Machiavelli: A Biography

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Machiavelli: A Biography by Miles J. Unger, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

But his defense of the man against his critics is not fully persuasive. For one thing, those critics remain anonymous; we never learn who, precisely, views Machiavelli as the devil incarnate and therefore deserves to be answered.


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Down-to-earth as he was, Machiavelli worshiped power. But worshipful awe has its flaws, in both its clerical and its anti-clerical forms, and when he cast his gaze upon those to whom he addressed his advice, Machiavelli could become as romantic, and therefore as myopic, as any Christian praising the Lord.

Niccolo’s Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli

Machiavelli was barely bothered by any of this. In the most famous passages of The Prince , Borgia became the very model of a leader whose cruelty serves the higher end of avoiding anarchy and whose actions are therefore justifiable.


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In those passages, realism is given its finest expression. This, Machiavelli tells us, is what politics is about. Take it or leave it.

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After the death of his father, the territories Borgia had conquered began to rebel, helped along by factions in the Vatican long opposed to Alexander and his son. But Machiavelli was too enamored of power to view matters so clearly. Unger clearly understands this. Unger cites this passage and recognizes its flaws, but he is anxious to defend Machiavelli on nearly all counts, and so he fails to appreciate how thoroughly Machiavelli had succumbed to the same wishful thinking that characterized the Christianity for which he had such disdain.

Perhaps the faithful had it right after all. Call it, if you must, fortune.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469—1527)

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Readers, I suspect, will like the historical bits best of all. But Unger pulls it off, and hats off to him. There is a point to the extended history lesson — two points actually.

Who Was Niccoló Machiavelli?

I have only two quibbles. The first is that Unger never really lays out his sources. My second quibble is that the book is too long. Postmedia is pleased to bring you a new commenting experience. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles.



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