Machiavelli’s The Prince

Machiavelli’s book The Prince is an extended study of how to acquire and maintain political power. The book has an opening dedication to the conduct of great men and the principles of princely government specifically enlightening Lorenzo de Medici.

Machiavelli speaks of four different types of principalities in this book. Hereditary principalities are inherited by the ruler. Mixed principalities are territories that are next to the ruler’s existing territories. New principalities can be acquired in a few different ways; by one’s own power, by the power of others, by criminal acts, or by the will of the people. Ecclesiastical principalities are first and foremost the Papal States belonging to the Catholic church.

Machiavelli explains that a prince must always being aware of military affairs and stay up to date in order to stay in power. There are also four different types of armies. Mercenaries are hired soldiers who are for the most part troubling and untrustworthy. Auxiliaries are soldiers that are loaned to you in a time of need by another ruler who are also dangerous and unreliable. Native troops are the best and most trustworthy because they are one’s own citizens or subjects. Mixed troops are a combination of mercenaries, auxiliaries and native troops.

Machiavelli describes the important character and behavior for a prince to live up to in order to maintain his power and position. He says it is better for a prince to be stingy rather than generous. It is better to be cruel rather than merciful. It is better to break promises if keeping them would be against one’s interest. A prince must not make himself hated or untrustworthy; the trust and goodwill of the people, one’s citizens and subjects is a better defense than any fortress. A prince should go above and beyond undertaking projects to enhance their reputation. A prince should always listen to wise advisers and not listen to any flattery.

Machiavelli suggests that many rulers of Italy lost their states by ignoring important political and military principles including the ones he has mentioned. Machiavelli says that fortune controls half of human affairs, but free will controls the rest, leaving the prince free to act, but not many princes are known to be able to adapt their actions to the times and circumstances that are put upon them. Machiavelli wrote The Prince with the intention to help free Italy from foreign domination.

Machiavelli modeled Cesare Borgia a conqueror of his time who demonstrated princely behavior. Machiavelli said that a prince should imitate two animals the fox for his cunning nature and the lion for his strength. He also says that being loved is far less important than being feared. He said a prince should build fortresses when he fears his own people more than he fears foreign invaders. Machiavelli makes a point that cruel acts are done badly when they are repeated over time. He also makes a point that dependence on foreign troops is the kiss of death for a prince’s power. He explains that a wise prince would not mind being called miserly because stinginess is a vice that allows him to reign. When two neighboring rulers are fighting a reputable prince should take sides. A prince should always make a show of his seriousness.

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 states that: “Because how one ought to live is so far removed from how one lives that he who lets go of what is done for that which one ought to do sooner learns ruin than his own preservation: because a man who might want to make a show of goodness in all things necessarily comes to ruin among so many who are not good. Because of this it is necessary for a prince, wanting to maintain himself, to learn how to be able to be not good and to use this and not use it according to necessity.”(ch.15 pg.57)

Machiavelli draws a conclusion as to whether it is better to have good qualities or evil qualities, is normally considered unethical or immoral for most often he supports the evil over the good, for the sake of political power. “Et etiam, let him not care about incurring infamy for those vices without which he might hardly save the state; because, if one considers everything well, one will find that something that appears a virtue, if followed, would be his ruin, and that some other thing that appears a vice, if followed, results in his security and well-being.” (ch.15 pg. 58)

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