Machiavelli: The art of teaching People what to Fear

by Patrick Boucheron

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


The enormity of the relevance of this book is carefully crafted by the author, Boucheron. He states: “Living in unstable times, Machiavelli was keenly aware that the old political lexicon which the Middle Ages had inherited from Aristotle, no longer served him adequately. One instance was the basic opposition between the ideas of reigning and dominating, which lay at the heart of the medieval concept of government.” The opening line of the text quotes Donald Trump who at the time was a candidate for President, he stated, “Real Power is----I don’t want to even use the word---fear” Truly, we don’t know what to think of these Machiavellian words. “Should we admire him or not, is he with us or against us, and is he still our contemporary or is what he says ancient history? This book collects those texts which in their biting brevity and direct address attempt to harmonize in style with Machiavelli –not simply his manner of writing but his art of thinking, which brings to a flashpoint the fusion of poetry and politics.”


A previous publication of Boucheron asked whether the American way of fear might be exported around the world. He touched on Hobbes, of course, de Tocqueville and Hannah Arendt, but also Machiavelli who continually inquired about the fears of those who govern: “What makes them truly afraid? What justice stops being effective (or when crimes of corruption stop being punished) and when political violence is no longer a threat, there is nothing left to cause fear in those who govern shamelessly, that is, buoyed by a mood they aren’t in control of and that no one is on hand to countervail. What then will happen to the republic? This question inevitably arises when anxiety is felt about democracy because the republic loses its stability when it no longer reflects a pacified equilibrium between the different fears that divide it.”


The reading of this book needs a rather sophisticated historian and political sage. The pictures offered to give the reader a pleasant relief from the difficultly of living in Machiavelli’s shoes. ‘ The most authoritative editions of the complete works of Machiavelli originate in Italy, and among the most reliable are the versions edited by Mario Martelli and Corrado Vivanti as well as the so-called national edition issued by Salerno Editrice which notably includes much of Machiavelli’s diplomatic writing and his chancery correspondence before the Medici coup d’état in 1512. The author chose not to weigh down the text with references to the scholarly works that inspired it, yet certain allusions need all the same to be made more explicit here. The author is a French historian> He previously taught medieval history at the Ecole normale Superieure and the University of Paris, and is currently a professor of history at the College de France. He is the author of 12 books and the editor of five, including France in the World, which became a bestseller. The text was translated from French by Willard Wood.

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