First published in 1515
Translated by W. K. Marriott in 1908.
Machiavelli was born in Florence on May 5th, 1469. In his early years he was exposed to an extremely chaotic time period with popes leading armies, powerful city-states falling one after another to foreign powers, and governments changing within the space of just weeks. As a student, Machiavelli was educated by the humanist ideals of the Renaissance and hence The Prince seems to be set with these ideals. Later in life Machiavelli pursued a career within the government, where he was first a clerk, then an ambassador and finally on a council responsible for diplomatic negotiations and military matters. He was placed in charge of the Florentine militia and was trusted with the protection of the city. Machiavelli did not trust mercenaries or paid armies and was much more comfortable with a citizen militia. He believed citizens would possess more loyalty and would not be motivated by money. Machiavelli was very devoted to the Florentine Republic and served it for many years.
Machiavelli’s The Prince has been incredibly influential since it was published 5 years after his death in 1532. It was written during the European Renaissance when intellect and the discussion of new ideas was a widespread them of the era. Machiavelli did not write The Prince to become famous but instead wrote his book to achieve a position in the new Italian government formed by the Medici family. The Prince was written as a political handbook for rulers and has been used this way for many centuries. The book has caused passionate debates and controversy since the day it was published and it appears that it will continue to do so. When The Prince was published, Italy was not a unified country but a compilation of city states that were all fighting to gain power over one another. Machiavelli was greatly influenced and interested in the complicated nature of European politics.
Originally, Machiavelli played a large role in the anti-Medici government. When they came back into power Machiavelli was arrested and charged with conspiracy. He denied having anything to do with this and was eventually released. He retired to his estate in Sant’Andrea, Percussina and began writing The Prince in an effort to compel the Medici government to reassess his allegiance to their political beliefs.
Machiavelli’s ideas contained in The Prince are relatively straight forward, as he strove to provide practical, easily understood advice to Lorenzo De’Medici, to whom the book is dedicated. He did not write The Prince for literary acknowledgement but alternatively wrote it to prove his proficiency on government in the western world and to offer advice on how to gain power and keep it efficient. Machiavelli strongly believed in the requirement of a strong leader in order to maintain domination for the benefit of citizens and not for individual advancement.
One of the main questions discussed in the book “is it better for a Prince to be loved or feared?” Machiavelli’s short answer is that it would be preferable to be loved and feared; however the two simply can’t exist together. As a result, he says that it would be best to be feared and not loved. It is better to be feared then loved because as a leader it is your responsibility is to control and run the state and Machiavelli feels that to do so you need complete obedience from your people. Machiavelli does not believe in cruelty and he only warrants it for military use. This is because he believes that if you have a good military then you will have good laws. One of his most famous quotes helps explain this theory, “the presence of sound military forces indicates the presence of sound laws.” Although the author believes it is better to be feared than loved, he recognized that a leader cannot be hated or it will lead to his downfall. Machiavelli advises that Princes should avoid being hated or despised, as the people’s allegiance is a better defense than building a fortress.
Machiavelli was a traditional yet flexible thinker and writer who raised strong emotions in his literary works. He developed very insightful political concepts and theories outlined in The Prince. His theories on governing people have influenced historical and modern leaders. The word Machiavellian, which came from this book and from Machiavelli’s theories, means to be crude, cunning and deceitful and this is exactly how Machiavelli thought the new prince should act.--Submitted by Josh Boyer
Perhaps one of the most influential and controversial books in history, Machiavelli’s The Prince raises issues that are still debated centuries after its publication. Born in Florence in 1469, Machiavelli was intrigued with Florentine politics and government. His state administrative work in Florence took him on diplomatic missions to France and Rome. Outside the influence of the Medici family, Florence was ripe for Machiavelli to develop his political and military theories. In 1503, Machiavelli was given charge over Florence’s civilian army, and his military strategies proved their worth in a victory over Pisa. This victory was short-lived; Pope Julius II led a Medici invasion in 1512. Machiavelli was arrested and tortured, and he remained in prison for a year before being exiled to his estate just outside of Florence.
With the hope of gaining recognition and a position in the Medici regime, Machiavelli began work on his political treatise, The Prince. He had witnessed much upheaval in the local and foreign political arena. This, he believed, gave him a unique perspective and allowed him to evaluate and comment on governmental affairs. The theories he developed in The Prince were derived from his observation of the successes and failures of the ruling class.
The Prince is a practical guide for newly appointed rulers. In particular, Machiavelli advises rulers to cultivate favourable public opinion, secure the support of the people, and achieve specific goals. His ultimate goal was remarkable--unification of the Italian city states. While it is commonly believed that Machiavelli said, “The end justifies the means,” this is, in fact, an over-simplification and misstatement of his thesis. Machiavelli does not counsel rulers to be arbitrary and cruel for the purpose of personal gain. He was highly critical of foreign rulers, such as King Ferdinand of Spain, who were needlessly brutal to their subjects. Such conduct may lead to power, but not glory. Machiavelli argues that loyalty, trust, and obedience cannot be fostered if rulers mistreat their subjects over a long period of time. It is only justifiable to use extensive means if there are clear benefits in sight.
To Machiavelli, The Prince was certainly a failure because it did not result in the praise and respect he expected from the ruling class. The book was promptly confiscated. The Medicis did not acknowledge his intellectual discourse nor did they grant him political favours. Furthermore, his book was not published until five years after his death and Italy did not unite for another 350 years. This does not, however, minimize the impact of his thesis. Since publication, ruthless political leaders, such as Hitler and Stalin, have cited the text to justify the most heinous conduct. Many have described President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq as “Machiavellian.” And, in many contemporary business and social circles, Machiavelli stands for the principle that winning is all that matters, however that is achieved. A Machiavellian is someone who is cunning, devious, unethical, deceiving, dishonest … the list goes on. Machiavelli himself may not have been stereotypically “Machiavellian” but his thesis has gained popular support among those who seek power at any expense.
Although Machiavelli did not intend his treatise to raise complex ethical questions, it has remained the subject of debate since its publication in 1532. While his ideas were offered as practical advice to new rulers, they have since been used to rationalize ruthless political and business ventures. Does the end always or ever justify the means? Are there acts that we must not commit, as a human being or as a nation, whatever positive result we hope to achieve? These are questions that we must ask ourselves, at every opportunity.--Submitted by Luca Willmer
“Men must either be caressed or else annihilated; they will revenge themselves for small injuries, but cannot do so for great ones; the injury therefore that we do to a man must be such that we need not fear his vengeance.” (37, Machiavelli).
Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is an exceedingly truthful political treatise written in the 15th century. Although it was written as a tribute to Lorenzo The Magnificent to re-establish Machiavelli back into nobility, it is regarded as one of the most thoughtful and to-the-point political pieces of all time. The Prince is one of the few works that has survived the test of time and is now more widely popular than it was back then. Machiavelli takes political science to the next level, as he is the first to take on politics at this magnitude. Machiavelli has shrewd political views with little morals or ethics yet still logical and sensible as demonstrated here: “one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved…for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.”(90, Machiavelli). This gave birth to the word we all associate with deceitful and unscrupulous yet astute: Machiavellian.
Niccolo Machiavelli lived from 1469-1527 as a Florentine diplomat, politician and a philosopher. He was made head of the Second Chancery at the young age of twenty-nine. This position gave him first hand experience and remarkable knowledge with warfare and foreign affairs, as he was able to engage in domestic politics and in diplomatic missions to foreign governments. He was given the opportunity to examine meticulously the mechanics of government and to meet well-known political figures like Cesare Borgia. These encounters influenced him greatly as it was Cesare Borgia who Machiavelli looked up to for inspiration as seen throughout the book, where he is cited and praised constantly for his actions. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, the previous rulers of Florence, the Medici, were able to rise up to power yet again, and took Florence instantaneously. Machiavelli, because of unsuccessfully taking up arms against the Medici, was subsequently jailed, tortured and ultimately banished from Florence to a small piece of property in Percussina. It was here where Machiavelli wrote his most famous piece, The Prince.
One of the first and main topics discussed in The Prince outlines the rest of the issues mentioned in the books, which are the various kinds of government and how they are established. He explains how there are two types of government: hereditary and newly acquired states. A hereditary state is one that has been passed down and as he describes a much easier position to be governed than a newly acquired state as the citizens have become accustomed to the laws and systems. A ruler that has just obtained a new state will find it more difficult to govern, as he does not know the people as well, in addition to the citizens having high expectations for a new ruler. When these expectations are not met, the people will readily revolt against him. Machiavelli then writes about how to prevent this from happening with old and new kingdoms when setting up new order. He describes how setting up new order is most dangerous as individuals who benefited from the old system will harshly object while ones who benefit after will only offer luke-warm support. Machiavelli also gives advice about invading other countries with native troops, mercenaries and militia. One key point he mentions is that a ruler should avoid using troops of another country at all costs because they will not be fighting for their own country’s pride or will they be willing to die for the ruler’s country. If the auxiliary troops were to be defeated, the ruler would be defenceless, and even if he were to win, the ruler would still owe part of the victory to the other country from whom he borrowed from. Machiavelli also gets to the point of gaining reputation and how important it is to not be despised or hated upon. In the final chapters of the book he reflects on historical events relating to previous rulers and how they failed. Machiavelli ends the treatise with a promising future for Lorenzo the Magnificent if he were to accept The Prince.--Submitted by Edison Jyang
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