Prince

Machiavelli was an Italian historian, statesman, and political philosopher,
whose amoral, but influential writings on power building have turned his name
into a synonym for cunning and duplicity. I personally feel he is a genius.


Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. He eventually
became a man who lived his life for politics and patriotism. Right now, however,
he is associated with corrupt, totalitarian government. The reason for this is a
small pamphlet he wrote called The Prince to gain influence with the ruling
Medici family in Florence. The political genius of Niccolo Machiavelli was
overshadowed by the reputation that was unfairly given to him because of a
misunderstanding of his views on politics. Machiavelli’s life was very
interesting. He lived a nondescript childhood in Florence, and his main
political experience in his youth was watching Savanarola from afar. Soon after
Savanarola was executed, Machiavelli entered the Florentine government as a
secretary. His position quickly rose, however, and was soon engaging in
diplomatic missions. He met many of the important politicians of the day, such
as the Pope and the King of France, but none had more impact on him than a
prince of the Papal States, Cesare Borgia. Borgia was a cunning, cruel man, very
much like the one portrayed in The Prince. Machiavelli did not truly like
Borgia’s policies, but he thought that with a ruler like Borgia the Florentines
could unite Italy, which was Machiavelli’s goal throughout his life.

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Unfortunately for Machiavelli, he was dismissed from office when the Medici came
to rule Florence and the Republic was overthrown. The lack of a job forced him
to switch to writing about politics instead of being active. His diplomatic
missions were his last official government positions. When Machiavelli lost his
office, he desperately wanted to return to politics. He tried to gain the favor
of the Medici by writing an essay of what he thought were the Medici’s goals and
dedicating it to them. And so The Prince was written for that purpose.


Unfortunately, the Medici didn’t agree with what the book said, so he was out of
a job. But when the public saw the book, they were outraged. The people wondered
how cruel a man could be to think evil thoughts like the ones in The Prince, and
this would come back to haunt him when he was alive and dead. However, if the
people wanted to know what Machiavelli really stood for, they should have read
his “Discourses on Livy,” which explain his full political philosophy. But
not enough people had and have, and so the legacy of The Prince continues to
define Machiavelli to the general public. A few years later the Medici were
kicked out of Florence. The republic was re-established, and Machiavelli ran to
retake the office he had left so many years ago. But the reputation that The
Prince had established made people think his philosophy was like the Medici, so
he was not elected. And here the sharp downhill of his life began. His health
began to fail him, and he died months later, in 1527. Machiavelli had been
unfairly attacked all of his life because of a bad reputation. But it only got
worse after he died. He was continually blasted for his “support” of
corrupt ruling. In fact, Machiavellian now means corrupt government. Only
recently has his true personality come to light. The world must change it’s
vision of the cold, uncaring Machiavelli to the correct view of a patriot and a
political genius. Throughout his career Machiavelli sought to establish a state
capable of resisting foreign attack. His writings are concerned with the
principles on which such a state is founded, and with the means by which they
can be implemented and maintained. In, The Prince he describes the method by
which a prince can acquire and maintain political power. This study, which has
often been regarded as a defense of the despotism and tyranny of such rulers as
Cesare Borgia, is based on Machiavelli’s belief that a ruler is not bound by
traditional ethical norms. In his view, a prince should be concerned only with
power and be bound only by rules that would lead to success in political
actions. Machiavelli believed that these rules could be discovered by deduction
from the political practices of the time, as well as from those of earlier
periods. Machiavelli first states that power is the dominant mark of the state,
and the politician is an actor which, “must be a skillful pretender and
dissembler, he must seem to have the virtues of good faith, charity, humanity
and religion.” Secondly, that the use of violence must be like a controlled
science, “being able to administer the precise dosage appropriate to specific
situations,” and that the republican systems is the most ideal in its use of
violence. Thirdly, Machiavelli emphasizes the importance of virtú in
power. Machiavelli states that “the hard core of power is violence and to
exercise power is often to bring violence to bear on someone elses person or
possessions,” assuming that “Machiavelli believed that the vitalities of
politics could not be controlled and directed without the application and the
threat of at least violence.” This is true, but incomplete because when
following the teachings of The Prince; the core of power maintenance is the
masquerade. How should the Prince act in particular situations; should the
Prince punish his subjects, should the Prince reward his subjects, should the
Prince attack his enemies, should the Prince utilize diplomacy, etc. The hard
core of power is really what “masque” the ruler utilizes at a certain time,
be it the mask of a good man or a bad man. “The control of violence is
dependent upon the new sciences being able to administer the precise dosage
appropriate to specific situations.” Every application of violence must be
considered very carefully, “because the indiscriminate exercise of force and
the constant revival of fear could provoke the greatest of all political dangers
for any government, the widespread kind of apprehension and hatred which drives
men to desperation.” Machiavellis economical violence is necessary because
the use of repeated violence causes hatred. Hatred is counter productive to the
political actor because it causes the people to experience a loss of self for
vengeance. A “prince should try to avoid anything which makes him hateful or
contemptible, when he has avoided actions that will have this effect, he has
done his best and will run no risks.” “A princes best protection lies in
not being hated or despised, and keeping himself in popular favor.”
Machiavellis concept that “popular consent represents a form of social
power which, if properly exploited, reduces the amount of violence directed at
society as a whole.” So therefore the political system, whose violence is most
economical, is the republican system. The reason for the “superiority of the
republican system consisted in its being maintained by the force of the
populace, rather than force over the populace.” “Machiavelli is posed by the
word virtú, which can mean anything from strength, ability, courage,
manliness, or ingenuity to character and wisdom.” Virtú is a statement
of modernity, a person with virtú is one who accumulates power and
maintains their position. The Prince is really a model to be followed by
individuals who seek to be successful in todays competitive society. After
reading The Prince, I feel that “virtú” is a way of living, which must
be followed by those seeking power.


Bibliography
“Machiavelli, Niccolò,” Microsoft Encarta 97
Encyclopedia. 1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Sheldon
S. Wolin, Interpretation of Machiavellis The Prince. Pg. 175 Sheldon S. Wolin,
Interpretation of Machiavellis The Prince. Pg. 170 Sheldon S. Wolin,
Interpretation of Machiavellis The Prince. Pg. 169 Sheldon S. Wolin,
Interpretation of Machiavellis The Prince. Pg. 170 The Prince, On Avoiding
Contempt and Hatred. XIX Sheldon S. Wolin, Interpretation of Machiavellis The
Prince. Pg. 172 Discourses I, 9. The Prince, Translators note XVIII