By Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...2010 ©
Type of Work
.......The Prince is a treatise (a long prose work that systematically discusses an idea) on what a ruler needs to do to maintain political power while withstanding attacks by foreign powers. Machiavelli wrote the work in his native language, Italian.
.......The Prince (Italian: Il Principe) is a title that Niccolò Machiavelli derived from the Latin word, princeps, meaning the first, chief citizen, and leader. Many Roman emperors, including Augustus Caesar, used princeps as one of their titles. Prince, as Machiavelli uses the word, can refer not only to a prince but also to a king, an emperor, a duke, or any other sovereign.
Machiavelli began The Prince in 1513 and completed it in 1514. It was published posthumously, in 1532, and translated into English in 1640.
.......Niccolò Machiavelli, the son of an impoverished doctor of laws, was born in the Italian city of Florence (Italian: Firenze) in 1469. Florence was a city-state which the wealthy Medici family had gained control of in 1434 and ruled continuously until the 1490s. In 1492,
the greatest of all the Medici rulersLorenzo de' Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificentdied and was succeeded by his son, Piero.
.......Machiavelli's purpose in writing The Prince was twofold: (1) to show a ruler or would-be ruler how best to maintain a safe and prosperous state amid the political turmoil of early 16th Century Italy and (2) to redeem himself in the eyes of the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo di Piero de Medici (son of Piero de' Medici and grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent).
.......What set The Prince apart from other treatises on politicsand shocked the reading publicwas this: It argued that a sovereign from time to time must resort to unethical and immoral policies and practices in order maintain control and maximize the safety and welfare of his domain. In
other words, a ruler should lie, cheat, break promises, and so on to strengthen or maintain his control while promoting the welfare of the people. The end justifies the means.
.......Among the terms that help sum up the political philosophy described in The Prince are expedience, pragmatism, and realpolitik (pronounced ray AL pol e teek), all of which refer to a policy a government official uses to obtain maximum benefits for his country regardless of whether the policy is moral or ethical. Realpolitik is a modern term used most often to refer to the approach used to make foreign, rather than domestic, policy.
.......To document and justify his guidelines in The Prince, Machiavelli noted that they were based on strategies that rulers of the past used to achieve success. However, he conveniently ignored instances in which past rulers failed to achieve their goals using these same strategies. In
other words, The Prince lacked scientific objectivity. It manipulated history to serve its purpose; it was not a sound research document.
.......The Prince is a guidebook explaining what a sovereign must do to maintain and strengthen control over a domain.
.......Moreover, men are less careful how they offend him who makes himself loved than him who makes himself feared. For love is held by the tie of obligation, which, because men are a sorry breed, is broken on every whisper of private interest; but fear is bound by the apprehension of punishment which never relaxes its grasp.
.......Nevertheless a Prince should inspire fear in such a fashion that if he do not win love he may escape hate. For a man may very well be feared and yet not hated, and this will be the case so long as he does not meddle with the property or with the women of his citizens and subjects. And if constrained to put any to death, he should do so only when there is manifest cause or reasonable justification. But, above all, he must abstain from the property of others. For men will sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Moreover, pretexts for confiscation are never to seek, and he who has once begun to live by rapine always finds reasons for taking what is not his; whereas reasons for shedding blood are fewer, and sooner exhausted. (N.H. Thomson) .......Machiavelli ends The Prince with an appeal to the Medici family to free Italy from foreign domination.
This opportunity, therefore, ought not to be allowed to pass for letting Italy at last see her liberator appear. Nor can one express the love with which he would be received in all those provinces which have suffered so much from these foreign scourings, with what thirst for revenge, with what stubborn faith, with what devotion, with what tears. What door would be closed to him? Who would refuse obedience to him? What envy would hinder him? What Italian would refuse him homage? To all of us this barbarous dominion stinks. Let, therefore, your illustrious house take up this charge with that courage and hope with which all just enterprises are undertaken, so that under its standard our native country may be ennobled, and under its auspices may be verified that saying of Petrarch:Misconceptions About Machiavelli and The Prince
Virtu contro al Furore
Prendera l'arme, e fia il combatter corto:
Che l'antico valore
Negli italici cuor non e ancor morto.
.......Over the years, many erroneous ideas about Machiavelli and The Prince have taken wing and flown away as facts. Here are some of the "myths" about Machiavelli and The Prince, followed by facts:
Myth: Machiavelli believed authoritarian rule was better than democratic or republican rule.
Fact: Machiavelli supported representative government. However, in the times in which he lived, he believed a princea saviormight be necessary to combat rampant political corruption in Italy while forestalling foreign invasion. Also, as a practical man himself, Machiavelli believed The Prince, his blueprint for sovereign rule, would earn him favor with the Medici ruler at the time of the book's publication.
Myth: Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo de Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Myth: Machiavelli promoted the principles set forth in
The Princeincluding violence and duplicityas the ideal guidelines for ruling a domain.
Myth: Machiavelli wrote The Prince primarily for people of all times, everywhere.
Myth: Machiavelli cannot be criticized for recommending immoral or unethical behavior; he was merely reporting the truth. No writer can be chastised for presenting reality as it is.
Myth: Machiavelli was an atheist who despised religion.
Quotations From The Prince
Translated by W. K. Marriott
Treatment of the People
It makes him [a ruler] hated above all things, as I have said, to be rapacious, and to be a violator of the property and women of his subjects, from both of which he must abstain. And when neither their property nor honour is touched, the majority of men live content, and he has only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease in many ways.
It makes him contemptible to be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, irresolute, from all of which a prince should guard himself as from a rock; and he should endeavour to show in his actions greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude; and in his private dealings with his subjects let him show that his judgments are irrevocable, and maintain himself in such reputation that no one can hope either to deceive him or to get round him.
Knowledge of Warfare
A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states. And the first cause of your losing it is to neglect this art; and what enables you to acquire a state is to be master of the art.
Construction of Castles
The prince, who has more to fear from the people than from foreigners ought to build fortresses, but he who has more to fear from foreigners than from the people ought to leave them alone. The castle of Milan, built by Francesco Sforza, has made, and will make, more trouble for the house of Sforza than any other disorder in the state. For this
reason the best possible fortress is- not to be hated by the people, because, although you may hold the fortresses, yet they will not save you if the people hate you, for there will never be wanting foreigners to assist a people who have taken arms against you.
N.H. Thomson, translator. The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli. Vol. XXXVI, Part 1. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 190914; Bartleby.com. 2001. 8 July 2010. .......<www.bartleby.com/36/1/>.
W.K. Marriott, translator. The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli. Columbia University, Institute for Learning Technologies. New York: Macmillan, 1944. 8 July 2010
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