[Our Fake History] Episode #94- How Machiavellian was Machiavelli? (Part I)

Episode #94- How Machiavellian was Machiavelli? (Part I)

11/09/2019 by Sebastian Major

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=80777447
Episode: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/traffic.libsyn.com/ourfakehistory/Episode_94-_How_Machiavellian_is_Machiavelli.mp3?dest-id=367678

There are few political thinkers with as evil a reputation as the Florentine writer Nicolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s philosophy was believed to be so cutthroat and cynically ruthless that some thought it was demonically inspired. There is even a historical myth that Nicolo Machiavelli’s first name inspired the English to call the devil “Old Nick”. Despite the fact that the story probably isn’t true, Machiavelli’s Satanic reputation has persisted. However, we need to ask if Machiavelli’s reputation deserved. Have people been misunderstanding his writing for centuries? Tune in and find out how Beelzebub, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Pope’s Banker all play a role in the story.

Listen date: 30 November 2019


  • Vilifying Catherine de Medici for the St Bartholomew Day Massacre may be a bit like the sexism Marie Antoinette faced, that was discussed in the In Our Time episode
  • I learned that Machiavelli’s reputation in the English speaking world may be thanks to Kit Marlowe’s play The Jew of Malta, which featured a character named Machiavel talking about how evil he was. If Kit Marlowe was a know-nothing idiot with no real grasp of what Machiavelli had written, but a way with words… sigh. Meanwhile, the Italians continue to admire and respect him for his work on republics and government.
  • The bit about Machiavelli’s statue reminded me of how an Italian city – perhaps Florence itself – had either commissioned or removed a statue to make a political point, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Gah.
  • Discworld connection: to Vetinari writing his treatise on government in Feet of Clay.
  • If the teaser dangled about Machiavelli writing The Prince against his own ideals, but to get back into the good graces of the new Medici regime is true, it sounds a lot like the Vivek Deheija – Rupa Subramaniam household’s dramatic volte faces over the last seven or eight years.
  • And if the point about The Prince being satire holds true, it seems like a parallel to the Mytilenaean debate as interpreted by the In Our Time panel – using the language of pragmatism to push for a course of action grounded in virtue ethics.


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