Benner, Erica. Machiavelli’s Ethics. Princeton, 2009. 527p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780691141763, $75.00; ISBN 9780691141770 pbk, $35.00. Reviewed in 2010apr CHOICE.
This major new study of Machiavelli’s moral and political philosophy by Benner (Yale) argues that most readings of Machiavelli suffer from a failure to appreciate his debt to Greek sources, particularly the Socratic tradition of moral and political philosophy. Benner argues that when read in the light of his Greek sources, Machiavelli appears as much less the immoralist or sophist he often is taken for and instead as a serious moral philosopher very much concerned with the republican ideals of justice and the rule of law. The author does not ignore Machiavelli’s more infamous dicta, but argues that a careful reading shows that they are expressions of views he ultimately rejects. Particularly noteworthy here is her careful attention to Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories.
Benner’s reading of Machiavelli is far too complex and subtle for such a brief summary. Her research is meticulous and her arguments finely honed. This important contribution to both Machiavelli studies and the history of political philosophy will be indispensable for scholars. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students and faculty/researchers. — B. T. Harding