When Lorenzo de' Medici seized control of the Florentine Republic in 1512, he summarily fired the Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Signoria and set in motion a fundamental change in the way we think about politics. The person who held the aforementioned office with the tongue-twisting title was none other than Niccolò Machiavelli, who, suddenly finding himself out of a job after 14 years of patriotic service, followed the career trajectory of many modern politicians into punditry. Unable to become an on-air political analyst for a television network, he only wrote a book. But what a book The Prince is. Its essential contribution to modern political thought lies in Machiavelli's assertion of the then revolutionary idea that theological and moral imperatives have no place in the political arena. "It must be understood," Machiavelli avers, "that a prince ... cannot observe all of those virtues for which men are reputed good, because it is often necessary to act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion, in order to preserve the state." With just a little imagination, readers can discern parallels between a 16th-century principality and a 20th-century presidency.
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Summary of the Prince by Agnes Behr
The Prince is composed as a political guide for ruling. It is an attempt by Machiavelli to gain favor with the Medici family. It begins with an address to Lorenzo de Medici of Florence. Machiavelli’s aim is to transfer his knowledge to Lorenzo on princedoms as a gift (pp. 1-2). Machiavelli then classifies the various forms of states; hereditary principalities, mixed principalities, new principalities and Ecclesiastical principalities. A discussion of the four types of rulers correlated to each principality follows: hereditary, those of mixed kingdoms created from a military conquest, new rulers, and religious rulers. A proffered proposition on how each should obtain and maintain power is given using examples derived from history. In the first three chapters a description of the varying types of principalities and princes is outlined (pp.2-12). This becomes the framework of the rest of the book.
At the core of the Prince is the discussion of military’s mandate and prince’s duty in maintaining princedoms (pp. 42-52). The military according to Machiavelli plays a central role in maintaining power (p. 43). This explains the advice given on how to build and maintain the military. Discussion of different types of armies reveals his dislike of the mercenaries and auxiliaries. He maintains that use of mercenaries is dangerous. It keeps the princedom indebted to the mercenary when the mercenaries win the war. On the other hand mercenaries are not truly committed and may desert the princedom when a real war occurs. Auxiliary armies are termed useless for their win means dependency of the ruler and their loss means dissatisfaction of the ruler. A good example given is the emperor of Constantinople who called upon the Turks to help Greece fend off his neighbors. However, when the war was over the Turks still remained and Machiavelli observes that ‘this was the beginning of Greeks enslavement to the infidel’ (p. 49). Auxiliaries are worse than mercenaries for they are united under a foreign command which can turn against the state they are helping. Machiavelli advocates for princes having their own army if they are to acquire greatness and progress (p. 47). He asserts that, a principality is only safe under its own army made up of its own citizens (p. 50-51).
On the duties of the prince on war, Machiavelli observes that, the Prince must master the art of war. In times of peace he should prepare for war. Familiarize with the terrain. Train his body for hardships. Exercise his mind by reading history and additionally imitate the great predecessors. He gives an example of Alexander the great whom is believed to have imitated Achilles (p. 54). A wise prince never sits idle in times of peace. This advocates for constant preparation for warring times in the future.
On leadership, Machiavelli believes certain attributes are pertinent. There are attributes that attract praise and those that bring blame (p. 55). To avoid blame a prince is advised to be wise. Of the bad attributes he should avoid them but only if they do not lead to losing the state (p. 55). To contextualize the attributes, he focuses on historical ruler’s successes, including both the moral and amoral acts which were deemed indispensable for the success of their rule. A dispensation of evil actions is necessary for the survival of the state. A good ruler according to Machiavelli will set aside morality when the political state of affairs warrants. He however cautions against being hated by the people. This can be perpetuated by taking property and women of his subjects (p. 67). The worst that a prince can do is to cause his own people to hate him. He observes that fortresses will not be able to shield such a prince for a people who hate the prince can take up arms and will always get a foreign power willing to help them (p. 79). Instead of building fortresses, cultivate a good relationship with the subjects. Hatred by powerful faction is equally detrimental and should be avoided.
The prince is advised to keep wise and