There is something surprising about the sheer number of interpretations of Machiavelli's political opinions. There exist, even now, over a score of leading theoriesof how to interpret The Prince and The Discourses—apart from a cloud of subsidiary views and glosses. The bibliography of this is vast and growing faster than ever.While there may exist no more than the normal extent of disagreement about the meaning of particular terms or theses contained in these works, there is a startlingdegree of divergence about the central view, the basic political attitude of Machiavelli.
This phenomenon is easier to understand in the case of other thinkerswhose opinions have continued to puzzle or agitate mankind—Plato, for example, or Rousseau or Hegel or Marx. But then it might be said that Plato wrote in a world andin a language that we cannot be sure we understand; that Rousseau, Hegel, Marx were prolific theorists and that their works are scarcely models of clarity orconsistency. But The Prince is a short book: its style is usually described as being singularly lucid, succinct, and pungent—a model of clear Renaissance prose. TheDiscourses are not, as treatises on politics go, of undue length and they are equally clear and definite. Yet there is no consensus about the significance of either; theyhave not been absorbed into the texture of traditional political theory; they continue to arouse passionate feelings; The Prince has evidently excited the interestand admiration of some of the most formidable men of action of the last four centuries, especially our own, men not normally addicted to reading classical texts.
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