Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio PDF/EPUB ò

Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio PDF/EPUB ò



10 thoughts on “Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio

  1. Teggan Teggan says:

    Yes, you had to read The Prince, because your professor had to fit something of Machiavelli's into the class, and so she chose the shortest of his works to keep the students bitching to a minimum. The Prince represents a small subset of Machiavelli's concept of government. The recommendations from The Prince are a necessary evil that must be tolerated for a short time. The Discourses are a more substantial analysis of the preferred type of government for the long term.
    Thank your professor that she gave you more free time that semester for whatever it is you do with your free time, but curse her that she distorted your view of Machiavelli by recommending an extreme abbreviation of a much fuller concept. This is the same crap as when you just read the Grand Inquisitor and thought that you got everything of value out of the Brothers Karamavoz. The truth is you probably got the exact opposite of Dostoevsky's main theme. It is like reading literature in the same way that the bound prisoners in Plato's cave viewed the world- truncated.


  2. 8314 8314 says:

    This might be the worst review I've ever written since half of it is going to be my libido talking.

    Niccolò Machiavelli, the man made of androgen.
    Choosing the right terminology is a matter of life and death -- I suppose psychoanalysts and fans of Machiavelli would agree on this. Most readers are nowhere better than a highlighter: they pick the phrases that stimulate their lowly senses and leave all the rest behind. In the world of a highlighter reader, libido equals to sex-drive thus equals to sex; Machiavelli equals to political maneuvers thus equals to scum (p.s. someone proposed to make Machiavelli into dog food. Well I say, arf!). If any sincere person should try to enlighten them, well, I hope they are lucky enough not to throw up in front of them.
    Same goes with most of the common critiques against Machiavelli. I dare them not to invoke the words good, evil and morality unless they are using it in a sarcastic sense. For this is truly the essence of Machiavelli: he freed political philosophy not just from theology, but also from the willy-nilly self-centered infantile illusion that you could control over people. Judging them by your standard is simply useless, for they are Others in a polyphonic world. So, how would you cope with such a world? With all due respect, most people won't even have the guts to face this fact.
    That's why Machiavelli's manliness is absolutely stunning.

    As far as I could see, the guiding principle of Machiavelli's writings (the Prince, the Discourses, Florentine Histories) is that people would act on their own will; no Prince could change it, no power could vanquish their own intentions and desires. A hidden yet significant feature of his writing is that he suspended the two essential concepts in western political philosophy: rights and obligations. He did talk about obeying the laws from time to time, but one could spot immediately that he was not promoting this for an isolated, self-centered and strictly personal reason. Laws are ought to be obeyed not because people have the obligation to obey, but because of the foreseeable consequences if they choose otherwise (and, naturally, if the foreseeable consequence is desirable, break it). The teaching placed its emphasis on the interaction of personal deed and social responses instead of obedient for obedient's sake -- and similarly, the emphasis on the interaction between the governor's behavior and the people's behavior, the interaction between the weak and the strong.

    Machiavelli took a dramatic yet extremely practical turn by focusing on these interactions. If one were to say that Dostoevsky created a polyphonic style by realizing others and various principles they carry with them, Machiavelli should, too, be treated as a polyphonic artist: he realized that each and every person would act on their own accord instead of homogeneously acting upon rules and regulations, and thus the act of governing must take this fact into consideration. To a governor, his people are the countless Others that would bring upon huge influences through the power-relationship, sometimes even sabotaging. Power is a false concept to begin with: negotiation, compromising with all the intentions that are related to you is the true picture of governing.
    How could you hope to preach rights and obligations in such a world? How is the phrase universal rights not a narcissist jargon? How are the moral judgments not a feeble ego-boost just to keep oneself away from realizing the living scenario of others? Machiavelli's dead for almost 500 years and I still hear political philosophers today (in fact, just a few months ago in the political philosophy workshop) talking about how well-justified their moral preaching was. Dear Father of Understanding.

    The grim lioness follows the wolf,
    the wolf himself the goat,
    the wanton goat the flowering clover,
    and Corydon follows you, Alexis.
    Each is led by his liking.
    -- Virgil, Eclogues

    Machiavelli, of all others, would know what these verses are about.
    He is yet underrated. He is yet to be discovered.


  3. Bertrand Bertrand says:

    The common wisdom goes that Machiavelli's discourses present to the reader the author's republican side, whereas The Prince was more aimed at the 'godlike rulers' - indeed, under the cover of a commentary of Livy, one of the foremost classical text of Roman origin, Nicolo takes us on a journey not unlike the one he proposed to the reader of The Prince. Distinguished once again by his penetrating insights prefiguring psychology, sociology, political sciences, and calling upon strategy and common sense but with a verve and method at time borrowing from philosophy, it is yet again his amoralism that will leave it's most lasting impression:
    But if here again Machiavelli attempt to remain ever neutral, to cater as much to the the ruler as to the insurgent, maybe more than in The Prince one can now outline first the peculiar ideological order that sustain his worldview (Virtus, Necessitas, Prudentia and Fortuna) and maybe more importantly, the hushed moral preferences that connect back his writings to his life-long dedication to the republican ideals.
    The book, beyond providing any reader with this much needed second angle to examine Machiavelli's peculiar opinions also make for an excellent, entertaining read: less so, maybe, than The Prince, mainly because the book is presented as a commentary, and lacks the sustained transitiveness of his more famous work, but it is none the less woven tightly with dozens of examples, taken either from 'recent' Italian history (undearstand late Quatrocento and early XVIth century) or from Greek and Roman history, with which the author intend to illustrate his comprehensive encyclopedia of cunning decepetion, of crowd psychology, of war strategy, etc.
    Whereas as we said earlier, not all of his ideas appear as daring and original as they did in The Prince, many of the examples make up for this lack by providing the eager reader with as many epic tales of daring and heroic or vicious and manipulative deeds that shaped ancient history: any aspiring George R. Martin will find in this book a condensé of the plots, all the scheming Greeks and Romans have to offer, and they certainly had nothing to learn from the Lannisters!
    So. All in all if you have an interest in either early modern mindset, in political theory or in Machiavelli in particular, this is a necessary read. It does genuinely provide a necessary counterpart to his magnum opus and give this peculiar character the moral depth popular memory robbed him from.


  4. Charles J Charles J says:

    Niccolò Machiavelli is known today for two things: the adjective “Machiavellian,” and the book from which that adjective is derived, The Prince, which provides advice for monarchs who accede to power. But Machiavelli wrote more than one book, and his second-most-famous book is this one, Discourses on Livy. In it, he provides advice for the founding, structuring, governing, and maintenance of republics, along with advice to individuals holding power, and a good bit of practical military advice. All this he extracts primarily from the extant writings of the historian Livy (64 B.C.– A.D. 12) on early Roman history, although he also brings in much other matter, including his own personal experiences and then-current events (Machiavelli wrote Discourses about 1517). Thus, this book is part history, part mirror of princes, and part advice to those holding power in a republic on how not to get killed.

    Of course, using Rome as a frame for political thoughts is pretty much the oldest continuous line of political thought going, and Discourses is one of many Renaissance and modern books revolving around that theme. Each such writing reflects not only Rome, but its own times. For example, Montesquieu’s Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline, written 250 years after Discourses, has many commonalities with Discourses, but also many points of difference. Considerations is a book of the Enlightenment; Discourses of the Renaissance. Moreover, Discourses is a much longer book that makes much broader claims to offer a complete approach to the good governance of a republic. At at the same time, Discourses is also narrower than Considerations—it is arranged into 142 different chapters, each with a precise focus, usually drawing on a few very specific events from Roman history, often buttressed by more recent examples. History is used both mechanically in the form of examples of happenings, and for its illumination of human nature in the service of understanding how humans act. The cumulative effect, like a wall made up of many bricks, is very impressive, but each building piece is small in scope.

    It is therefore hard to summarize this book. Discourses is nearly 400 dense pages, and it does not lend itself to any kind of pithy summation. Much of the book is devoted to carefully categorizing different historical events that have, or can be shown to have, political implications, and then making distinctions among them. What is more, scholars have spent their lives trying to reconcile apparent contradictions between Discourses and The Prince, given that the former appears to strongly endorse republics and rejects terror, while the latter exalts one-man rule and implicitly endorses, if not terror, a harsh regime. The translators and interpreters of this edition, the husband and wife team of Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, take the position that there is little contradiction between the books, claiming that in The Prince Machiavelli focuses on the individual who founds a state and Discourses focuses on the larger set of people necessary to maintain a state. However that may be, the book is still hard to boil down (although the Bondanellas add a lot with their notes and Introduction).

    Nonetheless, being fond of hearing my own voice in type, I will say a few things, both in general about the book and drawing lessons for applicability to today. Machiavelli has little fondness for the idea that people are naturally good, and his thoughts on that give a good idea of his style, which is both direct, and difficult for today’s readers. “As is demonstrated by all those who discuss civic life—and every history is filled with such examples—it is necessary for anyone who organizes a republic and establishes laws in it to take for granted that all men are evil and that they will always act according to the wickedness of their nature whenever they have the opportunity, and when any wickedness remains hidden for a time, it arises from a hidden cause that is not recognized by those who lack experience of its contrary, but time, which people say is the father of every truth, will eventually uncover it.” This is, if anything, the core principle of the book, that no man can be trusted to be virtuous, so a combination of social structures and clear, objective thinking based on history is necessary to produce the best possible results for a republic, which for the same reason is not likely to be as good as hoped, or to last as long as might be desired.

    Machiavelli’s definition of “republic” is not what we think of when we hear that word, which is, basically, a democracy with a few fripperies, like an upper and lower house in the legislature. On the contrary, for Machiavelli, ancient Sparta was much a republic as Athens. For him, what is not a republic is a monarchy, whether the prince is a tyrant or a just man, or an oligarchy that is equivalent to a monarchy. A government that represents all important sectors of society is a republic, but that does not at all mean that every individual has a voice. Thus, in Rome, the plebeians normally had almost zero direct influence—but their interests were aggressively attended to by the extremely powerful tribunes of the plebs, who could veto almost any action of the state. Machiavelli’s purpose, therefore, is not to push democracy or an expanded franchise. It is to recommend the most perfect form of republican government that is practical. Thus, not only is Machiavelli’s definition of republic very catholic, he strongly endorses institutions such as the Roman dictator, granted absolute power by the magistrates for a term of months (but unable to modify institutions, and thus not a structural danger, unlike the decimvirs, whom Machiavelli excoriates).

    It is also important to note that Machiavelli sees conflict among groups in society as inherent, necessary, and desirable in creating the best form of government. In these days of vicious conflict among various sectors of American society, the Platonic vision of societal harmony as the ideal republic has a lot of resonance, but Machiavelli (just like Montesquieu) has little sympathy for this. He sees such conflict, or at least some conflict, along with its underlying dynamic of tensions, as necessary for the smooth, organic operation of a republic, since it reflects inevitable human nature. Such conflict is potentially very dangerous, of course. It has to be channeled by well-designed sociopolitical structures. But without conflict, a society cannot function, at least not well or for long. This line of thinking is the basis of our modern theories of separation of powers.

    Of course, Machiavelli’s focus was on conflicts based on self-interest, not ideological conflicts of the modern type. On the other hand, he was very familiar with conflicts based on religion, having lived through, among other events, the turmoil surrounding the rule in Florence of Girolamo Savonarola, which perhaps contributed to his cynical, instrumental view of religion. He would doubtless not have had any sympathy with any modern political ideology, and less sympathy for an ideology’s necessary destructive effect on social structures. Machiavelli’s’ view of Christianity was basically Nietzschean—he (correctly) recognized it as having “more often glorified humble and contemplative men rather than active ones. . . . This way of living [Christianity] seems, therefore to have made the world weak and to have given it over to be plundered by wicked men, who are easily able to dominate it, since in order to go to paradise, most men think more about enduring their pains than avenging them.” At least Machiavelli, if he showed up today, would recognize our society and its relationship with Christianity. He would find other sources of conflict bizarre—not so much relatively crisp, if stupid, ideological ones like classical Marxism, but the howling idiocy of social media, “being woke,” autonomic individualism, sexual fluidity, and so forth, all informed by a complete lack of education and reasoning, of the type Machiavelli valued so very highly. If he showed up today, he’d probably immediately kill himself so he could exit the scene as fast as possible.

    With these basics as the frame, most of the book is, directly, or indirectly, an analysis of possible sociopolitical structures, ranging from the relatively minor and technical (requiring that public officials be “subject to indictment,” that is, both be under the rule of law, and be capable of being curbed if overly ambitious to the detriment of the body politic, although Machiavelli warns false accusations must be severely punished), to the major (how to manage transitions from monarchies to republics). Much of the book consists of contrasts between republics and princes, for example, discussing whether forming treaties with princes or republics is better (answer: republics are slower and harder to come to agreements with, but for the same reason, less likely to break the agreement). In all things, though, he emphasizes action over words. “I believe that one of the great means of exercising prudence that men can employ is to abstain either from threatening anyone or from injuring them with words, for neither of these actions take any strength away from the enemy, but the first makes him more cautious and the second increases his hatred toward you and makes him think more actively of harming you.” At no point is a complete, point-by-point plan offered; instead, presumably the reader is expected to make his own way through the thicket of recommendations and come up with his own plan for his own republic, informed by what Machiavelli has offered.

    Relatively narrow object lessons abound, mostly taken from history. For example, Machiavelli cites Manlius Capitolinus, who saved Rome from the Gauls in 390 B.C., and was greatly rewarded, but was later executed for stirring up civil unrest. “After having instituted rewards for a good deed and punishments for an evil one, and after rewarding a man for having acted well, if that same individual later acts badly [the republic] punishes him without any regard whatsoever for his good deeds. When such regulations are well observed a city lives in freedom for a long period of time; otherwise it will always come to ruin very quickly, because if a citizen who has rendered some distinguished service to his city adds to the reputation his deed has brought him additional audacity and the confidence that he will be able to undertake without fear of punishment some action that is not good, he will become in a brief time so insolent that every element of civic life will disappear.”

    Machiavelli believes that once a republic (which he often calls a “city”) has become defective, in whatever way, it is very hard to correct the problem, “for most men will never agree to a new law that concerns a new order in a city unless a certain necessity shows that it is required, and since this necessity cannot arise without risk, it is an easy thing for that republic to be ruined before it can be brought to perfection in its organization.” His example for this is not an episode from Roman history, but from Florentine history, and in fact from his own life—the destruction in 1512 of the Florentine republic Machiavelli had served, to be replaced by Medici rule. Thus, establishing a republic with the best institutions possible ab initio is important, which to Machiavelli means a mixed government, with elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. This was not original to Machiavelli (it was an emphasis of the Greek historian Polybius, for example), but Machiavelli in a sense resurrected the doctrine for the modern world, to be followed by various Enlightenment thinkers and by the American Founding Fathers (which is why a certain brand of neoreactionaries, followers of Leo Strauss, are very focused on Machiavelli’s political thought).

    Discourses notes that broad public participation in meeting the needs of the republic is important. Machiavelli loathes mercenaries (“foreign henchmen”); he insists that only with citizen soldiers can a republic long prevail. The same is true for non-military matters. For example, if people evade taxes, the republic lacks virtue, and therefore strength. Talking of emergencies, “When these [virtuous] republics need to spend some amount of money for the public welfare, the magistracies or councils that have the authority to do so assess all of the inhabitants of the city at 1 or 2 percent of their income [and people pay on the honors system].” One can only wonder what Machiavelli would think of our modern American republic, where most people pay no income tax at all, and others are assessed at rates exceeding 50% as a matter of course, forced to pay at the point of government guns. Probably not much, is my bet.

    Machiavelli even attacks gun control, or rather, the philosophy behind gun grabbers. Noting “How One Should Not Make Threats First and then Request Authority,” he says “how much stupidity and how little prudence there is in asking for something and later declaring: ‘I want to do such and such evil deed with this,’ for one must not reveal one’s intentions, but instead should attempt to obtain what one wants by any means possible. For it is enough to ask somebody for his weapons without saying ‘I want to kill you with them,’ because when you have his weapons in hand, you can then satisfy your desire.” Although Michael Bloomberg may not want to kill us deplorables (though he may), he certainly wants to make us more killable, and he and the various stooges he funds with his vast fortune, such as “Everytown For Gun Safety” (or whatever names his shill groups are going by today), have clearly been taking notes, because they will rarely admit their true goal of total gun confiscation, instead purveying almost any lie in the service of disarming the American people. Machiavelli would approve of the method as competently done, if not necessarily of the end.

    Innumerable examples applicable to America today appear, mostly casting us in a negative light. “I do not believe there is any worse example in a republic than to make a law and then not to observe it, and even more so when it is not observed by the person who made it.” That pretty much sums up the entire governing method of the Democratic/judicial/media complex, as they cackle over Hillary’s email crimes and Robert Mueller’s team of vicious partisan hacks twists the law to overthrow Trump’s election by any means necessary. This, of course, will not end well, not least because “Men who begin to suspect they are about to suffer some evil protect themselves in every possible way from such dangers and become more daring and less cautious in attempting something new [i.e., new and harmful to the republic].” It’s almost like everything old is new again, or never got old at all, which is pretty much Machiavelli’s basic point.

    Another principle Machiavelli expounds is that people like Hillary Clinton deserve suppression, since their acts are signs of decay. “The [republics] that have the best organization and the longest lives are, however, those that can renew themselves often through their own institutions, or that come to such a renewal through some circumstance outside these institutions.” This renewal is not necessarily a gentle process, nor one confined to republics, though the principle is universal. “Those who governed the Florentine state from 1434 until 1494 [i.e., the first period of Medici, princely, rule] used to say . . . that it was necessary to take the state back every five years or it was otherwise difficult to preserve it, and what they called ‘taking the state back’ meant striking the same terror and fear into the hearts of men that they had instilled upon first taking power, when they struck down those who had, according to that way of life, governed badly. But when the memory of such a beating fades away, men grow bolder in making new attempts and in speaking evil, and it therefore necessary to make provision against this by bringing the state back to its beginnings.” And rigor is necessary—as he says of his patron and mentor, the republican Piero Soderini, who led Venice until overthrown by the Spanish (who returned the Medici), “He believed that he could overcome those many who opposed him out of envy without any unusual acts, violence, or disorder, and he did not know that time does not wait, kindness is insufficient, fortune varies, and malice receives no gift that placates her.”

    It’s not all good for Republicans, though. Machiavelli notes “That It Is Necessary for Those Who Wish Always to Enjoy Good Fortune to Change With the Times.” “When a man with one mode of conduct has been very prosperous, it is impossible to persuade him that he can do as well by proceeding in a different manner; it happens in this way that fortune varies for a single man, because she brings about the changes in the times while he fails to modify his methods.” Conservatives who spend their days pushing Reaganism, #NeverTrumpers who think all we need to do is elect another Bush, and such lot should all take notice. New methods are needed for new times.

    Mixed in with all this are chapters with more down-to-earth advice, often combined with military tactical advice, such as “That One Should Not Jeopardize All of One’s Fortune or All of One’s Forces; and, for This Reason, Defending Passes Is Often Dangerous.” There are chapters that are wholly technical: “How Much Land the Romans Gave to Their Colonists” and “How Much Value Should Armies in the Present Day Place on Artillery; and If the Generally Held Opinion About Artillery Is True.” There are sonorous chapters full of macro advice: “Weak States Are Always Ambiguous in Their Decisions, and Slow Decisions Are Always Harmful.” Machiavelli also offers advice that is practical on a micro level as well as a macro level, such as (in the midst of several chapters relating to gratitude, rewards, and their role in civil structures) quoting Tacitus, “Men are more inclined to repay injury than kindness: the truth is that gratitude is irksome, while vengeance is accounted gain.” Examples of this in practice are legion—observe, for example, Donald Trump’s treatment of Steve Bannon, who got him elected. There are combination chapters: “Wealth Is Not, Contrary to Popular Opinion, the Sinew of Warfare,” which advises that “good soldiers are the sinew of war and not gold, because gold is an insufficient means of finding good soldiers, but good soldiers are a more than sufficient means of finding gold.” Ha ha. And, finally, there are chapters that are just odd, like “Before Important Events Happen in a City or a Province, Signs that Foretell Them or Men Who Predict Them Appear.”

    [Last paragraph is first comment.]


  5. Ben Ben says:

    I read this along with The Prince and (as can be deemed by my review of that work), it was certainly very interesting comparing Machiavelli's views in the two works. In The Prince (about contemporary political ills, and addressed to Lorenzo De' Medici) there is a strong authoritarian sentiment expressed, while in The Discourses (largely about Ancient Rome), there are strong republican sentiments -- trust of the will of the people and of freedom and liberty. While it could be said that Machiavelli was writing about two different periods (the then and the now), which entailed different circumstances, and while it could be argued that his views in The Prince were only drastic and temporary solutions, it is also interesting to look at contradictions in his views expressed in these two works (much as one could do much later with the writings of Hegel, for example). It is, for obvious reasons, easier to agree with the overall thesis of this work than The Prince, but both are certainly worthwhile reads (and filled with historical references that make notes very handy).


  6. Emre Poyraz Emre Poyraz says:

    While Niccolo Machiavelli is famous for his evil book, the Prince, I believe this is his real masterpiece. In this book, he tries to identify what can be called the macro foundations of a well working republic, and his source material is the historical comparison of the Roman Empire (from the books of Titus Livius) and contemporary cities and republics. The language of the book is very compelling, and it is usually hard to argue with anything in the book.

    I suggest this book to anyone interested in politics or political sciences, since there are not many books like this one. Also, it is a good exercise to compare this book with The Prince.


  7. Andrew Andrew says:

    The Discourses by Niccolo Machiavelli is the famous political schemers treatise on Republican government compared to principality (or dictatorship). He is, of course, famous for his work The Prince which is classic bedtime reading for any want-to-be dictator or authoritarian ruler. The Discourses, however, take his political theories into new depths, examining the playoffs between populism, voting, citizenship, warfare and the conduct of state officials, to name a few. All of these categories are examined with examples from Titus Livy's The History of Rome, as well as modern (in Machiavelli's time) historical examples centered mostly in Italy and especially around Florence, at the time an independent City State.

    Machiavelli's analysis on when it is right to create a Republic, when it is not, and all the nuts and bolts that go with that decision is fascinating. He takes into account the social, political, cultural and religious realities of areas to try and make sense of why certain decisions are made or were made in antiquity and in his own time. The examination of these aspects of inner workings of a Republic are fascinating and relevant in many ways even to modern times. As a classic however, be aware that much in this book may be antiquated or irrelevant, and some of course flat out off the mark. His look at artillery and battlefield tactics seems off, as he decries the need for battle width and plays up the classic Roman Army division tactics.

    The one actual complaint I have about this book in particular is the organization. Issues that one would think should be logically placed in the same section are separated. Sections completely unrelated to the previous ones follow each other. This book seems a bit rambling, and whether it is this particular publication, or that Machiavelli had not organized the sections before he passed, or what have you, it can be a bit jarring.

    That aside, the Discourses is an interesting look at 16th century political thought, as well as a critical analysis of the ups and downs of Roman History. It makes for interesting reading, and is recommended for those interested in political theory, Roman History or autocratic/Republican thought.


  8. Falk Falk says:

    In addition to the eminent and lucid introduction by Professor Mansfield, there are several other good reasons to choose his translation of the Discourses – first of all I found it to have more clarity than the other translation I have read. This translation aims to stay faithful to Machiavelli’s original text, rendering it in a very readable English (as much as is possible with Machiavelli), and providing readers without knowledge of Italian with a more intimate knowledge of Machiavelli’s train of thought and unrelenting (if not always flawless) logic. The original punctuation is kept, and that actually makes it easier to read than other translations where the text has been modernized. There is an annotated index (very practical in the Kindle format) and also a glossary and maps in addition to the notes, and the paragraphs are numbered for ease of reference.


  9. Kerem Kerem says:

    Principality, Aristocracy, democracy... These good ways of government can easily turn into their relevant bad ways, tranny, oligarchy, anarchy. Machiavelli states this quite early in the book and in a very clear fashion, and builds up from there his 500+ pages of discourses. Though the book is different from the Prince that its focus is rather republic than principality (and that it's significantly longer), his overall writing style of an instruction manual and his extremely rational approach is the same. Overall a very insightful book, even if at times you wonder about the value of some specific discourses (after all 500 years have passed since then and you're likely not interested in whether you should use cavalry in your army or not.) Certainly a 4.5 star at least...


  10. James James says:

    Niccolo Machiavelli doesn't deserve his maligned reputation. I can say that after reading The Prince and now Discourses on Livy, a book he refers to in the introduction of The Prince. I can only assume his detractors were too lazy or deceptive to bother reading Discourses, for it shows that Machiavelli's heart really did belong to republics and not tyrants.

    Around twice the size of The Prince, it is written in a similar fashion where each chapter focuses on a very specific question. Chapters can range from half a page to several pages, and they cover a lot of ground. In Discourses, the content is spread over 3 books of around 30 to 50 chapters each (all collected in one volume). It comes in at roughly 500 pages and is very densely packed with information. Call Machiavelli what you want, but poorly-read or a lazy researcher are not among them.

    Discourses mulls the questions of what makes good republics tick, with some reference to principalities as well (The Prince is primarily about running principalities). Today, we can roughly divide them as democracies and dictatorships, though it's important to remember that 500 years ago those concepts weren't as refined as they are today. A republic in the 1500s was not exactly the cradle of human suffrage and equal representation that today's liberal democracies are. Nor was every principality quite as vile and extreme as modern dictatorships.

    That being said, Discourses is a very modern work. Its author sat closer to our time than the ancient civilisations he studied for this book. The main body focuses on Titus Livy Livius' history of the Roman Republic, but Machiavelli also cites other sources including Plutarch and Xenophon. At the same time, he draws contemporary examples from his own time (a bit of a bonus if you have an interest in the Renaissance period).

    Machiavelli looks methodically at different situations that arise when running a city state, which in today's age can apply to countries. While some of the advice is no longer applicable due to its age or the modern condition (for example, his context for a military sometimes doesn't apply to modern democracies), an astounding amount of this work still stands and rings very true. Other than being a great researcher, Machiavelli was also a shrew observer of human habits.

    His reflections on what the Roman republic, and other ancients, did right and wrong, are applicable to modern life. He even points out the need for a free media, though he called it the necessity for being able to publicly criticise people in power or of reputation.

    This was a magnificent read. Machiavelli is thorough, citing different examples from history. His views also give perspective.

    Today we wrestle with the problem of rationalism vs spirituality and how to derive meaning without losing our objectivity. Machiavelli saw a similar problem in his world, except he felt religion's focus on the afterlife had robbed humanity of the pursuit of honour, which translated into acting for today, not a distant paradise. There is so much more - I'm very glad I made many notations that I can revisit.

    If you've read The Prince, but not Discourses on Livy, you only have a third of the picture. If you've read neither, I completely recommend both. Machiavelli nails practical politics, social science and the irrational rationality of people.

    Note: Read an edition that offers explanatory notes in the back. Some references will be obscure or seem curious without a little modern explanation.


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Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio ❰Reading❯ ➾ Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio Author Niccolò Machiavelli – Capitalsoftworks.co.uk IDiscorsi non sono un trattato sistematico, ma un insieme di osservazioni che, in forma di libero commento ai primi dieci libri delle Storie di Livio, investono i grandi problemi connessi alla dinamic IDiscorsi la prima Deca di Epub / non sono un trattato sistematico, ma la prima PDF/EPUB ¶ un insieme di osservazioni che, in forma di libero commento ai primi dieci libri delle Storie di Livio, Discorsi sopra MOBI :Þ investono i grandi problemi connessi alla dinamica della vita storica e politica Sono inoltre un’opera scritta con impareggiabile vigore di stile e segnata da una straordinaria sopra la prima PDF ↠ capacità di analisi Una lettura – qui presentata dall’approfondita introduzione di Gennaro Sasso e arricchita dall’esaustivo apparato di note di Giorgio Inglese – indispensabile a chi voglia penetrare nella sua autentica complessità il pensiero politico di Machiavelli, troppo spesso irrigidito in formule spregiudicate e semplicistiche.

10 thoughts on “Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio

  1. Teggan Teggan says:

    Yes, you had to read The Prince, because your professor had to fit something of Machiavelli's into the class, and so she chose the shortest of his works to keep the students bitching to a minimum. The Prince represents a small subset of Machiavelli's concept of government. The recommendations from The Prince are a necessary evil that must be tolerated for a short time. The Discourses are a more substantial analysis of the preferred type of government for the long term.
    Thank your professor that she gave you more free time that semester for whatever it is you do with your free time, but curse her that she distorted your view of Machiavelli by recommending an extreme abbreviation of a much fuller concept. This is the same crap as when you just read the Grand Inquisitor and thought that you got everything of value out of the Brothers Karamavoz. The truth is you probably got the exact opposite of Dostoevsky's main theme. It is like reading literature in the same way that the bound prisoners in Plato's cave viewed the world- truncated.

  2. 8314 8314 says:

    This might be the worst review I've ever written since half of it is going to be my libido talking.

    Niccolò Machiavelli, the man made of androgen.
    Choosing the right terminology is a matter of life and death -- I suppose psychoanalysts and fans of Machiavelli would agree on this. Most readers are nowhere better than a highlighter: they pick the phrases that stimulate their lowly senses and leave all the rest behind. In the world of a highlighter reader, libido equals to sex-drive thus equals to sex; Machiavelli equals to political maneuvers thus equals to scum (p.s. someone proposed to make Machiavelli into dog food. Well I say, arf!). If any sincere person should try to enlighten them, well, I hope they are lucky enough not to throw up in front of them.
    Same goes with most of the common critiques against Machiavelli. I dare them not to invoke the words good, evil and morality unless they are using it in a sarcastic sense. For this is truly the essence of Machiavelli: he freed political philosophy not just from theology, but also from the willy-nilly self-centered infantile illusion that you could control over people. Judging them by your standard is simply useless, for they are Others in a polyphonic world. So, how would you cope with such a world? With all due respect, most people won't even have the guts to face this fact.
    That's why Machiavelli's manliness is absolutely stunning.

    As far as I could see, the guiding principle of Machiavelli's writings (the Prince, the Discourses, Florentine Histories) is that people would act on their own will; no Prince could change it, no power could vanquish their own intentions and desires. A hidden yet significant feature of his writing is that he suspended the two essential concepts in western political philosophy: rights and obligations. He did talk about obeying the laws from time to time, but one could spot immediately that he was not promoting this for an isolated, self-centered and strictly personal reason. Laws are ought to be obeyed not because people have the obligation to obey, but because of the foreseeable consequences if they choose otherwise (and, naturally, if the foreseeable consequence is desirable, break it). The teaching placed its emphasis on the interaction of personal deed and social responses instead of obedient for obedient's sake -- and similarly, the emphasis on the interaction between the governor's behavior and the people's behavior, the interaction between the weak and the strong.

    Machiavelli took a dramatic yet extremely practical turn by focusing on these interactions. If one were to say that Dostoevsky created a polyphonic style by realizing others and various principles they carry with them, Machiavelli should, too, be treated as a polyphonic artist: he realized that each and every person would act on their own accord instead of homogeneously acting upon rules and regulations, and thus the act of governing must take this fact into consideration. To a governor, his people are the countless Others that would bring upon huge influences through the power-relationship, sometimes even sabotaging. Power is a false concept to begin with: negotiation, compromising with all the intentions that are related to you is the true picture of governing.
    How could you hope to preach rights and obligations in such a world? How is the phrase universal rights not a narcissist jargon? How are the moral judgments not a feeble ego-boost just to keep oneself away from realizing the living scenario of others? Machiavelli's dead for almost 500 years and I still hear political philosophers today (in fact, just a few months ago in the political philosophy workshop) talking about how well-justified their moral preaching was. Dear Father of Understanding.

    The grim lioness follows the wolf,
    the wolf himself the goat,
    the wanton goat the flowering clover,
    and Corydon follows you, Alexis.
    Each is led by his liking.
    -- Virgil, Eclogues

    Machiavelli, of all others, would know what these verses are about.
    He is yet underrated. He is yet to be discovered.

  3. Bertrand Bertrand says:

    The common wisdom goes that Machiavelli's discourses present to the reader the author's republican side, whereas The Prince was more aimed at the 'godlike rulers' - indeed, under the cover of a commentary of Livy, one of the foremost classical text of Roman origin, Nicolo takes us on a journey not unlike the one he proposed to the reader of The Prince. Distinguished once again by his penetrating insights prefiguring psychology, sociology, political sciences, and calling upon strategy and common sense but with a verve and method at time borrowing from philosophy, it is yet again his amoralism that will leave it's most lasting impression:
    But if here again Machiavelli attempt to remain ever neutral, to cater as much to the the ruler as to the insurgent, maybe more than in The Prince one can now outline first the peculiar ideological order that sustain his worldview (Virtus, Necessitas, Prudentia and Fortuna) and maybe more importantly, the hushed moral preferences that connect back his writings to his life-long dedication to the republican ideals.
    The book, beyond providing any reader with this much needed second angle to examine Machiavelli's peculiar opinions also make for an excellent, entertaining read: less so, maybe, than The Prince, mainly because the book is presented as a commentary, and lacks the sustained transitiveness of his more famous work, but it is none the less woven tightly with dozens of examples, taken either from 'recent' Italian history (undearstand late Quatrocento and early XVIth century) or from Greek and Roman history, with which the author intend to illustrate his comprehensive encyclopedia of cunning decepetion, of crowd psychology, of war strategy, etc.
    Whereas as we said earlier, not all of his ideas appear as daring and original as they did in The Prince, many of the examples make up for this lack by providing the eager reader with as many epic tales of daring and heroic or vicious and manipulative deeds that shaped ancient history: any aspiring George R. Martin will find in this book a condensé of the plots, all the scheming Greeks and Romans have to offer, and they certainly had nothing to learn from the Lannisters!
    So. All in all if you have an interest in either early modern mindset, in political theory or in Machiavelli in particular, this is a necessary read. It does genuinely provide a necessary counterpart to his magnum opus and give this peculiar character the moral depth popular memory robbed him from.

  4. Charles J Charles J says:

    Niccolò Machiavelli is known today for two things: the adjective “Machiavellian,” and the book from which that adjective is derived, The Prince, which provides advice for monarchs who accede to power. But Machiavelli wrote more than one book, and his second-most-famous book is this one, Discourses on Livy. In it, he provides advice for the founding, structuring, governing, and maintenance of republics, along with advice to individuals holding power, and a good bit of practical military advice. All this he extracts primarily from the extant writings of the historian Livy (64 B.C.– A.D. 12) on early Roman history, although he also brings in much other matter, including his own personal experiences and then-current events (Machiavelli wrote Discourses about 1517). Thus, this book is part history, part mirror of princes, and part advice to those holding power in a republic on how not to get killed.

    Of course, using Rome as a frame for political thoughts is pretty much the oldest continuous line of political thought going, and Discourses is one of many Renaissance and modern books revolving around that theme. Each such writing reflects not only Rome, but its own times. For example, Montesquieu’s Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline, written 250 years after Discourses, has many commonalities with Discourses, but also many points of difference. Considerations is a book of the Enlightenment; Discourses of the Renaissance. Moreover, Discourses is a much longer book that makes much broader claims to offer a complete approach to the good governance of a republic. At at the same time, Discourses is also narrower than Considerations—it is arranged into 142 different chapters, each with a precise focus, usually drawing on a few very specific events from Roman history, often buttressed by more recent examples. History is used both mechanically in the form of examples of happenings, and for its illumination of human nature in the service of understanding how humans act. The cumulative effect, like a wall made up of many bricks, is very impressive, but each building piece is small in scope.

    It is therefore hard to summarize this book. Discourses is nearly 400 dense pages, and it does not lend itself to any kind of pithy summation. Much of the book is devoted to carefully categorizing different historical events that have, or can be shown to have, political implications, and then making distinctions among them. What is more, scholars have spent their lives trying to reconcile apparent contradictions between Discourses and The Prince, given that the former appears to strongly endorse republics and rejects terror, while the latter exalts one-man rule and implicitly endorses, if not terror, a harsh regime. The translators and interpreters of this edition, the husband and wife team of Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, take the position that there is little contradiction between the books, claiming that in The Prince Machiavelli focuses on the individual who founds a state and Discourses focuses on the larger set of people necessary to maintain a state. However that may be, the book is still hard to boil down (although the Bondanellas add a lot with their notes and Introduction).

    Nonetheless, being fond of hearing my own voice in type, I will say a few things, both in general about the book and drawing lessons for applicability to today. Machiavelli has little fondness for the idea that people are naturally good, and his thoughts on that give a good idea of his style, which is both direct, and difficult for today’s readers. “As is demonstrated by all those who discuss civic life—and every history is filled with such examples—it is necessary for anyone who organizes a republic and establishes laws in it to take for granted that all men are evil and that they will always act according to the wickedness of their nature whenever they have the opportunity, and when any wickedness remains hidden for a time, it arises from a hidden cause that is not recognized by those who lack experience of its contrary, but time, which people say is the father of every truth, will eventually uncover it.” This is, if anything, the core principle of the book, that no man can be trusted to be virtuous, so a combination of social structures and clear, objective thinking based on history is necessary to produce the best possible results for a republic, which for the same reason is not likely to be as good as hoped, or to last as long as might be desired.

    Machiavelli’s definition of “republic” is not what we think of when we hear that word, which is, basically, a democracy with a few fripperies, like an upper and lower house in the legislature. On the contrary, for Machiavelli, ancient Sparta was much a republic as Athens. For him, what is not a republic is a monarchy, whether the prince is a tyrant or a just man, or an oligarchy that is equivalent to a monarchy. A government that represents all important sectors of society is a republic, but that does not at all mean that every individual has a voice. Thus, in Rome, the plebeians normally had almost zero direct influence—but their interests were aggressively attended to by the extremely powerful tribunes of the plebs, who could veto almost any action of the state. Machiavelli’s purpose, therefore, is not to push democracy or an expanded franchise. It is to recommend the most perfect form of republican government that is practical. Thus, not only is Machiavelli’s definition of republic very catholic, he strongly endorses institutions such as the Roman dictator, granted absolute power by the magistrates for a term of months (but unable to modify institutions, and thus not a structural danger, unlike the decimvirs, whom Machiavelli excoriates).

    It is also important to note that Machiavelli sees conflict among groups in society as inherent, necessary, and desirable in creating the best form of government. In these days of vicious conflict among various sectors of American society, the Platonic vision of societal harmony as the ideal republic has a lot of resonance, but Machiavelli (just like Montesquieu) has little sympathy for this. He sees such conflict, or at least some conflict, along with its underlying dynamic of tensions, as necessary for the smooth, organic operation of a republic, since it reflects inevitable human nature. Such conflict is potentially very dangerous, of course. It has to be channeled by well-designed sociopolitical structures. But without conflict, a society cannot function, at least not well or for long. This line of thinking is the basis of our modern theories of separation of powers.

    Of course, Machiavelli’s focus was on conflicts based on self-interest, not ideological conflicts of the modern type. On the other hand, he was very familiar with conflicts based on religion, having lived through, among other events, the turmoil surrounding the rule in Florence of Girolamo Savonarola, which perhaps contributed to his cynical, instrumental view of religion. He would doubtless not have had any sympathy with any modern political ideology, and less sympathy for an ideology’s necessary destructive effect on social structures. Machiavelli’s’ view of Christianity was basically Nietzschean—he (correctly) recognized it as having “more often glorified humble and contemplative men rather than active ones. . . . This way of living [Christianity] seems, therefore to have made the world weak and to have given it over to be plundered by wicked men, who are easily able to dominate it, since in order to go to paradise, most men think more about enduring their pains than avenging them.” At least Machiavelli, if he showed up today, would recognize our society and its relationship with Christianity. He would find other sources of conflict bizarre—not so much relatively crisp, if stupid, ideological ones like classical Marxism, but the howling idiocy of social media, “being woke,” autonomic individualism, sexual fluidity, and so forth, all informed by a complete lack of education and reasoning, of the type Machiavelli valued so very highly. If he showed up today, he’d probably immediately kill himself so he could exit the scene as fast as possible.

    With these basics as the frame, most of the book is, directly, or indirectly, an analysis of possible sociopolitical structures, ranging from the relatively minor and technical (requiring that public officials be “subject to indictment,” that is, both be under the rule of law, and be capable of being curbed if overly ambitious to the detriment of the body politic, although Machiavelli warns false accusations must be severely punished), to the major (how to manage transitions from monarchies to republics). Much of the book consists of contrasts between republics and princes, for example, discussing whether forming treaties with princes or republics is better (answer: republics are slower and harder to come to agreements with, but for the same reason, less likely to break the agreement). In all things, though, he emphasizes action over words. “I believe that one of the great means of exercising prudence that men can employ is to abstain either from threatening anyone or from injuring them with words, for neither of these actions take any strength away from the enemy, but the first makes him more cautious and the second increases his hatred toward you and makes him think more actively of harming you.” At no point is a complete, point-by-point plan offered; instead, presumably the reader is expected to make his own way through the thicket of recommendations and come up with his own plan for his own republic, informed by what Machiavelli has offered.

    Relatively narrow object lessons abound, mostly taken from history. For example, Machiavelli cites Manlius Capitolinus, who saved Rome from the Gauls in 390 B.C., and was greatly rewarded, but was later executed for stirring up civil unrest. “After having instituted rewards for a good deed and punishments for an evil one, and after rewarding a man for having acted well, if that same individual later acts badly [the republic] punishes him without any regard whatsoever for his good deeds. When such regulations are well observed a city lives in freedom for a long period of time; otherwise it will always come to ruin very quickly, because if a citizen who has rendered some distinguished service to his city adds to the reputation his deed has brought him additional audacity and the confidence that he will be able to undertake without fear of punishment some action that is not good, he will become in a brief time so insolent that every element of civic life will disappear.”

    Machiavelli believes that once a republic (which he often calls a “city”) has become defective, in whatever way, it is very hard to correct the problem, “for most men will never agree to a new law that concerns a new order in a city unless a certain necessity shows that it is required, and since this necessity cannot arise without risk, it is an easy thing for that republic to be ruined before it can be brought to perfection in its organization.” His example for this is not an episode from Roman history, but from Florentine history, and in fact from his own life—the destruction in 1512 of the Florentine republic Machiavelli had served, to be replaced by Medici rule. Thus, establishing a republic with the best institutions possible ab initio is important, which to Machiavelli means a mixed government, with elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. This was not original to Machiavelli (it was an emphasis of the Greek historian Polybius, for example), but Machiavelli in a sense resurrected the doctrine for the modern world, to be followed by various Enlightenment thinkers and by the American Founding Fathers (which is why a certain brand of neoreactionaries, followers of Leo Strauss, are very focused on Machiavelli’s political thought).

    Discourses notes that broad public participation in meeting the needs of the republic is important. Machiavelli loathes mercenaries (“foreign henchmen”); he insists that only with citizen soldiers can a republic long prevail. The same is true for non-military matters. For example, if people evade taxes, the republic lacks virtue, and therefore strength. Talking of emergencies, “When these [virtuous] republics need to spend some amount of money for the public welfare, the magistracies or councils that have the authority to do so assess all of the inhabitants of the city at 1 or 2 percent of their income [and people pay on the honors system].” One can only wonder what Machiavelli would think of our modern American republic, where most people pay no income tax at all, and others are assessed at rates exceeding 50% as a matter of course, forced to pay at the point of government guns. Probably not much, is my bet.

    Machiavelli even attacks gun control, or rather, the philosophy behind gun grabbers. Noting “How One Should Not Make Threats First and then Request Authority,” he says “how much stupidity and how little prudence there is in asking for something and later declaring: ‘I want to do such and such evil deed with this,’ for one must not reveal one’s intentions, but instead should attempt to obtain what one wants by any means possible. For it is enough to ask somebody for his weapons without saying ‘I want to kill you with them,’ because when you have his weapons in hand, you can then satisfy your desire.” Although Michael Bloomberg may not want to kill us deplorables (though he may), he certainly wants to make us more killable, and he and the various stooges he funds with his vast fortune, such as “Everytown For Gun Safety” (or whatever names his shill groups are going by today), have clearly been taking notes, because they will rarely admit their true goal of total gun confiscation, instead purveying almost any lie in the service of disarming the American people. Machiavelli would approve of the method as competently done, if not necessarily of the end.

    Innumerable examples applicable to America today appear, mostly casting us in a negative light. “I do not believe there is any worse example in a republic than to make a law and then not to observe it, and even more so when it is not observed by the person who made it.” That pretty much sums up the entire governing method of the Democratic/judicial/media complex, as they cackle over Hillary’s email crimes and Robert Mueller’s team of vicious partisan hacks twists the law to overthrow Trump’s election by any means necessary. This, of course, will not end well, not least because “Men who begin to suspect they are about to suffer some evil protect themselves in every possible way from such dangers and become more daring and less cautious in attempting something new [i.e., new and harmful to the republic].” It’s almost like everything old is new again, or never got old at all, which is pretty much Machiavelli’s basic point.

    Another principle Machiavelli expounds is that people like Hillary Clinton deserve suppression, since their acts are signs of decay. “The [republics] that have the best organization and the longest lives are, however, those that can renew themselves often through their own institutions, or that come to such a renewal through some circumstance outside these institutions.” This renewal is not necessarily a gentle process, nor one confined to republics, though the principle is universal. “Those who governed the Florentine state from 1434 until 1494 [i.e., the first period of Medici, princely, rule] used to say . . . that it was necessary to take the state back every five years or it was otherwise difficult to preserve it, and what they called ‘taking the state back’ meant striking the same terror and fear into the hearts of men that they had instilled upon first taking power, when they struck down those who had, according to that way of life, governed badly. But when the memory of such a beating fades away, men grow bolder in making new attempts and in speaking evil, and it therefore necessary to make provision against this by bringing the state back to its beginnings.” And rigor is necessary—as he says of his patron and mentor, the republican Piero Soderini, who led Venice until overthrown by the Spanish (who returned the Medici), “He believed that he could overcome those many who opposed him out of envy without any unusual acts, violence, or disorder, and he did not know that time does not wait, kindness is insufficient, fortune varies, and malice receives no gift that placates her.”

    It’s not all good for Republicans, though. Machiavelli notes “That It Is Necessary for Those Who Wish Always to Enjoy Good Fortune to Change With the Times.” “When a man with one mode of conduct has been very prosperous, it is impossible to persuade him that he can do as well by proceeding in a different manner; it happens in this way that fortune varies for a single man, because she brings about the changes in the times while he fails to modify his methods.” Conservatives who spend their days pushing Reaganism, #NeverTrumpers who think all we need to do is elect another Bush, and such lot should all take notice. New methods are needed for new times.

    Mixed in with all this are chapters with more down-to-earth advice, often combined with military tactical advice, such as “That One Should Not Jeopardize All of One’s Fortune or All of One’s Forces; and, for This Reason, Defending Passes Is Often Dangerous.” There are chapters that are wholly technical: “How Much Land the Romans Gave to Their Colonists” and “How Much Value Should Armies in the Present Day Place on Artillery; and If the Generally Held Opinion About Artillery Is True.” There are sonorous chapters full of macro advice: “Weak States Are Always Ambiguous in Their Decisions, and Slow Decisions Are Always Harmful.” Machiavelli also offers advice that is practical on a micro level as well as a macro level, such as (in the midst of several chapters relating to gratitude, rewards, and their role in civil structures) quoting Tacitus, “Men are more inclined to repay injury than kindness: the truth is that gratitude is irksome, while vengeance is accounted gain.” Examples of this in practice are legion—observe, for example, Donald Trump’s treatment of Steve Bannon, who got him elected. There are combination chapters: “Wealth Is Not, Contrary to Popular Opinion, the Sinew of Warfare,” which advises that “good soldiers are the sinew of war and not gold, because gold is an insufficient means of finding good soldiers, but good soldiers are a more than sufficient means of finding gold.” Ha ha. And, finally, there are chapters that are just odd, like “Before Important Events Happen in a City or a Province, Signs that Foretell Them or Men Who Predict Them Appear.”

    [Last paragraph is first comment.]

  5. Ben Ben says:

    I read this along with The Prince and (as can be deemed by my review of that work), it was certainly very interesting comparing Machiavelli's views in the two works. In The Prince (about contemporary political ills, and addressed to Lorenzo De' Medici) there is a strong authoritarian sentiment expressed, while in The Discourses (largely about Ancient Rome), there are strong republican sentiments -- trust of the will of the people and of freedom and liberty. While it could be said that Machiavelli was writing about two different periods (the then and the now), which entailed different circumstances, and while it could be argued that his views in The Prince were only drastic and temporary solutions, it is also interesting to look at contradictions in his views expressed in these two works (much as one could do much later with the writings of Hegel, for example). It is, for obvious reasons, easier to agree with the overall thesis of this work than The Prince, but both are certainly worthwhile reads (and filled with historical references that make notes very handy).

  6. Emre Poyraz Emre Poyraz says:

    While Niccolo Machiavelli is famous for his evil book, the Prince, I believe this is his real masterpiece. In this book, he tries to identify what can be called the macro foundations of a well working republic, and his source material is the historical comparison of the Roman Empire (from the books of Titus Livius) and contemporary cities and republics. The language of the book is very compelling, and it is usually hard to argue with anything in the book.

    I suggest this book to anyone interested in politics or political sciences, since there are not many books like this one. Also, it is a good exercise to compare this book with The Prince.

  7. Andrew Andrew says:

    The Discourses by Niccolo Machiavelli is the famous political schemers treatise on Republican government compared to principality (or dictatorship). He is, of course, famous for his work The Prince which is classic bedtime reading for any want-to-be dictator or authoritarian ruler. The Discourses, however, take his political theories into new depths, examining the playoffs between populism, voting, citizenship, warfare and the conduct of state officials, to name a few. All of these categories are examined with examples from Titus Livy's The History of Rome, as well as modern (in Machiavelli's time) historical examples centered mostly in Italy and especially around Florence, at the time an independent City State.

    Machiavelli's analysis on when it is right to create a Republic, when it is not, and all the nuts and bolts that go with that decision is fascinating. He takes into account the social, political, cultural and religious realities of areas to try and make sense of why certain decisions are made or were made in antiquity and in his own time. The examination of these aspects of inner workings of a Republic are fascinating and relevant in many ways even to modern times. As a classic however, be aware that much in this book may be antiquated or irrelevant, and some of course flat out off the mark. His look at artillery and battlefield tactics seems off, as he decries the need for battle width and plays up the classic Roman Army division tactics.

    The one actual complaint I have about this book in particular is the organization. Issues that one would think should be logically placed in the same section are separated. Sections completely unrelated to the previous ones follow each other. This book seems a bit rambling, and whether it is this particular publication, or that Machiavelli had not organized the sections before he passed, or what have you, it can be a bit jarring.

    That aside, the Discourses is an interesting look at 16th century political thought, as well as a critical analysis of the ups and downs of Roman History. It makes for interesting reading, and is recommended for those interested in political theory, Roman History or autocratic/Republican thought.

  8. Falk Falk says:

    In addition to the eminent and lucid introduction by Professor Mansfield, there are several other good reasons to choose his translation of the Discourses – first of all I found it to have more clarity than the other translation I have read. This translation aims to stay faithful to Machiavelli’s original text, rendering it in a very readable English (as much as is possible with Machiavelli), and providing readers without knowledge of Italian with a more intimate knowledge of Machiavelli’s train of thought and unrelenting (if not always flawless) logic. The original punctuation is kept, and that actually makes it easier to read than other translations where the text has been modernized. There is an annotated index (very practical in the Kindle format) and also a glossary and maps in addition to the notes, and the paragraphs are numbered for ease of reference.

  9. Kerem Kerem says:

    Principality, Aristocracy, democracy... These good ways of government can easily turn into their relevant bad ways, tranny, oligarchy, anarchy. Machiavelli states this quite early in the book and in a very clear fashion, and builds up from there his 500+ pages of discourses. Though the book is different from the Prince that its focus is rather republic than principality (and that it's significantly longer), his overall writing style of an instruction manual and his extremely rational approach is the same. Overall a very insightful book, even if at times you wonder about the value of some specific discourses (after all 500 years have passed since then and you're likely not interested in whether you should use cavalry in your army or not.) Certainly a 4.5 star at least...

  10. James James says:

    Niccolo Machiavelli doesn't deserve his maligned reputation. I can say that after reading The Prince and now Discourses on Livy, a book he refers to in the introduction of The Prince. I can only assume his detractors were too lazy or deceptive to bother reading Discourses, for it shows that Machiavelli's heart really did belong to republics and not tyrants.

    Around twice the size of The Prince, it is written in a similar fashion where each chapter focuses on a very specific question. Chapters can range from half a page to several pages, and they cover a lot of ground. In Discourses, the content is spread over 3 books of around 30 to 50 chapters each (all collected in one volume). It comes in at roughly 500 pages and is very densely packed with information. Call Machiavelli what you want, but poorly-read or a lazy researcher are not among them.

    Discourses mulls the questions of what makes good republics tick, with some reference to principalities as well (The Prince is primarily about running principalities). Today, we can roughly divide them as democracies and dictatorships, though it's important to remember that 500 years ago those concepts weren't as refined as they are today. A republic in the 1500s was not exactly the cradle of human suffrage and equal representation that today's liberal democracies are. Nor was every principality quite as vile and extreme as modern dictatorships.

    That being said, Discourses is a very modern work. Its author sat closer to our time than the ancient civilisations he studied for this book. The main body focuses on Titus Livy Livius' history of the Roman Republic, but Machiavelli also cites other sources including Plutarch and Xenophon. At the same time, he draws contemporary examples from his own time (a bit of a bonus if you have an interest in the Renaissance period).

    Machiavelli looks methodically at different situations that arise when running a city state, which in today's age can apply to countries. While some of the advice is no longer applicable due to its age or the modern condition (for example, his context for a military sometimes doesn't apply to modern democracies), an astounding amount of this work still stands and rings very true. Other than being a great researcher, Machiavelli was also a shrew observer of human habits.

    His reflections on what the Roman republic, and other ancients, did right and wrong, are applicable to modern life. He even points out the need for a free media, though he called it the necessity for being able to publicly criticise people in power or of reputation.

    This was a magnificent read. Machiavelli is thorough, citing different examples from history. His views also give perspective.

    Today we wrestle with the problem of rationalism vs spirituality and how to derive meaning without losing our objectivity. Machiavelli saw a similar problem in his world, except he felt religion's focus on the afterlife had robbed humanity of the pursuit of honour, which translated into acting for today, not a distant paradise. There is so much more - I'm very glad I made many notations that I can revisit.

    If you've read The Prince, but not Discourses on Livy, you only have a third of the picture. If you've read neither, I completely recommend both. Machiavelli nails practical politics, social science and the irrational rationality of people.

    Note: Read an edition that offers explanatory notes in the back. Some references will be obscure or seem curious without a little modern explanation.

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