The Prince is a 16th-century political treatise by Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince is sometimes said to be one of the earliest works of modern philosophy, especially modern political philosophy, in which “effective” truth is considered to be more important than any abstract ideal.
Machiavelli composed The Prince as a practical guide to governing (although some scholars argue that the book was intended as a satire and essentially a guide on how not to govern). This objective is evident from the beginning, by the dedication of the book to Lorenzo de Medici, the ruler of Florence.
The Prince is not particularly theoretical or abstract; His prose is simple and his logic simple. These features underline Machiavelli’s desire to provide practical and easy-to-understand advice.
The first two chapters describe the scope of the book. The Prince is concerned with autocratic regimes, not republican regimes. The first chapter defines the various types of principalities and princes; In doing so, build an outline for the rest of the book.
Chapter III exhaustively describes how to keep compound principalities, that is, principalities that are newly created or annexed from another power, so that the prince is not familiar with the people he rules. Chapter III also presents the main concerns of the book (politics of power and popular good will) in encapsulated form.
Chapters IV to XIV form the heart of the book. Machiavelli offers practical advice on a variety of issues, including the advantages and disadvantages of various routes to power, how to acquire and maintain new states, how to deal with internal insurrection, how to make alliances, and how to maintain a strong army.
Implicit in these chapters are Machiavelli’s views on free will, human nature, and ethics, but these ideas were not explicitly stated as topics for discussion until later.
Chapters XV to XXIII focus on the qualities of the prince himself. Generally speaking, this discussion is guided by Machiavelli’s underlying view that high ideals translate into bad governance.
This premise is especially true regarding personal virtue. Certain virtues may be admired for their own good, but for a prince acting in accordance with virtue is often detrimental to the state.
Similarly, certain vices may be frowned upon, but vicious actions are sometimes indispensable for the good of the state. Machiavelli combines this line of reasoning with another: the theme that obtaining the goodwill of the population is the best way to maintain power. Therefore, the appearance of virtue may be more important than true virtue, which can be seen as a responsibility.
The final sections of The Prince link the book to a specific historical context: the disunity of Italy. Machiavelli exposes his explanation of the failure of the ancient Italian rulers and concludes with a passionate appeal to the future rulers of the nation. Machiavelli claims that only Lorenzo de Medici, to whom the book is dedicated, can restore the honor and pride of Italy.
This philosophical treatise has no imaginative or novelistic end as such. Since it is based on a series of advice and comments for the government that the politicians of the time should implement. However, many philosophers have differed from this view arguing that what is written in the treaty is so absurd that it can only be a form of satire against government leaders.
Because The Prince is a political commentary, not a work of fiction, Machiavelli does not use “characters” in the sense of a novel or story. Instead, he draws his examples from current political and social events, as well as from ancient history.
Its “characters” are the political leaders of its time. He mentions too many individuals to list here, but several make repeated appearances in The Prince, and it’s helpful to keep them and their relationships in mind.
- Francesco Sforza: Mercenary general who became Duke of Milan.
- Ludovico Sforza: Also called “Il Moro”, the Moor. Son of Francesco Sforza and Duke of Milan, he encouraged King Charles VIII of France to invade Italy.
- Caterina Sforza Riario Ludovico’s niece: the illegitimate daughter of Gian Galeazzo Sforza. Ruler of the cities of Forli and Imola; called “The Amazon of Forli”.
- Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia): Corrupt and decadent leader of the church, who blatantly maneuvered his many illegitimate children into positions of power.
- Cesare Borgia: son of Alexander VI, Duke of Valentinois in France, and conqueror of the Romagna region in Italy. Machiavelli’s main example of an ideal prince.
- Lorenzo de Medici: Grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The prince is dedicated to him.
- Pope Leo X (Giovanni de Medici): Pope at the time the Prince was written. His choice resulted in the release of Machiavelli from prison.
- Pope Julius II: Pope Warrior who succeeded Alexander VI. It stands out for its defense of the temporal and spiritual power of the Catholic Church.
- Girolamo Savonarola: Charismatic preacher and prophet who ruled Florence after the Medici family was withdrawn from power.
- King Fernando: Ruler of Spain. Better known to American students as the husband of Queen Elizabeth, who financed Christopher Columbus’ travels to the new world.
- King Carlos VIII: Ruler of France who invaded Italy at the request of Ludovico Sforza, but was quickly expelled.
- Charles XII: Invader of Italy and its main foreign dominator immediately before the time when The Prince was written.
- Emperor Maximilian II: Ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, another European power with designs in Italy.
The Prince is one of the quintessential Renaissance manuscripts, and as such is often associated with individualism, humanism, and a sense of personal agency. However, the extent to which Machiavelli explicitly meditates on free will is remarkable.
He writes: “Instead of giving up our free will entirely, I think it may be true that La Fortuna governs half of our actions, but still leaves the other half more or less in our power of control.” For Machiavelli, Fortune is a “woman” who can be countered, but who must be boldly and boldly challenged.
In many ways, The Prince can be read as an exploration of the convergence between luck and diligence in human affairs. How can a prince use luck to his advantage? How can he, in turn, overcome the obstacles that La Fortuna puts in his way?
In this respect, Machiavelli presents a deeply secular vision, in which men can forge their own destinies through cunning and prudence, in which ecclesiastical states have less analytical interest than non-theocracies, and in which the Fortune must be exploited or fought.