Considered one of the greatest political philosophers of Italy’s Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli changed domestic Florentine into a powerhouse Republic. In 1512, Piero de’ Medici overthrew the republic and returned to power; Machiavelli was deprived from his position, imprisoned and tortured. Disappointed and bitter, he retired from public work, and wrote his most famous work, The Prince in 1532. Personally, Machiavelli wrote this document to Prince Lorenzo de’ Medici, who was the son of Piero de’ Medici, telling him the best way gain and maintain power. In this letter, he discusses how to make empires bigger and how to keep people (from new and old territories) loyal in the king’s greatest time of need; to fight and conquer more land. He wrote this letter pointing out all of his mistakes hoping no one else would make the same mistakes he did. However, the most revolutionary aspect about The Prince is its separation of politics and ethics.
The Prince describes politically how to run an indestructible government, for any Italian prince during the 16th century. In the first chapter, Machiavelli clearly discusses the two types of principality: how to win them and how to hold on to them. “Either through fortune or through strength,” (Machiavelli, 6) is the basic way that principalities are gained. A ruler can gained property by inheriting land through his family, or by overthrowing another ruler. As Machiavelli talks, he treats people as if they are not humans, and taking someone else’s life is okay as long as you gain something (land, money); is this moral. Machiavelli never considers morals or ethics in any of his views. Once these territories are conquered, Machiavelli tells the best way to keep them. “First, he must ensure their previous ruler has no heirs” (Machiavelli, 9) No one from the previous reigning family must be alive. If even the most distance relative is alive, the peasants will rise and revolt against the new ruler. “and second, he must not alter their old laws or impose new taxes.” (Machiavelli, 9) Things worked out for the ruler that came before. By keeping the lifestyles of the people, the same as before, more people will like the new ruler according to Machiavelli. “If he follows these principles they will quickly become inseparable from his hereditary domains.” (Machiavelli, 9) Machiavelli, from his own experiences knows that subjects must remain loyal to their leaders in order for the leaders to stay in charge. By keeping your subjects devoted, they will in return fight and join your militia. (Machiavelli uses “subjects” as a degrading term for humans. Keeping constant the fact of how low he considers humans to be.) Thus, making a large war force, and buttressing the kingdom. Obtaining and keeping people loyal takes a man of superior strength and wit to outsmart a new enemy.
Machiavelli explains the qualities a man should have in order to be a great leader of such monarchies.
“Since a ruler, then, needs to know how to make use of beastly qualities, he should take as his models among the animals both the fox and the lion, for the lion does not know how to avoid traps, and the fox is easily overpowered by the wolves. So you must be a fox when it comes to suspecting a trap, and a lion when it comes to making the wolves turn tail.” (Machiavelli, 54)
He says that a sovereign needs to be a step above others who want to rein his states. Otherwise, he will lose his dominance, just as he overthrew others. People will then love you for being strong, keeping them safe, yet fear you of your strength, and never attempt to kill you.
Furthermore, Machiavelli then states the argument, “Is it better to be loved than feared, or visa versa?” (Machiavelli, 51) He says be both, but accomplishing that is very difficult. To argue the point that love from your people is more important, that way everyone cares about you and wants you to live. However, being loved does not mean that your inferiors will respect or follow what you say. Making people fear you, will make them afraid and never object to you. With that, Machiavelli says to be cautious because you could lose sense of compassion, and be lonely at the top. Again, Machiavelli shows no morals on actions towards other people. Is making others afraid of you for personal gain moral? Is inflicting harm on fellow man right? Do you give them love, which in return people will love you back for not having any love from their previous rulers? On the other hand, do you inflict fear in those inferior to you so they always think you are stronger then they are, so they will never try to kill you? Machiavelli says,
“I conclude, then, that, as far as being loved and feared is concerned, since men decide for themselves whom they love, and rulers decide whom they fear, a wise ruler should rely on the emotion he can control, not on the one he cannot. But he must take care to avoid being hated, as I have said.” (Machiavelli, 53)
After reading this document, we can discuss the tone and mood of the author. Was Machiavelli really moral and ethical? Throughout his writing, he said that humans weren’t really humans that they were merely pawns of life, unless they had money or power. Other than that, humans were nothing but a number for the kings and authority, which ruled over them. Exiled from the land, Machiavelli developed this negative tone. Lorenzo rejected his thoughts because Machiavelli lost, even though his motives for writing the letter were legitimate. I personally think Machiavelli was a prick who deserved his excommunication, his ideals were right. In his defense, MachiavelliТs major concern was how to govern the states, not to be morally correct.
Written during the Italian Renaissance, society at that time was unstable because everyone was exploring aspects of life that were unconventional. The Prince is raw and reality of how life was during the Renaissance. Provided that this edited and translated text is exactly what Machiavelli wrote and meant back in the time of the Renaissance, we can see into a world that sanction massacres, cold blood, betrayal and deception, which all states benefited from. Machiavelli is a controversial character, since he dedicated this book to the conquering prince, considers humans to be “fickle and ungrateful” (Machiavelli, 52), and arouses ideas (to be feared or loved? to keep or break promises?) in which either view is right, but which is the most probable in the time of need. The Prince gives Machiavelli’s clear and concise ideals on how to run a prosperous kingdom, not how to treat people during the brutal Renaissance. This was Machiavelli’s true purpose.