Gitta's Literary Escapades

Just another reader taking on (modern) classics, best-sellers, award-winners, non-fiction, and (guilty pleasure) chicklit armed with common sense, a brain and feminism.

Thoughts on Machiavelli by Leo Strauss

Thoughts on Machiavelli - Leo Strauss

I found this book remarkably frustrating. I hardly feel the urge to fling a book across the room whenever I read academic works. This book is so simplistic and extremely black and white. Leo Strauss, clearly an individual who sees religion - he himself was of Jewish descent - as the cement that holds society together. That prevents people from striving after their own ambitions. Machiavelli's advice, which to Strauss is synonymous to the individual Niccolò Machiavelli is, therefore, condemned as 'immoral and irreligious' and is labelled 'the teacher of evil'.


J.G.A. Pocock, Philip Pettit and Maurizio Viroli have opened up the Machiavellian debate by studying his republicanism. Though some have argued that they overlook the unscrupulous politics of Machiavelli's The Prince, at least they offer more solid interpretations than Strauss, who simply seems to condemn Machiavelli for not having voiced a concern for morality in The Prince. All in all, Strauss's thoughts are exactly that, thoughts, unsubstantiated and subjective to his personal view of the individual and his/her role in society.


Moreover, Strauss argues that if we do not share his view of Machiavelli's irreligious, immoral and evil teachings, that is because we have been brought up by it and thus blind to Machiavelli's true colours. In my opinion, any critic who feels the need to make such bold ideological statements, claiming that "immoral" individuals are thus Machiavellian, should be placed on the bottom shelf collecting dust. Criticism should be objective and not have a judgmental and overbearing tone towards its readers.


Yes, if a leader today would adopt the lessons of The Prince one would be shocked and appalled. But that is today. A time where most people do not have to worry about their city being invaded and pillaged by soldiers. A time where people can use the law to find retribution and only the state is allowed to exert violent behaviour. But did Machiavelli promote this advice or merely offer it? This is what is interesting about The Prince. This is why scholars still bother to study his works (take note of the plural: an informed decision cannot be made without reading his other works). And bringing along your strong personal sense of morality is not going to further the discussion, academically.



Details & Where to Buy


First published: 1958
Original title: Thoughts on Machiavelli
Author: Leo Strauss
Edition: Hardcover (University of Washington Press, 1969)
Pages: 345
Read: 2 - 26 April 2013
ISBN: 0226777022, 9780226777023
Official website Wikipedia
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