Niccolo Machiavelli was a well-known diplomat, living inFlorence. At the moment, when republicans lost their power, Machiavelli was said to lay a plot against the Medici family and was sent to exile. In exile he wrote his famous work ”“ The Prince. He didn’t want to give up his political career, hoping to sustain it through presenting the regulations how to maintain power for the dictators. In reality, his work didn’t help Machiavelli to regain his political position, but brought him fame “fame as the political philosopher best known for (seemingly) being prepared to justify any means for political preservation”¯ (Palmer, 93).
Thus The Prince by Machiavelli is often called one of the most influential books on political science, revealing and studying the notion of the political power.
A lot of politicians, scholars and students could not remain indifferent towards his ideas and theories. In reality the only aim of this writing for Machiavelli was to please the Medici family, suggesting the ways of getting and sustaining power. The Prince is a pure study of power – “how to get it, expand it and use it for maximum effect”¯ (Palmer, 104).
Machiavelli did his best to split ethics from politics in his work, which was absolutely new approach as in political theory everybody was used to link political laws to the moral ones. Machiavelli, on the contrary stated, that all political decisions and actions should be based on the practical reasons and with the consideration of the possible practical outcomes and not on based on some kind of high ideals. The author argued, that a prince should act in accordance to circumstances and above all in order to maintain his power. At the same time, Machiavelli noted, that there should never be hatred towards such a ruler, avoiding the concrete answer to the question whether the prince should be loved or not, he wrote: “a wise prince should establish himself on that which is his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavor to avoid hatred, as is noted.”¯ He also says “It is best to be both feared and loved, however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved.”¯ (Machiavelli, 61).
Another very important trait to be mentioned about The Prince is practically lack of theory on political discipline, as distinct from the previous political literature works. Machiavelli preferred to use practical situations to present his ideas to the hypothetical notions used by his predecessors. “The book is dedicated to the current ruler of Florence, and it is readily apparent that Machiavelli intends for his advice to be taken seriously by the powerful men of his time. It is a practical guide for a ruler rather than an abstract treatise of philosophy”¯ (Palmer, 111). This is just a precise summary of the main ideas and ways of presenting these ideas that could be found in The Prince written by Machiavelli; it is however necessary to study in full his standpoint of power of the ruler and the major matters he connected with it.
Some critics stated, that Machiavelli presented the views, which were too extreme. This can be easily explained by the fact, that the author spent most of his life inFlorenceat the times of constant political misbalance and conflicts.
This also can clarify, why Machiavelli underlined the importance of stability, brought by the domination of a prince’s power. No doubt, that the methods for a prince to gain and to sustain the throne and his power, offered and described by Machiavelli, are really original, rather harsh and acute.
What is really unusual about this book is, that the author doesn’t give a description or idea of a perfect model of a prince or a ruler. Machiavelli just provides examples, and through them explains which of the princes could be forehanded and well going and able to gain and sustain power. Machiavelli draws information for his writing from different sources, namely from the books about ancient history or diplomatic missions for his country (Palmer, 112-113). There are a lot of sayings in Latin in his work and the impact of Renaissance is evident.
On the surface of this writing the reader could find the idea –Ā “the ends justify the means”¯ – which is a teleological philosophical view (“telos”¯ is Greek for ends) – that any evil action can be justified if it is done for a good purpose”¯ (Palmer,186). But this is too narrow understanding or interpretation of the author’s ideas. Machiavelli sharply defined the limitations of evil deeds. The author clearly explained that evil actions could be justified only in case of positive results for the state as a whole and never for the sake of the individual satisfaction or will. Also Machiavelli outlined the main “characteristics”¯ of possible evil actions ”“ as short-termed, effective and quick.
The most important contribution, done by this writing is said to be the separation of idealism and realism.
Machiavelli treated the notion of morality, evil and good not as the ends in themselves, but as pure instruments that could be used by a prince in order to serve the prosperity of the state. The basic philosophical ideas of Machiavelli were based first of all on pragmatism, the ruler should be emotionless and firm of purpose. Machiavelli is very far from the views of Aristotle or Plato, talking about forming the ideal society. “In fact, Machiavelli emphasizes the need for the exercise of brute power where necessary and rewards, patron-clientalism etc. to preserve the status quo.
Machiavelli’s assumption, that human nature is fundamentally flawed, is also reflected in the need for brute force to attain practical ends”¯ (Palmer, 191). Very similar statement and ideas could be traced in the times of Qin Dynasty.
After The Prince was written, appeared the term “Machiavellian”¯, used by some of the author’s contemporaries.
However as time passed this term lost its initial meaning and rather denoted extreme viewpoint, manipulation and deceitful behavior aimed at reaching the goals.Ā This is certainly far from the previous meaning and real reflection of the Machiavelli’s ideas, he wanted to express in The Prince.
As it was already mentioned, Machiavelli used several examples for presenting the main traits and ways of behavior of a successful and powerful ruler. Writing about defense and military Machiavelli noted that any state has the possibility either to defend its territory or to attack its neighbors. At any rate it is absolutely a must for the state to develop strong military forces and army. However, the author underlined that “a prince that relies solely on fortifications or on the help of others and stands on the defensive is not self-sufficient. If a prince cannot raise a formidable army and must rely on defense, he must fortify his city”¯ (Machiavelli, 45). Machiavelli also paid attention of the readers to the fact, that a ruler is also responsible for the moral state of his soldiers and should work on keeping it high. He thought, that there is no use to accept mercenary forces, as these people would fight only for money and without loyalty. Army forces borrowed from ally could cause even more problems, as they are ruled by their own chiefs and could turn against those, who employed them (Palmer, 206).
Writing about reputation of a prince, Machiavelli stated, that although a ruler should strive to develop only good qualities in all his deeds and should evade bad reputation, but by the highest standards it is not so important, in case a prince does his best in order to maintain power and succeeds.
According to Machiavelli a prince should not be too generous, as this would cause nothing but greed for more and later, when there is no more the chance to provide it, it will lead to the label of miser for such a ruler.
Usually each leader faces a choice ”“ which is better to be feared or to be loved by the subordinates. Machiavelli wrote about this in the following way: “The answer is of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved.”¯ (Machiavelli ,61). Further he explained, that, what is usually done out of fear, can not always be done out of love, that is why it is better for the ruler to be feared, than loved. At the same time, a prince should show respect towards his people and earn their honor; this would help him to avoid internal fights and conspiracies.
As confirmed by Machiavelli, a prince should be able to choose quality subordinates for himself, to be able to rely on them, and in case he manages to do it, this will be a weighty proof of his intelligence. The author outlined three types of intelligence: “The kind that understands things for itself- which is great to have.
The kind that understands what others can understand-, which is good to have.
The kind that does not understand for itself, nor through others- which is useless to have.”¯ (Machiavelli, 82). He considered it perfect, if a prince could have the first type, if not ”“ then at least the second one would be obligatory. A prince, as Machiavelli stated, should also be wise enough to recognize good and bad advices and be able to take the decisions, taking into consideration the opinions of the selected group of people – counselors.
About fortune Machiavelli wrote: “it is better to be impetuous than cautious, because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary, if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her down.”¯ (Machiavelli, 27). However, he stated, that only one part of person’s actions is under control of fortune, the other part is fully under his own control.
Overall, The Prince by Machiavelli is a unique, profound, original and relevant masterpiece on political science, involving and discussing many vitally important issues, related to the ruler of a state, based on different philosophical, moral ideas and historical examples, aimed first of all at guaranteeing success in gaining and sustaining his power.