“Is Machiavelli good, then, or is he evil?” asks the French scholar Patrick Boucheron in his discussion of The Prince, a book whose “whole program is to uncouple political action from conventional morality.” Is he advising political leaders to be treacherous, violent, and dishonest (as Diderot believed), or revealing to ordinary people the mechanisms behind their leaders’ dishonesty, violence, and treachery (as Rousseau believed)? “We would like to have an answer,” Boucheron writes, but the matter is better “set aside.” Machiavelli was simply saying “the truth about things.” Still, the question hangs in the air, if only because Boucheron’s anxiety over the deteriorating morality of politics today has him turning to the Italian for guidance
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