The Bum's Dime

Whenever I read Machiavelli’s The Prince I have to ask myself who the intended audience would be. It is not a simple question as books may often have more than one intended audience. The obvious audience for The Prince would be people who are about to take the reins of control. The book details many different situations which a new ruler might face and how he should think about such situations. Though this may be the intended audience, the book itself would be read for a far larger audience. What is the lay person supposed to make of a text like this (or for that matter of Nietzsche’s Genealogy)? One interpretation of The Prince is that it was a kind of light into the mind of a would be ruler at the time, sort of a snapshot. Those who are not would be princes would be able to use the text as a way of understanding the actions, or would be actions, of a prince. It is thought that Machiavelli was an ardent supporter of Republics, so what then is he doing advising absolute rulers? Again, it might have to do with the mind of a would be prince. Some have suggested that he wrote the piece so as to give supporters of republics a glimpse as to how other kingdoms they might face are run. Others have suggested that The Prince is a piece trying to evoke pity from the ruling family, the Medici’s, in Florence at the time. This would account for the letter at the beginning of the text. Others have offered an explanation that would place The Prince in the category of a satire, poking fun at the actions of the day. To me, this explanation seems the most radical, and I have yet to find much evidence for it in the text. My most recent reading of the text reminded me of articles in comparative politics, where case studies are taken from several different places, compared and then some kind of prediction or rule is developed. Of course Machiavelli was probably not trying to develop a new branch of a discipline that won’t truly be established for several more centuries, but none the less, the qualities are there.

                I have recently become familiar with some writing’s of Leo Strauss (primarily from my current treatment of Rousseau) which have lead me to try and examine Machiavelli’s text in a different way.  Strauss treats Machiavelli in a book he wrote called, Thoughts on Machiavelli. I have not read this particular text in its entirety (just the section on The Prince), but it seems that Strauss applies his conception of Esoteric and Exoteric readings of a work to two of Machiavelli’s works. I think that The Prince lends itself to this kind of interpretation because it is hard to tell who the audience really is. It is easy to pull an “exoteric” reading out of The Prince. There is however something that is hard to put a finger on, something that is hidden. Most of what Strauss recognizes in ‘esoteric’ readings is hidden atheistic messages, but the wording of The Prince  presents God as basically, non existent. He cannot punish individuals, you only have your senses around you, you cannot understand the mind of God, and so on. From what I understand, Strauss sees Machiavelli as employing a message in regards to human nature, that humans make their own human nature, that they are not subject to it. Though I may have interpreted this wrong, as I have only read a small portion of the text, I find Strauss’s ideas interesting in these regards. 




Mon, 21 Sep 2009 10:15:37

I agree this is part of M's teaching: humans make their own human nature.
But note this does not imply that each human makes their own nature; it might imply that only some humans make their own, while others have their nature made. Self- and other-producer or product? What determines this?



Mon, 21 Sep 2009 16:03:15

This is interesting, and I think it is an area that can become quite sticky. Is it the case that we are capable of creating a nature for ourselves, and that we choose not to (and often choose some other structure)? What then is the key difference for those that are capable of changing shaping who they are? is it something to do with their character (or nature??)? Is it their place in society? Is it possible that only those with the means to can create their nature? Where does that leave the rest of us? are we force fed a nature? Sorry for responding with all questions here, but I feel this is a subject that is complicated, and its implications on how someone views the world are tremendous. I find that my answer to your question is a frieghtening yes...that it seems some human nature may infact be a product of either unwillingness to produce, an incapabilty to produce, or basically a product of some other's production. What it is that determines this is a complicated array of ideas that have been developed since the time of Machiavelli onwards.


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    August 2009



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