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The Prince


By Machiavelli
"The Prince", written by Niccolo Machiavelli, is one of the
first examinations of politics and science from a purely
scientific and rational perspective. Machiavelli theorizes
that the state is only created if the people cooperate and
work to maintain it. The state is also one of man's
greatest endeavors, and the state takes precedence over
everything else. The state should be one's primary focus,
and maintaining the sovereignty of the state one's most
vital concern. The state is founded on the power of its
military. Therefore, a strong military is vital to
maintaining the state. 
Machiavelli believes that men respect power, but they will
take advantage of kindness. He believes that when given the
opportunity one must destroy completely, because if one
does not he will certainly be destroyed. The prince should
lead the military, and he has to be intelligent. An
effective politician can make quick and intelligent choices
about the problems that constantly arise before him. He
must also have virtue, which means he is strong, confident,
talented, as well as smart. A prince cannot be uncertain,
because uncertainty is a sign of weakness. Fortune controls
half of human's actions, and man's will control the other
half. Virtue is the best defense for fortune, and virtue
must be used in order to keep fortune in check. The prince
must take advantage of situations based solely on the
concept- if it is best for the state. He should choose his
decisions based on contemporary and historical examples. A
prince cannot consider whether his acts are moral or
immoral, and he instead must act in an unbiased manner for
the state. Also, it does not matter how the state achieves
its goals, as long as these goals are achieved. Finally,
regardless of the personal morality involved, the prince
should be praised if he does good for the state and berated
if he hurts the state.
Machiavelli has a very low opinion of the people throughout
history. In general, he feels that men are "ungrateful,
fickle, liars, and deceiver." "They shun danger and are
greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are
yours. They would shed their blood for you ... but when you
are in danger they turn against you." Machiavelli basically
has little respect for the people, and he feels as though
they have not earned much either. He uses this as
justification for the use of fear in order to control
people. He also feels that men are "wretched creatures who
would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your
word to them." This sense of fairness justifies breaking
one's word to men. Machiavelli also writes about how hard
it must be for a prince to stay virtuous. He concludes that
with so many wretched men around virtue is hard to create
in oneself. "The fact is that a man who wants to act
virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so
many who are not virtuous." Overall, Machiavelli is very
pessimistic about the abilities of the people. He feels
that after examining people through history, his
conclusions of wretched men are correct. 
Machiavelli tells us that the sovereign must take whatever
action is necessary to maintain order in society. In time
this will result in the most compassionate choice too.
Machiavelli explains that, Cesare Borgia, by using cruelty
was able to achieve order and obedience in Romangna. This
contrast with the inaction of the Florentines, who allowed
internal conflict to develop in Pistoia, resulting in
devastation of the city. Therefore, a number of highly
visible executions can be a very effective means of
controlling the people and in preventing a major out break
of violence and murder. Machiavelli also cites the
tremendous military successes of Hannibal. Even though
Hannibal led an army of different races over foreign soil,
he never had any dissension because of his reputation of
extreme cruelty. Machiavelli further concludes that it is
difficult to be loved and feared simultaneously. Hence, one
should always prefer to be feared than to be loved. During
adverse times, the fear of punishment is far more effective
in maintaining control than depending people's goodwill and
love. Finally, excessive leniency will lead to ruin,
because leniency is seen as a sign of weakness. A good
historical example was when Scipio's armies mutinied
against him in Spain. 
Machiavelli talks consistently about the Roman empire and
its rulers. Particularly, he stresses the importance of
having a strong army and popular support by the army and
people. The Roman emperors proved to us many times that a
ruler who is perceived to be weak is the most vulnerable to
attack. Alexander Severus was controlled by his mother and
considered feminine by his troops. He was a good ruler, but
it was this appearance of weakness that led his troops to
kill him. Antonius Caracalla is another example of an
erroneous ruler. He was a very strong military leader who
was a great fighter. Unfortunately, he became an incredibly
cruel and harsh ruler over time, and he was hence killed by
a centurion. Machiavelli also includes the country of Italy
into much of his writings. He hopes to reclaim the land
which has been taken away from them. He feels that Italian
princes have lost their states because they have not had
armed people. Machiavelli tells us that an "armed
population is a stable population". The Italian princes
also have not acted quickly, like a real prince should act.
Julius II did act quick, and Machiavelli attributes this to
his success. In reality, the whole purpose behind
Machiavelli writing The Prince was to try and help Italy
free itself from foreign domination. 5. Evaluation of the
The Prince has been an incredibly important book. It was
written in the 1500's, but much of it still applies today.
The book also has influenced many people in history. Many
philosophers credit Machiavelli with leading the way in
political science. They say this because he was the first
person to take a rational approach at analyzing government
and politics. Many of Machiavelli's critics would say that
he is too harsh in his ideas, and that he even seems
immoral. The truth is, Machiavelli is only being honest
with what he has observed consistently in history to be
true. The effect of his writing are still found today too.
People still need virtue in order to be a good ruler or
manager. Success is still to those who can make quick and
intelligent choices; however, countries are held
accountable today, and few would agree that the end
justifies the means as Machiavelli wrote. Overall,
Machiavelli's work has lasted through the years, and it has
proven to be a classic piece of literature by standing the
test of time. 


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