Machiavelli is popularly known as a teacher of tyrants, a key proponent of the unscrupulous “Machiavellian” politics laid down in his landmark political treatise
The Prince. Others cite the
Discourses on Livy to argue that Machiavelli is actually a passionate advocate of republican politics who saw the need for occasional harsh measures to maintain political order. Which best characterizes the teachings of the prolific Italian philosopher? With
Machiavelli’s Politics, Catherine H. Zuckert turns this question on its head with a major reinterpretation of Machiavelli’s prose works that reveals a surprisingly cohesive view of politics.
Starting with Machiavelli’s two major political works, Zuckert persuasively shows that the moral revolution Machiavelli sets out in
The Prince lays the foundation for the new form of democratic republic he proposes in the
Discourses. Distrusting ambitious politicians to serve the public interest of their own accord, Machiavelli sought to persuade them in
The Prince that the best way to achieve their own ambitions was to secure the desires and ambitions of their subjects and fellow citizens. In the
Discourses, he then describes the types of laws and institutions that would balance the conflict between the two in a way that would secure the liberty of most, if not all. In the second half of her book, Zuckert places selected later works—
La Mandragola, The Art of War, The Life of Castruccio Castracani, Clizia, and
Florentine Histories—under scrutiny, showing how Machiavelli further developed certain aspects of his thought in these works. In
The Art of War, for example, he explains more concretely how and to what extent the principles of organization he advanced in
The Prince and the
Discourses ought to be applied in modern circumstances. Because human beings act primarily on passions, Machiavelli attempts to show readers what those passions are and how they can be guided to have productive rather than destructive results.
A stunning and ambitious analysis,
Machiavelli’s Politics brilliantly shows how many conflicting perspectives do inform Machiavelli’s teachings, but that one needs to consider all of his works in order to understand how they cohere into a unified political view. This is a magisterial work that cannot be ignored if a comprehensive understanding of the philosopher is to be obtained.
Catherine H. Zuckert is the Nancy R. Dreux Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of several books and the coauthor, with Michael P. Zuckert, of
Leo Strauss and the Problem of Political Philosophy, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Machiavelli’s Politics is an exceedingly ambitious book—comparable in many ways with Zuckert’s magnum opus on Plato. In the case of Machiavelli, the devil is in the details, and this is one of the few scholarly works to carefully and thoroughly tackle Machiavelli’s entire corpus. But the book is much more than an indispensable scholarly resource. It is a work of controversy that scholars and others interested in Machiavelli will find challenging and exciting, regardless of whether one is persuaded by her claims.”
— Paul A. Rahe, Hillsdale College
“There is no book on Machiavelli quite like this one, with exposition and analysis of every major work. Zuckert’s writing is admirably clear, the depth of her knowledge about the history and background of the texts amply evident. In establishing the coherence of Machiavelli’s work, her interpretations of particular passages are surprising and enlightening.”
— Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University
"If a reader wants a synoptic
and novel take on Machiavelli,
Machiavelli’s Politics is the place to go. Erudite, clearly written, original, and ambitious, the book is a remarkable work. Zuckert’s approach, as she states, is a synthesis of historical, rhetorical, and theoretical approaches"
— Perspectives on Politics
"With the publication of Machiavelli's Politics, political scientist Catherine H. Zuckert offers a magnificent contribution not just to the field studies surroundingMachiavelli, especially the history of political thought, but also, more broadly, to the reader'sunderstanding of modem political life... Free of partisanship or polemic, her book is the fruit of a disinterested scholarly quest for the real Machiavelli conducted through a synoptic, historically contextualized, and literarily sensitive exegesis of his major writings."
— Los Angeles Review of Books
“Debates over the meaning and purpose of the works of Machiavelli have ebbed and flowed since his death in 1527.
Machiavelli’s Politics may be one of the most ambitious attempts to date to settle the case. . . . [It] is both synoptic and diligent, comprehensive and innovative.”
— Washington Examiner, Editors’ Picks, Books of the Decade