Major themes in the book.The Prince, written by Niccolo Machiavelli, is one of the first examinations of politics and science from a purely scientific and rational perspective. Machiavelli theorizes that the state is only created if the people cooperate and work to maintain it. The state is also one of man’s greatest endeavors, and the state takes precedence over everything else. The state should be one’s primary focus, and maintaining the sovereignty of the state one’s most vital concern. The state is founded on the power of its military. Therefore, a strong military is vital to maintaining the state. Machiavelli believes that men respect power, but they will take advantage of kindness. He believes that when given the opportunity one must destroy completely, because if one does not he will certainly be destroyed. The prince should lead the military, and he has to be intelligent. An effective politician can make quick and intelligent choices about the problems that constantly arise before him. He must also have virtue, which means he is strong, confident, talented, as well as smart. A prince cannot be uncertain, because uncertainty is a sign of weakness. Fortune controls half of human’s actions, and man’s will control the other half. Virtue is the best defense for fortune, and virtue must be used in order to keep fortune in check. The prince must take advantage of situations based solely on if it is best for the state. He should choose his decisions based on contemporary and historical examples. A prince cannot consider whether his acts are moral or immoral, and he instead must act in an unbiased manner for the state. Also, it does not matter how the state achieves its goals, as long as these goals are achieved. Finally, regardless of the personal morality involved, the prince should be praised if he does good for the state and berated if he hurts the state. Machiavelli’s principles have widespread influence, and they are quite similar to some of Thomas Hobbes ideas in Leviathan.
What does Machiavelli think of “the people” in the course of human history?
Machiavelli has a very low opinion of the people throughout history. In general, he feels that men are “ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceiver.” “They shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you … but when you are in danger they turn against you.” Machiavelli basically has little respect for the people, and he feels as though they have not earned much either. He uses this as justification for the use of fear in order to control people. He also feels that men are “wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them.” This sense of fairness justifies breaking one’s word to men. Machiavelli also writes about how hard it must be for a prince to stay virtuous. He concludes that with so many wretched men around virtue is hard to create in oneself. “The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.” Overall, Machiavelli is very pessimistic about the abilities of the people. He feels that after examining people through history, his conclusions of wretched men are correct.
Discuss Machiavelli’s opinions on the uses of cruelty to accomplish certain goals.
Machiavelli tells us that the sovereign must take whatever action is necessary to maintain order in society. In time this will result in the most compassionate choice too. Machiavelli explains that, Cesare Borgia, by using cruelty was able to achieve order and obedience in Romagna. This contrast with the inaction of the Florentines, who allowed internal conflict to develop in Pistoia, resulting in devastation of the city. Therefore, a number of highly visible executions can be a very effective means of controlling the people and in preventing a major outbreak of violence and murder. Machiavelli also cites the tremendous military successes of Hannibal. Even though Hannibal led an army of different races over foreign soil, he never had any dissension because of his reputation of extreme cruelty. Machiavelli further concludes that it is difficult to be loved and feared simultaneously. Hence, one should always prefer to be feared than to be loved. During adverse times, the fear of punishment is far more effective in maintaining control than depending people’s goodwill and love. Finally, excessive leniency will lead to ruin, because leniency is seen as a sign of weakness. A good historical example was when Scipio’s armies mutinied against him in Spain.
What countries in history are discussed most fully by Machiavelli? What does he in general have to say about them?
Machiavelli talks consistently about the Roman empire and its rulers. Particularly, he stresses the importance of having a strong army and popular support by the army and people. The Roman emperors proved to us many times that a ruler who is perceived to be weak is the most vulnerable to attack. Alexander Severus was controlled by his mother and considered feminine by his troops. He was a good ruler, but it was this appearance of weakness that led his troops to kill him. Antonius Caracalla is another example of an erroneous ruler. He was a very strong military leader who was a great fighter. Unfortunately, he became an incredibly cruel and harsh ruler over time, and he was hence killed by a centurion. Machiavelli also includes the country of Italy into much of his writings. He hopes to reclaim the land which has been taken away from them. He feels that Italian princes have lost their states because they have not had armed people. Machiavelli tells us that an “armed population is a stable population”. The Italian princes also have not acted quickly, like a real prince should act. Julius II did act quickly, and Machiavelli attributes this to his success. In reality, the whole purpose behind Machiavelli writing The Prince was to try and help Italy free itself from foreign domination.
Evaluation of the book.
The Prince has been an incredibly important book. It was written in the 1500’s, but much of it still applies today. The book also has influenced many people in history. Many philosophers credit Machiavelli with leading the way in political science. They say this because he was the first person to take a rational approach at analyzing government and politics. Many of Machiavelli’s critics would say that he is to harsh in his ideas, and that he even seems immoral. The truth is Machiavelli is only being honest with what he has observed consistently in history to be true. The effect of his writing are still found today too. People still need virtue in order to be a good ruler or manager. Success is still to those who can make quick and intelligent choices. The government is still supported most by it amount of power. However, countries are held accountable today, and few would agree that the end justifies the means as Machiavelli wrote. Overall, Machiavelli’s work has lasted through the years, and it has proven to be a classic piece of literature by standing the test of time.
In a letter to Francesco Vettori dated December 10, 1513, Machiavelli describes his days in exile as time spent overseeing his estate and talking with local peasants. He indicates that he takes time for reading great Italian poets, such as Dante or Petrarch. His evenings are dedicated to study, however. He says that “when evening comes, I return home and go into my study.” In that place he enters “the antique courts of the ancients where, being welcomed by them, I taste the food that alone is mine.” He describes himself as being in conversation with the ancients and that he has “written down what [he has] gained from their conversation.” The work he has written down eventually became The Prince.
One important aspect of The Prince is Machiavelli’s use of particular words. He uses the Italian word virtu not in a traditional sense of virtue but primarily as a synonym for “exercise of power.” Machiavelli also uses the Italian words lo stato to mean “Where one has dominion.” In this sense, lo stato is similar to the modern term “political state.”
In The Prince and the play The Mandrake, Machiavelli presents a world in which individuals can gain what they desire through guile and power. In The Prince, he describes the means by which princes can gain and maintain power. Most significantly, political leaders should prepare for war at all times in order to ward off foreign threats and to unite the people. Political leaders must not practice traditional morality because that would likely undermine their political positions.
The Mandrake, while not about political power per se, portrays a protagonist with a great desire who uses guile to obtain what he wants and does so with immunity. This character overturns traditional morality through his actions.
First published: Il principe, 1532 (English translation, 1640)
Type of work: Political treatise
In this classic political treatise, Machiavelli advises how princes should acquire and maintain political power and analyzes the operations of Italian Renaissance principalities.
Machiavelli wrote The Prince within two years after he was driven from office. A surviving letter indicates that the first title for it was “On Principalities.” The work was not published until 1532.
The first eleven chapters of The Prince examine types of principalities, or principates, with examples from both ancient and contemporary history, and strategies for governing these principates. These are not lengthy chapters; some of them are only a few paragraphs long.
Machiavelli asserts that hereditary principates can only be conquered when one who wishes to conquer lives in that principate or establishes a colony there. In the second chapter, Machiavelli speaks of adding territory to an existing principality, advising that one must do so with force and “extinguish the line of the prince” in that territory; by doing so, a conqueror will prevent a counterinsurgency. He cites the Romans as best exemplifying this strategy of conquest. Machiavelli does not criticize the desire to acquire new territories through conquest; instead, he calls it a “very natural and ordinary desire.”
Machiavelli particularly praises Alexander the Great and those leaders who followed him for their success in governing the territories they conquered. He makes a distinction between governing subjects who had previously been ruled despotically and subjects who had some practice of self-government. Those who had previously been ruled with absolute power will be harder to take over, but once they have been conquered, they will be easy to govern. Those who have been used to some degree of self-government will be harder to govern; a conqueror must “ruin” such a city, because if he “does not destroy it, he waits to be destroyed by it.”
In chapter 6, Machiavelli provides a list of great conquerors, who did so by their virtue, including Cyrus the Great of Persia, Romulus of Rome, Theseus of Greece, and Moses of...
(The entire section is 1715 words.)