Thursday, February 13, 2014


“The shocking lesson of The Prince isn’t that politics demands dirty hands, but that politicians shouldn’t care”
By: Michael Ignatieffnov, who teaches at the University of Toronto and Harvard’s Kennedy School
Published:  The Atlantic; December 2013
Level of difficulty: ***
 Niccolo Machiavelli - BBC Documentary 720p

Note to the student: this task was labeled level *** because of the conceptual difficulty of the subject matter and the writing task; not for lexical reasons
It is suggested that you do some research on the life of Machiavelli, a 15th century Florentine thinker, to be able to get some background. It is also suggested that you seek out some videos to watch. Having familiarized yourself with the man and his work, get stuck in. Make sure to annotate the text as you read for the essay task.
1.       For what two reasons is the scene in The Situation Room described at the beginning of the text a Machiavellian moment?
2.       What seems to the main idea of The Prince? There are two possible answers; find both.
3.       What surprising epithet does Bobbitt assign Machiavelli? Why?
4.       What conclusion can we draw about Machiavelli from Bobbitt, Viroli and Vivanti’s views? There are two possible answers; find both.
5.       What set Machiavelli aside from other political thinkers who claimed politicians cannot always do good? There are two possible answers; find both.
6.       What unrealistic perception do we have of politicians?
7.       What does “It” refer to in the sentence “It is a mistake”?
8.       Why was Machiavelli wary of Christian principle and religious moralizing?
9.       Machiavelli believed in the importance of:
·         Elections
·         Avoiding war and turmoil
·         Public opinion
·         All of the above
·         None of the above
·         Other: please specify
10.   What does “This moral clarity” refer to?
11.   What was the real issue Machiavelli was trying to address in The Prince?
12.   According to Machiavelli, was Obama’s decision to invade the compound in Pakistan right or wrong? Why?
13.   Machiavelli would probably have approved of the current international policy not to intervene in Syria because it is difficult………………………………………………………………………………..
14.   According to Machiavelli, a good leader is someone:
·         Who doesn’t suffer from insomnia
·         Who is a risk taker
·         Who is morally upright
·         All of the above
·         None of the above
·         Other: please specify
You have just read all about a very controversial book which has been around for over 500 years. What are your views of the views expressed in The Prince? Write a reaction essay on the topic. Follow the plan below:
In your introduction, you can either describe the political and historical context and introduce Machiavelli or introduce the dilemma concerning politicians and wind up by discussing Machiavelli and The Prince.
In your first developmental paragraph, summarize the views expressed in The Prince. Summarize doesn’t mean copy-paste; it means take the ideas but not the language so use the notes you made. Also make sure that you have covered all the main points and left out the details. If you are not sure how to do this, check out the section on summaries on this blog.
In your second developmental paragraph, state your opinions and to what extent you agree with Machiavelli. Remember to support your views.
In your conclusion, write a restatement. If you don’t know how to do this, check out the sample essays written by professionals.
Machiavelli and his famous book The Prince are things university students should have some idea about and hopefully this brilliant little text will serve this purpose. I also feel that the views expressed will be of great interest to the modern student and as such, the text has a most definite wow factor. The advantages of the text do not end here: it lends itself to some good questions and a brilliant summary task as a part of the reaction essay. I would advise teachers to make sure students annotate the text correctly and make notes to use later. This is a very important skill that they will need throughout university. You will see that there are multiple answers to some questions and I require students to find both; I do this to test students’ paraphrasing skills.
1.       Because a political leader is taking ultimate risks that go with the exercise of power; because it is an instance when public necessity requires actions that private ethics and religious values might condemn as unjust and immoral.
2.       There is a gulf between private conscience and the demands of public action; in politics, evil deeds cease to be evil if urgent public interest makes them necessary.
3.       The great theorist of the early modern state; he understood that if power was no longer personal, no longer exercised by a Medieval lord, it had to be moralized in a new public ethic based on reason of state.
4.       Machiavelli was, in fact, a brilliant writer, a good companion and a passionate patriot; he was a misunderstood forerunner of the Italian Risorgimento calling for…
5.       He believed politicians shouldn’t worry about doing evil in the name of public good. Now stop and think about why the clauses are reversed. The second answer: he was unconcerned with dirty hands.
6.       We want our politicians to be suffering servants, lying awake at night, wrestling with the conflict between private morality and public good
7.       Gratuitous cruelty
8.       Because someone who believes he has God on his side is capable of anything
9.       2 and 3
10.   A clear sighted appreciation of how men really are as distinct from how they ought to be. This much is enough.
11.   When and how much ruthlessness is necessary in the world of politics.
12.   It was right; because it was the use of violence to protect the republic; OR, the violence was not gratuitous.
13.   To discern a  clear target or a defensible strategic objective.

14.   None of the above. The first alternative doesn’t reflect Machiavelli’s view; he says a leader should not lose sleep over unpleasant decisions. The second alternative won’t work either because Machiavelli wants the leader to be able to take risks when necessary; not an adrenalin junky.

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