The Prince (1532)
By Niccolò Machiavelli
The Prince is a radical nonfiction text discussing how to be a “proper” ruler or leader. Niccolò Machiavelli addressed this text to Lorenzo de’ Medici (1492-1419). He explains what he considers the best way a prince should conduct himself and his state. He used the leadership of various rulers in history from the past to the present as examples and talked about what brought them success and failure. One of these great leadership examples is Alexander the Great. I would consider his teachings to be radical as he seems to support the concept of “using evil” for the greater good and that politics have its own set of values that are separate from the morals that we know and live by.
Now, I don’t agree with some of the things he suggests but I understand his reasoning as to why some actions are necessary to take as a ruler. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is sometimes necessary for a ruler to do evil acts to establish order and power. The purpose of these actions is to set an example within the state; however, one’s actions shouldn’t be excessive or continuous. If it is excessive, that is an abuse of power. Personally, I don’t like blood being shed when it comes to disagreements amongst people; thus, I would use reasoning and diplomatic discussions when settling disputes. Yet, I do understand that war is sometimes necessary.
Another political point that I had trouble accepting is that it’s better to be feared than loved; ideally, you want to have both. A ruler that is only loved could lead him to be seen as weak and other rulers can easily take advantage of him. If you are feared, you are respected and your laws will be followed by the people, but this would make you seem like a tyrant, unapproachable and unreasonable even if you don’t intend to be like that. However, Machiavelli suggests that a prince should establish being viewed as both feared and loved when ruling—that’s the best route to take since you will gain the respect and appreciation of the people easily.
One of the ideological concepts that I agree with is that a prince should never remain neutral in disputes but should always pick a side and declare his support to that side no matter if it’s the winning or losing side. Passivity seems like a great trait to have because you are remaining neutral and indifferent towards something. After all, you may not want to hurt someone or something, but there are situations where passivity could be seen as a negative trait. By not picking a side, you are not only hurting others but you are also self-sabotaging yourself. In this case, if a ruler decides not to side with a country when it comes to war, then the ruler is inviting himself to be subjugated by another country, and so you aren’t a great ruler if you are willing to be ruled by someone else.
The last point of emphasis I would like to make is the dangers of fortune. Machiavelli mentions that if a ruler relies too heavily on his own fortune or the fortune of another ruler or state, it will lead to one’s demise. This kind of reminds me of corporate business who focused only on profit as opposed to the well-being of his workers. If you aren’t properly taking care of your employees and only care about the profits being made from your business, it would lead your employees to not trust you and such negativity leads to strikes and disagreements about contracts and benefits.
I remember back in high school that I was forced to read this text for my world history course. My history teacher made Machiavelli sound like a radical nutcase and that we shouldn’t follow any of his political philosophy. Now that I am a bit older and I’m reading this text again, I kind of reached an understanding as to why Machiavelli proposed certain things about government and politics.
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