BOOK REVIEW: The Discourses
Originally published on Goodreads
The Discourses by Machiavelli is Machiavelli’s thoughts on republics and government. In it he tackles the principles of power, the uneasy power balance between the people and the ones in power. The Discourses mostly follow the Roman republic until the times of the emperors. Any analysis or discussion of Machiavelli of course mentions his most famous work, The Prince. While The Prince was about power for dictators, The Discourses takes a view on republics and only mentions dictatorship in comparison to republics. In this sense, any reading of The Prince should be accompanied with a reading of The Discourses for further perspective into the thoughts of Machiavelli.
The Discourses is a long series of smallish discourses on republics, the history of Rome, the composition of states and much more. I found it to be quite terse to read through sometimes although they also contain a lot of wisdom. Time and time again I was quite amazed of how some principles are still applicable in today’s world which shows that Machiavelli has thought deeply about things to try and uncover the base principles that govern humans.
While being mostly brilliant in its observation, at some points the book quite collapses under weird argumentation. Machiavelli sometimes takes one example and holds it up as being a universal truth. The ignorance of large parts of world history, dealing only with the Roman republic, the Hellenistic world or his contemporary Italian city states, the book can seem somewhat lacking in argumentation.
Overall still a pleasant read and while it is hard, for the fans of The Prince, I think it is an important read. It certainly disperses of any image you might have of Machiavelli.
3 out of 5 stars.