Publishing the Prince

Publishing the Prince

History, Reading, & the Birth of Political Criticism

Book - 2005
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As new ideas arose during the Enlightenment, many political thinkers published their own versions of popular early modern absolutist texts and transformed them into manuals of political resistance. Publishing The Prince traces how, through the works of Tacitus and Machiavelli, humanist reading techniques which sought to discern accurate history, became political tools for monarchs. As Machiavelli illustrated in The Prince, prudence, or reason of state was a critical faculty based on the knowledge of historical precedent. Knowledgeable kings were more effective rulers. Yet critical reading could work both ways, as the public in turn saw into the shadowy methods of monarchs. Indeed, one scholar, Abraham-Nicolas Amelot de La Houssaye, created the most popular version of Machiavelli's The Prince of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the express goal of transforming Machiavelli's masterwork into a popular tool for monarchical criticism. Through his prefaces and commentaries, and through parallel translations of Tacitus, Venetian historians and the Spanish Jesuit, Baltasar Gracian, Amelot provided a reading apparatus which showed readers how to use Machiavelli as a manual for reason of state of the self. No longer just a book of princely politics, Amelot's version of The Prince became a best selling handbook of self-interest, and radical political subversion. Revising the now orthodox schema of the public sphere in which political authority shifted away from the crown with the rise of bourgeois civil society in the eighteenth century, Soll uses the example of Amelot's editorial strategy for publishing The Prince to show that the very sphere of politicalcriticism and the terms of public debate were absolutist creations, which were in turn appropriated by critics of the crown. Beyond coffee shops and salons, radical philosophy and popular sedition, Soll shows for the first time how the public sphere and the critical world of the Enlightenment in fact grew out of the learned and even royal libraries of erudite scholars, the scholarly practices of Venetian humanists and Spanish Jesuits, and the printing shops of the not-so-polite publicists of the Republic of Letters. Jacob Soll is Assistant Professor of History at Rutgers University.
Publisher: Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, c2005
ISBN: 9780472114733
Characteristics: xii, 202 p. ; 24 cm


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