Niccolo Machiavelli’s book “The Prince” is one of the most popular books that has a significant value even today. The book refers Lorenzo Medici as the prince. Written in the year 1514 and published in 1532, “The Prince” focuses on how a prince can set up and maintain the government in the strongest way possible (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 55). Machiavelli believes that a prince must standby the moral principles for the continued existence of power. In the book, Machiavelli describes about the measures taken by a leader to deal with the rise and fall of kingdoms. The author’s major focus is on how the kingdom works. He advises on the ways and means to grab and hold power. Machiavelli explains what works and what doesn’t work in carrying out a successful political career. The author suggests that one should study history and examine the actions of men and women in order to determine and imitate the reasons responsible for their success. Machiavelli states that all states are either kingdoms or republics. While hereditary states are easy to maintain, difficulties abound the new states.
According to Machiavelli, “ the difficulties they have in acquiring it rise in part from the new rules and methods, which they are forced to introduce to establish their government and its security” (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 28). In his view, rebellion is always a threat for the kingdom as men are always ready to change their master. However, the prince always uses a rebellion to secure himself. The two options adopted by the prince as Machiavelli explains are, the prince may either dwell in the new state or colonize the state into a province by establishing his troops. A solo prince governs the kingdom with the help of his ministers such as in Turk or with the help of barons who possess their rank through descent such as the French King (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 24). Machiavelli allows several options for the people of the newly acquired state to live in freedom. The options are whether to destroy the state or reside in the state or leave the state. The author mentions that the prince who acquires the position with difficulty finds it easy to maintain, while the one who acquires by fortune undergoes much trouble to keep his position.
Machiavelli shocked his contemporaries with his acceptance of cruelty and violence as the means of success. Machiavelli’s contemporary readers were upset with the central theme of the book “The Prince,” for it contains several questions that are difficult to answer. Machiavelli expresses his doubt that the Christian idea of the justification of politics might be wrong (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 67). It is not Machiavelli’s mistake to express his feelings this way because Machiavelli belongs to the age in which brutality and deceit always won success. Machiavelli argues that it is not possible for a leader to conquer fortune; however, one can at least make an effort to control the fortune. The author was different from his contemporaries for he knew how one can accomplish the task. From his experience, Machiavelli describes weak leaders as disastrous. He refers to Piero de Medici as an incompetent and submissive prince (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 19). On the other hand, Machiavelli appreciates strong leaders, such as Pope Julius II, who achieved security and fame through their efforts.
Another reason that shocked Machiavelli’s contemporaries was his feeling that it is unnecessary for a prince to possess good qualities, but he should at least pretend to have them. He says though the prince possesses qualities that are injurious, he should have the ability to appear faithful, merciful, humane, upright and religious (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 60). Machiavelli advises the prince to become a successful monarch by balancing cruelty and kindness but does not emphasize on adapting kindness by nature, which the contemporaries felt dissatisfied about. According to Machiavelli, “a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty” (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 57). The contemporaries who possessed ideas about divine kingship could not accept Machiavelli’s idea that the king must be willing to take any extreme step in order to preserve his power. The contemporaries always wanted the king to follow the path of justice, law and conscience in order to govern the kingdom (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 64). Machiavelli’s stereotypical thoughts shocked the contemporaries and Machiavelli became a ruthless, ambitious, treacherous and a stealthy man.
Before going into the details of why Machiavelli wrote the book “The Prince,” it is important to understand the political situation of Italy during the period of renaissance. Spain and France were keen to invade Italy. In the city of Florence, the Medici family, which was once in high power started to decline gradually by losing its reign in several states of Italy (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 7). While some states of Italy became republics, some others became hereditary nations. Italy was in such a bad situation that it could neither unify the country nor defend the country. Amidst great tensions, Machiavelli served minor positions in the government, but he suffered imprisonment and banishment on several occasions in his career. Disappointed with the futile quibbling and conflicts among the cities of Italy, Machiavelli observed the effectiveness and potential of the Borgia family in grabbing and sustaining power (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 8).
Machiavelli devised his theory of efficient governance in a book, which is none other than “The Prince.” He put forward his ideas and intentions to make the government understand his efficiency and give him a position in the newly formed government by the Medici family. Machiavelli expected the book to guide the rulers in understanding the complex and complicated characteristics of the European politics (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 12). Since the day of publication, the book received several controversies. Machiavelli had no intentions of writing the book “The Prince,” as a literary piece; instead he desired to prove the government about his proficiency in governmental affairs. Machiavelli believed that there was a need for a strong leader, who would lead the country and maintain domination for the advancement of the citizens, but not for personal benefits (Machiavelli, 2009, p. 19). He wanted to advise the leader as to how to achieve and maintain the power. Hence, he put his thoughts and action plan in a composition, “The Prince.”
There are several aspects in Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” which have relevance to the contemporary world. At the same time, there are several irrelevant ideas and thoughts that belong to the 500 year-old city and state politics. The local wars that take place in the contemporary world differ from the kind of wars mentioned by Machiavelli due to various changes in the concepts of military and power. The major characteristic that did not change is the psychology of human nature (Powell, 2010, p. 6). People in the contemporary world also study history in order to learn from the successes and failures of the ancestors. The concept of rewards and punishments applies to the present world. According to Powell, “But equally you don’t want perversely to reward people for plotting, or that will convince more of them that attacking a leadership is a safe way to secure a job” (Powell, 2010, p. 149).
It is important to understand that rewards and punishments go hand in hand, and that a reward must not resist a punishment. Though Machiavelli did not stress much on the concept of law, the little information he provided is very important and significant. For Machiavelli, laws were man-made weapons used by the prince to punish the citizens. In the contemporary world, laws play a major role in safeguarding the rights of the citizens. Constitutional laws are similar to a prince’s desire to power as well as the desire of the citizen’s security. The term ‘justice’ coined by Machiavelli goes synonymous with the concept of constitutional law of the contemporary world (Powell, 2010, p. 231). Machiavelli’s book “The Prince,” is the beginning for the phenomenon of international law. Thus, Niccolo Machiavelli’s book “The Prince,” is one of the most popular books, which focuses on how a prince can set up and maintain the government in the strongest way possible.
Machiavelli, N. (2009). The Prince. Randy Dillon.
Powell, J. (2010). The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World. Random House.