Machiavelli in Context

Course No. 4311
Professor William R. Cook, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo
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Course No. 4311
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Course Overview

Mentioning the name Niccolò Machiavelli can unleash a powerful response, even among people who have never read a word of his writings. Our language even has a word—Machiavellian—that encapsulates the images those responses conjure up:

  • An indistinct figure quietly making his way through the darkest corridors of power, hatching plots to play one rival against another
  • A cold-blooded political liar, ready to justify any duplicity undertaken in the name of a noble end that will ultimately justify the most malignant means
  • A coolly practical leader—amoral at best—willing to do whatever is necessary in a world governed not by ideas of right or wrong, but by solutions dictated by realpolitik.

But does the Machiavelli most of us think we know bear any resemblance to the Machiavelli who lived, pondered, and wrote?

According to Professor William R. Cook, a reading of Machiavelli that considers only those qualities that we today call "Machiavellian" is incomplete, and Machiavelli himself "certainly would not recognize" such sinister interpretations or caricatures of his writings and beliefs. Indeed, The Prince—on the pages of which so much of this image was built—was not even published in his lifetime.

Meet an Extraordinary Student of History

In the 24 lectures that make up Machiavelli in Context, Professor Cook offers the opportunity to meet an extraordinarily thoughtful and sincere student of history and its lessons, and to learn that there is far more to him than can be gleaned from any reading of The Prince, no matter how thorough.

Although The Prince is the work by which most of us think we know Machiavelli, and although some have indeed called it the first and most important book of political science ever written, it was not, according to Professor Cook, either Machiavelli's most important work or the one most representative of his beliefs. Those distinctions belong, instead, to his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, a longer work started at about the same time and which would, like The Prince, not be published until well after his death.

"Everyone who has seriously studied the works of Machiavelli agrees that he ... believed in the superiority of a republican form of government, defined as a mixed constitution with elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.

"Once we recover the context of the writing of The Prince, and analyze it along with the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, it will be clear how The Prince can be read as a book designed to guide leaders in the creation—for Machiavelli, restoration—of republican government in Italy.

"Ultimately, Machiavelli's goal wasn't much different from ours. It was to live in a free and equal participatory society, because he believed that was the greatest way in which human beings could live and flourish."

In fact, says Professor Cook, "Machiavelli's republican thought influenced the development of institutions and values both in Europe and in America."

Learn Machiavelli's Most Important Ideas

To present a complete and well-rounded picture of Machiavelli's ideas on how human societies should be organized and governed, Professor Cook sets aside much of Machiavelli's written output—which included the political work The Art of War, a biography, many letters, and even some plays—to focus on The Prince, the Discourses, and, more briefly, his Florentine Histories.

In doing so, Professor Cook draws on the same qualities so evident in his previous courses for The Teaching Company: Tocqueville and the American Experience, Dante's Divine Comedy, Francis of Assisi, and St. Augustine's Confessions.

Teaching in the relaxed and informal style of those courses, Professor Cook moves easily among the different disciplines so pertinent to an understanding of Machiavelli's ideas, including history, philosophy, government, and the elements of leadership. He is unfailingly clear, always provides any definitions needed to understand the material at hand, and is always ready with a touch of wit whenever that is appropriate.

Because so much of our contemporary misunderstanding of Machiavelli's ideas comes from a lack of context, Professor Cook carefully sets the stage for a complete perspective of Machiavelli's world.

Long before he turns to the works themselves, you'll have learned about Florence and its political history, both before and during Machiavelli's lifetime; the developing Renaissance culture of Machiavelli's time, especially as it bears on the use of ancient political thought by writers and political leaders; and Machiavelli's own life story, including his education, service to the Florentine Republic, years spent in exile south of Florence, and the ways each period of his life affected his writings.

A Stunning and Original Thinker

The result is a thorough grounding in the information one needs to understand and appreciate this stunningly original thinker.

You'll learn, for example, what Machiavelli means when he discusses the important ideas of virtù and Fortuna.

Though these are today invariably translated as virtue and fortune, Machiavelli's meanings can involve much more. Though he sometimes uses virtù in the sense we would understand today, he often uses the word—which comes from the classical Latin word for Man—as a means of describing the way one practices successful statecraft: aggressively, with no reluctance to use lies, deceit, and cruelty that may be required to maintain power, and hence the stability the people deserve.

In a similar way Machiavelli uses Fortuna in a different sense than might have been used by, say, Dante when he describes the vagaries of fate over which we have no control.

Instead, Machiavelli uses the adage, "Fortune is like a river." Though we cannot control fortune, which may well choose to make the river flood, a good ruler, practicing virtù, can indeed prepare for it, and thus modify its effects.

You'll see how Machiavelli first became exposed to history and one of its earliest great practitioners—the Roman historian, Livy—through his own experience of Fortuna.

Though printed books such as Livy's Early History of Rome were too expensive for a family like the young Machiavelli's in the 15th century, his father did own a copy. He had written the index, and a copy of the book had been part of his payment. Thus Machiavelli grew up with the volumes about which he would one day write his own most important work, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy.

You'll be introduced to Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI and the man regarded as Machiavelli's model for The Prince, especially in the way his actions embodied the virtù so important to Machiavelli.

Hear a Shocking but Illustrative Story

Professor Cook brings this out in a shocking story of Borgia's use of a tough and merciless Spaniard—Ramiro d'Orco—to impose order and stability on the area of north central Italy known as the Romagna that had come under Borgia's rule and was beset by crime and violence.

D'Orco's brutal methods had the desired effect. And when the job was completed, the local people emerged from their homes one morning to find the two halves of Ramiro d'Orco's body on opposite sides of the town square of Cesana, because d'Orco had been too tough, and Cesare Borgia needed a way to advertise further his concern for the people whose loyalty he wanted.

The story also embodies, for Machiavelli, the idea that cruelty can be "well-used," just as being merciful—withholding such cruelty when a leader deems it needed—may be less than merciful in its long-term impact.

Finally, you will get to see, throughout these lectures, the development of Machiavelli's reliance on history for its lessons, his role as a Renaissance Humanist thinker, and the emergence of his republican views, which still have tremendous influence today as we ask how republics start, grow, succeed, or fail.

As Professor Cook notes, we are not going to agree with all of Machiavelli's answers. But his commitment to asking the right questions—to thinking, reflecting, and learning everything history has to teach us about the best ways to govern and safeguard the future—was total.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Who Is Machiavelli? Why Does He Matter?
    The course opens by placing Machiavelli in the context of the history of Western political thought, addressing the debate over the "real" Machiavelli and examining his role as perhaps the first "modern" thinker. x
  • 2
    Machiavelli’s Florence
    What sort of place was Florence in the period we call the Renaissance? The lecture introduces us to an independent entity constantly working to gain advantage over its Italian neighbors as well as deal with the great European monarchies. x
  • 3
    Classical Thought in Renaissance Florence
    The Renaissance can best be understood as an educational movement that approached and found value in the classics in new ways. This lecture introduces the principal tenets of Renaissance Humanist thought and practice. x
  • 4
    The Life of Niccolò Machiavelli
    In the republican interlude (1494–1512) that interrupts the Medici domination, Machiavelli leads an active life as a part of Florence's government, although his most important writings are produced in the years after the Medici family re-established its rulership. x
  • 5
    Why Did Machiavelli Write The Prince?
    In studying Machiavelli's letters and The Prince itself, we learn the circumstances in which he produced his most famous work, as well as the degree to which his ideas, though owing much to classical thought, are quite original. x
  • 6
    The Prince, 1–5—Republics Old and New
    The lecture begins the in-depth exploration of The Prince, including both the view that it was an attempt to win the favor of the Medici and Machiavelli's first extended use of an example from classical antiquity to illuminate his discussion. x
  • 7
    The Prince, 6–7—Virtù and Fortuna
    We look at two terms Machiavelli uses often and what he intends them to mean before moving into the heart of one of the book's most famous chapters, in which Machiavelli introduces Cesare Borgia, often referred to as his role model for a modern prince. x
  • 8
    The Prince, 8–12—The Prince and Power
    Machiavelli examines civil principalities, leading to a discussion of the prince's relationship with the citizens he governs, including his claim that it is more important for a prince to have the support of the people rather than the nobility. x
  • 9
    The Prince, 13–16—The Art of Being a Prince
    Machiavelli denounces the common practice of his day for Italian city-states to rely on auxiliary soldiers, and lays out part of what is new in his political thought, pointing out that human weakness lessens the value of those in the past who have written of ideal, imaginary republics. x
  • 10
    The Prince, 17–21—The Lion and the Fox
    Should a prince be loved or feared, if he cannot be both? Traditional thinkers would have chosen the former, while Machiavelli argues for the latter. Similarly, Machiavelli asks if it is necessary or wise for a prince always to keep his word. x
  • 11
    The Prince, 21–26—Fortune and Foreigners
    Machiavelli states that a prince must gain the esteem of his people and then addresses several important issues regarding a prince's court—including advisors and how to use them and the problem of flattery—before focusing once again on contemporary Italy and its problems. x
  • 12
    Livy, the Roman Republic, and Machiavelli
    We turn to Machiavelli's most carefully thought out and longest book on political thought, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, beginning with a description of the Roman Republic and a broad view of how Livy understood Rome's republican past. x
  • 13
    Discourses—Why Machiavelli Is a Republican
    Machiavelli argues that it was conflict between patricians and plebians that led to the full development of Rome's republican constitution. Hence, conflict can be either destructive or positive in a nation. While it was good for Rome, it was bad for Florence. x
  • 14
    Discourses—The Workings of a Good Republic
    Machiavelli holds that a Republic requires a strong man who is unafraid to act boldly—citing Numa's establishment of a moral structure for citizens—and looks forward, as well, asking what happens if the citizenry becomes corrupted. x
  • 15
    Discourses—Lessons from Rome
    Machiavelli examines several questions relating to the governance and reform of a republic—including the roles played by merit, tradition, initiative, and punishment—before making a case for the freedom that comes with knowledge of the past. x
  • 16
    Discourses—A Principality or a Republic?
    After contrasting a virtuous republic with a city without virtue, Machiavelli writes about his beliefs in signs and prophecies, a reminder to us that Machiavelli is both a man of his time and a modern man. x
  • 17
    Discourses—The Qualities of a Good Republic
    Although Machiavelli dealt with the role of fortune in The Prince, he takes up the issue again at the beginning of his second discourse, considering claims that Rome was more lucky than skilled or virtuous in its stability and growth during several republican centuries. x
  • 18
    Discourses—A Republic at War
    Machiavelli discusses the organization and practice of warfare in ancient Rome, offering us the opportunity to draw lessons that override the details of the kind of warfare no longer waged in our time. x
  • 19
    Discourses—Can Republics Last?
    Concerned for war-torn Italy, Machiavelli takes up several issues that Livy dealt with in his History of Rome, ultimately worrying about how nations, and especially republics, can survive in a dangerous and unpredictable world. x
  • 20
    Discourses—Conspiracies and Other Dangers
    With famous historical examples to emphasize the importance of taking action against opposition when a change of government occurs, Machiavelli writes about the nature of conspiracies and the qualities different historical circumstances demand of a leader, then reiterates several of his major themes. x
  • 21
    Florentine Histories—The Growth of Florence
    Writing his most important work of history—Florentine Histories—as a commission from the Medici, Machiavelli applies many of the ideas set forth in The Prince and Discourses. x
  • 22
    Florentine Histories—The Age of the Medici
    The Pazzi conspiracy of 1478 is an attempt to overthrow Medici rule by assassinating Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano. It becomes for Machiavelli a case study that illuminates the particular issue of conspiracies and how we learn from history. x
  • 23
    The Fate of Machiavelli’s Works
    Machiavelli's major works fail to find publication in his lifetime, but his republican thought, at least indirectly, contributes to the development of an American republican tradition. x
  • 24
    Was Machiavelli a Machiavellian?
    The final lecture addresses the most important questions we need to ask about Machiavelli, including the fairness of the judgment brought on him by history, and why he remains such a vital model, even after five centuries. x

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Your professor

William R. Cook

About Your Professor

William R. Cook, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo
Dr. William R. Cook is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. He earned his bachelor's degree cum laude from Wabash College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa there. He was then awarded Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman fellowships to study medieval history at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Cook teaches courses...
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Machiavelli in Context is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 79.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Presentation This is an area in which I have not done much studying. I was very pleased that Professor Cook was easy to follow and spent a limited but sufficient time laying down background information. He is obviously very knowledgeable in the subject matter, and passionate about the material. His presentations were well organized, built well internally and from lecture to lecture. He made his position and opinions up front and defended them with skill; at the same time not denigrating those who may take a differing position. I appreciate his approach, especially in a world where we seem to go to extremes to not discredit anyone’s opinion. The one part of his presentation I would fault is the frequent repeating of his thesis in any specific lecture too many times. After reviewing background, and the basic information to be covered, Professor Cook would launch into the heart of the lecture – a very good system. But as the lecture progressed he would continually refer back to the main point, often repeating almost verbatim, and do so several times. I felt myself saying “okay I get it, let’s move forward”. This is a minor irritation on my part, and should not dissuade anyone from taking the course. I would have liked to have had a greater use of visual materials. A side note: Professor Cook should get a fashion consultant.
Date published: 2012-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding. Just Absolutely Outstanding. Most Highly recommended. Watching Professor Cook's lecture I am transported back to the best and what I loved about St. John's College and the Great Books Program. His presentation is extremely well researched, carefully considered, and well organized. A joy to to watch, and a great spark for conversation during and afterward. I look forward to Professor Cook's other lectures.
Date published: 2012-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Irrepressible! There are many good things about this course. => First, once Prof Cook gets going, he's unstoppable. I first saw his "Alexis de Toqueville" course, which showed him to be both riveting and delightfully idiosyncratic - and it even shows through in Audio. His lecturing is gripping - with no apparent script - just like a friend who's got something exciting to tell you. => I initially got this course because of one of Prof Fears' lectures where he somewhat demonizes Machiavelli. This course really offered me a much more nuanced view of Machiavelli: he seems *realistic* and not the bad guy he's come to be known as. => Any one who is interested in political science, at its fundamental level, will really benefit from this course. This course was the one that got me interested in studying political science more thoughtfully. => Here's a bit of a disappointment, although this should not dissuade anyone from getting the course. Prof Cook does spend quite a bit of time on "The Prince," which we've all heard of. But he seems to spend more time on "Discourses on the first 10 books of Livy," which few of us have heard of. Prof Cook assures us that the Livy stuff is really the interesting, well thought-thru material, moreso than the Prince is. Yes, it was interesting, but his treatment of it was somewhat slow and I didn't think quite as interesting as the Prince. => That minor complaint aside, this is really a "must have" for students of political science and long-standing lovers of history. Prof Cook is a gem of a professor
Date published: 2012-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learnt a Lot; Much More than Just "The Prince" I picked up the course because I have listened to Prof Cook's courses before on Christianity, which I liked, and because I was just curious about the topic. Like most people, I always thought that Machiavelli is "machiavellian"! But this course challenged this belief and opened my eyes. The course is organised into 3 sections. The first section gives the context to Florence in the 13th-15th century and Machiavelli before Prof Cook describes his books. The second section is the 'meat' of the course, where Prof Cook goes through three of Machiavelli's books: 1. The Prince, 2. Discourses on the first ten books of Livy (Roman Historian), and 3. Florentine Histories. The last section is two lectures where Prof Cook talks about the impact of Machiavelli's work and whether Machiavelli was really 'machiavellian'. I learnt a lot from this course; some of the insights I learnt are: - Machiavelli is actually a republican. He believes in (and prefers) the wisdom of 'the people' compared to the wisdom of a 'Prince'. - Machiavelli loves analysing history to gain insights into the workings of society; he uses plenty of examples from ancient history and (his) modern time to illustrate his many points. - Machiavelli recommends that leaders find problems when they are small (harder to find, but easier to fix) vs when they are large (easier to find, but harder to fix). He uses the medical analogy well here. - It is vital for princes to prepare for war during times of peace & tranquility. - It is better to be respected than loved. - He doesn't believe in the effectiveness of fortresses; the best fortress, he said, consists of not being hated by the people. - A prince must 'think big', honour great men, and sponsor spectacles (celebrate!). - A leader needs to be both a lion and a fox. - In the "Discourses", Machiavelli defines the ideal Republic system as the combination / mixed constitution consisting elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. (If monarchy is unchecked, it can lead to despotism. If aristocracy is unchecked, it can lead to plutocracy. If democracy is unchecked, it can lead to mob rule.) - "The Prince" was written with an ultimately republican outcome. Machiavelli said, when a nation is in 'chaos' and is not ready to be a republic, it would need a strong leader ("The Prince") to stabilise it - but ultimately a better form of governance after that is the republic model. Although princes are better than the people in establishing republics, the people are superior to princes in maintaining them. - Machiavelli thought the 'office of the Dictator' in the Roman republic era, as long as it is capped to only a year or less, is a great idea (esp when to face a crisis - such as the attack of Hannibal). - Machiavelli admired the battlefield organisation of the Romans, who arranged their troops so that they could regroup three times during a battle. Thus, the Romans had to be beaten three times. (this is practically 'three x worst case scenario' preparation). - Although one might be tempted to attack nations which are divided, Machiavelli thinks this is a mistake, because such an attack will unite those who were divided. - Republics need to renew themselves regularly. - Successful leaders change with the times. Fabius Maximus (Fabus the Delayer) was the right leader for Rome to fight successfully against Hannibal in Italy. However, he was the wrong leader when Rome was attacking Hannibal in Carthage (Scipio was the right one). - Culture is vitally important. Culture is reinforced by tradition and education. - Machiavelli's republican thought contributed to the development of an American republican tradition. For me, Machiavelli, particularly in his "Discourses", is a refreshing original thinker who calls it the way he sees it. I found some of his insights and wisdom to be invaluable even for today's societies and their governing processes.
Date published: 2012-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned a great deal This is an excellent set of lectures. I now understand what "Machiavellian' really means. Also, the historical context was a pervasive part of the lectures - as promised. Prof Cook continuously refers to Italy of Machievelli's time and to ancient Rome, as he reads from the text and unpacks it "in context".
Date published: 2012-06-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too meandering for me DVD review. In MACHIAVELLI IN CONTEXT Dr. Cook tries to achieve three goals: • Distinguish the real political thinker from the cartoonish, means-justifies-the-ends Machiavelli we all think we know. He does this primarily through a chapter-by-chapter review of "The Prince" along with some biographical details (Lectures 1-11). • Analyse Machiavelli's use of Livy and Roman history to extract political lessons for his contemporaries. Specific recommendations are mentioned, but Cook's main point is that Machiavelli avoided antiquarianism (the past for its own sake) and nostalgia (the past as refuge) to bring out the past's usefulness when analysed properly. Cook does this by examining — chapter by chapter again — "The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy" (Lectures 12-20). • Finally, Cook looks at Machiavelli's belief in republicanism defined as "a mixed government with elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy". Cook believed it is still relevant today as embodied in the U.S. Constitution and the political thinking of some of the Founding Fathers (Lectures 21-24 and in bits throughout). Cook is an excellent speaker with a booming voice. He also likes to wear shirts and ties in loud color combinations. This entertainment factor is pushed as far as possible given that we only have a speaker, a lectern and a few photographs of Florence. PROS The best served are viewers thinking of reading (or writing an essay about) "The Prince" or "The Discourses". We get detailed overviews that emphasize Machiavelli's thinking process, his values and, above all, the difference between the real man and his simplistic image. CONS • The chapter-by-chapter approach hurts pacing. There is too much meandering and repetition because Machiavelli's books overlap to some extent (only one was published while he lived). Thanks to Wikipedia, we have ready access to concise-yet-detailed essays on Machiavelli, The Prince, The Discourses or Renaissance Florence. It's also free. Given this alternative, it would have been far wiser for Cook to systematise Machiavelli's thinking according to thematic headings: On War, On Political Alliances, On the Wisdom and Folly of the Masses, etc. etc. and then quote from his various works to show evidence. • Another consequence of the chapter-by-chapter approach is that too little space remains to clearly explain Florence's economic, political, military and religious infrastructure, the aspects of Florentine life of vital importance to Machiavelli's political views, but which remain fuzzy to us because they were left unexplained as common knowledge among his contemporaries. These city states were constantly at war to gain farm land or access to port areas. Why and how? How influenced were they by the growing wool and banking industries? Why did the French or Swiss think it worth their while to invade Italy? I'm not referring to Renaissance art, but to the money-in-money-out nitty-gritty issues city leaders cared about. We get very little about this from this course. • Finally, Cook's interest in republicanism was the least interesting part for me. Machiavelli's relevance today through the Founding Fathers felt very unconvincing IF one wishes to understand the day-to-day practices of modern American politics. If political theory fascinates you more, of course, a million ancient beliefs suddenly become "relevant". But that is not the aspect of political life that interested Machiavelli. Nor is it why he remains influential.
Date published: 2012-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rosetta Stone to Understanding Machiavelli I have listened to all 24 of Professor Cook's magnificent lectures at leats four times as I prepare to present Machiavelli to my college students. I am continually captivated by Cook's profound scholarship, incisive insights. and conversational manner by which he tells a compelling story. Perhaps most important, for those who know Machiavelli principally from THE PRINCE, is how Cook underscores why DISCOURSES catapults Machiavelli into the pantheon of great advocates for republican government. Machiavelli has been a loathsome figure in some modern scholarly assessments. Leo Strauss characterizes him as 'evil.' Professor Dennis Dalton, in his Great Courses lecture, expresses distain for Machiavelli's 'immorality.' Many writers, picking out a few phrases from THE PRINCE, either praise or castigate Machiavellianism, without deep appreciation of the man or his era. Cook provides an even-handed assessment of Machiavelli, the circumstances under which his dashed off THE PRINCE (1513 in original draft), and why Machiavelli, in his most serious work, DISCOURSES ON THE FIRST TEN BOOKS OF TITUS LIVY, favored the people and a republic over the long term. DISCOURSES is highlighted in THE DEMOCRACY READER edited by education scholar Diane Ravitch. Why is Machiavelli so misunderstood? Professor Cook states that few people appreciate the historical situation of the 16th century 'Italy,' and fewer still read Machiavelli's work within this context. Machiavelli was an historian, not a political theorist. Both in THE PRINCE and DISCOURSES, he assiduously analyzed both ancient and contemporary historical situations and then drew conclusions from his well-documented case studies. THE PRINCE, like Thomas Paine's pamphlets, addressed an immediate political crisis: 'Italy' was being overrun by foreign troops and the principal 'Italian' states were in disarray. Machiavelli, who had been dismissed from government when the Medici returned to Florence, was tortured and forced into exile to a farm outside the city. He saw that the 'Italian' states were headed towards disaster by their failure to apply 'virtu' (manliness) in respsonding to this chaotic situation. Machiavelli, skilled in government and a shrewd observer of history, dashed off a 'business plan' in which he described those characteristics required in this 'turnaround' crisis. One can imagine, as he provided a blueprint for political action to the Medici (another Medici was then pope), that he hoped to be called back into government service to assist in implementing the salvation of 'Italy.' This notwithstanding, he set forth guidelines intended to be a pragmatic primer for rulers who sought to be successful. Machiavelli bluntly dismissed the 'fantasy republic' of Plato and the purported morality of the Catholic Church. Rather, he focused on the nature of human beings ('fickle, untruthworthy, liars') and how they might best be governed. He noted in THE PRINCE that he had discussed this elsewhere--DISCOURSES. Nor was Machiavelli particularly concerned with heridtary principalities, where there was a pattern of continuity. His focus was on those states where there was a sudden change in leadership. Cook underscores that Machiavelli was not discussing a conduct that he might personally prefer. Indeed, when he held senior government positions, his behavior was quite different than was he was recommending for Italian princes. He sought to discuss what most likely would work under crisis conditions. (In 1527, the year of Machiavelli's death, Rome was pillaged by foreigners and 'Italy" was a shambles for generations." Many people express shock at Machiavelli's recommendation that princes, when necessary, should engage in swift cruelty, that it was better to be feared rather than loved (but avoid being hated), ad that often it was necessary not to be 'good.' [President Franklin Roosevelt once said to Thomas Corcoran: 'A president must deceive, misrepresent, leave false impressions...and trust to charm, loyalty and the results to make up for this....A great man cannot be a good man.' Much of the same can be surmised from Thomas E. Cronin's and Michael A. Genovese's THE PARADOXES OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY.] Professor Cook brilliantly describes why mastery of the DISCOURSES is the only way truly to understand Machiavelli. Here Machiavelli favored, as a long-term form of government, a republic. Machiavelli's primary historical example was the Roman republic which, with its consuls, tribunes, and senate checks and balances, flourished for hundreds of years. This was a government form that could absorb the inevitable dynamic tensions that exist within any complex institution. It might seem surprising that Machiavelli, who excoriated human nature in THE PRINCE, saw the people as the keystone of his preferred republic. To him, over the long term a well-educated and involved populus (preferably urban middle class) would better serve the interests of the state than a ruling prince. His reason is that, over time, a prince would neglect the interests of the state in favor of preserving his personal power. I strongly advise anyone who wishes to discuss Machiavelli's views intelligently to listen carefully to Professor Cook's lectures and to read his accompanying summary. THE PRINCE has marvelous 30-second sound bites that can be quoted out of context with devastating effect. In my opinion, this sophistry, without appreciating the historical context of the 16th century as well as gaining mastery of DISCOURSES, does a disservice to both to sound-bite commentators and to Machiavelli.
Date published: 2012-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of most fascinating courses offered This course is a thoroughly fascinating reconsideration of Machiavelli, slandered as one of history's alleged "villains" but, as Prof. Cook clearly proves, Machiavelli was actually one of the greatest students of history and politics of all time, and what he has to tell us is terribly relevant today. Prof. Cook resurrects Machiavelli's reputation and demonstrates that he was an advocate of republics who provided the intellectual foundation for modern republics, including the American republic. I loved this course for its content, however, I must say that Prof. Cook's oral presentation, which I only gave 4 stars, will not go down well with every listener. On the one hand, I loved his down-to-earth manner. His lectures, while on a very high plane intellectually, often come across like a conversation over a beer with a favorite uncle. I personally liked that style of delivery a lot; some listeners won't. My main complaint, however, about his oral delivery was simple: He often literally shouts his words into the microphone. Listening to a lecture of his is like getting punched in the ears. Sometimes I even had a headache after a lecture, from the assaultive nature of his oral delivery. So be forewarned. Yet, let me hasten to add: While his speaking style may be painful sometimes, the content of this course is well worth the pain. I cannot recommend this course strongly enough.
Date published: 2012-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening! Professor Cook superbly succeeds in giving extra depth and consistence to Machiavelli’s views not only by providing significant historical and intellectual context but also by covering, in addition to the well-known ‘’Prince’’, two other major works : the ‘’Discourses’’ and ‘’Florentine Histories’’. Professor Cook is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and very well organized. The only criticism to be made is that he consistently tends to force his voice which consequently turns out to be anything but melodious. Overall, however, this excellent course is recommended to anyone interested in politics, whether or not he or she has studied Machiavelli in the past.
Date published: 2011-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Minor Irritations, Otherwise Excellent Irritation #1: he has a strident voice; you have to imagine being in the front row of a large lecture theatre with no audio system. Irritation #2: particularly at the beginning and the end, he goes on & on about Republicanism, strongly implying that this is The Natural Form of Government. As a Non-American and non-Republican, this irritated me. That said, the content is very good, and he repeatedly makes Machiavelli's point that the rules that you should follow as a successful leader are different from the rules you should follow as a regular member of society. As an outsider looking in, it would appear that some current (and wannabe) leaders have taken this message and run with it.
Date published: 2011-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The course's title says it all By explaining Machiavelli in the context of his own times and concerns, William Cook persuasively refutes the "Machiavellian" caricature of this path-breaking political thinker. His portrayal of Machiavelli is balanced, fair, and ultimately sympathetic. Anyone interested in Western political thought and in Renaissance Italian history should thoroughly enjoy these lectures and learn much from them. Cook is one of my very favorite TGC lecturers, and all of his courses are uniformly top rate. His style is exceptionally colloquial, which I find quite engaging, and his enthusiasm is palpable and infectious. His range of interests and depth of expertise are truly remarkable.
Date published: 2011-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Is it immoral to protect the innocent? This is a thoughtful and provocative study of the late-political scientist Niccolo Machiavelli. The course explores the entire context of three Machiavellian books, but I would recommend the superlative lessons found in Lectures 8-10, in Lecture 14, in Lectures 17-18 and in Lecture 24.
Date published: 2011-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Context is Essential to Understanding This was, indeed, a great course. Dr. Cook was enthusiastic in the presentation and thorough in the coverage of the life and writings of Machiavelli. In parallel with this course, I read the Prince, Discourses on Livy and Florentine Histories, and I feel that I got a lot more out of each of the books as a result of Dr. Cook’s presentation. The perspective on Machiavelli is certainly much different if one looks at all his writings and the state of society at the time of the writing as opposed to reading only The Prince. I enjoyed the experience and I will listen to this course again.
Date published: 2011-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good introduction to the subject Overall Review: Good introductory course of the work this influential political theorist. The class is even more enjoyable because of the delivery – Dr Cook unedited (in a good way) lectures make you feel as if you are hearing him debating with a group of students, just outside the classroom. It was fun to learn about the Junior Woodchucks Guidebook and what Machiavelli would think of it. Area of improvement: Conspiracy theme was repetitive, that I thought I’ve already heard that lecture. Best for: History & political science buffs who didn’t take social science classes in college. If you are going to watch Showtime’s TV series about the Borgias this year, check out this course first. It will give a nice perspective to all the political intrigue during the Italian Renaissance.
Date published: 2011-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loads of Learning to be Had in this Course Many people assume that they are familiar with the principles that Machiavelli espoused, but most have not studied any of Machiavelli's writings. Dr. Cook is an expert and this comes through in this course. I have been teaching management for 30 years and found this course to be very enlightening. Some of the textbooks that I have encountered in management courses have erroneous statements about Machiavelli's writings. So, I decided to hear for myself, since I did not know where to get started as far as reading Machiavelli's works. What I discovered from this course is that what is commonly discussed about Machiavelli is not accurate at all. Dr. Cook inspired me to dig out more information on my own. My students appreciate hearing about what I learned from this course. I also enjoyed the professor's perspectives on the historical background of Machiavelli's time. Dr. Cook's presentation style is clear and entertaining. He makes the ideas that Machiavelli wrote about clear and relevant to contemporary management ideas.
Date published: 2011-02-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing, Repetitive Having thoroughly enjoyed Cook's lecture series on Tocqueville, I was surprised to be so disappointed by this one. The Tocqueville course seems the perfect length for the work; this course seems too long for the content. I became so irritated at hearing the phrase "Machiavelli doesn't want us to make assumptions about ... , he wants us to think for ourselves" that I sent the materials back. (And in my car, I'm a captive audience!) Would have been a lot more interesting to build the course around The Prince, The Discourses, and Thomas More's Utopia, I think.
Date published: 2011-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Machiavelli? Which Machiavelli? I have just finished listening to this course and I enjoyed it very much. I had already listened to "Dante's Divine Comedy", another of Mr Cook's courses, and although it was interesting I did not really like the format of it, i.e. two lecturers alternately speaking for a few minutes. This course is taught by Mr Cook alone. As has been abundantly mentioned in previous reviews, Mr Cook makes it clear that Machiavelli suffers from an unjustified bad reputation and that, strangely enough, the adjective 'Machiavellian' does not apply to him or his written works. One must read — or be lectured upon — his writings other than "The Prince" to fully grasp his political views and motivations. Interestingly enough, considering that Machiavelli constantly gives examples from history, ancient or modern, even "The Prince" should not warrant his reputation as an amoral cynic. After all, he merely lists the various actions that famous leaders have used to gain and keep power from time immemorial, he does not create them... even if he does seem to endorse them at times. The parts of the course devoted to Machiavelli's "Discourses" and "Florentine Histories" are very informative and interesting too. Mr Cook does a very good job at explaining how these two books shed a more complete light onto their author's personality and political views. Regarding Mr Cook's course on "Tocqueville and the American Experiment" another reviewer wrote that « Prof. Cook pitches his voice as if he is constantly shouting [and] it gets a little tiresome ». It is indeed the only recurring bad point about Mr Cook's courses and although it is not enough to put you off or to spoil your listening pleasure it does get a little tiresome. I would nevertheless recommend this course to anyone interested in the topic and I will most certainly listen to it again in the future.
Date published: 2010-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellant Course and Teacher If you don't believe Machiavelli was a Republican and brilliant thinker, then take this course. Prof. Cook gives the highlights with such enthusiasm that it would be hard to miss the true Machiavelli. The Prince may be Machiavelli's most famous book, but the Discourse and Histories of Florence reveal the true man and are fascinating. Filled with historical content, Prof. Cook makes sure that the main points of each of these books is well disclosed. Machiavelli for his part gives the reader a primer on ancient as well as contemporary examples of the principals that he uncovers. It's unfortunate that more people don't see Machiavelli for what he really is; a true Republican. Cook makes you understand this with clear and often repeated examples.
Date published: 2010-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Surprising Course! AUDIO DOWNLOAD 24 Lectures Did you read only The Prince in college out of all of Machiavelli's worka? Did you know that he was a Republican and valued liberty? Did you know that his greatest work was not The Prince but his Discourses on Livy? Would you be surprised to realize that the one-sided caricature you have of Machiavelli is wrong? "Machiavelli in Context" is the right title, and Prof. Cook is the right lecturer to provide a solid example of what real history of ideas is all about. Not only does he put The Prince in context in a way that was definitely lacking in my education, he makes a convincing case that Machiavelli's Discourses on the Decade (Ten Books) of Livy are the real treasure in his corpus and deserve serious study. This course was so good that I went to my Kindle account and downloaded the Complete Works of Niccolo Machiavelli for only $3.18. And by the way, you can save up to $25 downloading this course rather than buying the Audio CD ($10 shipping and nearly $15 in course cost.) Highly Recommended - 5 Stars
Date published: 2010-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible An absolutely fascinating subject: what Machiavelli was like IN CONTEXT. Most modern day opinions of Machiavelli take him OUT of context, and therefore miss the point. After listening to these lectures I would consider Machiavelli to be one of the most thoughtful people of his time. A great course.
Date published: 2010-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Worth TIme Invested Prof. Cook is a world class speaker. His insights make this series a Top 10 in our book.
Date published: 2010-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Machiavelli did not care ... ... what you and I think of him; he cared and wrote about what he believed was true and what actually works when you have (or want) power. This course grounds Machiavelli in his times, so we see him in a slightly different light, which in interesting and helpful in understanding this brilliant man who could see so clearly. It's been said that both Hitler and Stalin kept a copy of 'The Prince' on their night stands. I believe it!
Date published: 2009-06-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lacking in substance... Darren Staloff covered most of this material in a SINGLE lecture (in his Great Minds course, vol. 2 & 3) I just felt that the prof. could've gone deeper. I just didn't feel like I learned much upon completion. wasn't satisfying.
Date published: 2009-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More Then Just The Prince Machiavelli is most known for his work The Prince and the traditional view of him has been that he wrote a how to book for tyrants to seize and hold power. In a similar vein he has been seen through much of history as a politician who advised his clients that the ends justified the means.Dr. Cook says that we have to look at Machiavelli in context to truly comprehend him. This course looks at the major works of Machiavelli in great detail.(The main texts examined are The Prince, The Discourses on Livy, and the Florentine Histories) Dr. Cook also gives in depth lectures which position Machiavelli in his beloved Renaissance Florence.Dr. Cook posits that Machiavelli is actually a republican and that future republics(including the U.S.) owe him a debt of gratitude for his systematic examination of government and of history. Dr. Cook brings this intriguing figure to life.
Date published: 2009-03-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Cook disregards minor ingredient The strength of this course is the close, detailed treatment that Professor Cook gives to Machiavelli's principal works: The Prince., the Discourses and the Florentinve Histories. This attention to detail is invaluable in a study of someone so routinely mis-represented over the centuries and occasionally still today. In this task Professor Cook is a fascinating character to listen to and observe. His enthusiasm for revealling Machiavelli's meanings and motivations is quite rivetting. However, the reverse side of the coin is that Cook does not pay much attention to Machiavelli's The Art of War, and other written evidence such as Machiavelli's letters and plays; which is why I would award the course 4 rather than five stars.
Date published: 2009-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from He's not what you think! I always had a bad opinion of Machiavelli based on nothing more than other people's negative opinions. What a surprise after watching this lecture series! There is so much more to the man. We can learn many lessons from him starting with the value of studying history. Professor Cook brings color to this course, and being a frequent traveler to Florence, Italy is able to relate personal stories which give life to his subject. We take a peek into the cradle of the Italian Renaissance at the beginning of that epoch through the eyes of an exiled political enemy who is trying to get back into political power. We get a taste of the enormous power the Medici family wielded. The story of Niccolo Machiavelli reads like a tale of murderous and political intrigue. You never know what you're going to discover. This course was so exciting I followed it up by ordering "Italian Renaissance" taught by Kenneth Bartlett.
Date published: 2008-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The course on Machiavelli was excellent. If you wish to understand politics, machiavelli is an excellent teacher. His lessons and warnings are relevant for us today.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course has given me a much clearer understanding of Machiavelli. I think having this expanded understanding of Machiavelli is important for the political machinery of America.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I felt professor Cook delivered what he promised. The course title says it all for the Machiavelli misunderstanding. I was most pleased with the Teaching company.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The presenter dropped voice at end of sentence, which was not audible - difficult to understnad point being made.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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