Machiavelli by Michael White

This biography is an attempt to boost the reputation of the life and work of Machiavelli. It describes a complex and flawed diplomat who wrote perceptively about the politics of his time and place. Despite the opinion of many readers, Machiavelli was not totally without principle. While he was somewhat cynical, he was a patriot and he was seldom hypocritical. Further, Machiavelli was an inspirational figure for more ethical thinkers like Antonio Gramsci.

Nevertheless, the defence of the political philosopher which Michael White makes goes too far. In his desire to vindicate the life and work of Machiavelli, he forgets three important considerations. Firstly, Machiavelli observed much Machiavellian behaviour because he focused his attention on people that he admired. Hence his view of human nature was unnecessarily grim and his contentions were arguably skewed. Secondly, Machiavelli could only understand the people of his time. Although he read classical texts, he had insufficient awareness of how humans might change in the future. Unlike Marx, Machiavelli did not really appreciate the dynamism of the social world. White perceives the insights of Machiavelli as universal and there is little compelling evidence to back up this depressing conclusion. Thirdly, Machiavelli lived in a patriarchal society and White endeavours to excuse the crude sexism of the men in Florence:

“On the one hand he was preoccupied with the big issues of the day, and on the other he was enamoured with manly pursuits, drinking, whoring and gambling.”


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