Niccolò Machiavelli (3 May 1469 ‘ 21 June 1527) was born into this unstable time of shifting fortunes in the year 1469. He served in a number of minor government positions, and was banished or imprisoned at various points of his career. He was responsible official in Florentine Republic with diplomatic and military affairs. One of his most notable positions was serving as a sort of political advisor to the Borgia family. He is now regarded as the founder of modern political science, particularly of political ethics. He was also a Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512 (Niccolò MACHIAVELLI – BIOGRAPHY).
Machiavelli begins his book by presenting his dedication with a letter to ‘the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici’, the ruler of the Florence. In this dedication, Machiavelli points out that ‘ wanting to present myself to your Magnificence with some testimony of my devotion towards you, the possession of mine that I love best and values most is my knowledge of the actions of great men ‘knowledge that I have acquired from a continual study of antiquity’ (Bennett, 2010). He shortly explain his intention which are the actions of great men and the principles of princely government. He also does this with expectation of satisfactory and informing the Medici family about his knowledge. He offers this book as a gift to the ruler and his family. The Prince is unique, not because it explains how to take control of other lands and how to control them, but because it gives advice that often disregards all moral and ethical rules.
Machiavelli generally discusses the different types of the principalities or states, and how to remain them. He then classify the various kinds of states: republics, hereditary princedoms, brand-new princedoms, and mixed principalities.
In the first chapter, titled as ‘Different kinds of principalities, and how to acquire them’, Machiavelli tries to make a classification of principalities. Machiavelli describes the different kinds of states, debating that all states are either republics or principalities. Principalities can be divided as hereditary principalities and new principalities. New principalities are either completely new or new additions to existing states. By fortune or strength, a prince can acquire a new principality with his own army or with the arms of others.
The second chapter focuses on hereditary principates. Machiavelli notes that it is easier to govern a hereditary state than a new principality for two main reasons. First, those under the rule of such states are familiar with the prince’s family and are therefore familiar to their rule. The natural prince has to keep past institutions untouched while adapting these institutions. Second, the natural tendency of subjects in a hereditary state is to love the ruling family. In here Machiavelli argues a key point in terms of a people’s desire for change: ‘And in the antiquity and continuity of the government,’ he writes, ‘people forget not only the reasons for innovations but their very existence, because every new change provides a footing to build on another.’ (Bennett, 2010).
Chapter three is about the ‘Mixed Principalities’. He compares the successes and failures that he saw as ‘mixed principalities’, using two examples: the succeeded Roman Empire and the failed King Louis of France. He is based at the Roman case as a correct example, remark that ‘they sent colonies, maintained friendly relations with the less powerful elements, seized the more powerful elements and did not allow any strong foreign powers to gain authority’ (Bennett, 2010). Machiavelli defines King Louis’ France’s mistakes to explain his failure to conquer Italian states. He suppress the weaker states by increasing the strength of the major power (the Church), bring in a foreign power (Spain), never set up colonies, and dispossess the Venetians of their power. (Bennett, 2010). Machiavelli goes one step further, noting that it is better to disrupt the poor and powerless than the rich and powerful. Because the poor cannot fight back.
In chapter four, there are two ways to govern a principality. The first contains a prince and appointed ministers. While the ministers help govern, everyone remains obeyed to the prince. The second way includes a prince and nobles. Nobles are not appointed by the prince, but they benefit from their ancient lineage and have subjects of their own. As a result, the first kind is difficult to conquer, for him, and easy to hold onto. But the latter is easy to conquer and difficult to hold onto.
In fifth chapter named as ‘how to govern cities or principalities that lived under their own laws before they were annexed’, he mentions the opportunities for the conqueror about what to do after the conquest. Machiavelli describes three ways to hold states that have been familiar to living freely under their own laws. The first is destroying them. The second is occupying them for the conqueror. The third is to allow the state to maintain its own laws, but to charge taxes and establish an oligarchy to keep the state friendly. The third option seems benefical because the newly imposed oligarchy will work hard to secure the authority of the conquering prince within the conquered state’s borders, because it owes its existence to the prince and cannot survive without his support. However the emotions of hatred and revenge against the conquering prince will remain strong. The memories of ancient liberty never die, so a prince will be better off destroying the republic or personally occupying the conquered state. So, he seems to favor the first option.
The sixth chapter focus on about the ‘new principalities that are acquired by one’s own arms and virtu’ ‘something like ‘ability’, but it can mean ‘strength’ or even ‘virtue’ (Bennett, 2010). According to him, ‘a wise man will follow in the footsteps of great man, imitating ones who have been supreme: so that if his virtu doesn’t reach the level of theirs, it will have a touch of it’ (Bennett, 2010, s. 11). According to Machiavelli, the most remarkable princes who became princes by their own power were Moses of the Hebrews, Cyrus of Persia, Romulus of Rome, and Theseus of Athens. He defines them as the legend of the past and the models for present and future princes.
In 7. Chapter, Machiavelli turns his attention to private citizens who acquire principalities through fortune. These princes make no effort in acquiring power, but they face many problems in preserving it. Without a loyal army or any traditions, a prince of a new state that relies on fortune does not have a good chance for surviving. He mainly argues that the difficulty lies on maintaining the power, not just possessing it.He tells the story of Cesare Borgia, also known as Duke Valentino, who ‘acquired his state through the fortuna of his father Pope Alexander VI, and when his father died he lost it’ (Bennett, 2010, s. 13.14.15)
Machiavelli continues to describe the ways that a man can become a prince in 8. chapter. In addition to fortune and bravery, the consent of his fellow citizens can facilitate a man’s rise to power. He mentions about the principalities that are ‘acquired through wickedness’.Machiavelli makes differentiate between the cruelty and the kind of clever ruthlessness. He gives two examples: the first is ancient, the second is modern. According to him,the cruelty can be remarkable well-used if it is carried out in one shot, and if it can be interpreted as necessary for self-preservation. (Bennett, 2010)
In 9. Chapter, Machiavelli guides princes who gain power not only through cruelty or other kinds of violence, but also the consent of his fellow citizens. He named this type of principalities as the civil principalities where after prince situation can be determined either by the will of people or by the will of the nobles. For him, ‘whether a civil principality is created by the people or by the nobles depends on which group has the opportunity’ (Bennett, 2010, s. 20) If nobles feel that they have problems with the citizens, the prince will be chosen among them. However if the people feel that they are oppressed by the nobles, they would try to make one of their own a prince and then this person becomes their shield against the nobles.
In chapter ten, entitled as ‘how to measure the strength of a principality’. One other measure of a state’s strength is whether a prince can defend himself, or whether he must rely on the help of others. There are two kinds of princes: the prince who has adequate men or money to be able to improve a army to join battle and the prince who can’t perform against the enemy in the field, and has to shelter behind the walls of his city, waiting for help to come (Bennett, 2010, s. 22). The second type has no option but to fortify his city and lay in supplies.
The final type of principality is the ecclesiastical state. Although this type of principality is gained through ability or luck, their princes stay in power no matter how they act (Summary and Analysis).He puts forward kinds of arguments related to the Papal States in this part. For Machiavelli, religious bodies in politics are generally east to hold onto, because religion itself helps politics to be sustainable. They also don’t need to be secured or governed, but help to secure the power within the country. In addition, how the Papacy is much powerful to frighten the French rulers, and has the capacity to even chase the French out of Italy and crush the Venetians at the same time. Related to this, he tells about the successful story of the Pope Alexander IV. Julius.
Analytical Evaluation of the Text
In the begining of chapter, Machiavelli uses so many scientific methodology. He designs systems, threats and principalities with diffirent style. He also tries to prove every claims of him by giving historical examples and telling stories. He makes differentiation between different kind of states and diffirent kind of governing. He shows us the world by using simple terms and drawing clear-cut examples. But in this book, the examples of him are from Italian history, most of them. He uses Italy and cardinal rules to build a scene that based on historical specificity. When he writes about princes and principalities as is they were variables in a mathematical formula. Thus, one can infer that Italy is an abstract sum of all Machiavelli’s formulations.
He does not absolutely rely on theory, abstract or ideology. His theory of government based on Machiavelli’s reliance on history. He basically tries to answer the question of ‘how best can a ruler maintain control of his state’? and as a response, he sets out a set of empirically testable rules and guidelines by doing a study of the conquests of the past, particularly those of the Romans, the Greeks, and the French. (Cabal, 2015). At the same time he makes his examples harmony and details explanations to show a scientific mixture on human condition. He considers human to show free will and significant determinant of power. According to him, what causes princes to succeed or to fail is about the question of human nature. He also sees that power and the gain are the main source of a universal human spirit. When he reaches conclusions about, for instance, the characteristics of the French, the Germans, and the English, he doesn’t intend to be a nationalist or an ethnographist but rather to be a believer in the universality of man.
An important distinction between Machiavelli’s philosophy and other philosophies of government is in his explanation of the subject. For instance, Aristotle’s political thinking is based on a citizenship that is inherently political and interested in the welfare of the community, and he claims that the main cause for state’s existence is free citizens. But Machiavelli describes the ordinary citizen as a simple minded. According to him, such people could either love or hate their ruler depending on if they are damaged or not. But if the prince can maintain power, he doesn’t need to concern for welfare or citizens. The main purpose of government is the stability of the state and the maintenance of the control established by the ruler, not creating welfare for the people.
At the same time, while many of Machiavelli’s remarks on the subject seem reasonable, most are assumptions not grounded in evidence or popular notions and can easily be criticized. For example, a Hobbesian might argue that Machiavelli puts too much faith in people’s ability to remain content in the absence of government force. A related issue to explore, then, might be the extent to which Machiavelli’s political theory relies too heavily on any single, possibly fallacious depiction of human nature. (Thanaw, 2014)
Another analysis is the cruelity. The Prince have generally been characterized as ‘immoral’. Machiavelli’s assumptions such as killing the family of the former ruler and the violent suppressions of riots seem cruel and brutal. He make a separation between ethics and politics. Nevertheless, Machiavelli’s political theory still contains some kinds of morality and ethics. Although he doesn’t use words such as ‘ethical’ or ‘moral”, he generally claims that rulers have duties or obligations which can also be regarded as ethical or moral. (Bennett, 2010). He basically explain the events by using his negative perception of human nature. He tries to apply this for human society. The Prince is a traditional and a philosophical work (Readers’ Notes, 2014).
According to the actions of Agathocles and Oliverotto which are considered as ‘evil’ by Machiavelli, he actually never refer to Borgia as a criminal prince because he murdered the leaders of rival factions to seize the power. While Machiavelli doesn’t support criminal acts, the philosophy of “the end justifies the means” has often been associated with Machiavelli and it is easily subject to abuses in the name of progress. (The Prince ‘Anaylsis of Chapter 8’). Machiavelli never advocates cruelty or other vices for their own sake. He advocates them only in the interests of safeguarding the state, which, in Machiavelli’s view, is a kind of ultimate good in its own right. Machiavelli states several times that when it is in the interests of the state, a prince must strive to act virtuously. (Thanaw, 2014)
If we examine the book’s ninth chapter in terms of class conflict and compare it with Karl Marx’s, Machiavelli accept the inevitable problem between common people and the nobles. But Machiavelli’s description of classes is less sophisticated when it is compared to Marx. Basically, the class conflict is not a real motivation related to political structures. It is that the Prince should overcome to seize the power. Machiavelli does not favors any of the social groups if we compare to Marx. Instead, he focuses merely on the prince’s relations with these groups.
When we come to 11. Chapter, we see that he acknowledges that ecclesiastical principalities are not subject to the historical patterns, and his explanation of their invulnerability from unsuccessful rulers and war, seem to point out a respect for religion. (Thanaw, 2014) The point here is that, when he actually opposes the presence of Church in politics, he advocate just the opposite. He focuses on the factors that led the Catholic Church to gain control over Italian principalities as like the examples of successful princes that he mentions. He displays that these factors were not different than those used by princes to gain power. The Church also uses armed forces such as other princes, These ecclesiastical principalities exist in their own category as he stated in book. But actually he view them as the same as he does for any other state.
At first glance, The Prince may seem irrelevant to our lives today. After all, the book is almost 500 years old. But the abuse of power is not strange to Renaissance politics. It can occur at any time, in any workplace, in any relationship. The principles Machiavelli discovered apply equally to our lives today.
It is clearly seen that Machiavelli contributed great importance to the concept of political realism. As the founder of political science and political ethics, his realism in politics, ethics, and human nature shows that historical evidences are empirical and reliable sources. (Political Realism in International Relations, 2010) His approach towards the rulers, public, nobles, citizens, world and politics. He guided many politicians and inspired many thinkers coming after him.
By looking at history and identifying certain rulers who did or did not fit this mold he created, Machiavelli shows that the best leaders in history were not those who were criminals or overly and unnecessarily cruel. Instead, the best leaders were those who practiced cruel or evil acts as a matter of necessity rather than because their positions allowed it. The idea of glory that he discusses becomes the measurement by which a great ruler is measured, not how feared he was by his subjects or enemies.
His emphasis especially on power also worth noting. When Machiavelli is considered, his conception of ‘power’ is one of the first things that comes to our minds. The fact that he also sees justifiable regarding the use of power even to the cruel degrees helped to the outbreak of the age of realpolitik in Europe. We can see Machiavelli’s footprints on the roads that followed by the great rulers such as Napoleon Bonaparte.
1. How does Machiavelli view human nature?
Machiavelli differs from the many political theorists who offer conceptions of a “natural state,” a presocial condition arising solely from human instinct and character. But while Machiavelli never puts forth a vision of what society would be like without civil government, he nonetheless presents a coherent, although not particularly comprehensive, vision of human nature.
Machiavelli mentions explicitly a number of traits innate among humans. People are generally self-interested, although their affections for others can be won and lost. They remain content and happy so long they avoid affliction or oppression. They might be trustworthy in prosperous times, but they can turn selfish, deceitful, and profit-driven in adverse times. They admire honor, generosity, courage, and piety in others, but most do not harbor these virtues. Ambition lies among those who have achieved some power, but most common people are satisfied with the way things are and therefore do not yearn to improve on the status quo. People will naturally feel obligated after receiving a favor or service, and this bond is usually not broken capriciously. Nevertheless, loyalties are won and lost, and goodwill is never absolute.
These statements about human nature often serve as justification for much of Machiavelli’s advice to princes. For example, a prince should never trust mercenary leaders because they, like most leaders, are overly ambitious. At the same time, while many of Machiavelli’s remarks on the subject seem reasonable, most are assumptions not grounded in evidence or popular notions and can easily be criticized. For example, a Hobbesian might argue that Machiavelli puts too much faith in people’s ability to remain content in the absence of government force. A related issue to explore, then, might be the extent to which Machiavelli’s political theory relies too heavily on any single, possibly fallacious depiction of human nature.
Is Machiavelli’s book “evil”? What role does virtue play in Macchiavelli’s state?
Some of the advice to rulers found in The Prince—most famously, the defense of cruelty toward subjects—has led to criticism that Machiavelli’s book is evil or amoral. Moreover, the explicit separation of politics from ethics and metaphysics seems to indicate that there is no role for any kind of virtue in Machiavelli’s state.
However, Machiavelli never advocates cruelty or other vices for their own sake. He advocates them only in the interests of safeguarding the state, which, in Machiavelli’s view, is a kind of ultimate good in its own right. Nor does he advocate that virtue should be shunned for its own sake. Indeed, Machiavelli states several times that when it is in the interests of the state, a prince must strive to act virtuously. But virtue should never take precedence over the state. Thus, generosity, which might be admired by others, is actually detrimental to the future prosperity of the state. It is for this reason alone that a prince should avoid it.
Machiavelli’s conception of virtue as defined in The Prince is not quite the same as that of classical theorists. Whereas Aristotle and others defined virtue in relation to some highest “good,” Machiavelli settles for a much more simplistic definition: that which receives the praise of others. Thus, generosity is a virtue, in the Machiavellian sense, only because other people praise it.
Compare and contrast the different ways in which a prince can rise to power.
According to Machiavelli, there are four main ways a prince can come into power. The first way is through prowess, meaning personal skill and ability. The second is through fortune, meaning good luck or the charity of friends. The third way is through crime, such as through a coup, conspiracy, or assassination. The fourth way is constitutional, meaning through the official support of either nobles or common people.
The most important comparison to be made is that between prowess and fortune. Obtaining a state through prowess is clearly more demanding than benefiting from simple good luck. But a prince gifted with his own prowess is possessed of a strong foundation to maintain that rule, whereas fortune is unpredictable and may lead as easily to a prince’s deposition as it had to his rise. Thus, maintaining rule is much easier when a prince has used his own skill. Because the maintenance of rule is most important to Machiavelli, he concludes that prowess is a better route to become a prince.
A second comparison might be made between criminal and constitutional means of achieving power. Here, the main point of difference is not the skill and experience of the prince but popular attitudes toward the prince. A prince who comes to power through crime runs the greatest risk because he may be forced to commit some cruelty toward his subjects, endangering himself by breeding hatred and resentment among the populace. A constitutional prince, however, comes to power with the support of either the nobles or commoners, and his job consists mainly of keeping the unsupportive group satisfied with his rule.
To sum up, prowess is to be preferred over fortune because prowess leads to a more effective ruler who is likely to garner lasting glory. Constitutional princes are preferable to criminal princes not only because they are more effective, but also because a criminal prince can achieve nothing other than power. A constitutional prince can achieve both power and glory.
Suggested Essay Topics
1. What are Machiavelli’s views regarding free will? Can historical events be shaped by individuals, or are they the consequence of fortune and circumstance?
2. In Discourses on Livy (1517), Machiavelli argues that the purpose of politics is to promote a “common good.” How does this statement relate to the ideas Machiavelli presents in The Prince?
3. Do you agree with Machiavelli’s thesis that stability and power are the only qualities that matter in the evaluation of governments? If not, what else matters?
4. Discuss class conflict in The Prince and its relationship to successful government.
5. Discuss The Prince’s historical context. In what ways do the arguments and examples of the The Prince reflect that context?
6. Discuss the form, tone, and rhetoric of The Prince. Does Machiavelli’s choice in this area lead to a persuasive argument? Why or why not?
7. How much of The Prince is relevant to contemporary society in an age when monarchies no longer are the primary form of government?