Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...2010
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.
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.
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.
began The Prince in 1513 and completed it in 1514. It was published
posthumously, in 1532, and translated into English in 1640.
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 rulers–Lorenzo de' Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent–died
and was succeeded by his son, Piero.
the French invaded Italy in 1494, Florence, Piero angered the populace
by attempting to appease the French with concessions. Consequently, he
and his family were driven out of Florence.Between 1494 and 1498, the Italian
Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola ruled the city with a democratic government.
The many successes he achieved aroused jealousy, and in 1498 he was executed.
In that year, Florence was declared a republic. Machiavelli, who had served
previously in a minor government role, was appointed to an important position
in the republic: secretary of the council that oversaw diplomacy and military
affairs. As part of his duties, he went on missions to France and Germany
and to governments within Italy. In time, he became well schooled in government
carrying out missions, Machiavelli witnessed firsthand the ruthless tactics
that Italian politician Cesare Borgia (1475 or 1476-1507) used to seize
and maintain control of cities. Machiavelli later based many of the governing
methods recommended in The Prince on those used by Borgia.
the Medici family returned and seized power in Florence in 1512, Machiavelli
lost his job and was later accused of conspiring against the city. Consequently,
he was imprisoned, tortured, and then banished for a year. He then wrote
of The Prince
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).
Prince as an Innovative Work
set The Prince apart from other treatises on politics–and shocked
the reading public–was 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
formuated his political theory after years of observing corrupt politics
close up. True, it would have been better for human beings to follow established
moral and ethical precepts, Machiavelli knew. But politics was a tainted
profession. Saints passed their lives praying in monasteries or working
in leper colonies. City hall was the domain of the devil. To survive in
city hall, one had to adopt the tactics of the devil. Machiavelli was a
realist. He was telling his readers, "This is the way it is in the real
world. If you want to succeed in the real world, use real-world strategies."
Describing Machiavelli's Philosophy
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,
in the Work
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,
Prince lacked scientific objectivity. It manipulated history to serve
its purpose; it was not a sound research document.
of The Prince
Prince is a guidebook explaining what a sovereign must do to maintain
and strengthen control over a domain.
calls such a sovereign a prince. But that term may include any other non-elected
ruler. Thus, the sovereign may be not only a prince, who rules over
a principality, but also a king (kingdom), emperor (empire), duke
(dukedom or duchy), and so on.
says his guidebook applies only to sovereigns, not to rulers elected or
appointed by citizens or their representatives, as in a democracy or a
republic. (Modern political scientists observe that elected rulers such
as presidents, senators, members of parliaments, mayors, and aldermen often
exhibit the political behavior of a prince, as defined by Machiavelli,
or use “Machiavellian” tactics to maintain or augment their political power.)
either inherit or acquire their domains, Machiavelli writes. An inherited
domain is easier to manage than an acquired domain, Machiavelli argues,
inasmuch as the inherited domain has continuity of rulership. Laws, customs,
traditions, and an established language are already in place, as are friends
and supporters of the new ruler's family. On the other hand, a domain acquired
through force of arms or other means is generally more difficult to manage,
since it may have different customs, traditions, and legal codes, as well
as a different language. Morever, the inhabitants of the new domain may
be suspicious of, or hostile toward, the new ruler. Thus, the ruler of
an acquired domain may need to establish a residence in the domain in order
to observe and communicate with the native population. Machiavelli offers
these additional recommendations for rulers of all types of domains:
Chapter 17, Machiavelli focuses on the question of whether it is wiser
to be loved than feared. Here is his answer, in part:
Imitate the style and techniques
of rulers of the past who successfully ruled their territories.
Limit the freedom of the citizens
and, thus, minimize the risk of uprisings.
Maintain a strong military force
to keep the peace and to provide a buffer against foreigners who might
invade or stir up mischief among the native population. This military force
should consist of citizens of the domain, not foreign mercenaries. The
latter are often untrustworthy. As the supreme military leader, the ruler
should have a knowledge of arms and military tactics and even lead his
troops when necessary.
Use violence, trickery, and
insincerity when necessary to overcome adversaries and win benefits for
the domain. Political and military enemies regularly use these tactics,
and the wise ruler must be ready fight fire with fire. However, a ruler
should avoid unnecessary use of these tactics.
Increase state wealth by plundering
enemy money and treasure when the opportunity presents itself. Such a policy
will reduce the tax burden on the citizens of the domain. However, the
ruler should raise taxes if that measure becomes necessary to maintain
or replenish state coffers.
Show a modicum of generosity
toward the people but do not pamper them. Showing too much liberality can
spoil the citizens; showing too little or none at all can turn them against
the ruler. When it is necessary to reprimand an important citizen, the
ruler should consider having a stand-in do it for him. If the citizen reacts
unfavorably to the reprimand, claiming it is unjust, he is more likely
to blame the stand-in for the injustice than the ruler.
Strike a balance between mild
and severe punishment of lawbreakers. Showing too much mercy can make a
ruler appear weak, and citizens may try to take advantage of him. Showing
no mercy can make him appear cruel and insufferable, and the people will
hate him. In general, it is better for a ruler to foster policies that
make people fear him rather than love him, but he should avoid doing anything
that would cause the people to hate him.
Appoint court officials known
to be trustworthy and devoted to the ruler’s interests. But do not appoint
officials who are afraid to tell the truth, believing they will offend
the ruler. A ruler must demand and get the truth from everyone serving
[It] is far safer
to be feared than loved. For of men it may generally be affirmed, that
they are thankless, fickle, false studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain,
devoted to you while you are able to confer benefits upon them, and ready,
as I said before, while danger is distant, to shed their blood, and sacrifice
their property, their lives, and their children for you; but in the hour
of need they turn against you. The Prince, therefore, who without otherwise
securing himself builds wholly on their professions is undone. For the
friendships which we buy with a price, and do not gain by greatness and
nobility of character, though they be fairly earned are not made good,
but fail us when we have occasion to use them.
ends The Prince with an appeal to the Medici family to free Italy
from foreign domination.
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
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.
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
About Machiavelli and The Prince
Virtu contro al Furore
Prendera l'arme, e fia il
Che l'antico valore
Negli italici cuor non e
Virtue against fury shall
advance the fight,
And it i' th' combat soon
shall put to flight;
For the old Roman, valour
is not dead,
Nor in th' Italians' breasts
This above appeal and
poem are quoted from a translation of The Prince by W.K. Marriott.
(See below for additional source information)
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:
Machiavelli believed authoritarian rule was better than democratic or republican
Machiavelli supported representative government. However, in the times
in which he lived, he believed a prince–a savior–might 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.
Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as
Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici,
grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Machiavelli hoped to gain favor with
Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, but the latter did not provide his opinion
of the book, whether pro or con. It is not certain whether he even read
Machiavelli promoted the principles set forth in The Prince–including
violence and duplicity–as the ideal guidelines for ruling a domain.
Machiavelli presented the principles in The Prince as guidelines
that a ruler in the real world, not the ideal world, should use
to hold power and safeguard public welfare. To be moral and ethical is
wonderful; unfortunately, most politicians are neither moral nor ethical,
according to Machiavelli.
Machiavelli wrote The Prince primarily for people of all times,
Machiavelli wrote The Prince primarily for people in his own time
to remedy serious political problems–and to gain favor for himself with
the ruling Medici family..
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.
Machiavelli was not merely reporting on immoral or unethical behavior;
he was recommending it and therefore is open to criticism on moral and
ethical grounds. Morever, his version of the truth was marred by faulty
Machiavelli was an atheist who despised religion.
Machiavelli was a Catholic who died believing in God.
From The Prince
Translated by W.
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.
Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli.
XXXVI, Part 1. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier &
Son, 1909–14; Bartleby.com. 2001. 8 July 2010. .......<www.bartleby.com/36/1/>.
W.K. Marriott, translator.
Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli. Columbia
University, Institute for Learning Technologies. New York: Macmillan, 1944.
8 July 2010