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Machiavelli's "The Prince": The Pillars Of Success

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In Machiavelli’s The Prince, Machiavelli defines major pillars including: free will, love vs. hatred and human nature that are pertinent to a prince’s success. In The Prince, Machiavelli aims to discuss how free will affects the success and failures of a prince. Machiavelli argues both free will and nature have affects on a prince’s failures. Love vs. hatred is possibly the most significant theme of Machiavelli’s work. In order for a prince to maintain successful he must avoid hatred. At the same time, a prince must be feared because fear is more reliable than benevolence. Machiavelli makes many assumptions about human behavior. Men are most commonly satisfied with the status quo and do not wish for much change in life. However if one can use generosity to their advantage people will naturally feel a sense of obligation after receiving a favor.

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Niccolò Machiavelli is most known for his work The Prince however he was a senior official in the Florentine Republic and secretary of the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence. Machiavelli’s family was respected and had government connections. His father Bernardo was a doctor of Laws in Florence and kept a library where Niccolò would read. Niccolò’s love for reading led him to explore Florence and the thriving philosophy arts.

The Medici family ruled Florence for the majority of 1434 – 1737. For two brief periods from 1494 – 1512 and from 1527 – 1530 the Medici family was out of power in Florence. The Medic family had a tremendous amount of wealth and power which provided the church with four popes and married into the royal families of Europe. After the expulsion of the Medici in 1494, Machiavelli was a rising young man of the new Florentine Republic and secretary to the Second Chancery. Machiaveli was eager to serve the people and his beloved home of Florence.

At the time, there was major political conflict in Italy for control over the country. A number of different countries, city-states and the papacy were seeking control over Italy. The conflict in pursuit of control of Italy was harsh and practices such as blackmail and violence were used to gain advantage. Shortly after Machiavelli returned to Italy, Charles VIII of France invaded Italy. The French would go onto invade Italy several more times in Machiavelli’s lifetime. The combination of political turmoil, uncertainty and invasion by the French, Machiavelli attitudes and ideologies behind government were formed. The disconnect and disjointed Italy prompted Machiavelli’s ideas involving Italian unity.

At the age of 29, Machiavelli became a political figure in Florence as head of the Second Chancery and secretary to the Council of Ten for War. During his position, Machiavelli served on numerous diplomatic missions and met with Pope Alexander and King Louis XII. In exchange for a marriage annulment, Louis helped the pope establish his son, Cesare Borgia, as the duke of Romagna. The interactions between the three men would mold Machiavelli’s thoughts on leadership in politics. Borgia had the most influence on Machiavelli and would shape his opinions on leadership and politics. Borgia was stern and cruel as a political which made him many enemies. However, Borgia had the traits necessary for any leader who could possibly unify Italy in the eyes of Machiavelli.

In 1512, when the Medici family regained control of Florence, Machiavelli was dismissed from office. Soon after Machiavelli was accused of conspiracy and jailed where he was tortured for weeks. Machiavelli left Florence for Sant’Andrea to focus on a career in writing. During this time Machiavelli wrote his most famous work The Prince. Machiavelli wrote The Prince in order to serve a practical guideline for how men in power should rule. This goal is apparent in the dedication to Lorenzo De’ Medici, the head of the Medici family at the time in Florence. The Prince is composed of simple logic and easily understood advice which is representative of Machiavelli’s desire to clearly convey his message.

Machiavelli desired to return to politics in pursuit of a united Italy. One of his goals in writing The Prince was to win the respect of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Machiavelli hoped that The Prince would win him a spot as an advisor of Lorenzo de’ Medic, however Medici was indifferent about his work and denied he request to serve him. The public at first was also indifferent towards The Prince. However as time progressed, the book began to be criticized as immoral, evil, and wicked.

Politics and ethics are a pillar of Machiavelli’s work. In The Prince Machiavelli links political law with practicality and consequences. This idea was revolutionary because traditionally, politically theory is linked with higher moral laws or held to a higher standard. However, Machiavelli beloved political action should be taken logically rather than far fetched or lofty ideals. This ideology relates to the simplicity and practicality behind The Prince. The Prince is less hypothetical and more pragmatic approach to political leadership.

Free will is another important topic covered by Machiavelli. Many Renaissance intellectuals believed religion was the explanation for disasters, invasions and almost anything of bad fortune. Religion was perceived to be a barrier between good and evil and could protect people from bad fortune. Machiavelli challenged this notion with idea of free will and human power. Machiavelli argued people have the ability to prevent misfortune and the importance of self-determination affirming belief in free will over divine destiny. “Nevertheless, that our freewill may not be altogether extinguished, I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or a little less to be governed by us” (Chapter 25, pg. 84). Machiavelli relates his idea of free will to contrast how many princes have failed as a result of free will. The topic of free will is explained in Chapter XXV where Machiavelli argues that fortune controls one half of our actions and the other half is determined by free will. He makes the example that fortune is like a flooding river, it is only dangerous when you have not taken the necessary precautions to avoid rising water. On the other hand, fortune varies because while two men take the same path one may succeed and the other fails. In short, when times change a prince must adjust accordingly to remain successful.

Goodwill vs. Hatred is a prominent theme in The Prince. Machiavelli is most famously quoted saying, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both”. Machiavelli states that a prince must respected by his people but it is not necessary for his people to love him in order to be successful. However, being hated can cause the downfall of a prince. Machiavelli cautions princes against actions that may lead to hatred. While goodwill is necessary often it is not for the betterment of the community, however goodwill is a political instrument to ensure stability of a prince.

‘From it a noteworthy lesson may be drawn: princes should delegate unpopular duties to others while dispensing all favors directly themselves. I say again that a prince must respect the nobility, but avoid the hatred of the common people ‘ (Chapter 19, pg. 67). This quote is significant because it contrasts how a prince should delegate responsibility in order to avoid hatred. All princes decisions will face scrutiny so Machiavelli insists that hatred is earned by good deeds and also evil ones.

“Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present” (Chapter 17, pg. 54).

This quote is significant because it compares the ideas of human nature and virtue. Machiavelli is criticized for this statement because the notion of being feared over loved suggests The Prince is a handbook for tyrants and dictators. However, Machiavelli is making an argument that fear is more reliable than benevolence.

Machiavelli explains this by the example of men being generally afraid of danger, and greedy. When a prince shows benevolence towards them, they will do anything he asks however when times get rough or he is in danger they will desert him. Men can easily break ties if it is advantageous for them, however fear of punishment makes breaking ties more difficult. This can become problematic because a prince must be careful not to make himself hated as a result of being fear. In order to avoid conflict a prince must caution himself against harming his citizens and taking their property and women. Machiavelli makes the point people will forget the death of a father more quickly than the loss of an inheritance.

Machiavelli’s work is still relevant today even 500 years later. Recently, New York Times author, Jared Diamond believed The Prince was important for every United States president to read. The Prince is often criticized for it’s harshness and Machiavelli’s stance on hatred vs. love. Machiavelli’s work is criticized for empowering tyrants because of the idea that ends justify the means regardless of immorality.

Rapper Tupac Shakur was inspired by Machiavelli’s The Prince while he was incarcerated. I have been a fan of Tupac’s music for many years and was aware that he went by the alias Machiavelli, however I did not read any of Machiavelli’s work until this semester. Tupac’s inspiration The Prince, is clearly personified through his music and associated with Tupac’s motto “Thug Life”. Despite Tupac’s motto “Thug Life” he was known to be socially and politically conscious. Tupac being both politically conscious yet willingness to play the tough and unforgiving role is directly in line with Machiavelli’s idea of being loved vs. being feared.

Tupac prior to being incarcerated had 2 top albums however he had been shot 5 times and one year. Combined with legal trouble and uncertainty of the the future, Tupac’s career was in dire straits. The Prince, in many ways helped Tupac maintain influence within the rap industry until his death. For example, Tupac was facing criticism for his violent and suggestive music however he preached unity within the community. Before Tupac’s death he released an album urging the black community to unite and restore excellence. This relates to Machiavelli’s idea of a united Italy that could be great and have positive influence in the world. Tupac’s album relates to chapter 19 and compassion in order to avoid hatred.

In conclusion, The Prince discusses many themes and ideas that are relevant today. Five hundred years later the messages Machiavelli intended for Lorenzo de’ Medici remain relevant to men with power. I analyzed the themes of free will, love vs. fear and human nature because of Machiavelli’s emphasis on these pillars. Leaders must be cautious when in power because being too generous can lead to people taking your kindness for weakness. However, being too stingy can lead to hatred causing an inclination to betray those in power.

31 October 2020

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