Sign Up for Our Newsletter Below to Get Weekly Book Recommendations and News
Today I would like to celebrate a very emotional conversation between two eminent historians, Patrick Boucheron and Jeffrey Freedman. For years Patrick has studied how the Middle Ages in Italy, which he locates between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, is truly the testing ground of our present time. This is an unconventional perspective since the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, colonialism, fascism, and attempts at democratic governance seem to suggest that the Middle Ages have nothing to teach that hasn’t already been overcome or made much worse.
Not so fast, says Patrick, because when it comes to political power—how it works and what it takes to keep it in check—there are no words, analyses, or prognoses more adept than those of Niccolò Machiavelli. And seeing the images of good and bad government in the frescoes of Ambrogio Lorenzetti will make the relevance of this “lab experiment” even more glaring.
Now let’s imagine asking Machiavelli the following question: Why does police reform continue to fail in America in the twenty-first century? True to form, Machiavelli will probably go straight the heart of the thing: “Isn’t this a systematic strategy designed to prevent ‘the governed’ from holding ‘the government’ accountable?” What does he recommend then? “Fighting back requires thinking about alternatives,” he will surely suggest. For example, what are the advantages of legitimate violent revolts versus other forms of resistance? What matters to Machiavelli is deconstructing how power works. What kind of pressure can ‘the people’ exert on Joe Biden, for example, to get him to defund the police? Machiavelli would answer that a good balance of power isn’t based on conciliation but on a healthy political confrontation between the governed and those in charge. The protests so far seem to lean in that direction, therefore “the people” should hold their ground and not cave in to good intentions or empty promises. Remember one thing: Machiavelli isn’t interested in good and evil, but in results.
Machiavelli The Art of Teaching People What to Fear By Patrick Boucheron
Translated by Willard Wood
“This wise, witty, razor-sharp anatomy of Machiavelli demonstrates why the most notorious thinker of the Renaissance is the perfect companion for our own time.” —Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“To reframe our understanding of Machiavelli, Mr. Boucheron asks, Who was he writing for?…If The Prince was meant to help ordinary people understand what their leaders were up to, then it is not a handbook for the power-crazed but a means of stopping them.” —Wall Street Journal
“An energetic new book by Patrick Boucheron offers a knowing guide to the Renaissance statesman and writer’s life and work.” —John Williams, New York Times Editors’ Choice
“An elegant introduction to this disturbing, incisive, many-sided thinker—and a reminder of why we must read him right now.” —Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live: A Life of Montaigne
“Patrick Boucheron’s little book is by far the best inducement to Machiavelli that I know of, to the point that I will have students read Boucheron’s Machiavelli rather than Machiavelli’s The Prince in my surveys. I am sure that they will then get to The Prince, and not for class, but for themselves.” —Francesco Erspamer, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University, and Director of the Harvard Summer Program in Milan and Siena
The Power of Images Siena, 1338 Published by Polity Books
From fourteenth-century Siena to the present, The Power of Images shows the latent dangers to democracy when our perceptions of the common good are distorted and undermined. It will appeal to students and scholars in art history, politics, and the humanities, as well as to anyone interested in the nature of power.
“Analyzing the fresco of ‘Good Government’ painted in Siena in the fourteenth century, Boucheron powerfully elucidates the nature of political representation.” —Philosophie Magazine