Thoughts on Machiavelli by Leo Strauss

Willmoore Kendall, "Thoughts on Machiavelli by Leo Strauss," Philosophical Review, Vol. 75, No. 2 (Apr. 1966).


One of the marvels of Professor Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli is not so much that it dispels the confusion as to what Machiavelli was up to, and whether he was or was not on the side of the angels (though it does both these things), as that it makes of the previous confusion itself a means to the understanding of Machiavelli and his place in the history of political philosophy, which is to say: as the reader of Thoughts on Machiavelli comes to understand the reasons for the conflicting interpretations of Machiavelli (including the reasons why he, the reader, has in the past been unable to make any sense of The Prince and The Discourses), as he comes to see that the misunderstandings of Machiavelli are Machiavelli’s own handiwork, he finds himself moving closer and closer to the core of Machiavelli’s thought, and growing in intimacy with Machiavelli the teacher. Whatever else Machiavelli was or was not, Strauss leaves no doubt that he was one of the great teachers of all time-and, mirabile dictu, like most great teachers, a teacher of morals; no reader of Thoughts on Machiavelli will ever again flirt with the notion that Machiavelli “drove a wedge” between “politics” and “ethics,” or was the “first” political philosopher to eschew “value judgments.”) For there have been no misunderstandings about Machiavelli that Machiavelli did not invite and encourage; the misunderstandings are, therefore, one phase of what Strauss calls Machiavelli’s “plan” or intention, and, as such, they throw decisive light on the plan as a whole.