The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ is one of the most arguably books about politics. Machiavelli, once as an assistant Secretary to the State of the Republic of Florence, witnesses some tricks played by politicians or rulers, which are satirically written in this book. The political behaviour of fifteen century is very much re-echoing on our modern politics today particularly in India. Machiavelli gives advice to those heads of state on a variety of matters- including advantages and disadvantages, regarding on how to gain power on a newly annexed state, how to deal with internal rebellions, how to make alliances and how to maintain a strong military. “Machiavelli is not seeking in The Prince to give specific advice for the present situation, but the book is vibrant, nevertheless, with the conviction that advice is needed and that he is the one to give it.”1 Machiavelli’s views regarding human nature and morality on political spheres are disclosed on this book but not manifested themselves explicitly.  For the good of the State or for the maintenance of the State or for securing power of the State, the appearance of virtue is more important than true morality, which may be seen as a accountability.  He gives some specific historical contexts about the disunity of Italy, hopping that Lorenzo de Medici, to whom the book is dedicated, can restore Italy’s honor and pride.

The secret principle played by rulers or politicians in order to secure power and to serve their selfish interests, not to serve society in general, is disclosed by Machiavelli. But many critiques say that his advices to princes are devilish and which are indeed inspired by devil. The Prince was condemned by the Pope on its viewpoints. ‘Machiavellian’ is now commonly used to describe the process of being cunning, ruthless, treachery in the pursuit of power and this diabolic ‘old nick’ is identified with Machiavelli. The Prince is rather confusing whether Machiavelli is trying to advice to princes, or to gain favour from the prince to get back his old office, or to criticize the political scenario both in the Church and the state, or to disclose the secrecy of politics or to take revenge. But the conclusion chapter gives us clearer notion of his lofty goal- unification of Italy, which is the silver thread running throughout the book. Is Machiavelli really a diabolic as he is often portrayed? Is his ultimate purpose justified?

I am very interested to know about Machiavelli’s works particularly ‘The Prince’ which I studied a bit during my graduation. But most of all I am very curious to know, why is this book - ‘The Prince’ considered as inspired by devil? The question of a diabolic figure to Machiavelli, who ventilates the secrecy of politics and who ironically criticizes the political system and the politics in the church of that time in Italy, inspires me to choose this book. The writings of Machiavelli have come across to me as something pertaining to modern political situation as it was in the sixteen century, where the appearance of morality or virtue was considered more important than the true morality. Hence I began to look for some of his classical works. My primary interest is to study and to analyze critically the political book - ‘The Prince’.
Biography and the context of the book

The Prince’ is one of the greatest works of the Italian political writer and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. He was born in 3 May 1469 from the old Florentine nobility. His youth was concurrent with greatness of Florence under of the guidance of Lorenzo de Medici, whose grandson he dedicated -‘The Prince’. He was appointed Secretary and Second Chancellor to the Florentine Republic. During his fifteen years of office, he traveled far and wide of Europe witnessing different kinds of governments, eye-witnessed the papal election and many incredible events. The downfall of Florentine led to unemployed man. Machiavelli's best known works are Discorsi Sopra La Prima Deca Di Tito Livio (1531, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius) The Mandrake (1528) a satirical play and Il Principe (1532, The Prince. From 1521 to 1525, Machiavelli was employed as a historiographer. Niccolo Machiavelli died in Florence on June 21, 1527.

 Italy was not a unified country, when Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince, in the sixteenth century.  There was often foreign invasion took place in Italy. The political situation was practiced immorally both in the state and the Church, which had great impact in Machiavelli's life.  He, though served for the past fifteen years as a counselor and diplomat for the former rulers of Florence, was not happy with the situation. He wrote this book partly to win a favour of the prince for some personal gain from the book and also reveal the secrecy of politics.  

            Machiavelli describes the different types of states, arguing that all states are either republic or principalities. The principality can be divided into two namely – new principalities which are either completely new or new appendages to existing states. A prince can acquire new principalities by fortune or ability. Machiavelli leaves out any discussion of republic, “since he discussed them at length on another accession.”2. Machiavelli comprehensively describes maintaining a new composite principality is more difficult than maintaining a hereditary state due to familiarity with the prince and love for the ruling family. In a new principality, people have great hope that a new ruler would be better than the old one. If a new prince is not able to fulfill people’s expectation of improvement, they may take up arms against him. “Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crush, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”3 A prince must keep control of his subjects and protect from any foreign invasion. The prince must always act to solve problems before problems fully manifest themselves. To solve any problem a prince must be prowess in every field.

There are two ways to govern principality. This first is a prince and appointed ministers who help in governing the state.  The second way is a prince and his hereditary nobles, who have subjects of their own. The former is better, since he is the only ruler in the country, though it is hard to maintain control of that.  It is easier to conquer a country ruled by the nobles than by a man because the corrupted nobles will corrupt his subjects and it is no possible to kill all the nobles. Their hatred, revenge etc. will ever remain through. Studying the history, a prince uses ministers maintaining power in a long run.

A prince must have a lofty goal and learn from the ruler s of the past. Rulers who rely on prowess instead of fortune are generally more forceful in holding power over states because they a prince who foresees with his ability can overcome difficulties.  “That is why all armed prophets have conquered and unarmed prophets have come to grief. Besides what I have said already, the populace is by nature fickle; it is easy to persuade them of something, but difficult to confirm them in that persuasion. Therefore one should rightly arrange matters so that when they no longer believe they can be made to believe by force.”A prince, who comes to power by criminal acts and wishes to be successful, must only use cruelty in the first sense like Agathocles and them laying a string foundation like Cesare Borgia. In this way, his subjects will eventually forget the violence and cruelty and thus he wins dominion but not glory. A prince can rule directly or through magistrates, but usually a diplomatic prince rules directly. Some cruelty is necessary. The prince should always aim to keep a strong army to maintain defense and fortification from every attack. To do so, he must convince the people that the hardships are only temporary and thus creating feelings of patriotism for the states’ defense.   “The nature of man is such that people consider themselves put under an obligation as much by the benefits they confer as by those they receive.”5  
 The principalities, Machiavelli says satirically that, where the Church is governing, require either unusual good fortune or prowess.  The rulers of these states are much safer because no one is there to overthrow their authority in favour of one another. “So these principalities alone care secure and happy. But as they are sustained by higher powers which the human mind cannot comprehend… They are exalted and maintained by God.”6 Machiavelli invites us to look at how the Church has obtained her great temporal power by different popes by using force of arms and other means. “The main foundation of every state, new state as well as ancient or composite ones, are good laws and good arms; and because you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably flow, I shall not discuss laws but give my attention to arms.”7   The easiest way to lose a state is by neglecting the art of war, geography, history and the action of great leaders and he must prepare rigorously during peacetime for war time. “A prince, therefore, should have no other objective or thought, nor acquire skill in anything, except war, its organization, and its discipline. The art of war is all that is expected of a ruler; and it is so useful that besides enabling hereditary princes to maintain that rule it frequently enables ordinary citizens to become rulers.”8   

A prince, who is crafty, cunning and able to treat others, is usually successful. There are two ways of fighting- by law and by force. A prince must be a master of deception.  Men love virtue, but so long as a prince appears to act virtuously, men will believe in his virtue. Moreover men judge by appearance and results. He should worry about two things- internal revolt from his subjects and external threats from foreign powers. Having a strong army and good allies with other states can solve this problem. He must build a good relation with the rank of the military. For internal issues he must subtly divide the opposition. People will admire if you institutionalize a public grand display of reward and punishment of deeds of the citizens.

The relation of ministers is a critical task. Wise and loyal ministers contribute to the image of a wise prince. He must have an ability to understand things and build a confident relationship with them. He must avoid flattering ministers who lay their eggs of conspiracy in the blanket of opposition.  He must seek advice but take decision by self. The bad luck has fallen on Italy. To succeed, Lorenzo must create a national army. A prince best defense is his own courage. If he succeeds to bring unity he would receive unending glory.  “Nor can one express the love with which he would be received in all those scourging, with what thirst for revenge, with what stubborn faith, with what devotion, with what teas. What door would be closed to him? Who would refuse obedience to him? What envy would hinder him? What Italian could refuse him homage? To all of this barbarous dominion sinks.” 9

Critical analysis:
The Prince is filled with the renaissance spirit and ideas. Machiavelli seems trying to separate - Philosophy from Politics, Ethic from Politics, and Religion from Politics. The earlier philosophers studied all of them as one discipline- philosophy. The prince is a book on direct response to the disunity and decay of the Florentine governmental system caused by foreign domination. Using The Prince as a manual, Machiavelli instructs Medici on how to acquire and maintain power and for a necessity to reunite Italy. Yet it is rather confusing, whether Machiavelli tries to give advice to princes, or to disclose the secrecy of politics, or to win favor from the prince to regain is old office, or to criticize the political scenario both in the state and the Church, or to separate politics from others disciplines. He loves the state more than the republic yet his “dismissed from office when the Medici returned, he was a lost man, continuing to follow political affairs at large with fascinated attention, continually denied the chance to participate in them himself. His loss was gain: he poured out his resentment in his books and the advice he was lunging to give the politicians went down on paper.”10 When Medici did not give him the office, he wrote a letter to Luigi Guicciardini- “It no longer charms me to read of the ancient world, nor to discuss the contemporary one … If you want to write anything about your love, do so, and discuss other things with those who value them more, and understand them better, because they have brought me nothing but loss.”11 He says that he has not joy of study history not present state. He loses his faith mankind as a whole saying “I have not one of those who fill their friends with vain hopes.” 12
The Prince reflects Machiavelli's fifteen years of experience in the chancery service of the Florentine Government. During his office times are the years of war or of an uneasy peace that is scarcely distinct form war.  He has seen and experienced the immoral practices in politics. “Machiavelli does not simply endorse the use of bad faith in care of necessity– the lie that diverts the killer from his victim – but as a natural part of statecraft.”13 He has witnessed on succession of many princes and even the election of papacy which has lots of malpractices – immorality. He thus ironically praises the Church. There is no doubt that there are some malpractices in the Church’s politics too. Beside that he probably wants to separate politics fromthe Church as he wants to separate politics from philosophy can be seen, which the spirit of Renaissance is.

Machiavelli says in politics real morality will not work but the appearance of morality.  Besides that, he gives different ways and means to acquire power and position in the state politics. Due to this devilish way of advice to princes and notion on men, Machiavelli is criticized to the extreme that his name becomes a synonym of evil. But if you examine carefully, Machiavelli is not really advice a prince but revealing the secrecy of politics. Rulers of that time or even rulers of today practice different ways of malpractices to acquire power and reputation.   He, being witnessed and experienced during his office time on how politicians procure political power through immoral conduct, says about the very nature of politics and its behaviour. Machiavelli says that it is men nature that they are ungrateful, fickle, deceptive, etc. Here Machiavelli is talking about the nature of politicians but not to general human nature. Looking at our modern political scenario, the present politicians follow the advice of Machiavelli. The sixteen century politics of Italy re-echoes in the present political scenario.  Machiavelli presents the political reality as it was at that time in Italy; above all, being experienced in this matter, he knows in and out about politics, and thus he discloses the secrecy of politics.

Machiavelli has got great concern for the unification of Italy. To strengthen and to bring unification, Italy needs a strong national army.  He, therefore, advices a prince that he (prince) must not have other objective, no other thought, nor to take up any profession, but of war, its method and its discipline, which are the only art expected of a ruler. Machiavelli concerns for the state is a national army for, “it is unreasonable to expect that an armed man should obey one who is unarmed, or that an unarmed man should remained safe and secure when his servants are armed,”14 He has seen that the invasion has transformed Florence from a first-rate Italian power into a second-rate power under the domination of Spain.

We must read The Prince without having any prejudice before reading.  This book declares that a republic is the ideal form of government, not a state governed by the authority of a prince.  And yet, we must note that Machiavelli never says anywhere in The Prince that he likes the notion of government by princes.  He merely states that if a country is going to be governed by a prince, particularly a new prince, he has some advice as to how that prince should rule if he wishes to be great and powerful.  In other words, Machiavelli’s book is absolutely practical and not at all idealistic.  Leaving aside what government is the best in an ideal world, Machiavelli seems to try to imagine how such a ruler might achieve success. This book after all is dedicated to Lorenzo to help him be the best prince he can be. The Prince has a very practical and very specific goal in mind- Unification of Italy.

            The prince is full of historical references, yet the final chapters place the book give a lofty dreams of Machiavelli to unify Italy. And it is rather a satirical one describing the nature of political situation of that time. We have got a similar situation in our modern political spheres particularly in India. “Machiavelli was not seeking in The Prince to give specific advice for the present situation, but the book is vibrant, nevertheless, with the conviction that advice is needed and that he is the one to give it.”15 Machiavelli is glaringly conscious of the weakness and shame of Italy during those years of division between Italians and foreigners. He does not blame on rulers about her fall. He says that a prince must learn from history to bring unification of Italy. And so the sole purpose of writing this book, The Prince, is for the unification of Italy. This idea of unification can be seen throughout the novel. Moreover, the final chapters give us some insight into the mind of the author and his motives for writing the book. They suggest that Machiavelli is not diabolic as he is often portrayed. 


Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, tran. George Bull. New York, Penguin Books, 1961.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, tran. W.K. Marriott London, J.M Dent and Sons Ltd, 1964.
Desbruslais, Cyril. A Survey of the History of Western Philosophy – Ancient, Medival, And Modern Periods, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, 1979.
Hale, J. R.  Machiavelli and Renaissance Italy. Harmondsworth: A Pelican book, 1972.

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