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Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence on May 3rd, 1469. He received a humanistic education typical of the time, and went on to become a banker in Rome. He then returned to Florence in 1494, the same year the Medici family, who had been the ruling family of Florence for decades, lost their throne to Charles VIII of France. In 1500, Machiavelli served as the diplomat of Florence to France, and spent the following decade serving his state, in 1512, the Medicis took back the throne and Machiavelli was soon after accused of participating in a conspiracy to restore the republic, and as a result jailed and tortured. When he was released, he moved to the quiet town of St. Andrea, where he would come to write The Prince, which he would offer as a gift to the current prince of Florence, Lorenzo de Mecidi, as proof of his devotion in an attempt to gain favor in his court. He went on the write another political book, Discourses, The Art of War, A poetic epic, The Golden Ass, and a comedic play The Mandrake. Following the fall of the Medicis and reestablishment of the Florentine republic, he continued to perform various tasks for the government, hoping to regain his former stature, be he was distrusted due to his service of the Medicis, and never did. He died in June 21, 1527.
The Prince is an examination of the nature of power in principalities, and how one can exploit it to achieve his maximum political potential. Through the course of the book, Machiavelli discusses power over people, dictatorial power, power with the people, and shared power. He also defines two types of people the politically elite, including princes, kings and nobles, and the general public. He states in the first chapter of The Prince that it will not include republics, because he had already done so in a previous book.
The thesis of the book is that The ends justify the means. Machiavelli feels that one should make whatever actions necessary in order to gain power. The Prince does little more then to support this thesis, though the use of a multitude of historical examples and arguments, but it does an excellent job in doing so.
Much of the concentration of the book is on the relationship between the prince and his peers the politically elite. Because ambition and lust fir power drive such men, and they are by nature selfish and greedy beings, one must in turn be aggressive and even ruthless in his methods if the wishes to gain and maintain power. Machiavelli feels that one must take direct action when ever able, and constantly exercise his power in order to maintain his political position. He goes on the state that shared power with others will never be effective because those others too are trying to attain power; since nobles are unforgiving, and driving by greed, it would be terribly dangerous, if not suicidal for a prince to rely of their good will and honesty. At the same time, Machiavelli writes that one must not be hated by those he controls, as the people hold the true power, The best fortress a ruler can have is not the be hated by the people for is you posses fortresses and the people hate you, having fortresses will not save you.
Machiavelli discusses different kinds of principalities, ranging from those who have become princes though wickedness to New principalities acquired by fortune and with each gives strong supporting examples from the time of the Romans, to his present day. The best political system is one ruled by a sole monarch, who is not cruel to those he governs, but does everything in his power to stay in power.
Upon reading The Prince, one of the first things the reader notices is it s strong structure and organization. Machiavelli supports virtually every statement with historical examples, from times ranging from the Romans (which he obviously admired as most men of his time did) to his modern day. He organizes the book into twenty-six short chapters, each pertaining to a different aspect of how one should govern his state. He also divided principalities in two types: Hereditary principalities, where the family of a prince has ruled for many generations, and new principalities, which are either entirely new, or annexed. In presenting the main concepts of his book in such a defined format, Machiavelli makes his book easily accessible, and clearly gets his points across.
Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli maintains a bias that one cannot become a strong leader without being immoral. While he admits that it may be possible to because powerful without taking direct action against competitors, he finds it to be very unlikely, and certainly unstable. He does make note of leaders who have been benevolent to their subjects, but he does not mention any that did so and were successful in their reign. This bias does not go so far as to discredit the book entirely, but does make it a one sided argument.
Although Machiavelli was influenced while writing The Prince, much of what he wrote was very true. He stated at length that in order for a prince to maintain his political standing, he must have the respect of his people. At the same time, he must not be hated and despised by them. This has held true throughout the ages, for nearly every time a culture is held under the control of a belligerent dictator, it revolts, and a new government is formed. His ideas concerning ruthlessness and distrust, as unpleasant as they may be, proved to be all but necessary in living in the political world of modern Europe. To be a weak leader all to often meant to be no leader at all.
Regardless of weather or not one aggress with Machiavelli s political philosophy; it is indeed an enjoyable book. It does an excellent job of conveying one man s feelings, and well represents the views of his time. While he may have intended The Prince to persuade the reader to believe that morals are a counter productive in a good leadership, Machiavelli s cynical views may in fact lead the reader to develop a new respect for them. It certainly did so for me.
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