1. 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.
2. What does Machiavelli think of “the people” in the course of human
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.
3. Discuss Machiavelli’s opinions on the uses of cruelty to accomplish
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
Romangna. 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 out break 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.
4. 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 quick, 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.
5. 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.