The Question of Machiavelli

Short excerpt at the NYRB of Isaiah Berlin riffing on Machiavelli. Highly recommended. Berlin is not just one of the giants of 20th century scholarship; he is also one of its greatest writers.

Machiavelli calls the bluff not just of official morality—the hypocrisies of ordinary life—but of one of the foundations of the central Western philosophical tradition, the belief in the ultimate compatibility of all genuine values. His own withers are unwrung. He has made his choice. He seems wholly unworried by, indeed scarcely aware of, parting company with traditional Western morality….

For those who look on such collisions as rare, exceptional, and disastrous, the choice to be made is necessarily an agonizing experience for which, as a rational being, one cannot prepare (since no rules apply). But for Machiavelli… there is no agony.

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