The Prince


By Machiavelli
In "The Prince", Niccolo Machiavelli presents a view of
governing a state that is drastically different from that
of humanists of his time. Machiavelli believes the ruling
Prince should be the sole authority determining every
aspect of the state and put in effect a policy which would
serve his best interests. These interests were gaining,
maintaining, and expanding his political power. His
understanding of human nature was a complete contradiction
of what humanists believed and taught. Machiavelli strongly
promoted a secular society and felt morality was not
necessary but in fact stood in the way of an effectively
governed principality.
Though in some cases Machiavelli's suggestions seem harsh
and immoral, one must remember that these views were
derived out of concern about Italy's unstable political
condition. Although humanists of Machiavelli's time
believed that an individual had much to offer to the well
being of the state, Machiavelli was quick to mock human
nature. Humanists at that time believed that an individual
will only grow to maturity through participation in the
governing of the state. Machiavelli generally distrusted
citizens and said that in the time when they were needed
most, they weren't around to help. Machiavelli further goes
on to question the loyalty of the citizens and advises the
Prince that "...since [men] are a sad lot, and keep no
faith with you, you in your turn are under no obligation to
keep it with them."(48) 

However, Machiavelli did not feel that a Prince should
mistreat the citizens. Machiavelli suggested that if a
prince can not be both feared and loved, it would be better
for him to be feared by the citizens within his own
principality. He makes the generalization that men are,
"...ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, fearful of
danger and greedy for gain."(46) He characterizes men as
being self centered and not willing to act in the best
interest of the state and, "...when the danger is close at
hand, they turn against you."(46) Machiavelli reinforces
the prince's need to be feared by stating, "People are less
concerned with offending a man who makes himself loved than
one who makes himself feared: the reason is that love is a
link of obligation which men, because they are rotten, will
break any time they think doing so serves their advantage;
but fear involves dread of punishment, from which they can
never escape."(46) Although feared, the prince should not
be hated "...and this will be the result if only the prince
will keep his hands off the property of his subjects or
citizens, and off their women."(46) In order to win honor,
Machiavelli suggests that a prince must be readily willing
to deceive the citizens. One way is to "...encourage his
citizens to ply their callings in peace, whether in
commerce, agriculture, or in any other business"(63) By
encouraging citizens to excel at their professions he would
also be encouraging them to "...enrich the city or state in
some special way."(63) These measures, though carried out
in deception, would bring the prince honor and trust
amongst the citizens, especially those who were in the best
positions to oppose him. Machiavelli postulates that a
prince must also deceive those who attempt to flatter him.
Flattery generally causes the prince to make mistakes and
"Courts are always full of flatterers; men take such
pleasure in their own concerns, and are so easily deceived
about them, that this plague of flattery is hard to
escape."(64) The easiest way to avoid flattery is "by
letting men know that you will not be offended at being
told the truth."(64) However, if any person can tell the
prince the truth, he will not be respected. Instead, a
third mode of action should be taken "...bringing wise men
into his council and giving them alone free license to
speak the truth-and only on those points where the prince
asks for it, not on others."(64) Since each person will
only advise the prince in accord to his own interests, the
prince must act on his own behalf. The prince should only
be given advice if the advice is requested and at that the
same time "...he should also be a liberal
questioner..."(65) "...he should ask them about everything,
hear his advisers out, and make his decision after thinking
things over, according to his own style."(64) 

Machiavelli actively promoted a secular form of politics.
He believed a secular form of government to be a more
realistic type. His views were to the benefit of the
prince, in helping him maintain power rather than to serve
to the well being of the citizens. Therefore, if a prince
wants to maintain his rule he must learn not to be so
virtuous, and to make use of this or not according to need.
He can "appear merciful, truthful, humane, sincere, and
religious...But you must keep in your mind so disposed can turn to the contrary."(48) Machiavelli said
that, "God will not do everything, lest he deprive us of
our free will and a part of that glory which belongs to
us."(71) Having studied and experienced Italy's political
situation, Machiavelli derived these views. He felt that
his suggestions would provide a frame work for a future
prince of Italy to bring about political stability.
Machiavelli writes: "Thus Italy, left almost lifeless,
waits for a leader who will heal her wounds, stop the
ravaging of Lombardy, end the looting of the Kingdom and of
Tuscany, and minister to those sores of hers that have been
festering so long. Behold how she implores God to send
someone to free her from the cruel insolence of the
barbarians; see how ready and eager she is to follow a
banner joyously, if only someone will raise it up."(70)
Although Italy had become the center of intellectual,
artistic and cultural development, Machiavelli did not feel
these qualities would help in securing Italy's political
future. His opinion was that Italy required a leader who
could have complete control over Italy's citizens and
institutions. One way of maintaining control of was to
institute a secular form of government. This would allow
the prince to govern without being morally bound. 

Machiavelli's view of human nature was not in accord to
that of humanists who felt that an individual could greatly
contribute to the well being of the society. Machiavelli,
however felt that people generally tended to work for their
own best interests and gave little obligation to the well
being of the state. Although Machiavelli doubted that this
form of government could ever be established it did appear
several years after he wrote The Prince. Machiavelli has
become to be regarded as "the founder of modern day,
secular politics."


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