Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, a Florentine political philosopher and diplomat, wrote “The Prince” as a guide for rulers on how to maintain power and control in a politically unstable environment. The book was written in the early 16th century, during a time of political turmoil in Italy, as a way to advise leaders on how to gain and maintain power. Machiavelli also wrote the book to gain the favor of the ruling Medici family in Florence, in the hope of returning to political office.
Summary of the book “The Prince”:
The book is divided into 25 parts. The first 11 sections are about the craft of having power and hence order and control of the state. Machiavelli went against innate ruler as such ruler can’t fulfill the state’s needs. He advised that the conqueror immediately suppress opposition and support minority groups that were previously oppressed by the earlier ruler, as they will provide strong support if the majority of people resent opposition to the new conqueror. The following three parts are about the utilization of military power. Machiavelli underscored that the military should comprise of citizen soldiers, as those troops are loyal and dependable who fight to protect their country.
The following four parts are about the repulsive standing of the sovereign. Machiavelli advised that the ruler should get his power definitely and avoid too much freedom. A prince who is generous must publicize this fact and the people will soon hate a policy of lavish for they will realize that they themselves are paying for it. A ruler must not have kindness in his personality as his prime responsibility is to keep the state together.
The following seven parts are about the advices to sovereigns/rulers in regards to fortifying their powers. Machiavelli advised that a ruler should make a positive image in the personalities of individuals and they should have insight that the ruler is not entirely established, legitimate, and firm.
Centeral Idea of the book:
Machiavelli’s enduring impact on political philosophy is evident in his emphasis on the behaviors and qualities of rulers, which continues to influence present-day political thought. In “The Prince,” he offers an insightful and philosophical study of the political practices of his time from a European perspective. Machiavelli emphasizes the importance of a ruler’s reputation, even if it does not reflect reality, as it enhances their power. He also stresses the need for a powerful and disciplined army that will obey the prince, as an undisciplined army can be dangerous. Although Machiavelli superficially advocates immoral behavior such as killing innocents and dishonesty as effective tools in politics, he argues that political action must be judged solely on practical consequences.
The term “Machiavellianism” is commonly used to describe a person who follows Machiavelli’s principles of using cunning, deceit, and manipulation to gain and maintain power. Machiavellian individuals are often seen as shrewd, calculating, and unprincipled in their pursuit of their goals, and the term is typically used as a negative descriptor implying a lack of moral scruples. Machiavelli advised princes that it is better to be feared than loved, and that maintaining discipline and implementing laws is not an easy task, so law enforcers cannot be beloved.
Shakespeare’s Inspiration from Machiavelli’s Approach:
Machiavelli’s ideas have been widely discussed and analyzed by philosophers, political scientists, and leaders over the centuries, and his work continues to be studied in universities and political institutions worldwide. His ideas are also frequently explored in literary works, such as Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s works have many similarities with “The Prince,” particularly in the themes of power and its acquisition, the corrupting nature of power, and the idea of the “Machiavellian prince.” Characters in Shakespeare’s plays, such as Richard III and Macbeth, are willing to use any means necessary to achieve their goals, just as Machiavelli’s Prince is willing to use any means necessary to maintain power. It is believed that Shakespeare was influenced by Machiavelli’s ideas and used them in his plays to explore similar themes and ideas.
Critics on his books for having realistic thoughts:
Machiavelli’s ideas on politics and governance, as depicted in his book “The Prince,” are often described as pragmatic and realistic. He believes that the most effective way for a ruler to maintain power and control is through the use of force and fear, rather than through moral or ethical principles. According to Machiavelli, a ruler must be willing to take any necessary actions to preserve the state, even if it means using deceit and manipulation. He emphasizes the importance of understanding and manipulating the political landscape to gain and maintain power, including building alliances and balancing factions within the state.
However, critics of “The Prince” have often denounced Machiavelli’s ideas as ruthless and amoral, promoting the idea that the end justifies the means. French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that Machiavelli’s approach to politics was based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of human nature and that it glorified the use of violence and deceit to maintain power. He believed that a ruler should govern with the consent of the governed and that the ruler’s authority should be based on moral principles rather than the use of force.
German philosopher Immanuel Kant also criticized Machiavelli’s ideas, which he viewed as morally corrupt and promoting the idea of the “ends justify the means.” Similarly, English philosopher and statesman Thomas More denounced “The Prince” as an immoral and dangerous guide for rulers. More believed that a ruler should govern with the consent of the governed and that the ruler’s authority should be based on moral principles rather than the use of force.
Religious leaders and thinkers of Machiavelli’s time also criticized “The Prince” for its amoral and secular nature, focusing on the acquisition of power rather than spiritual or moral principles. The Spanish philosopher Francisco de Vitoria wrote against Machiavelli’s ideas, specifically criticizing the notion of the “end justifies the means” and its threat to natural law.
Despite the criticism, Machiavelli’s ideas have remained a topic of discussion and analysis among scholars and political thinkers. While some view his ideas as dangerous and corrupt, others argue that they reflect the political realities of his time and should be understood within their historical context.
Conclusion and analysis:
Although “The Prince” was written over 500 years ago, it is still applicable in today’s era of digitalization. Machiavelli introduced a rational approach towards analyzing government and politics, and many people throughout history have praised this book. Despite initially seeming harsh and immoral in his ideas, Machiavelli actually criticized negativity and advocated for positivity. This is why he has consistently been considered true in history. Governments still require power and balance of power to maintain their writ.
Overall, “The Prince” has proven to be a classic piece of literature in the field of Political Science. Although Machiavellianism is now known as a negative connotation globally, Machiavelli was well aware of these negative traits and skillfully gave a message that maintaining law and order ruthlessly will bring the state in order. Some have implied that the book is full of evil recommendations to dictators/tyrants in order to keep power, but Machiavelli actually presents us with a world viewed without morals or emotion. He puts questions forward such as, is it better to be feared or loved, and surmises it is better for a ruler to be feared than loved because love is fickle, fear is constant.
Machiavelli is seen as a divisive and polarizing philosopher/writer, but his ice-cool leadership principles are still revered today. His thoughts around business and the political manoeuvres to secure power translate well into today’s intense climate of business competition and leadership. Some of the lessons which can be highlighted after reading this book review by the author are as follows:
- The importance of realism: Leaders should be aware of the realities of the world and base their actions on that understanding, rather than on idealistic or utopian visions.
- The use of force: A leader must be willing to use force, if necessary, to maintain power and protect their state.
- The importance of being feared: It is better for a leader to be feared than loved, as fear is a more effective means of ensuring obedience.
- The role of deception: Leaders should be skilled at deceiving both allies and enemies, in order to gain an advantage in political situations.
- The need for adaptability: Leaders must be flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances in order to be successful.
It is important to note that “The Prince” is written in the context of Renaissance Italy, which had a different political context compared to today’s democratic societies, and Machiavelli’s ideas should be read with a critical lens.