Maarten Maartensz

  Home - Philosophy - Machiavelli - The Prince - Notes - Remarks on my notes

1. The writing and editing of my remarks
2. Related material on this site
3. Machiavelli on the internet and elsewhere
4. Introduction to Machiavelli and background literature:
5. Pictures of Machiavelli and "The Prince"
6. Copyright notice:

Back to Contents

1. The writing and editing of my remarks: My remarks were originally written July 11 - July 13, 2000. I suppose they are as readable as Machiavelli's text, and indeed one way of approach to Machiavelli is by starting to read my remarks, that all have links to Machiavelli's text (where most paragraphs have links to my remarks).

The present version is of November 13, 2006, and is mostly the old version minus some typos, plus some stylistical improvements, and with the format adjusted to what has become the standard format of my site.      Back to top.

2. Related material on this site: There is some related material, partially in Dutch, on several places on my site.

First, in the section Politics there is an English excerpt from a satire by T.H. White plus my comments, and a Dutch excerpt of Etienne de la Boétie's "De la servitude volontaire". The excerpts and comments mostly are concerned with what men are, on average, and why, and specifically why so many men and women have so willingly served dictators, tyrants, and incompetent leaders.

Next, in the section Philosophy there are my aphorisms in reply to the aphorisms of La Rochefoucauld, who was a cynical wit from the 17th Century, who wrote a booklet of cynical aphorisms called "Maximes". This again addresses the question: What manner of beast is man? (This is a question few men dare to look honestly and deeply into the eyes, and many men like not at all to consider or repress, e.g. while enjoying a horror movie).

Third, in the section Essays most of my published essays of the year 1989 are relevant, notably "Waarheid en waarde", "De ideologische aap" en "Yahooisme en democratie". The last is mostly in English; the others are in Dutch.

3. Machiavelli on the internet and elsewhere: The only text of Machiavelli I found in English is a version of an old translation of "The Prince", which I used myself. This is rather disappointing, since Machiavelli's "Discourses" and "History of Florence" are in many ways better, and better expressions of Machiavelli's own thinking, than is "The Prince".

So, if you are in any way interested in Machiavelli (whether you agree or disagree - and many modern men are first put off by Machiavelli's cynical realism, that indeed is very unfashionable these days) you ought to consult real books. If you have access to a good library, it should have reasonable editions of most of Machiavelli's works. If not, you may be in luck in antiquarian bookshops. And you may consider books referred to in the next section.

4. Introduction to Machiavelli and background literature: I will soon add an introduction to Machiavelli, in which there will be a fairly extensive bibliography.

Meanwhile, here are some references about Machiavelli and his type of ideas:

Sidney Anglo: Machiavelli

is by and large the best treatment of him I have read. I have read at least 5 or 6 other biographies of him and discussions of his works, I will say more about in my introduction to Machiavelli. All I wish to do here is to remark that it seems to me you can do well without Sebastian de Grazia's book about Machiavelli: De Grazia is the sort of man who enjoys addressing Machiavelli continuously as "Nicolo", and who is interested in psycho-analysis. This is to me rather like writing a thick tome on Shakespeare, and calling him "Willy" or "Billy" all the time, while psycho-analysing him. Anyway: Mr De Grazia is a great man, no doubt, and far greater than Machiavelli, in his own opinion, and since you now know this, you don't need to read his books, which are not so great at all.

In most academic introductions to politics, Machiavelli is mentioned but he seems rarely dealt with in a serious manner. Someone who was much influenced by him, and who wrote a fine book about politics:

Gaetano Mosca: The Ruling Class

Mosca was an Italian, like Machiavelli. His book is late 19th Century, but not outdated, except in its references.

If you are seriously interested in Machiavellian ideas, you should find

James Burnham: The Machiavellians

This also treats Mosca, and some others (notably Michels, Sorel and Pareto) and does so in a clear and lively style. Burnham himself was an interesting man: An American who turned from communism to radical conservatism, who wrote a book every time he acquired a new political philosophy, that whatever its other (de)merits at least was well-written.

I suppose scholars will tell you - especially if they are themselves Politically Correct, and can't write well - that Burnham was not a great scholar, not politically correct, and more to the same effect. In this they might well be partially right (I am no Burnham specialist, but have read some very minor sociological academic lights on him, and the grapes were sour, for them), but I care far more for a good style, a good mind, and personal courage than I care for meticulous scholarship, that mostly only pleases pedants anyway. And those who can't write well, can't think well either.

Next, talking of style, and clarity, and politics, the reader should dip into

C. Wright Mills: Power, Politics and People

which is a thick volume of essays by Mills, who was a radical American sociologist of the leftist kind, who died young but wrote very well and was no conventional mind nor a follower of popular ideas. He wrote quite a few other books, all well worth reading, if only because so few scientists can write, while he could. I won't list these books here, since they are mostly sociological.

In any case, I have now referred you to a standard introduction to Machiavelli that got considerable praise from specialists when it was first published (Anglo); to a classical conservative liberal and one of the founders of the science of politics (Mosca); to a more or less right-wing conservative (Burnham); and to a more or less left-wing sociologist (Mills).

My three most important reasons for recommending books, incidentally, are emphatically not that I agree with their authors, but that I think they have interesting ideas, relevant knowledge and they are well written. (Indeed, I have reached the age were I refuse to read anything that pretends to be serious, but was written by a mind who can't even write well. The reader will find, once he has reached that maturity, how much more interesting life grows, after such a wise decision, and how much less there is to read.)

Here are some other books that are tolerably well-written, about political leaders, according to the Machiavellian type:

Allan Bullock: Hitler and Stalin
Zhisui Li: The Private Life Of Chairman Mao

Especially the last is very revealing about the qualities of a great leader - and written by his private doctor of long standing, who knew him and his surroundings quite well.

Perhaps it is well, for some naive readers, to add that Machiavelli did not approve of such types: he described how they do in fact acquire power and remain in power. (See also my Remarks on Chapter VII for Machiavelli and Borgia).

5. Pictures: Although I haven't found much about Machiavelli on the net that was really well done (and I admit I skipped a lot), I did find some nice illustrations:

Machiavelli's Standard Portrait + face

This is the portrait mostly given of Machiavelli. It is also on the cover of the paperback edition of Anglo's "Machiavelli", but he tells us that there are no absolutely certain portraits of Machiavelli. There are others, also to be found on the net, and not like the present one.

A manuscript page from "The Prince"

One reason the handwriting is interesting, in these days of computers, is that in Machiavelli's days and until the invention of the typewriter everything written that was not printed (which was long a cumbersome labor-intensive process) was handwritten. Of course, the men it was intended for read either Machiavelli's own handwriting or that of a copyist. "The Prince" was printed first only after Machiavelli's death.

Incidentally, the manuscript page comes from:
who have trouble with Machiavelli's name.

6. Copyright notice: My own remarks are copyright. By this I mean essentially the following:

You are herewith declared free to copy my work to your computer, read it, and print it for your own personal use (the last essentially because this often makes it easier to study a text).

You are herewith forbidden to pretend my texts or any part thereof is yours; forbidden to sell or offer my texts for money without my prior written and signed permission; and forbidden to remove my copyright notice in case you send or give my texts to others.

And you should reckon with the fact that my texts are circulating on commercially sold CDs while it is my intention to see my texts on Machiavelli published on paper: If you do plagiarize, as I cannot prevent you, it is not pleasant for you if you are found out. (And it is unlikely you are known to coin aphorisms as easily as I do.)

Finally, if you make a link to part of my site on your site, I'd like to be informed of this fact.

I wish you pleasure in reading.

July 15, 2000
Maarten Maartensz

P.S. of Nov 13, 2006:

I have today reformatted Machiavelli's text and my comments to the present format of my site, and have removed some typos and some stylistical infelicities. Meanwhile, my edition and comments have been used in a Scotch university, and those interested in politics may note that since the year 2000 at least two relevant texts have been added to my site, also with my remarks: Burckhard's "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy", which is an excellent history of Machiavelli's time, and Mill's "On Liberty", which is a classic on human freedom in a free society.

Maarten Maartensz       
last update: Nov 18, 2006