“The Prince” is a 16th Century how-to book on running a country written by Niccolo Machiavelli. Published five years after his death in 1513,”The Prince” was written as a satire by Machiavelli while he was exiled from his home country of Italy after he was accused of being against the ruler of the then Florentine state, Lorenzo de Medici.
Machiavelli sarcastically dedicated the book to de Medici and wrote it as something of a how-to guide for being a prince (or monarch). The books tone is harsh and cold. It describes the duties of a prince as being controlling and dictatorial.
However, the satire aspect was for many years lost in the translation. Many very famous world leaders have in the past (and still today) considered “The Prince” to be an actual guide. Dictators such as Hitler, Stalin and Lenin said during their lifetimes that they at least partially modeled their reigns of terror on the book.
Despite this,”The Prince” continues to be a worldwide success and many business and political strategies are still based off of it today.
“The Prince” starts with a preface, which is, in this case, a letter to Lorenzo de Medici, the Lord of Florence from 1516-1519. The “Lorenzo the Magnificent” of this dedication is not to be confused with Lorenzo’s grandfather, the celebrated Lorenzo who ruled Florence in the late 15th century. Machiavelli calls Lorenzo “magnificent” only to flatter him with an accolade more habitually bestowed on his grandfather.
Machiavelli was exiled from Florence in 1512, but one year later, longing for a return to public service, he made an appeal to the new ruler, Lorenzo II de Medici, for a pardon. He claimed to have an answer for the political problems plaguing Italy and presented his solution in “The Prince” as a gift to Lorenzo who he saw as the possible savior of Italy-a man who could unify the Italian city-states into a strong nation-state. Lorenzo did not pardon Machiavelli and the Italians had neither the power, nor the desire to follow the system for unity against foreigners outlined in “The Prince”. Machiavelli’s ideas, however, were later put to use by such politicians as Cardinal Richelieu of France, Fredrick the Great of Prussia, Otto Von Bismarck of Germany, Mussolini (who wrote his P.h.D on The Prince), Lenin, Hitler and Stalin.
The first section of the book is entitled “Monarchies”. In the first chapter, called, “Different Kinds of States, and the Different Ways to Get Them”. In it, Machiavelli does a brief run down of the different types of states. He points out that there are two basic forms of government: republics and monarchies. A republic is a government in which supreme authority rest with it’s citizens, who are represented by a group that exercises power, such as a Congress or a Parliament. A monarchy is a government in which supreme authority rests with one ruler, called a king or a prince (Machiavelli uses “prince” to mean a monarch, king, or ruler. It does not have the usual meaning of “son of the king”. Also, Machiavelli writes exclusively about men, not women, and “The Prince” is decidedly sexist. All references to “man” and “him” are maintained in this summary in order to reflect the sexism and keep it true to the book).
Machiavelli does not write about republics in “The Prince”, only about monarchies. First, he outlines the different types of monarchies, commenting on how they have been acquired and maintained. He argues that it is easiest for a prince to rule over an inherited principality (territory) since the prince does not have to act harshly toward anyone to gain power. His subjects remain loyal to him because he represents great security. Since the government has been in the hands of the same family for years, the people do not have to adjust to many changes of policy.
New monarchies, however, present many problems. Some are “mixed” monarchies, in which a prince adds new territory to the principality he already governs. Sometimes this new territory is won through invasion or battle, but on other occasions, the people in the new territory may have rejected their former prince. A prince who has recently annexed a territory must remember that the people who recently welcomed him may soon try to overthrow him if he offends them. If the new territory has the same religion, language and customs as the prince, it is less difficult to control than one in which these institutions are different. If the prince is certain that the old ruling family is extinct, and if he is careful not to make many changes in laws and taxes, people will not rebel against him.
But if the new territory has different customs or language from those of the prince’s territory, it’s people are less inclined to be loyal. In that situation, one way to maintain control is for the prince to live in the conquered territory, as the Turks did when they annexed Greece in fourteen fifty-three. That way if problems arise the prince can attend to them immediately. If the annexed area used to be a republic that enjoyed a certain amount of freedom, the prince must either live there and maintain control or destroy the city. Otherwise, people will remember their former freedom and rebel against the prince.
A superior way to maintain control over an annexed province is for the prince to establish colonies there for his own people, as the Romans did. The settlers will act as a link between the prince and the new territory. Moreover, colonies are cheaper to maintain than having a permanent army in the new territory. The wise prince protects his weaker neighbors (so they will remain friendly to him) but weakens his more powerful neighbors by aggressive action (so they will not threaten him). He must prevent foreign powers from entering the territory and eliminate enemies who may become strong enough to ruin him.
If a prince acquires territory through warfare, he finds that it is easy to control if he has gained it through military skill, not luck. Machiavelli cites Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus as great examples of this type of prince. Some princes, however, gain new principalities through luck or through the help of powerful private citizens. They acquire territory either by purchasing it or as a gift or favor from the person granting it. These are harder to maintain, since in these cases the prince usually has little experience as a ruler and must depend on someone or something other than himself for power. An example of a prince who acquired his kingdom through someone else’s efforts is Cesare Borgia (1476-1507) of Romagna, in northeast Italy. Borgia’s father, Pope Alexander VI (pope from 1492 to 1503) amassed an enormous territory for his son. With his father’s support, Borgia defended it and Machiavelli was impressed with his methods.
Borgia formed his own army, killed anyone who opposed him, brought peace and order to Romagna (which endeared him to the people, even though he often used cruel, ruthless tactics to achieve his goals), and began making alliances with other states. His success was cut short, however, when his father died and Borgia found the new pope, Julius II, was hostile to him.
Machiavelli observes that some princes who are cruel and inhumane hold the power because their actions are perceived as bringing security and stability to the state. Machiavelli also notes that if a prince must be cruel, it is better to be cruel all at once, that way the cruelties are over and done with and that prince’s subjects will soon forget them. However, any benefits the prince gives to his people should be given a little at a time so that the prince seems always to be generous.
Sometimes a man becomes a prince because his fellow towns people want him to exercise power. Machiavelli calls this a “civic principality” and states that this prince needs to be both intelligent and lucky. Every city has an aristocracy, and if a man becomes a prince by helping the nobles, he will be surrounded by people who think they are equal to him and believe he owes them something. The wise prince will make the nobles dependent on him since this enables him to control them more easily. The prince who rules because ordinary people want him to will minimize his problems if he is fair and does not hurt anyone. Since the prince must live among the people, it is smart for him to treat them fairly even if he came into power by helping the nobles.
The prince must also make sure that the people will always need him. If they people feel that they need the prince for their protection and well-being, they will remain loyal to him. This is particularly true if the people have previously governed themselves and find their new government changing into one of absolute rule. People who used to govern themselves are less likely to rebel if they feel that the prince is the only one who can protect them. In any event, a prince must have a strong army and not be hated in order to govern successfully.
In chapter eleven, Machiavelli comments on “ecclesiastical principalities” that are controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. Although these lands may be hard to conquer, he maintains that it is easy for the Church to control them. The Church has a tradition of “ancient religious customs” which are so powerful that “the principalities may be held, no matter how their princes behave and live” (i.e. potential invaders are reluctant to be aggressive against God’s lands).
The second section of the book is entitled “Military Power”. In chapter twelve, Machiavelli asserts that the most certain way for a state to remain powerful is to have a strong army. Therefore, the prince must focus on war and it rules more intensely than on any other matter. He should study war even in the times of peace, using history as a guide and imitating successful warriors. Machiavelli emphasizes that one must never use paid soldiers or soldiers from other areas because they have no loyalty to the prince. The strongest army is one that consists of well-trained soldiers who are natives of the principality.
Machiavelli defines this further in the section on armies and how they are composed. A prince’s army may either be composed of mercenaries, auxiliaries or the state’s own. He states that the first two types have little use and that mercenaries: “will protect you from ruin only as long as nobody assaults you; in peace you are at their mercy, and in a war at the mercy of your enemies”. Mercenaries only work for money and Machiavelli thought that the weakness in Italy’s armies could primarily be blamed on them.
He then lists republics with large armies composed of their own citizens (Sparta, Rome and his modern Switzerland) and compares them to the Carthaginians whose mercenary-led armies mutinied against their leaders and nearly overthrew them. Auxiliaries are foreign armies who will sometimes help a prince if he asks. Machiavelli also considered them useless and even more dangerous than mercenaries. He writes that auxiliaries: “Come to you as a compact body, all trained to obey somebody else”. Machiavelli’s “mixed armies” are a combination of both of these types of soldiers and should be avoided at all costs.
The third section of the book is entitled “Qualities of a Successful Prince”. In chapter fifteen, Machiavelli states that while it is admirable for a prince to be generous, merciful, trustworthy, courageous and intelligent, most humans do not posses all of these qualities. At the very least, the prince must avoid those faults of character that could involve him in a scandal or that may cause his downfall. On the other hand, if a vice or immoral act might substantially help the state the ruler should not be afraid of any scandals that might result from it.
The prince must be careful not to be perceived as a liberal who spends money excessively. Since the protection of the state is his first priority, he needs to have enough money to defend it adequately. But he must be able to provide for defense without having to further tax the people, who might rise up against him. It is better, Machiavelli concludes, for the prince to be considered miserly and to make judicious use of the money available to him than to rely on his subjects by imposing heavy taxes whenever he pleases. Though it would be ideal for a prince to be both feared and loved, if he must choose, it is better to be feared.
Machiavelli thinks people are basically untrustworthy and are more likely to be loyal to someone they fear that to someone they love. On the other hand, the prince must be careful not to be hated because then the people will conspire against him. The wise ruler realizes that it is not necessary to keep his promises if his deception will benefit the state. He must, however, always appear to be generous, merciful and religious.
If a prince annexes a territory, he must disarm his new subjects and place military control in the hands of the soldiers from his old state. The wise prince also learns to make friends of those who were once his enemies, since the love and friendship of his people will be more useful to him than fortresses in defending the state. It is essential that the prince surround himself with capable advisers. He must avoid flatterers and rely on a few men with good judgment who speak freely to him. In order to avoid flatterers, the prince should accept advice only when he solicits it. Unasked for advice should never be welcomed. A wise prince should bring only intelligent men into his council and give them and only them “Free license to speak the truth”. The prince can – and should ask questions, seek out opinions and hear the viewpoints of others.
However, he must then make decisions by himself and stick to them. The princes counselors must be the best as they reflect on him and his choices. Good counselors must only think of what is best for the state and the prince and the prince should respect the counselor and keep him obedient and mindful by honoring his welfare and protecting him.
The fourth and final section is entitled, “Problems of Sixteenth-Century Italy”. In chapter twenty-four, Machiavelli concedes that he has written ‘The Prince’ for inexperienced princes. Citizens observe a new prince and if he acts wisely he will influence them immediately. In Italy, princes have lost their positions not because of bad luck, but because they have not acted wisely. Some did not have their own armies, some neglected to befriend their people, and some failed to control the nobles. He acknowledges that many people believe political events are controlled by God or by chance (fortune) and therefore think they have no control over what happens. Machiavelli thinks chance rules no more than half of all human events and that the role of chance can be minimized.
A prince who depends on fortune or chance will be ruined when his luck changes and since people are fixed in their ways, a successful prince must learn to be flexible with his citizens. Otherwise, he might be ruined if he is caught unawares. Machiavelli concludes that it is better to rush into action than to be cautious, “For fortune is a woman and it is necessary if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force”.
Finally, he argues that the time has come for a new prince in Italy. One who can unify the various Italian states into one nation that will repel attacks by other nations. He appeals to the Medici family to heal and unify Italy. He wants Lorenzo II, the new Medici prince, to arm Italy and develop a national army that will revive the honor and dignity of an Italy that is the heir to the glorious Roman empire.
Niccolo Machiavelli Biography
Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy in 1469. Little is known about his childhood except that he was the son of a lawyer and read widely in the Latin and Italian classics. Machiavelli lived during the “Golden Age” of Lorenzo de Medici ‘s, (or, as he is commonly known, “Lorenzo the Magnificent”) rule of the state of Florence. It was an exciting but troubled time.
In 1498, four years after the invasion Italy by Charles VIII of France and the expulsion of the Medici, Machiavelli was elected secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence which oversaw foreign and military affairs. During the fourteen years that he held the office he was sent by the government of Florence on twenty-four diplomatic missions to speak with leaders of other Italian city-states, the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. These missions, crucial to Florence’s survival in this age of intrigue among the city-states, gave him a chance to observe other governments and rulers. He especially admired Cesare Borgia (1476-1507) the bold and diplomatically shrewd Italian cardinal and military leader whose adept use of fraud, cruelty and self-reliance, along with his utilization of native troops, made him the primary model for Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.
In 1512, the French army re-invaded Italy, causing frightened Florentines to ask the Medici family to return. In the Battle of Ravenna, the French were defeated but the Spanish troops entered Florence, destroyed the republic and reinstated the Medici. Machiavelli, like many other anti-Medici liberals associated with the government of the republic, was jailed, then exiled. Retiring to his villa near San Casciano, he wrote his most famous books, “The Prince” (1513), “The Discourses” (1520) and a first-rate comedy called “Mandragola” (1524).
Machiavelli died at the age of 58 in 1527. He was buried in Florence at the Church of Santa Croce. His books and name live on today. His satire, “The Prince” is still so commonly read and acknowledged that the term “Machiavellian” has come to mean the art of using deception and duplicity to gain control in a business or political setting.