Up to the second half of 18th century some of Machiavelli’s most intelligent readers – philosophers like Francis Bacon and Spinoza and Rousseau – read him as a thinker who wanted to uphold high moral standards. They thought he wrote ironically to expose the cynical methods politicians use to seize power, while only seeming to recommend them. Which doesn’t mean they thought he was writing pure satire, a send-up of political corruption. He had constructive aims too: to train people to see through plausible-sounding excuses and good appearances in politics, and think harder about the spiralling consequences of actions that seem good at the time.
Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Erica Benner.