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Machiavelli Essay

machiavelli essay

Example #1

During Machiavelli s time, society was much different than it had been for previous philosophers. Instead of storing up good works, so as to enjoy paradise, as the medieval man did, the Renaissance man was interested in all things, enjoyed life, strove for worldly acclaim and wealth, and had a deep interest in classical civilizations. He was born at a time of conflict within Florence, Italy, between the republican leaders and the family of the Medici s, of which the Machiavelli s, especially, had a history of opposition. After years of conflict between powers, Machiavelli was exiled from his country. It was during this exile that he wrote his most famous work, The Prince, a piece about political power. Growing up, and through his time in political office, Machiavelli studied the men and/or groups in power, specifically noting their successes and failures.

Using this information from his observations, Machiavelli wrote The Prince in order to try to re-enter politics by assisting the man who had exiled him, Lorenzo de Medici, in his ruling. Though this was more of a plot to try to gain the favor of Lorenzo, he does note in his book that in order to gain the favor of a prince, you must present him with a gift; that was the purpose of his novel. In it, Machiavelli analysis s the various types of monarchies, analysis s of the different types of states, how they may be obtained, and how they should be ruled. He also describes how power is seized and retained, how to rule the military forces, and, the essence of his work, how a prince should act in all circumstances in order to accomplish these tasks.

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The first philosopher who did not try to lecture or preach on how to reach the ideal state was Machiavelli. He saw society differently: Since it is my intention to write something to use…, I deem it best to stick to the practical truth of things rather than to fancies. Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation. To Machiavelli, a successful ruler is one who can impress people, regardless of what he really is inside. He says that it is sometimes better to seem good than to be good. To him, a good ruler is one that is seen as merciful, faithful, humane, frank, and religious so long as it does not interfere with his best interest.

He sees no purpose in restraining and controlling oneself for society because society will not prosper if the ruler does not. Ruthlessness, maliciousness, and deviousness are all hailed as being acceptable, in fact, encouraged, as means of securing the position of power. Through his prioritizing, Machiavelli does not seem to be as concerned with the society and the individual as the previous philosophers in history have been. Rather, he sees power as the one and only goal in life, regardless of the individual or the state. Again, though, he is a reflection of his times. The men of the Renaissance era wanted many things–money, power, enjoyment in life–regardless of the moral cost. Others would argue that these superfluities either meant nothing or would not occur without restraining the desires of both one’s self and one’s state.

One needs a balance of everything in order to reach the ideals of perfection, but Machiavelli would argue that perfection is not real and so is not worth striving for. Instead, one must live for one’s self. He makes the generalization of men: they are ungrateful, fickle, dissembling, anxious to flee danger, and covetous of gain. So long as you promote their advantage, they are all yours. . .and will offer you their blood, their goods, their lives, and their children when they need for these I remote. When the need arises, however, they will turn against you. . . .Men are less concerned about offending someone they have cause to love than someone they have cause to fear. Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever-present.

This sums up Machiavelli s view of society and alludes to the position rulers, or men of any status must acquire in order to attain and retain power. They must rely on what they, not others, can control. Oddly enough, the prince that Machiavelli proposes, one whose stature is assumably very attainable, as opposed to the unattainable ideal, has a more difficult job. He must present an appearance of greatness, composed of every awesome quality that would be desired in a ruler, yet where those of society can not see him he is to be evil, malicious, manipulative, and dissembling. This goes against all that has been said about a ruler who needs to be tempered in the virtues of courage, justice, and wisdom in order to rule. Instead, Machiavelli presents the idea of a real, but not a highly regarded ruler who disregards all morals for the sake of gaining profit and power.

His anti-Christian views mark him as a man of the Renaissance era. During that time, even the popes of the period used the office to further their personal ambitions and those of their families. With this in mind, Machiavelli presents his work as a challenge to the Papacy. He also sees Christian values as pointless. To him, there is no need for the Christian Heaven, therefore he has no need for the Christian virtues. He is concerned with Italy and the need to unify it in order to conquer Europe for its own sake. He says nothing, however, of the peace and prosperity to the citizens of Italy, but instead suggests the thought that it will increase the power of his country. Overall, his concern is more for his country and its power, than the individuals and their prosperity.

Though Machiavelli could be considered unreasonable and cold to the society and populace, he is also very patriotic, with a strong sense of the need to protect and better his country. He does differ from the other philosophers in his suggestion for rulers. The prince–a monarchy–is the real ideal ruler of his philosophy, as he challenges the other ideals, saying that they are unrealistic and unattainable, so not worth our time or effort to achieve. Machiavelli proposed a state ruled by a ruler who was ruthless and untempered in order to make the state happy. It is important, in order to do so, that a ruler is able to create laws and institutions that do not need to be altered. Sparta, he says, was able to maintain its self for eight-hundred years without changing or facing any dangerous disorders. So he, obviously, would not favor a tempered ruler because his ruler is meant to abuse what he can while concealing his true nature to the people and portraying, instead, what they would consider an ideal ruler, in order to maintain power.

His era needed a ruler that would challenge the corruption of the Church, unify his nation, and establish a strong power in Europe, by whatever means necessary, including those described as Machiavellian. His philosophy, like that of the other philosophers, is a product of his times and of his environment. Though his views did not drastically alter any societies, in that they strived towards the type of ruler he suggested, he did portray a ruler that society now frowns upon and has allowed us to arrive at conclusions why this type of ruler would not survive, and we need a tempered ruler to rule a tempered state of tempered individuals. Machiavelli uses this word to describe his intellectual justification for separating political conduct and personal morality. Though it is arguable whether or not this work was ever read by Lorenzo, as intended, it is known that Machiavelli never did return to political power.

His work, The Prince, however, was published shortly after his death. Though his ideas were certainly radical at the time, society now can see parallels between modern governments and Machiavelli s ideal. Government officials, especially the American ones, can be compared to the prince in Machiavelli s work as presenting a desirable front to society, yet once they are behind the confines of their castle, or White House, they are free to exploit and abuse their powers as they think necessary, either for personal or national gain. It could be said, by any educated individual, that reading The Prince has become a prerequisite to holding office. Machiavelli, slightly ahead of his times, describes a ruler who presents an appearance of greatness, composed of every awesome quality that would be desired in a ruler, yet where those of society can not see him he is to be evil, malicious, manipulative, and dissembling. Though lacking moral integrity–as most politicians do–this proposed ruler has proven successful and Machiavelli s ideal is as he wanted it–real.


Example #2

Niccolo Machiavelli was born in 1469 in Florence. Since 1484, Florence had a republican government after ruling Medici family and its supporters were driven from power. Machiavelli suffered from this regime change: first, he was sent to an internal exile and later was imprisoned and tortured for several weeks when (wrongly) suspected of conspiring against the Medici family in 1513. Following this, he retired to his farm outside Florence. This drove him to turn to literary pursuits and he wrote his famous study on power, ‘The Prince’ in 1517.

The Prince was primarily a guide book for his prince, Lorenzo De Medici, to help him promote himself into the political set up of Italy. Machiavelli analyzed power and the ways for Italy to gain it to become independent and keep control. The explanations in the book were driven by Machiavelli’s own attraction with power and his deep desire for an independent Italy. His ideas on the rules of power cater to the struggles for all levels of power, from a common man struggling in the world of business to strategies performed by the political leaders in the sixteenth century to now. ‘The Prince’ is primarily a study of power in which Machiavelli suggests how political power should be acquired, utilized, and maintained by the ruler. (Fischer, 2000), (Source: ).

Machiavelli always asserted the importance of the acquisition of power, he thinks it comes naturally to all humans, and the one who does acquire power should be praised and not blamed. Machiavelli’s Philosophy beyond Acquisition of Power: Machiavelli doesn’t just concentrate on the acquisition of power, he said that the real concern of any ruler is not just acquisition but also maintenance of power. On the basis of his past experiences with the Florentine government, he supports the view that being a right and good human being is not sufficient to acquire and maintain a political office. He feels power typically defines political activity; therefore any ruler must know how it is used. Since only by proper application of power, can rulers make individuals obey them and will be able to enforce the law to maintain peace in the state?

“One can say this in general of men: they are ungrateful, disloyal, insincere and deceitful, timid of danger and avid of profit…. Love is a bond of obligation which these miserable creatures break whenever it suits them to do so; but fear holds them fast by a dread of punishment that never passes” (Machiavelli 1965, 62; translation altered). Thus we see that Machiavelli believes that fear is always preferable to love while dealing with subjects because laws are enforced on the basis of the threat of coercive force because people obey law due to the fear of results of not doing the same, whether the loss of life or other punishments. These are all Machiavelli’s views on how to maintain power not acquire it. His pragmatic political ideas are based on two elements:

The political environment in the world at that point in time was divided and commanded by powers with no possibility of unification. At that time no political leader at that time who was using the kind of force Machiavelli thought was required for peace. He thought that a price feared by his subjects would ensure their loyalty. On human nature, Machiavelli thought humans are basically greedy and selfish and their actions are driven more by fear than by love. As a political philosopher, his attempt was to introduce a new way to create a society, which according to him was different from the one existing.

Though his philosophy has been regarded as evil by many, in practice most business leaders and politicians agree and follow it and regard it as the physics of power. The philosophy put forward in The Prince is popularly known as Machiavellianism and is defined as: “The political doctrine of Machiavelli, which denies the relevance of morality in political affairs and holds that craft and deceit are justified in pursuing and maintaining political power.” We can explain this by simply saying that as far as power is concerned, the end justifies the means. The core thought of Machiavelianism is that the purpose of the ruler (power holder) is to maintain peace and security of the state irrespective of the morality of the means.

Many thinkers have a different view of The Prince, according to Alberico Gentile, Machiavelli wrote a satire. Alberico believed that he cannot mean what he has written in the book. It seems to them that The Prince was written with the intention of warning the general public of what rulers can think like and do, so as to advise them to resist them and he chose to write a satire due to the fear of the Medici family. Machiavelli separated power from morals, and this was his basic thinking which has been criticized for years. Since traditionally the thought was quite contrary, he stressed the irrelevance of morality in politics. To acquire power, he believed that an individual showed to act as required by the circumstances rather than trying to act rightfully. He believed that the truth is different from what churches view and in real the world is quite sinful. He doesn’t propagate pursuing evil ways but when the circumstances are such and it is imperative to opt for these ways to keep power in society.

When contesting for power, to keep it, good and evil are equal, there are no prejudices. He believed acquiring power and glory are worth every trouble faced in attaining them French philosopher Michel de Montaigne denounce this view. He focuses especially on the costs of acquisition. Montaigne firmly believes that true power does not come from power over peoples, land, and such material things, it comes from power over self in everything. Montaigne’s philosophy is that the means of acquiring and maintaining power necessarily disagree with the attainment of the greatest end which according to him is the private life of self-exploration. But if an individual wants to acquire and keep power, he has to forego this good life, as power requires that one has to be on guard and be scheming continuously.

Machiavelli’s basic philosophy was never that acquisition of power was the only aim of humans, he talked about the ways in which the powerful attain power and retain it. He believed that nothing should come in there and he talked very strongly about Christian morality. He did not deny their validity, he never professed that a crime committed due to political needs is not a crime. Rather he believed that this morality just didn’t hold in political affairs and that any principle based on the assumption that morality and politics co-exist, would end in disaster. This stand of Machiavelli was misinterpreted in two main ways:

It sounds like a clash between morality (as per Christianity) and political necessity. The implication of this is that there is an incompatibility between morality which is the constituency of ultimate principles and values sought after by people for their own sakes, and it is this value system that helps us define ‘crimes’ and on the other, politics which is the art of taking appropriate means to achieve desired ends, which guides action without asking whether end itself is intrinsically desirable or not. This is the main crux of the divorce of politics from ethics put forward by Machiavelli. But the fact is he is putting aside one morality (the Christian) not in favor of something immoral but for a game of skill, and called politics, which is not ethical at all as it is not concerned with ultimate human ends.

He is indeed rejecting Christian ethics in favor of a society geared to end results just as the Christian faith, a society in which people fight and die for ends that are pursued them. The second misinterpretation is the idea that Machiavelli viewed the crimes committed with anguish. The philosophy put forward by Machiavelli is built on the need for systematic slyness and force by rulers, as he believes that it is natural and not at all immoral to employ these weapons as per the requirement of the circumstances. He doesn’t even treat the ruler and the people who are ruled distinctly. The citizens would also be Romans and therefore would not need the virtue of the rulers, and in case they cheat as well, Machiavelli’s ideas will not work; the subjects must be poor, honest, and obedient and if they lead moral lives, they will uncomplainingly accept the rule of mere bullies and this cannot form a sound republic.

Machiavellian ideas work in all setups – democracies as well as tyrannies. He does not advocate cruel force as the only tool to retain or gain power for a leader but also talks about persuasion, which might include telling lies to keep power. Machiavelli’s work goes much beyond Power Acquisition and Maintenance. He laid stress on the importance of popular public speeches and the liberty of people. In his later work, ‘The Discourses’ he talks about his belief in the capacity of general people to contribute to the promotion of society’s communal liberty. He talks about the masses’ extensive competence to judge and then act for their collective good in different circumstances, audaciously in contrast to the traditional thinking of ordinary citizens to act at the unsound discretion of the prince just to ensure stability. He believes that common people are more concerned about liberty and are definitely more willing to defend it as compared to either princes or nobles.

The rulers tend to confuse their liberty with their right and ability to rule and dominate their fellows. Common people on the other hand are more bothered about protecting themselves against domination and think of themselves as free only when they are not abused by someone who is more powerful. Machiavelli also views popular speech as the best method of resolving conflicts if any, in the republican setup. In the Discourses, he has elevated debate as to the most preferred way for the people to choose the best course of action to be taken and to decide on who is the most qualified leads. The classical rhetoric was associated by him with contention, he thought the best application of speech in the real world is an adversarial setting, debate, where each speaker tries to convince his audience of the stand taken and unworthiness of the opponents. Machiavelli’s stress on the importance of the role of people in running the state is also supported by his confidence in the enlightening effects of public speech on its citizens.

Romans were able to maintain liberty and order because of the people’s ability to discern the common good when it was shown to them. At times when ordinary Roman citizens wrongly supposed that a law or institution was designed to oppress them, they could be persuaded that their beliefs are mistaken … [through] the remedy of assemblies, in which some man of influence gets up and makes a speech showing them how they are deceiving themselves. And as Tully says, the people, although they may be ignorant, can grasp the truth, and yield easily when told what is true by a trustworthy man. (Machiavelli 1965, 203). Machiavelli was a believer in classical republicanism, which implies the ability of the people to support and agree with the words of a good orator when he genuinely speaks about the general welfare of the public. He also stressed the superiority of popular government over the princely government as long as public deliberation and speech is encouraged in the community, as he believes that the people are prudent enough.

Another philosophy touched by Machiavelli in the Discourses includes the realities of human character. He argued human conduct favors a republic set up over a principality, as the former “is better able to adapt itself to diverse circumstances than a prince owing to the diversity found among its citizens” (Machiavelli 1965, 253). This is because human behavior is ingrained in a firm and invariant character, in the case of the rule of a single human, it tends to be essentially unstable and uncertain. This emphasizes Machiavelli’s stand on the acquisition of virtue by an individual and believes a stable principality cannot be attained due to the Machiavellian dichotomy: the need for flexibility and at the same time the inherent constancy of character which also present a limitation in single-ruler regimes.

Different circumstances require different responses therefore the need for flexibility, but it is psychologically impossible for the human character to change over time, therefore, the republic is a better alternative as it has the advantage of people of different qualities taking care of different exigencies as per their fits. Machiavelli’s philosophy is not to defend any abstract theory, he is very transparent, honest, and clear. When an individual chooses the life of a statesman or a citizen, he has enough civic sense to desire that his state is as successful and splendid as possible, and such a man commits to rejection of moral behavior. The teachings of Christians might be right regarding the well-being of the individual soul, but that in case if it is taken without the social or political context. The point to note is the well-being of the state is different from the well-being of the individual and therefore they need to be governed in different ways.

He stressed that individuals have made their choices: considers weakness, cowardice, stupidity as crimes as they lead them to draw back in midstream and fail. There are no two views that Machiavelli’s writings, mainly The Prince, has been very controversial and scandalized human beings more deeply and consistently than any political philosophy. The reason for this is not the discovery that power has a major role in politics, the fact that political relationships between and within different independent communities invariably involve the use of force and fraud, unlike the principles professed by the players. This is not a discovery, as this piece of knowledge is as old as conscious thought about politics. The controversy also is not also due to his advocating ruthless measures to fulfill the political necessity. Aristotle had long ago talked about these exceptional situations that might arise in which set principles and rules can not be rigidly applied.

Conclusion: Machiavelli’s main achievement is his talking about an insoluble dilemma, putting a question mark in the path of posterity. There is no doubt that he caused a lot of confusion and exaggeration. He confused the very basic proposition that eventually ideals may be a very different proposition than the traditional conventional human ideals based on ideas of Natural Law, human goodness, morality, and brotherly love. This was never realized and it was taken for granted that those who acted on the opposite of these ideas were considered to be not right, at times dangerous ones. Machiavellian principals are exploited on different levels than what he had intended for their universal truth. From the political setup to the business world, his theories of power have transcended from these areas to the basic functions of the human beings’ struggle for power. In the same way, the modern governmental principalities understand these, so does the 20th-century corporate tycoon down to the struggling working class.

Clearly, the acquisition of power is not the only goal for Machiavelli. His work is beyond that. He professes ways to acquire and maintain power, be it immoral in the eyes of society but as long as these actions are the need of the circumstances, they are justified. He talks of how people should acquire virtue, liberty and also stressed on the importance of public speeches. His teachings might have been criticized so far as being evil but the fact is he was being bluntly honest, to expose the bitter truth, to publicly endorse the view which has been in practice in politics and business for ages; ends justify the means. People tend to ignore these, but he brought the worst to everyone’s notice but that doesn’t mean to be liberated from its consequences. It is one thing to accept things like these happening in practice, another to try to justify it rationally and Machiavelli was a pioneer in this direction.

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Example #3

Niccolo Machiavelli is a great influence on many politicians, philosophers, and leaders alike. His name has also come into our grammar as Machiavellian or Machiavellism meaning a brutal or realist view of something perhaps not the most moral of methods but it is effective. In Niccolo Machiavelli’s day and age he was one of the few that could read and write literacy was left primarily to priests and politicians. He was obviously a very skilled politician and had knowledge of the art of war. Today he is remembered as a political philosopher someone who studied politics enough to come up with the perfect way to be a prince and inspired other politicians for many years. Not until a few years later did Niccolo gain favor with the Medicis and was ordered to compose the “History of Florence”. “The Prince” has inspired many great people since it was made it is the guide book to success and greatness there for many power-seeking people have been attracted to it.

“The Prince” is not a guide to being a moral leader who is caring and forgiving and ultimately weak, it is a guide that will get you the power and teach you how to maintain it once you achieve it. Niccolo Machiavelli used brutal yet efficient way to govern and seize power there were two ways according to Niccolo the first one did not appeal to Niccolo because a common man could not achieve it, if a prince is born into a family of rulers and receive power through heredity he can hold power just by being an idol and being greatly loved by his subjects this of course when you are greatly loved you can be greatly hated just as fast.


Example #4

Niccolo Machiavelli’s life reflects one of Renaissance Italy’s greatest political philosophers. His writings have reflected the unstable conditions of Italy lacking a worthy leader at the time. He believed that a prince should have ruthlessness, be feared by his nation, and be tight-fisted. Machiavelli had thought that it was of great importance that a prince should maintain the power and safety of the country over which he ruled. No thought of any type of justice or mercy should stand between a prince and his values. Ruthlessness is a prince’s key to success because by human nature all men are encouraged by reasons of self-interest. But at the same time, a prince should never take for granted the loyalty or love that is practiced by his fellowmen. Rather he should let his subjects live in fear of himself because it is much safer to be feared than to be loved.

One of the most important elements of a prince is his intelligence; he, therefore, must understand that by being too severe he may become hateful and lose this authority. Machiavelli stresses that this beneficial relationship should be established between a prince and his state. Fear will always keep the state in control because it leaves a sense of power in the minds of the people. However, one must avoid the danger of misusing it. It is of harm to the ruler if the people hate and loathe him. He states; above all the prince should avoid seizing the property of others; for men forget more quickly the death of their fathers than the loss of their patrimony. Machiavelli relates such a divine rule to Cesare Borgia. Cesare was regarded as a cruel man, but he reunited Romagna and restored it to peace. Both Cesare and Machiavelli agree that only through the fear of punishment does a man respect the laws and fulfill his responsibilities.


Example #5

The fourteenth century was an exciting time in Italy. Liberation from old traditions brought about a new interest in the arts and literature. The church’s doctrine was no longer the sole basis of scholarly work. New ideas and concepts started to emerge which were unlike anything heard since the fall of Rome. Amongst the great thinkers of this time was a man by the name of Niccolo Machiavelli. (C4. and Wood, p.510) His most famous work was entitled, The Prince. The book is a compilation of historical examples past and present ( present being the sixteenth century), that were intended to guide a prince on the correct way to control his state. It advocated the use of any means necessary to survive in the political world, even if they were not particularly pleasant. (Strathern, p.6)

Despite its age, I believe that Machiavelli’s writing about individualism in The Prince is relevant to people who are not princes because Machiavelli’s main themes are applicable to people of all types. To prove this I have organized my paper into four main sections. Section one- Machiavelli’s History, will move toward the thesis by showing that Machiavelli’s life experience was not that of royalty. Section two- Individualism, will show how Machiavelli’s writing was individualistic, and how that relates to modern people. Section three- The Prince, will explore the main themes of Machiavelli’s chief written work, creating the basis of comparison between Machiavelli’s writing and modern life. Section four- Machiavelli in Business, relates the themes of section three to modern business.

Section one- Machiavelli’s History. Niccolo Machiavelli was born a citizen of Florence during a very turbulent period of constant political struggles. His father was a lawyer with a serious debt problem, and as such, he was without the money to give young Niccolo a proper education. Niccolo taught himself what he could with the few books found in the house. As soon as he was old enough, he took a position as a government clerk. He slowly moved up through the Florentine political ranks until the Florentine Republic was declared. With the switch in government, Niccolo received his first position of true power as a member of the Florentine “Counsel Of Ten,” which took on the management of foreign and domestic affairs. (C4.)

During the years to come, while under the employment of the Florentine Republic, Machiavelli took part in a multitude of diplomatic missions to neighboring kingdoms such as France. (Strathern, p.28) Through these travels, Machiavelli observed many different types of rulers with many different political theories. His observations of these many different doctrines would make up the great body of his later work. (Wood, p. 505). Sadly, Machiavelli fell on hard times when the powerful Medici family took hold of Florence. Machiavelli was stripped of position and briefly imprisoned and tortured. Upon his release, Machiavelli became depressed and fought a battle with financial hardship. He was forced to live on a small estate outside of the city called Sant’Andrea.

While there he wrote his most famous works, including The Prince. Despite the proclamation of a second republic in Florence, Machiavelli was not offered a job. Heartbroken, he was seized by illness and died soon thereafter. (Wood, p.506) Machiavelli never himself occupied the position of Prince. (Wood, p. 506) His political doctrine was based on historical events and personal observations. Machiavelli was little more than a common man and as such his work is applicable to all common men. (Strathern, p.8) For each point, he makes he provides the reader with a historical analogy from a third-person perspective. His books do not hold first-hand experiences of what he did as a prince, because he never had that experience. All writers incorporate some of their life into their work. This being the case, we can say that parts of The Prince incorporate the life of a man who was not royalty. (Wood, p. 507)

Section two- Individualism. Machiavelli held the belief that your principal goal, as a prince, is to maintain power and manage your people to your personal best interests. The idea that any man could use all his resources to better himself, was a concept nonexistent during the Middle Ages. (Strathern, p.6) This idea came into prominence during the Renaissance as the cornerstone of an individualistic brand of philosophy what is now called egoism. Individualism is the doctrine that all humans are free to make their own choices and live as they want. Egoism takes this idea one step further by saying that all individual actions are rightly motivated by individual self-interest. A person who is an egoist will make all of his or her decisions based on whether they adhere to his or her personal agenda. (C3.)

This idea angered many people of Machiavelli’s time. His individualistic writings were not only selfish, in the eyes of many, but his doctrine also said that humans control the path their lives take, not God. Machiavelli does concede that there are certain events that people have no control over, such as weather, but even there he gives no credit to an Almighty Power. (C2.) Machiavelli’s individualistic ideas are more common today than ever before. People must choose what car to drive, where to live, or how they want to earn a living. When making these decisions we are mindful of the fact that in the past (and presently in some countries), these and other decisions like them, have been settled by lords, dictators, or tradition. (C3.) All the people on earth are afforded some choices in life, and wishing to live a happier existence, they pose the same question Machiavelli asked three hundred and fifty years ago, which path will give me the greater benefit? (V, p.XIII)

Section three- The Prince. The following are themes of The Prince. Machiavelli put his doctrine on paper in the early sixteenth century. In order to determine his relevance to common people today, one must examine these themes very closely. (C2.)HUMAN NATURE.  Machiavelli credited the idea that human nature has and always will remain the same. For this reason, he felt comfortable using examples from biblical times to illustrate his points of view. According to Machiavelli’s logic, all the characteristics he wrote of are found in humans today, because their instincts will never change. He concedes that there are exceptions where people are capable of doing benevolent or amazing feats, but by and large, he viewed people as ungrateful, covetous, and insecure creatures. (Wood, p.506-507) This outlook on mankind was in part a product of personal observations. It also takes roots in the medieval church doctrine which said that Original Sin prevented the existence of pure moral behavior amongst common people. (C2.)


Machiavelli acknowledged that in the past many brilliant men had attempted to simplify government into a formula. According to him, the most important reason why his theories are superior to their prior theories is that they are not dependent on people always acting morally and virtuously. Machiavelli has no doubt that it would be preferable to live in a world of people with perfect morals, but that world is a fantasy, and as such, there is no need to dwell upon it. In the world we live in, a person puts himself at a severe disadvantage if he believes that everyone wants to do what is “right.” Machiavelli affirms the value of a ruler who appears admirable, and also is admirable, but a sovereign body who intends to stay sovereign has no choice but to act immorally on occasion when one’s power is at stake. (C2.)

“VIRTU”. The Italian word, “virtu” pertains to strength of character and force of will rather than righteousness, as in English. Machiavelli believed that to successfully run a government one needed great ability and bravery. In The Prince he cites Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus as being the quintessential leaders with “virtu.” To set the foundations of a successful people an individual ruler, like a dictator or a monarch, must exhibit “virtu” of the highest form. (C2.)

FORTUNE. Either acting as a friend or enemy of “virtu” is the presence of fortune. In every endeavor, we take on as humans, there exist certain factors that cannot be controlled by any man, including those with a vast amount of virtue. Despite Machiavelli’s affirmation that the ruler with great talent and intellect is better off than those without, Machiavelli has no choice but to concede to the fact that there is a side to life over which we have little or no control. Although problems arising from variables such as transportation, lack of communication, and many infectious diseases, have diminished considerably with the help of technology, unexpected events occur very often in the modern age. As a result, people find themselves in positions regardless of their “virtue.” (C2.)

“PATRIOTISM”  The final theme which Machiavelli stressed is “patriotism”. Machiavelli’s final way to reach your personal goal is to convince others to work for your goal. Machiavelli lived in an age of military uncertainties. Armies of France, Spain, and Germany were engaged in a constant battle for complete control over Italy. He believed that the deciding factor in a military struggle was “patriotism’. (C2.) A king with an army of ten thousand whose men only fight with half their passion and heart can easily be beaten by an army of six thousand who give all they have on the battlefield. This idea of giving you all in the name of your homeland is very prevalent in the modern Olympics. The man who can endure more pain and push himself to the best of his ability will bring honor to his country. (C1) According to Machiavelli, if a prince is mindful of all these themes in every action he makes he will achieve personal success. (C2)

As was said in section 2, Machiavelli defines personal success for a prince, as maintaining power and managing your people to your personal best interests. (Strathern, p.6) Section four- Machiavelli in Business. The goal of business is to gain profit. To do this a company will advertise, give away free samples, lower prices, or do just about anything that is within the constraints of the law. (V, p.81) (Of course, it is unrealistic to expect all businesses to do as the law says, but by breaking the law a business runs a high risk of having the courts cut into your profits. For this reason, we can say that breaking the law is not a sound business decision, and need not discuss it further.) (McAlpine, p.64)

HUMAN NATURE. Regardless of their position in the business world, be they a simple secretary or a chairman of a board, “getting ahead and staying ahead” is a goal that consumes all those who have hopes and ambitions. ( One might say, it is human nature to strive for more). This passionate struggle to win a personal “pot of gold” (and the power and influence that come with it), drives people to use whatever means necessary to get what they want. If you are not willing to take whatever action is necessary to win success, then you will not achieve it. (V, p. XI)

THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE IDEAL AND THE REAL. In theory, the company with a better product at a better price should have all the business. In reality, the image of a company is oftentimes more important than it’s product or price. It is best if you have a famous name as well as a good product, but if that is not possible one would rather have a famous name. Even if your product is not better than that of your opponent you want your customers to think that it is. You will find yourself soon out of business if you do not realize that a better product is not a surefire path to success. (McAlpine, p.165-173)

“VIRTU”. No one disputes that a person can make it in business through hard work. As children, we are taught that people who do the best job will succeed. Although we know this is not always true, generally, a person who is lazy and not productive can’t go anywhere in the business. If you are willing to put in hours of overtime, doing your job better than anyone else, people will notice. (McAlpine, p.7-10) FORTUNE. If you are born into a family with a business you may be assured a position in the business. It takes virtue to maintain that position, but many people receive their position by mere fate. This is oftentimes a problem, that under-qualified people are guaranteed a job because of who they are and who they know. (McAlpine, p.27).

“PATRIOTISM” (C2.) “Loyalty” is of the utmost importance in business. If employers have great faith in their employees’ commitment to the business they do not need to be constantly reviewing the employees’ work. The employers are able to make better use of their time. Conversely, if the employees are secure in the commitment of the employer to their workers, they will not need to worry about losing their job and can devote their time to doing their job. On the whole loyal workers make a more efficient and secure company. (McAlpine, p.89)

Conclusion. Machiavelli’s work was the product of a common life much like the majority of people today. All the main themes in The Prince run parallel to the main themes in the business world, just in the same way that Machiavelli’s individualistic thoughts are present in modern society. These are just a few of the many ways in which Machiavelli’s work can be a guiding force in people’s lives today. (Hart, p.I) My intentions in this essay were neither to glorify all of Machiavelli’s tactics for success or to vilify him as the spawn of Satan, as many have done. The true aim of this essay was to clarify the meaning of his work. It goes without saying that a man should not literally kill people to gain power in life, but rather metaphorically kill them with smart thinking and sound judgment.

His work is very useful to anyone at any time in history, just as long as his message is kept in perspective. Machiavelli never suggested that amoral behavior ought to be a way of life. He simply suggested that desperate times call for desperate measures. (McAlpine, p.XII) At one point in The Prince, Machiavelli is quoted as saying, “…do like the prudent archers who, the place where they intend to wound seeming too far, and knowing how far the virtue of their bow reaches, aim much higher than the destined place, not to reach such height with their arrow, but in order to be able to attain their design with the aid of such high aim.” (Machiavelli, p.21) This quote basically sums up the message that is relevant to people today, set a goal, and do whatever you need to do to attain it. Machiavelli’s writing was not about being a tyrant. It was a formula for getting things done.

Machiavelli’s name has over time become synonymous with evil deeds and deceitful actions, (Wood, p.510) because he was the first person to create theories about this subject using a rational world view. His idea of government was dependent on individualism and the idea that people control their path in life, rather than God. (C3.) Although he agreed with the Church that humans are sinful, he did not arrive at this conclusion by the Word of God. Only after careful observation of the people around him, and the application of logic did he come to this conclusion.


Example #6

The Prince, written by Niccolo Machiavelli, is one of the first examinations of politics and science from a purely scientific and rational perspective. Machiavelli theorizes that the state is only created if the people cooperate and work to maintain it. The state is also one of man’s greatest endeavors, and the state takes precedence over everything else. The state should be one’s primary focus and maintaining the sovereignty of the state one’s most vital concern. The state is founded on the power of its military. Therefore, a strong military is vital to maintaining the state. Machiavelli believes that men respect to power, but they will take advantage of kindness. He believes that when given the opportunity one must destroy completely because if one does not he will certainly be destroyed.

The prince should lead the military, and he has to be intelligent. An effective politician can make quick and intelligent choices about the problems that constantly arise before him. He must also have virtue, which means he is strong, confident, talented, as well as smart. A prince cannot be uncertain, because uncertainty is a sign of weakness. Fortune controls half of the human actions, and man will control the other half. Virtue is the best defense for fortune, and virtue must be used in order to keep the fortune in check. The prince must take advantage of situations based solely on if it is best for the state. He should choose his decisions based on contemporary and historical examples.

A prince cannot consider whether his acts are moral or immoral, and he instead must act in an unbiased manner for the state. Also, it does not matter how the state achieves its goals, as long as these goals are achieved. Finally, regardless of the personal morality involved, the prince should be praised if he does good for the state and berated if he hurts the state. Machiavelli’s principles have widespread influence and they are quite similar to some of Thomas Hobbes’s ideas in Leviathan. Machiavelli has a very low opinion of the people throughout history. In general, he feels that men are “ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers.” “They shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you but when you are in danger they turn against you.”

Machiavelli basically has little respect for the people, and he feels as though they have not earned much either. He uses this as a justification for the use of fear in order to control people. He also feels that men are “wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them.” This sense of fairness justifies breaking one’s word to men. Machiavelli also writes about how hard it must be for a prince to stay virtuous. He concludes that with so many wretched men around virtue is hard to create in oneself. “The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.” Overall, Machiavelli is very pessimistic about the abilities of the people. He feels that after examining people through history, his conclusions of wretched men are correct.

Machiavelli tells us that the sovereign must take whatever action is necessary to maintain order in society. In time this will result in the most compassionate choice too. Machiavelli explains that Cesare Borgia, by using cruelty was able to achieve order and obedience in Romagna. This contrasts with the inaction of the Florentines, who allowed the internal conflict to develop in Pistoia, resulting in the devastation of the city. Therefore, a number of highly visible executions can be a very effective means of controlling the people and preventing a major outbreak of violence and murder. Machiavelli also cites the tremendous military successes of Hannibal. Even though Hannibal led an army of different races over foreign soil, he never had any dissension because of his reputation for extreme cruelty.

Machiavelli further concludes that it is difficult to be loved and feared simultaneously. Hence, one should always prefer to be feared than to be loved. During adverse times, the fear of punishment is far more effective in maintaining control than defending people’s goodwill and love. Finally, excessive leniency will lead to ruin, because leniency is seen as a sign of weakness. A good historical example was when Scipio’s armies mutinied against him in Spain. Machiavelli talks consistently about the Roman empire and its rulers. Particularly, he stresses the importance of having a strong army and popular support by the army and people. The Roman emperors proved to us many times that a ruler who is perceived to be weak is the most vulnerable to attack.

Alexander Severus was controlled by his mother and considered feminine by his troops. He was a good ruler, but it was this appearance of weakness that led his troops to kill him. Antonius Caracalla is another example of an erroneous ruler. He was a very strong military leader who was a great fighter. Unfortunately, he became an incredibly cruel and harsh ruler over time, and he was hence killed by a centurion. Machiavelli also includes the country of Italy in much of his writings. He hopes to reclaim the land which has been taken away from them. He feels that Italian princes have lost their states because they have not had armed people. Machiavelli tells us that an “armed population is a stable population”. The Italian princes also have not acted quickly, as a real prince should act. Julius II did act quickly, and Machiavelli attributes this to his success. In reality, the whole purpose behind Machiavelli’s writing The Prince was to try and help Italy free itself from foreign domination.

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The Prince has been an incredibly important book. It was written in the 1500s, but much of it still applies today. The book also has influenced many people in history. Many philosophers credit Machiavelli with leading the way in political science. They say this because he was the first person to take a rational approach to analyze government and politics. Many of Machiavelli’s critics would say that he is too harsh in his ideas and that he even seems immoral. The truth is Machiavelli is only being honest with what he has observed consistently in history to be true. The effect of his writing is still found today too. People still need virtue in order to be a good ruler or manager. Success is still to those who can make quick and intelligent choices. The government is still supported most by its amount of power. However, countries are held accountable today, and few would agree that the end justifies the means as Machiavelli wrote. Overall, Machiavelli’s work has lasted through the years, and it has proven to be a classic piece of literature by standing the test of time.


Example #7 – A Comparison of the Philosophies of Machiavelli and Aristotle

The conflict between the ideal and reality has long been the center of the debate in the history of political philosophy. Many famous philosophers have constructed an imaginary world upon which their entire theories are based. They believe an ideal model of the state, which serves as the final goal of human society, can guide people on the correct way to achieve the goal. Therefore investigation of this final goal is more important than any other topic. However, there are still some thinkers, such as Machiavelli, who doubt the feasibility of such ideal states. They believe that without developing reliable methods of achieving the goal from our daily experience, the end is unattainable and thus useless. Practical methodology, rather than the ideal model, is what we can control and experiment on. It is interesting to compare different roads that Aristotle and Machiavelli undertake to achieve what they believe is the most important thing through their political thoughts.

Among these practical thinkers, Machiavelli has the greatest influence on later generations. He believes that people do not follow philosophers’ prescriptive instructions on what they should do, but act according to their own interests. He says in The Prince that “the gap between how people actually behave and how they ought to behave is so great that anyone who ignores everyday reality in order to live up to an ideal will soon discover he has been taught how to destroy himself, not how to preserve himself” (48). This quote arises from his belief that men in nature are selfish and strive only for their own interests. Life is a process of pursuing one’s own desires; once one stops pursuing, his life comes to an end. He bitterly satirizes men’s nature that “men are quicker to forget the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance” (52). People will not forget the wrongs they suffered from you even when you are doing good to them (38). Men are less nervous of offending someone who makes himself lovable, than someone who makes himself frightening (52).

He thinks that what people want is, on the condition that they are safe, to preserve their own property and acquire more things that people “are ungrateful, fickle, deceptive and deceiving, avoiders of danger, eager to gain” (52). Machiavelli concludes that men’s desire for power and property is infinite, while actual power and property are limited by natural conditions; therefore, people are always in a condition of competition. To some extent, individual interest is the highest value in the society he lived in; everything other than the end interest of his extreme individualism is meaningless. Machiavelli’s political philosophy and policies are all based on the premise that men in nature are selfish and wicked. This view also lays one of the foundations of Hobbes’ philosophy system that the right of nature is “the liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature” (Chap XIV, 1) and the state of nature is the state of war.

In contrast to Machiavelli’s theory of human nature, Aristotle states “a human being is by nature a political animal” (1253a2-3), meaning an animal with an innate propensity to develop complex communities. He also thinks “a human being is more of a political animal than a bee” (1253a8-9) because they are naturally equipped for life is a type of community that is itself “more quintessentially political” than a beehive, namely, a household or city-state (Politics, xlviii). What enables human beings to live in such communities is the ability for rational speech, which is peculiar to human beings. For rational speech “is for making clear what is beneficial or harmful, and hence also what is just or unjust… and it is a community in these that makes a household and a city-state” (1253a16-7). Also in The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle suggests that the defining characteristic of human beings is rationality, as he states “the function of man is an activity of soul which follows or implies a rational principle” (1098a2-4).

As a political animal, man thrives in his rationality—most fully in the making of laws and traditions, which means sacrifice one’s own interest to help others. Aristotle points out that people naturally form a city-state in order to achieve self-sufficiency and live well. In a community, individuals must care about others and sometimes even lay down their own rights for the good of the community. It is rationality that tells one to make such altruistic sacrifices since one knows he depends on the community. This sacrifice, which arises from self-interest and develops beyond self-interest, forms the most primitive and innate goodness of human nature in Aristotelian theory. It is worth noting that Machiavelli thinks that the power of rulers is given by election of his subjects, and later becomes hereditary. There is no divine right of kings. He gets rid of Augustine and Aquinas’ political theory of divine power, expelling the Catholic philosophy out of the regime of politics.

He applies his theory of human nature to find out the natural order of states through rational deduction and empirical evidence. Throughout The Prince, he uses over 78 different examples to prove his political theory, ranging from Carthage to Turkey, from ancient Greece to modern Italy, from small military leaders to Roman Emperors. Moreover, in each of his claims, he starts from the analysis of a certain situation and develops his theory by applying psychoanalysis. Sometimes he even applies game theory when discussing the behavior of two opposing sides, due to his assumption that people act on their own interest and care about their preservation. When he talks about why rulers do not need to fear the assassination of their conspirators, he applies game theory to the issue of whether a conspirator’s associate should betray him and whether the people will turn on him even if the conspiracy succeeds. He abandons the incomplete induction and harangue without the logic of Aquinas and Augustine in favor of a strictly scientific process of reasoning. This is one of the reasons why Machiavelli’s theory is so popular.

Behind the difference between Aristotle and Machiavelli’s human nature theory lies a more fundamental conflict. Machiavelli’s political philosophy is based on his own experience of affairs, concerned to set forth the means to assigned ends. He believes that we should be concerned more about the means rather than ends since it is futile to pursue a political purpose by methods that are bound to fail; “if the end is held good, we must choose means adequate to its achievement” (Russell, 510). Moreover, the question of means can be treated in a purely scientific manner, with little regard to the goodness or badness of the ends. In Chapter Seven of The Prince, Machiavelli describes in detail how Cesare Borgia comes to power and carefully examines every step that Cesare Borgia has undertaken.

From the passage, we can tell Machiavelli acknowledges that the Duke is bloody and harsh, but he still praises him unrestrainedly that he “cannot think of any better example [he] could offer a new ruler than that of [Cesare Borgia’s] actions” (22). It must be supposed that Machiavelli’s admiration of Cesare Borgia was only for his skill, not for his purposes. The stories of Agathocles and Oliverotto also exemplify Machiavelli’s admiration of skillful means to acquire power, though he regards their means as “wicked actions” (27). Machiavelli feels that as long as the end is justified, one can choose whatever means to achieve the goal. On the other hand, whatever means that can help achieve the end are justified. He comments on political conspiracy and violence positively and proves any means, however ferocious, brutal, and wicked, can be used to acquire and preserve power.

He depicts the pope Alexander VI thusly “now look at how this honorable pope pays his debts: he simply canceled them all” (37) and suggests that nobody thinks the pope’s action is despicable. He also shows that ruling is a kind of art and that in order to unite Italy, one has to rely on power to overcome the obstacles. As a teleologist, Aristotle was concerned more about ends instead of means. Politics begins by pointing out the importance of the city-state, the highest kind of community aimed at the highest good. To him, every form of community and government aims for some good. Aristotle in Book III Chapter Nine claims: “households and families live well as a community whose end is a complete and self-sufficient life” (1280b33-4) and “the city-state must be concerned with virtue” (1280b6-7).

Aristotle further shows the end of virtue in Book VII Chapter Eight that “happiness is the best thing, however, and it is some sort of activation or complete exercise of virtue” (1328a36-7). Happiness, or eudaimonia, is regarded by Aristotle as “final and self-sufficient and is the end of action” in The Nicomachean Ethics (1097b20-1) and politics is the science of the good for man to achieve eudaimonia as in Politics, “the greatest and best good is the end of the science or craft that has the most authority of all of them, and this is the science of statesmanship; but the political good is justice, and justice is a common benefit” (1282b14-7). It’s not hard to see that Aristotle’s politics for virtue has several meanings. First, in ethics, politics is the science to attain happiness for the majority, which is opposite to violent and evil rule Machiavelli suggests. Next, in ideal, politics strives for justice, which is the sole measure of the government, rather than the acquisition of power for Machiavelli.

In addition, Machiavelli believes situational, which is opposed to Aristotle’s theory of moral character. Machiavelli thinks that people react to situations where they find they are in, rather than to some internal state. He is always prudent not to give general conclusions, but to discuss each possible situation and analyze its outcome. When talking about how to avoid hatred and contempt, he divides the situations into whether one is a new ruler or has inherited power, whether the soldiers are stronger or the populace, and whether one has a large territory or not. He is careful that political policies are determined by many factors and one should “adapt himself to changing circumstances” (75). However, Aristotle thinks people’s actions are not random.

People habituate themselves and become virtuous by doing virtuous actions, as in The Nicomachean Ethics, he says “to virtue belongs virtuous activity” (1098b31-2). Thus he believes it is people’s moral character that determines their behavior rather than inconstant external situations. Nevertheless, the two great philosophers hold something in common, partly because Machiavelli, especially his Discourses, was largely influenced by Aristotle. First, their methodologies are both scientific and concerned with reasoning. Second, Machiavelli seems to agree upon some ends that are worth pursuing—national independence, security, and a well-ordered constitution. The two things, love of skill and patriotic desire for Italian unity, existed side by side in his mind, which can be seen from the final exhortation to unite Italy in The Prince.

Aristotle also differs from his teacher Plato in that he is more concerned with the feasibility of a political theory. In Politics, he emphasizes that “what is the best constitution, and what is the best life for most city-states and most human beings, judging not by a kind of education that requires natural gifts and resources that depend on luck, nor by the ideal constitution, but by a life that most people can share and a constitution in which most city-states can participate” (1295a25-30). This is totally different from Plato’s utopia designed for “philosophy kings”. In this sense, Aristotle can be called the founder of practical and realistic political philosophy and a critical heir of his teacher’s rational and idealistic political philosophy.

Having examined all these similarities and differences between the two philosophers, it is time to discuss the question raised at the beginning of this essay about whether political philosophy should care more about reality or ideal models. Aristotle and Machiavelli’s divergence on the ends or the means also derives from this question. In Machiavelli’s view, the means pave the road towards the end and its consequences are foreseeable. However, since we can only conduct thought experiments on the ideal model of states, we cannot apply scientific methodology to examine its correctness; thus it is rather risky to follow the guide of an ideal model. Therefore he gradually neglects the transcendental moral requirements behind the political theory and emphasizes the procedural justice of government, rather than substantial justice, cutting off the relationship between politics and ethics.

This moral indifference leads to astray modern politics into pettiness. In this sense, it is essential to recover the transcendental role of virtue in politics. To Aristotle, only the concept of virtue can give a republic substantial justice in addition to procedural justice and free individual human rights from political interests. Compared to Machiavelli, Aristotle’s political philosophy is between ideal and reality. His political ideal was quite at one with Plato’s in setting up an ethical purpose as the chief end of the city-state, but Aristotle suggests that the ideal need be embodied in practice to be valid. He is trying to reconcile the discrepancy between ideal and reality in order to find a political philosophy that can truly guide the Greeks.

It is surprising to see Aristotle and Machiavelli have developed different paths of their philosophy noticing that Renaissance Italy is so much like classical Greece both with warring principalities and cities. Thus the Greek philosophers owe their theoretical education to the wars of petty states just as Machiavelli learned his lesson in the ceaseless conflicts among the five States of Italy and foreign powers. Among the many reasons Machiavelli and Aristotle differ in their political philosophy while sharing similar political environment, the most important one is due to the influence of the Renaissance.

With the diminishing authority of the Church and the increasing authority of science, Machiavelli’s scientific and empirical political philosophy earns its fame. In Machiavelli’s time, there was a growing cynicism, which makes men forgive anything if it pays money to them. The Italian Renaissance awakens the bright side of humanity as well as the dark side as “people tend to become unscrupulous egoists” (Sabine 321). “Admiration of skill, and of the actions that lead to fame, was very great at the time of the Renaissance” (Russell, 507). The universal egoism of that period resulted in Machiavelli’s moral indifference.


Example #8 – Is Machiavelli an Immoral Teacher of Evil?

This essay will consider whether or not Machiavelli was a teacher of evil, with specific reference to his text The Prince. It shall first be shown what it was that Machiavelli taught and how this can only be justified by consequentialism. It shall then be discussed whether consequentialism is a viable ethical theory, in order that it can justify Machiavelli’s teaching. Arguing that this is not the case, it will be concluded that Machiavelli is a teacher of evil. To begin, it shall be shown what Machiavelli taught or suggested be adopted in order for a ruler to maintain power. To understand this, it is necessary to understand the political landscape of the period. The Prince was published posthumously in 1532 and was intended as a guidebook to rulers of principalities.

Machiavelli was born in Italy and, during that period, there were many wars between the various states which constituted Italy. These states were either republics (governed by an elected body) or principalities (governed by a monarch or single ruler). The Prince was written and dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici who was in charge of Florence which, though a republic, was autocratic, like a principality. Machiavelli’s work aimed to give Lorenzo de Medici advice to rule as an autocratic prince. (Nederman, 2014) The ultimate objective to which Machiavelli aims in The Prince is for a prince to remain in power over his subjects. Critics who claim that Machiavelli is evil do not hold this view, necessarily, because of this ultimate aim, but by the way in which Machiavelli advises achieving it. This is because, to this ultimate end, Machiavelli holds that no moral or ethical expense needs to be spared.

This is the theme that runs constantly through the work. For example, in securing rule over the subjects of a newly acquired principality, which was previously ruled by another prince, Machiavelli writes: “… to hold them securely enough is to have destroyed the family of the prince who was ruling them.” (Machiavelli, 1532: 7). That is, in order to govern a new principality, it is necessary that the family of the previous prince is “destroyed”. Further, the expense of morality is not limited to physical acts, such as the murder advised, but deception and manipulation. An example of this is seen in that Machiavelli claims: “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.

And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful.” (Machiavelli, 1532: 81). Here, Machiavelli is claiming that virtues are necessary to a ruler only insomuch as the ruler appears to have them. However, to act only by the virtues will be, ultimately, detrimental to the maintenance of the ruler, as they may often have to act against the virtues to quell a rebellion, for example. A prince must be able to appear just, so that he is trusted, but actually not be so, in order that he may maintain his dominance. In all pieces of advice, Machiavelli claims that it is better to act in the way he advises, for to do otherwise would lead to worse consequences: the end of the rule. The defense which is to be made for Machiavelli, then, must come from a consequentialist viewpoint.

The consequentialist theory argues that the morality of an action is dependent upon its consequences. If the act or actions create consequences that, ultimately, are better (however that may be measured) than otherwise, the action is good. However, if a different action could, in that situation, have produced better consequences, then the action taken would be immoral. The classic position of consequentialism is utilitarianism. First argued for by Bentham, he claimed that two principles govern mankind “ pleasure and pain“ and it is to achieve the former and avoid the latter that determines how we act (Bentham, 1789: 14). This is done either on an individual basis or a collective basis, depending on the situation.

In the first of these cases, the good action is the one that gives the individual the most pleasure or the least pain. In the second of these cases, the good action is the one that gives the collective group the most pleasure or the least pain. The collective group consists of individuals, and therefore the good action will produce the most pleasure if it does so for the most amount of people (Bentham, 1789: 15). Therefore, utilitarianism claims that an act is good if its consequences to produce the greatest amount of happiness (or pleasure) for the greatest amount of people, or avoid the greatest amount of unhappiness (or pain) for the greatest amount of people. This, now outlined, can be used to defend Machiavelli’s advice.

If the ultimate goal is achieved, the consequence of the prince remaining in power must cause more happiness for more of his subjects than would otherwise be the case if he lost power. Secondly, the pain and suffering caused by the prince on the subjects whom he must murder/deceive/steal from must be less than the suffering which would be caused should he lose power. If these two criteria can be satisfied, then consequentialism may justify Machiavelli. Further, it is practically possible that such a set of circumstances could arise; it is conceivable that it could be the case that the suffering would be less should the prince remain in power. Italy, as stated, at that time, was in turmoil and many wars were being fought.

A prince remaining in power would also secure internal peace for a principality and the subjects. A prince who lost power would leave the land open to attacks and there would be greater suffering for the majority of the populous. On the subject, Machiavelli writes: “As there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws.” (Machiavelli, 1532: 55) This highlights the turmoil of the world at that time, and the importance of power, both military and lawful, for peace. Machiavelli, in searching for the ultimate end for the prince retaining his power, would also secure internal peace and defense of the principality. This would therefore mean that there would be less destruction and suffering for the people. Defended by consequentialism, the claim that Machiavelli is evil becomes an argument against this moral theory.

The criticisms against consequentialism are manifold. A first major concern against consequentialism is that it justifies actions that seem to be intuitively wrong, such as murder or torture, on not just an individual basis, but on a mass scale. Take the following example: in a war situation, the only way to save a million and a half soldiers is to kill a million civilians. Consequentialism justifies killing a million civilians as the suffering will be less than if a million and a half soldiers were to die. If consequentialism must be used in order to justify Machiavelli’s teachings, it must therefore be admitted that this act of mass murder, in the hypothetical situation, would also be justified. A second major concern is that it uses people as means, rather than ends, and this seems to be something which is intuitively incorrect, as evidenced in the trolley problem.

The trolley problem is thus: a train, out of control, is heading towards five workers on the track. The driver has the opportunity to change to another track, on which there is a single worker. Thomson argues it would be “morally permissible” to change track and kill the one (Thomson, 1985: 1395). However, the consequentialist would here state that “morality requires you” to change track (Thomson, 1985: 1395), as there is less suffering in one dying than in five deaths. The difference between these two stances is to be noted. Thomson then provides another situation: the transplant problem. A surgeon is able to transplant any body part to another without failure. In the hospital the surgeon works at, five people are in need of a single organ, without which they will die. Another person, visiting for a check-up, is found to be a complete match for all the transplants needed.

Thomson asks whether it would be permissible for the surgeon to kill the one and distribute their organs for those who would die (Thomson, 1985: 1395-1396). Though she claims that it would not be morally permissible to do so, those who claimed that changing tracks in the trolley problem would be a moral requirement – the consequentialists – would also have to claim that murdering the one to save five would also be a moral requirement, as the most positive outcome would be given to the most people. Herein lies the major concern for a consequentialist, and therefore Machiavelli’s defense: that consequentialism justifies using people as means to an end, and not an end within themselves. A criticism of this is famously argued for by Kant, who claims that humans are rational beings, and we do not state that they are “things”, but instead call them “persons” (Kant, 1785: 46).

Only things can permissibly be used only as a means, and not persons, who are in themselves an end (Kant, 1785: 46). To use a person merely as a means rather than an end is to treat them as something other than a rational agent which, Kant claims, is immoral. This now must be applied to Machiavelli. In advising the murder and deception of others, he is advocating treating people as merely a means, by using them in order to obtain the ultimate end of retaining power. Though this ultimate end may bring about greater peace, and therefore a pleasure for a greater amount of people, it could be argued that the peace obtained does not outweigh the immoral actions required in creating this peace. Further, it must also be discussed whether Machiavelli’s teaching is in pursuit of a prince retaining power in order to bring about peace, or whether it is in pursuit of retaining power simply that the prince may retain power.

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The former option may be justifiable if consequentialism is accepted. However, this may not the case for the latter, even if peace is obtained. Machiavelli’s motives will never be truly known. Such a problem as this demonstrates further criticisms of consequentialism, and therefore Machiavelli himself. If he was advising to achieve power for the sake of achieving power, he would not be able to justify the means to this end without the end providing a consequentialist justification – if, ultimately, the prince retains power but there is not a larger amount of pleasure than would otherwise be the case. To pursue power in order to promote peace is perhaps justifiable. However, as is a major concern with the normative approach of consequentialism, the unpredictability of consequences can lead to unforeseen ends. The hypothetical prince may take Machiavelli’s advice, follow it to the letter, and produce one of three outcomes:

  • Power is obtained and peace is obtained.
  • Power is obtained but peace is not obtained.
  • Neither power nor peace is obtained.

Only in the first of these outcomes can there be any consequentialist justification. However, this then means that there are two possible outcomes in which there cannot be a consequentialist justification, and it is impossible to know, truly, which outcome will be obtained. This is the criticism of both Machiavelli and consequentialism: that the risk involved in acting is too great, with such a chance of failure and therefore unjustifiable actions when it is impossible to truly know the outcomes of actions. The nature of the risk is what makes this unjustifiable, in that the risk is against human life, wellbeing, and safety.

Machiavelli condones using people as merely a means to an end without the guarantee of a positive end by a consequentialist justification. In conclusion, it has been briefly demonstrated what Machiavelli put forward as his teachings. It was further shown how the only justification for Machiavelli’s teachings is a consequentialist approach. However, criticisms put against Machiavelli and consequentialism, such as the justification of mass atrocities, using people as means to ends, and the unpredictability of the pragmatic implementation, show it to fail as an acceptable justification of his teachings. Therefore, it is concluded that Machiavelli is a teacher of evil.


Example #9 – Machiavelli and People’s View of a Ruler and the Power

Have you ever wondered why Hitler had so much power? Niccolo Machiavelli was born during the Italian renaissance period. Some major events prior to Machiavelli’s life in Florence include the “White” and “Black” feuds (around 1260s), the introduction of the “‘fiorino d’oro’ of the Republic of Florentine,” the Black Death (1349), the subjugation of Florence’s enemy Pisa, and a revolt against the oligarchy system of government, known as “the revolt of the ciompi.” Some global events around the time of Machiavelli’s lifetime include; the European renaissance, the conquering of Cuba, the Aztecs, and the Incas by Spain, the life and influence of Vasco da Gama and Leonardo da Vinci, Martin Luther challenging the church, (which started the roots of Protestant religions) and Ferdinand Magellan finding the truth that the earth is actually round. The current government during Machiavelli’s life was a republic (now we would call it a democracy.)

It had since been a monarchy until the Medici family was overthrown. During Machiavelli’s lifetime, it seemed all politicians believed that there was an important connection between keeping good standards and justifiable power. Apparently, as a ruler, you deserved obedience and the dignity of your subjects only if you proved to them that you had respectable or admirable values and were of good character. People would remember you as a good ruler solely based on your sense of good nature or personality quality. Niccolo Machiavelli changed the world through his ideas, influence, and accomplishments.

Machiavelli is important because he made a major impact on politics and leaders/rulers and helped shape the idea of political science. On May 3, of the year 1469, a major political figure was born in Florence, Italy. Niccolo Machiavelli worked for the city of Florence, fulfilling its political needs with other major parts of his country. Sadly, in 1527, on June 21, Machiavelli passed away. Machiavelli came from a long line of wealthy and successful family members. His father however was not as rich and didn’t have a higher-up job. He studied law and worked on a small property in Florentine. Machiavelli, in his early years, was well- taught Latin by Paolo da Ronciglione.

As he got older, he is said to have studied at The University of Florentine and gained a humanist education. Niccolo Machiavelli probably gained his knowledge from the books in his father’s library and Marcello Virgilio Adriani. Machiavelli received inspiration through Marcello Virgilio Adriani, Girolamo Savonarola, and Piero Soderini. He might have decided his career or future life based on a meeting with the Second Chancellor of the Republic of Florence. Machiavelli traveled to different important parts of Italy for almost 15 years practicing political motion, and gaining his inspiring craft, techniques, and knowledge. Supposedly, Machiavelli was known to have had a knack for evaluating human personal qualities and political laws or practices. He eventually emerged into the position of the head of the second chancery where he was in charge of the “republic’s foreign affairs.”

It was a mystery to most how he filled such an honorable and high-up position when he hadn’t been an apprentice beforehand. Many doubt that Machiavelli didn’t receive any actual training for his position. Although Machiavelli might not have had a full and proper education/ training or come from a good family, that didn’t stop him from accomplishing many important things in his life. What Machiavelli did that was amazing was the influence and transition diplomats to the use of political science not political philosophy and of course, write his book The Prince. Machiavelli was a brilliant diplomatic writer. Some of his great works include The Prince and Discourses on The First Ten Books of Titus. Some of his books are The Art of War and The Florentine History.

Machiavelli also had his turn of writing plays, in The Mandrake. Machiavelli is most famously known to all from his book The Prince. The Prince is criticized for being a book of evil, and the content certainly is malicious, however, that is probably why this book was so important. After Machiavelli retired from his diplomatic career, he decided to publish The Prince to grab attention from the Medici family. Supposedly, the Prince was written in hopes of getting recognized for his diplomatic skill and offered a job by the Medicis. However, the Prince did not get attention overnight. Even after Machiavelli devoted the book the Lorenzo de’ Medici (who was in current power), there was still no fascination in it like there is now. Lorenzo might not even read it. But, Machiavelli’s writing/rhetoric skill would soon be recognized. It wasn’t until Lorenzo died in 1519, that Giulio de’ Medici helped Machiavelli. Giulio recognized Machiavelli’s writing skill and granted him the opportunity to create The Florentine History and granted him diplomatic assignments.

Machiavelli was also a prominent diplomat. Machiavelli had shown a previous talent for this career at a young age before he decided on this occupation. Machiavelli was liked by the current ruler, so he received a job in the field of politics without any training for the position. The importance of Machiavelli lies in his impact on politics and leaders through his writing works. Before Machiavelli, most rulers and politicians believed that good moral standards and behavior was how you kept power, but Machiavelli changed the point of view. Machiavelli’s book influenced politics and politicians in a negative way. He preached that fear is more dependable in keeping power than love. This belief contributed to the downfall of a good statured figure and positive behavior of the ruler, being part of a nice reign and being respected by the subjects.

Machiavelli’s impact on others was on some leaders throughout history that read Machiavelli’s book The Prince. The leaders who took and used his advice are mostly dictators. One of them was a German dictator called Adolf Hitler. It is commonly known that Hitler’s ruling strategies were beyond evil, and these somewhat related to The Prince. However, Hitler, using Machiavelli’s strategies, was able to gain more power than almost anyone in history. Machiavelli’s works seem to have a more negative effect on the world. This affect proves to be a withstanding one. In a way, it seems that Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince has made it alright for rulers (because they are in charge) to not follow the rules. That is probably why most dictators through history are mostly evil and use fear to motivate their citizens to be obedient to them.

Machiavelli is still relevant today because his works and views of rulers seem to influence the way the world dictators rule their countries. Despite some historical figures, like Francis Bacon, who has tried to make his ideas not seem less cruel, in the hope to sort of clear his name, Machiavelli’s lasting legacy is still standing (by many) as a malicious diplomat. Because some rulers and dictators have taken Machiavelli’s advice, the effects on society and people might not be so good. First of all, it is a common view that your ruler is someone you can trust and is there to protect you and your rights. If your relationship is built on fear, how much trust will you have for that ruler, and if they will exile you if you stand in their way, then they probably aren’t looking out for you. Now Society and people won’t feel safe or supported. Also, rulers are supposed to be an example of their subjects.

So, a Machiavellian ruler might be sending the wrong message to his subjects that you don’t need to prove that you’re good because your morals and behavior aren’t what makes you good it’s your ability to stay in power; even if that means killing innocents in the process. Machiavelli has changed society and people’s view of a ruler and the power of the ruler for the worse. Even though Machiavelli’s ideas were malicious, we have to give him credit for his influence on dictators. He started a whole new chapter of history. Of course, these strategies certainly seem cruel, but it isn’t known whether or not that was Machiavelli’s intention.


Example #10 – interesting ideas

I have to write a comparison essay about The Prince by Machiavelli and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I can’t find common themes or a way to connect the two books. Any help? I have to write a comparison essay about The Prince by Machiavelli and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I can’t find common themes or a way to connect the two books. Any help?

Answer. Sparknotes lists the themes for both books. This would be the first place I would look for your essay.

What is the basis of power according to Machiavelli?

Answer. Machiavelli presents to his readers a vision of political rule purged of extraneous moralizing influences and fully aware of the foundations of politics in the effective exercise of power. The term that best captures Machiavelli’s vision of the requirements of power politics is virtù. While the Italian word would normally be translated into English as “virtue,” and would ordinarily convey the conventional connotation of moral goodness, Machiavelli obviously means something very different when he refers to the virtù of the prince. In particular, Machiavelli employs the concept of virtù to refer to the range of personal qualities that the prince will find it necessary to acquire in order to “maintain his state” and to “achieve great things,” the two standard markers of power for him.

This makes it brutally clear there can be no equivalence between the conventional virtues and Machiavellian virtù. Machiavelli expects princes of the highest virtù to be capable, as the situation requires, of behaving in a completely evil fashion. For the circumstances of political rule are such that moral viciousness can never be excluded from the realm of possible actions in which the prince may have to engage. Machiavelli’s sense of what it is to be a person of virtù can thus be summarized by his recommendation that the prince above all else must acquire a “flexible disposition.” That ruler is best suited for office, on Machiavelli’s account, who is capable of varying her/his conduct from good to evil and back again “as fortune and circumstances dictate” (Machiavelli 1965, 66).

It is not a coincidence that Machiavelli also uses the term virtù in his book The Art of War in order to describe the strategic prowess of the general who adapts to different battlefield conditions as the situation dictates. Machiavelli sees politics to be a sort of a battlefield on a different scale. Hence, the prince just like the general needs to be in possession of virtù, that is, to know which strategies and techniques are appropriate to what particular circumstances. Thus, virtù winds up being closely connected to Machiavelli’s notion of power. The ruler of virtù is bound to be competent in the application of power; to possess virtù is true to have mastered all the rules connected with the effective application of power. Virtù is to power politics what conventional virtue is to those thinkers who suppose that moral goodness is sufficient to be a legitimate ruler: it is the touchstone of political success.

What is the conceptual link between virtù and the effective exercise of power for Machiavelli? The answer lies with another central Machiavellian concept, Fortuna (usually translated as “fortune”). Fortuna is the enemy of political order, the ultimate threat to the safety and security of the state. Machiavelli’s use of the concept has been widely debated without a very satisfactory resolution. Suffice it to say that, as with virtù, Fortuna is employed by him in a distinctive way. Where conventional representations treated Fortuna as a mostly benign, if fickle, goddess, who is the source of human goods as well as evils, Machiavelli’s fortune is a malevolent and uncompromising fount of human misery, affliction, and disaster. While human Fortuna may be responsible for such success as human beings achieve, no man can act effectively when directly opposed by the goddess (Machiavelli 1965, 407-408).

Machiavelli’s most famous discussion of Fortuna occurs in Chapter 25 of The Prince, in which he proposes two analogies for understanding the human situation in the face of events. Initially, he asserts that fortune resembles “one of our destructive rivers which, when it is angry, turns the plains into lakes, throws down the trees and buildings, takes earth from one spot, puts it in another; everyone flees before the flood; everyone yields to its fury and nowhere can repel it.” Yet the furor of a raging river does not mean that its depredations are beyond human control: before the rains come, it is possible to take precautions to divert the worst consequences of the natural elements. “The same things happen about Fortuna,” Machiavelli observes, “She shows her power where virtù and wisdom do not prepare to resist her and directs her fury where she knows that no dykes or embankments are ready to hold her” (Machiavelli 1965, 90).

Fortuna may be resisted by human beings, but only in those circumstances where “virtù and wisdom” have already prepared for her inevitable arrival. Machiavelli reinforces the association of Fortuna with the blind strength of nature by explaining that political success depends upon the appreciation of the operational principles of Fortuna. His own experience has taught him that “it is better to be impetuous than cautious because Fortuna is a woman and it is necessary, in order to keep her under, to beat and maul her.” In other words, Fortuna demands a violent response from those who would control her.

Questions about Machiavelli?

  1.  Why might Machiavelli’s thought on “perspective” be so provocative during the Renaissance and after, and why are they still be important for us to understand today?
  2. Why might Machiavelli’s thoughts on “success” in the material world be so provocative during the Renaissance and after, and why might they still be important for us to understand today?
  3. Why might Machiavelli’s thoughts on “fortune” be so provocative during the Renaissance and after, and why might fortune still be important for us to understand today?

Answer. Niccolo Machiavelli had no major original ideas. Mere good fortune, or Fortuna, to be in the right place at the right time (and to begin with your last question), combined with his keen observational skills and magnificently concise yet fast-paced writing style, combined to produce the world’s first primer on how to gain and maintain political power at any cost to those subject to the good Prince. His reflections on the political realities of his own times remain relevant today because they are still in practice, the primary difference being the development of a so-called “civilized” society in which brutality by those in power against their own people is not viewed as legitimate (the concept of legitimacy being one of many key Machiavellian points you did not question yet remaining, to a large extent, surprisingly diverse in different cultures). Machiavelli compromised on the notions of good fortune and prowess as methods to achieve one’s goals, concluding they shared equal parts in the end result.

Luck as a means to success is an obvious stumbling block to most men’s self-perception by the simple issues of vanity and pride. True, Machiavelli’s worldview perspective, although he denied it in the sake of diplomacy and perhaps self-preservation, was that of anyone who aspired to political power in the 16th century, which was that any good Prince must possess certain qualities, chief among these being virtu, from which virtue is derived, but in the Renaissance, times was equated with “manliness, valor, worth, etc.” [Oxford English Dictionary, etymology.] In other words, being able to do that which must be done at the right time in order to seize or maintain power, whether the act is kind or murderous, honest or deceitful, peace or war.

At last, success was everything to Machiavelli, who only achieved it in death. Success by the most expeditious means is the theme of “The Prince.” That was just as hard to swallow in his day as it in ours, when world leaders kill their own people, lie to them like used-car dealers if they think they can get away with it, spy on them, and laugh all the way to the bank. And don’t think it doesn’t happen in the U.S.A. Look at the Patriot Act — a law passed by Congress with a name straight out of Machiavelli’s mouth: the art of invoking patriotism, although usually accomplished by more subtle methods such as staging your photo op in front of the flag.

How did the ideas of Machiavelli influenced events in European History?

Answer. -Machiavelli was born in Florence on May 5th, 1469. In his early years, he was exposed to an extremely chaotic time period with popes leading armies, powerful city-states falling one after another to foreign powers, and governments changing within the space of just weeks. As a student, Machiavelli was educated by the humanist ideals of the Renaissance and hence The Prince seems to be set with these ideals. Later in life, Machiavelli pursued a career within the government, where he was first a clerk, then an ambassador, and finally on a council responsible for diplomatic negotiations and military matters. He was placed in charge of the Florentine militia and was trusted with the protection of the city. Machiavelli did not trust mercenaries or paid armies and was much more comfortable with a citizen militia. He believed citizens would possess more loyalty and would not be motivated by money. Machiavelli was very devoted to the Florentine Republic and served it for many years.

Machiavelli’s The Prince has been incredibly influential since it was published 5 years after his death in 1532. It was written during the European Renaissance when intellect and the discussion of new ideas were widespread of the era. Machiavelli did not write The Prince to become famous but instead wrote his book to achieve a position in the new Italian government formed by the Medici family. The Prince was written as a political handbook for rulers and has been used this way for many centuries. The book has caused passionate debates and controversy since the day it was published and it appears that it will continue to do so. When The Prince was published, Italy was not a unified country but a compilation of city-states that were all fighting to gain power over one another. Machiavelli was greatly influenced and interested in the complicated nature of European politics.

Originally, Machiavelli played a large role in the anti-Medici government. When they came back into power Machiavelli was arrested and charged with conspiracy. He denied having anything to do with this and was eventually released. He retired to his estate in Sant’Andrea, Percussion, and began writing The Prince in an effort to compel the Medici government to reassess his allegiance to their political beliefs. Machiavelli’s ideas contained in The Prince are relatively straight forward, as he strove to provide practical, easily understood advice to Lorenzo De’Medici, to whom the book is dedicated. He did not write The Prince for literary acknowledgment but alternatively wrote it to prove his proficiency in the government in the western world and to offer advice on how to gain power and keep it efficient. Machiavelli strongly believed in the requirement of a strong leader in order to maintain domination for the benefit of citizens and not for individual advancement.

One of the main questions discussed in the book “is it better for a Prince to be loved or feared?” Machiavelli’s short answer is that it would be preferable to be loved and feared; however, the two simply can’t exist together. As a result, he says that it would be best to be feared and not loved. It is better to be feared than loved because as a leader it is your responsibility is to control and run the state and Machiavelli feels that to do so you need complete obedience from your people. Machiavelli does not believe in cruelty and he only warrants it for military use. This is because he believes that if you have a good military then you will have good laws. One of his most famous quotes helps explain this theory, “the presence of sound military forces indicates the presence of sound laws.”

Although the author believes it is better to be feared than loved, he recognized that a leader cannot be hated or it will lead to his downfall. Machiavelli advises that Princes should avoid being hated or despised, as the people’s allegiance is a better defense than building a fortress. Machiavelli was a traditional yet flexible thinker and writer who raised strong emotions in his literary works. He developed very insightful political concepts and theories outlined in The Prince. His theories on governing people have influenced historical and modern leaders. The word Machiavellian, which came from this book and from Machiavelli’s theories, means to be crude, cunning, and deceitful and this is exactly how Machiavelli thought the new prince should act.

Perhaps one of the most influential and controversial books in history, Machiavelli’s The Prince raises issues that are still debated centuries after its publication. Born in Florence in 1469, Machiavelli was intrigued with Florentine politics and government. His state administrative work in Florence took him on diplomatic missions to France and Rome. Outside the influence of the Medici family, Florence was ripe for Machiavelli to develop his political and military theories. In 1503, Machiavelli was given charge over Florence’s civil.


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