
VII. On New Principalities Acquired with the Arms and Fortunes of Others, 49;
VIII. On Those Who Have Become Princes Through Iniquity, 67;
IX. On the Civil Principality, 77;
X. How the Strength of All Principalities Should Be Determined, 87;
XI. On Ecclesiastical Principalities, 93;
XII. The Different Kinds of Troops and Mercenary Soldiers, 99;
XIII. On Auxiliary, Mixed, and Native Troops, 111;
XIV. What a Prince Should Do with Regard to the Militia, 121;
XV. On Those Things for Which Men, and Especially Princes, Are Praised or Blamed, 127;
XVI. On Generosity and Parsimony, 131;
XVII. On Cruelty and Compassion and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved Than Feared or the Opposite, 137;
XVIII. How a Prince Should Keep His Word, 145;
XIX. On Avoiding Being Disdained and Hated, 151;
XX. Whether Fortresses and Many Other Things Which Princes Use Frequently Are Useful or Harmful, 175;
XXI. How a Prince Should Act to Acquire Esteem, 185;
XXII. On the Private Counselors a Prince Has, 195;
XXIII. How Flatterers Are to Be Avoided, 199;
XXIV. Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States, 205;
XXV. How Much Fortune Can Do in Human Affairs and How to Contend with It, 209;
XXVI. Exhortation to Take Hold of Italy and Liberate Her from the Barbarians, 217;

Those who have a different copy of 'The Prince' will wonder why there are over 200 pages in this edition. First, this is a Bilingual Edition so all the pages consisting of the text of 'The Prince' are in the original Italian and then, on the facing page, English. Those who have seen 'The Prince' in Latin are reminded that it was only translated, well after Machiavelli's death, into Latin in 1560, which of course aided its spread throughout (Western) Europe. Also be aware that our translator, Mark Musa, puts any notes he has at the end of each chapter and not at the end of the book.

Now, why do I think it is useful to hunt down this specific book? Well, first, one is amazed by how economical a writer Machiavelli was! I believe that in each of the 26 chapters our translator burns (sometimes far) more words than our Niccolò. It was this literary tempo that so impressed Nietzsche:
"But how could the German language, even in the prose of a Lessing, imitate the tempo of Machiavelli, who in his Principe [The Prince] lets us breathe the dry, refined air of Florence and cannot help presenting the most serious matters in a boisterous allegrissimo, perhaps not without a malicious artistic sense of the contrast he risks - long, difficult, hard, dangerous thoughts and the tempo of the gallop and the very best, most capricious humor? (Beyond Good & Evil, section 28)"
The struggle of Musa to keep up with the tempo, the humor, and the terrifying economy of words in his translation comes through thanks to the contrast of the original text and its translation.

Also, in his Introduction Musa draws our attention, as he should, to the fact that he uses a dozen different English words(!) in order to translate the single word 'virtù'. Now, this word is often intentionally paired, and deliberately contrasted with 'fortuna' by Machiavelli. One is in danger of losing sight of the pairing and also the contrast if 'virtù is translated twelve different ways. Thus I found Musa's listing in his Introduction, by chapter, all the appearances of 'virtù, along with his translation at that specific point, quite useful. This of course is lost in most other translations that one comes across.

The words he uses for ''virtù' are: capacity, strategy, virtue, courage, power, efficacy, qualities, strength, talent, resources, capability, and the ubiquitous ingenuity. Wouldn't it be better just to leave ''virtù' untranslated? (I wish he had!) But this edition of Musa's translation is rendered a 'must' for all those interested in seriously studying 'The Prince' because it has the original on the facing page. You can check the translation of crucial terms or passages yourself. If you can find this book, take advantage of it. (Although I was disappointed by the lack of an index... I never understand that in thoughtful books.)

Why else is this translation so useful? Well, for instance, even though Musa uses many different English words to render virtù, in the crucial chapter six he mercifully renders it as 'ingenuity' 11 out of 12 times. Without this consistency, and of course the original on the facing page, a reader innocent of the subtleties of Ol' Nick would be unaware of what he was missing. This 'problem', for translations that do not benefit from the presence of the original, could be solved (I believe) by always rendering 'virtù' as virtù in translations. This would be better than the alternative of 12 different English words!

...I am telling you that it should be illegal to publish a translation of any seminal philosophical or political or religious text without the original on the facing page!

There are many reviews of "The Prince" here on Amazon, and elsewhere. If you are new to Machiavelli go read them. (And above all read both "The Prince" and "The Discourses" before coming to any conclusions regarding our Nick.) I will make only a few points here. First, all Princes need to be innovative. A new Prince needs to create 'New Modes and Orders' while a hereditary Prince must innovate in changing circumstances in order to maintain himself. The one creates a polity (our Nick would say a 'people'); the other re-creates it. Thus all Princes would benefit from this book. Next, this innovation requires foresight.
"And so whoever does not recognize evils when they arise in a principality is not truly wise; and this ability is given to only a few (p. 117, ch. 13)."
It is not even granted to every Prince. There are things that even Machiavelli can't teach. Virtù is one, successful innovation (for our author, this is a part of virtù) is another.
The proper measurement of virtue and vice is a third. A well-timed vice can save a Kingdom; an ill-timed virtue can destroy it (Chapter 15, passim).
Also, throughout this book, note how Nick praises the One Prince (or, I believe, Philosopher) and sometimes the Many (i.e., the People) but hardly ever the Few (aristocracies or factions). Indeed, he seems to underline the alliance of the One and Many when he says to the Prince:
"Everyone sees what you appear to be, few touch what you are, and those few do not dare oppose the opinions of the many who have the majesty of the state defending them; and with regard to the actions of all men, and especially with princes where there is no court of appeal, we must look to the final result." (p. 149) It seems here that we are to infer that the One and the All (= the People) are to be allied.
But regarding this we should mention that of these three types Machiavelli also says:
"And since there are three types of intelligence: one understands on its own, another perceives what others understand, the third does not understand either on its own or through others; the first type is more than excellent, the second excellent, the third useless... (p. 195)."
Now I would add (and I am certain Machiavelli knows) that it is circumstances that decide 'uselessness'. This last quote is concerned with the picking of ministers. So of course here the people are 'useless'. If, however, the Prince is facing a coup, the common people are not useless at all...
To underline this alliance between Prince and People, recall that he had earlier said (on Chapter 9) "It is impossible for the nobles to be satisfied in an honest way without doing harm to others, but the common people certainly can be, for the goal of the common people is more honest than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress and the former wishing not to be oppressed."
The people can be trusted and satisfied, aristocrats cannot. I would argue that the genuinely Machiavellian Prince is to be a Tyrant only to those whose unsatisfiable ambitions would overturn the state. Most people think otherwise on a first reading of Machiavelli's Prince. This is a mistake.
[If, btw, one is interested in the philosophical understanding of these three human types (Nietzsche would say: philosopher, exceptions, 'herd') I recommend the following:
Averroes, The Decisive Treatise (the 'people of demonstration', the 'people of dialectic', the 'people of rhetoric')
Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties (to learn of philosophy, its relations to theology/law [the 'exceptions'], and medicine[the body = the common people])
Nietzsche, the first three chapters of Beyond Good & Evil, passim]
And lastly, I will conclude my brief points by noting that the 'Discourses' are a mystery to many people only acquainted with 'The Prince'. Their initial 'surface' reading of 'The Prince' usually convinces them that ol' Nick was on the side of a strong Individual (Prince, King) ruling through his virtù. But this was only at the surface! If you go through the 'Prince' a second time, searching for any mention of the aristocrats (Barons, Dukes, Factions, etc.) you will be amazed how Machiavelli never seems to have much respect for them. They always get in the way! There are only two 'subjects', two possible authorities, in Nick's political writings: the Prince and the People. In the 'Discourses' you will discover what our author meant by a People. After reading both the Prince and the Discourses, several times, one should then turn to Leo Strauss and Gramsci, both of whom are very sharp on Machiavelli.

I would like to conclude with some 'off the beaten path' secondary studies that I recommend. (Yes, of course, there are several excellent studies better known that I am ignoring.)
1. The Machiavellian Enterprise: A Commentary on the Prince, Leo Paul S. De Alvarez
One of the very best commentaries out there. A very detailed chapter by chapter commentary of the Prince. Alvarez is very insightful on the evasive qualities of our Nick. I once attempted a line by line commentary of 'The Prince' and only made it to chapter 6. A commentary is one of those things that is far easier to conceive than it is to do...
2. The Sweetness of Power: Machiavelli's Discourses & Guicciardini's Considerations, Niccolo Machiavelli & Francesco Guicciardini
This book has both Machiavelli's "Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio" (Discourses) and Guicciardini's "Considerazioni intorno ai "Discorsi" del Machiavelli sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio" observations on same. Sweet indeed! I found it very interesting to read an extremely intelligent, maximally contemporary discussion of our Nick.
3. Against Throne and Altar: Machiavelli and Political Theory Under the English Republic, Paul A. Rahe
Superb. This is something of an anti-Pocock (see Pocock's "The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition") monograph regarding the English Civil War and our Nick. I was especially interested in reading Part I of this book. This is where Rahe discussed the history of the ideas that led to Machiavelli. Not only Machiavelli (led to our 'republicanism') but also his precursors: the Epicurean and the medieval (for want of a better term) 'radical Aristotelian' traditions. This was a very interesting discussion of the 'presuppositions' of Machiavelli. In a very small (and thus somewhat inadequate and misleading) nutshell one can say that our Nick combined the Cosmology of the Epicureans with the 'Platonic Politics' of the Falâsifa and thereby created something new. Also, regarding little studied lines of descent, see chapter 4 in Part II of this book; again, this is very good on 'underground' philosophy.
I want to underline the importance of this in a very brief manner. Some presuppositions of 'Latin Averroism' hook up with some presuppositions of the Epicurean tradition in Machiavelli and the secular world begins. (Or can be said to begin.) Our Nick uses the Averroism to politicize the the apathetic Epicureans while using the physics of the Epicureans to demolish the Aristotelianism of the Averroists. It really was very nicely done! We already knew that Machiavelli opposed the orthodoxies of his time. We now learn that our Niccolò intends to wipe away everything that came before him, both orthodoxy and heresy! I thought Rahe especially good on this.
4. Machiavelli in the Making, Claude Lefort
Okay, this is a translation of "Le travail de l'oeuvre Machiavel" (Originally published in 1972). It is his thesis. Incredibly, his thesis director was the conservative Raymond Aron! This is remarkable because only a few years earlier he had been a member (a founding member to boot) of the now nearly legendary 'Socialisme ou Barbarie'. They were a splinter Trotskyite grouplet (or at least they started as one) that denied the USSR was in any meaningful sense socialist and they also denied that the USSR deserved to be defended by socialists. Heretics! They formed, if I remember correctly, around 1950. The group was formed by Lefort and Castoriadis. The website 'libertarian communism' has some of their writings, if anyone is interested.
Now, we must not imagine that by getting his thesis through Aron Lefort had somehow become 'conservative'. Rather, we should be impressed by how willing he was to learn from enemies. Another teacher of Lefort was Merleau-Ponty, who was without question one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers.
I was very annoyed to learn that Lefort's analysis of the interpretations of Machiavelli by Gramsci and Strauss were dropped from this translation for reasons of space. Although I suspect that Lefort may no longer have been happy with them. (Lefort died before this translation was published.) I was also disappointed by the lack of an index. Notes could have been longer too.
A word of warning. Lefort was certainly writing in the shadow of poststructuralism! There is a real focus on the protean character of the Machiavellian text, with nods in the direction of psychoanalysis too... You can also catch glimpses of the notion of 'the Imaginary' that both he and Castoriadis flogged in postmodern, post-revolutionary France. I mention this because I know how tiresome some of you find all this...

Five Stars; not only for one of the most important books in European thought, but for this bilingual edition too!

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