on July 9, 2004
The term "Machiavellian" is frequently used to describe ruthlessness and brutality in a leader, and most people who have read about Machiavelli but have not actually read Machiavelli's own works assume that he believed "the ends justify the means." However, this is a common misperception. His actual words are: "[. . .] in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no court of appeal, one looks at the outcome." He does not, here or anywhere else in his writing, attempt to provide any moral justification for ruthlessness, but merely says that a leader will always be judged by his people based on the end result of his actions. He was very pragmatic in his outlook on princely rule, and sought to explain the actions that would and would not be effective in gaining and maintaining the rule of a nation.
Another point of some confusion is the saying that "it is better to be feared than to be loved." Again, this is not quite what Machiavelli meant. His actual words are: "[. . .] there arises a dispute: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the contrary. The reply is that one should like to be both the one and the other, but as it is difficult to bring them together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved if one of the two has to be lacking." It is also noteworthy to point out that the word "fear" at the time Machiavelli was alive was less synonymous with its modern meaning than it was with the word "respect." He was saying that a prince's throne is more secure if he is feared/respected but not loved than it is if he is loved but not feared/respected. Machiavelli does not say that a prince who is feared is the moral better of one who is loved.
"The Prince" is a truly fascinating work of philosophy, describing the ideal conduct (in mechanical and not moral terms) of an effective sovereign. Despite the fact that it is entirely concerned with the government of principalities, Machiavelli himself was a republican, and believed that the most effective form of government would combine elements of a principality, an aristocracy, and a democracy. His motivation to write "The Prince" came from his desire to ingratiate himself with the Medici family, the ruling power in Florence at the time, and also from his belief that only a single, strong ruler would be powerful enough to unify and liberate a then-factionalized Italy.
The book is not an easy read, but is more accessible than, say, Rousseau's "Social Contract" (I'm not equating the topics of these two books, but just comparing literary style). Machiavelli tends to use very long, complex sentences, and it's easy to get derailed before reaching the end of one. Some of his sentences easily take up a third of a page. Nevertheless, the content of "The Prince" is definitely worth the time and concentration it takes to read.
Readers who do not already have a detailed knowledge of pre-16th century Italian and ancient Roman history will no doubt have additional difficulties understanding Machiavelli's work. Being Italian, he used examples primarily from Italy's political history and from his studies of Rome. Machiavelli also, at times, misrepresents history either inadvertantly, or purposefully so as to better back up his arguments. He also has a tendency to over-simplify things, and does not take into account that real life is rarely as clear-cut as he presents it.
While many things have changed since Machiavelli wrote "The Prince" in c.1513, much of what he says is still relevant to some degree. The basic concepts he presents can be adapted for application in just about any position of leadership. However, it must always be remembered that this book was only meant as a technical guide, and does not attempt to justify itself on moral grounds. "The Prince" is also a worthwhile read for the reason that it will give the reader a better, more complete understanding of the term "Machiavellian," and the ability to recognize when it is or isn't being used correctly, as well as the ability to use it correctly themself. This is a must-read for anyone interested in political philosophy, and has much to offer whether you agree with Machiavelli's ideas or not.
on September 21, 2001
Machiavelli wrote this book for the Medici back in a time that is suppossed to be so different from today. Yet, The Prince is as applicable as the day it was wrote- maybe more so. It's a concise, almost surgical, guidebook to world domination. Superficially, this book is written like stereo instructions with precise directions on control of your enemies, followers, and friends. But, deeply, it will force any serious reader to take stock of the lengths neccessary to attain great power. Lives are flited at like pieces on a chess board with absolutely no uneccessary concern (if they can't hurt ya, screw 'em). Why, aside from that whole learning about world domination thing, this book is such a neccessary read for anybody with a stake in daily life is because this is the book your leaders sleep with under their pillow. There hasn't been an intelligent, powerful, and influential political leader that hasn't been influenced by Machiavelli and this book. It's very important to really wrap yourself around reality in reading this book so as to open your own eyes to what people do to lead (not just dictators, facists, and imperialists, but deomcrats and republicans.). This book is Political Reality 101- you must read it.
on March 20, 2011
While much of the material might come off as cold, deceptive, immoral, or just unacceptable to the average person, it is truly a unique reading experience. Machiavelli unemotionally lays out a series of logical arguments on what one must do to gain and, perhaps more importantly, maintain power over a people/society/kingdom, citing multiple examples and explanations for each one. I would recommend this little book without hesitation as an interesting read on historical politics and strategy.
on July 16, 2004
The Prince is truly a legendary masterpiece. More than a book on political theories, it covers topics such as human nature, influence, leadership, trickery, psychology, philosophy, etc. However, it is mostly the latter chapters that are interesting and deal with these subjects. The first half or so is not that interesting of a read. So I would advise that you just skip over the first forteen or so chapters at first, and then read them later if you want.
Also, there is a fantastic summary and overview of The Prince in the book A Collection of Wisdom by Rodney Ohebsion that I highly recommend. In ten pages or so, it gives you really the essence of The Prince that is applicable to people in their lives.
on May 20, 2012
I can see from some of the reviews written here that there are many disagreements and agreements regarding what was written in The Prince. Well like everything in life, there will be people who will agree with what one says and also people who will disagree. As for myself, I agree (although not with everything) with what Machiavelli has written. I am a pragmatic individual, so if a person is writing about something reasonable/logical and backs it up with evidence then I can't help but to agree.
Now let's analyze what Machiavelli talked about? His main point of what he was trying to convey throughout the book was "The ends justifies the means", now what does this mean? what he was trying to say was that it's ok for a prince to lie, cheat, steal, be faithless and commit acts of atrocities so long as it benefits him. Now to a regular person this type of thinking is that of a psychopath/sociopath and I agree, who in their right mind would actually act in this manner? Machiavelli however only recommended princes to act in this manner as he wrote in his book Discourses on Livy "The best remedy whoever becomes prince of either a city or a state has for holding that principality is to make everything in that state anew;.... to make the rich poor, the poor rich, as did David when he became king...., not to leave anything untouched in that province, so that there is no rank, no order, no state, no wealth there that he who holds it does not it as from you; and to take as one's model Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander, who from a small king became prince of Greece with these modes. He who writes of him says that he transferred men from province to province as herdsmen transfer their herds. these modes are very cruel, and enemies to every way of life, not only Christian but human; and any man whatever should flee them and wish to live in private rather than as a king with so much ruin to men. Nonetheless he who does not wish to take the first way of the good must enter into this evil one if he wishes to maintain himself." (Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses On Livy, University of Chicago 1996, book 1 chapter 26 page 61-62). Do you notice how he said, "and any man whatever should flee from them and wish to live in private" meaning as an ordinary citizen, but if a person chooses to be a prince then he must out of necessity commit immoral acts in order to secure himself, and he gave lists of examples of princes in both the prince and discourses who did not act prudently or in the manner they should have and thus in turn brought about their ruin and as a result brought about their people's ruin. I don't know about anyone else but to me that sounds realistic and logical.
How would Machiavelli's word fit in today's world? People from the modern century (21st) are from a completely different world than people from the 15th century, it doesn't take a genius to see that. We can easily see that in Machiavelli's age almost every nation was hostile against one another, they committed and fought wars based upon mediocre excuses that really held no justification, we see popes declaring and fighting wars (pope Alexander and Julius), princes breaking alliances for their self interest (Francesco Sforza turning against the Milanese who hired him). And that's the world Machiavelli came from, that's the world he knew, Machiavelli lived in violent and chaotic times in which Italy was divided into several states so it's no surprise to me Machiavelli wrote the Prince in which some people find quite immoral, the Prince would be a perfect guideline for any prince living in those times. In today's world I wouldn't say for sure. Today we are more globally connected, we can interact with people through telephones anywhere across the world, diplomacy is out in the open and open to public scrutiny (although not completely), we have human rights in which every person has the right to life, liberty and freedom (although it's not perfect it is better than what people had in the past), much of what Machiavelli said would not suffice in today's world, especially the part about war, Countries cannot simply break alliances without some serious repercussions, countries cannot go to war with one another unless they are ready to be criticized with war crimes by the global world (especially against countries with nuclear weapons). However, Machiavelli's teaching would partly suffice in today's world, politicians still have to put up a facade that they are about world peace, religion, and a better tomorrow even though they truly aren't.
This brings me to my final question, why is everyone still outraged by what was written in the Prince, despite the evidence? My opinion is that everyone is of a different make, some are influenced a lot more by personal feelings than others. So when people who have strong personal feelings read the Prince then it's no surprise they will feel outraged. Machiavelli talks about prudence and necessity, and prudence according to Machiavelli is taking the course that would bring the least harm and maximum benefit to oneself, and sometimes that would include, lying, cheating, stealing, being faithless or whatever immoral act one would commit if it's NECESSARY. Looking at the bigger picture this mode of governing serves the greater good as one is preventing a greater evil by committing a lesser evil, but people according to Machiavelli live in the moment they don't look towards the past or the future and that they could only see what one does not feel what they do. That's why people are still outraged, well at least that's what my theory is.
This book was not what I expected at all. I always thought this book was only about stab in the back politics.
Machiavelli is tremendous observer of human nature. He understands human nature on a individual level, and on the larger scale of an entire society. He explains how an individual will react to certain situations, and how the group at large will react. His conclusions are timeless.
Machiavelli also draws many conclusions from the lessons of history. He recommends that leaders study history.
He also has valuable lessons in regards to the various types of governments. He points out the positive and negative aspects of democracies, aristocracies, and dictatorships. Once again his conclusions are timeless.
on June 5, 2002
Machiavelli's "The Prince" is known all over the world for teaching effective tactics for the absolute ruler.
Machiavelli was a citizen of Florence, a city that became very wealthy in the 15th century. In this age it became a centre of humanism and the new, classical style in education and scholarship. However, Italy was a scene of intense political conflict and in the 15th century Florence also experienced a changeful time of wars and different rulers, most important of them the Medici.
When the Medici family regained power in 1512 after a short interrupt, Machiavelli was tortured and removed from public life. For the next 10 years he concentrated on writing history, political philosophy, and even plays. He ultimately was called back to public duty for the last two years of his life.
Machiavelli offers advice in order to retain power. "The Prince" describes the means by which political power is seized and retained, and the circumstances in which it is lost. It is different from other books about creating and controlling principalities because it doesn't tell you what an ideal prince or principality is but explains through examples, which princes are the most successful in obtaining and maintaining power. Machiavelli draws his examples from personal observations he made.
Now in which way is this book also interesting for modern life?
Today "Machiavellian" means using power and violence imprudently. But although many people may say that this book is an instruction that rulers must be prepared to lie, cheat and steal to hang on to their thrones, in my opinion "The Prince" is an astonishingly honest book. Machiavelli wants to persuade the ruler that he could best preserve his power by the careful use of violence, by respecting private property and the traditions of his subjects, and by promoting material prosperity. What is most important is to keep the control of one's subjects and kingdom, be it in a "good" or "evil" way. In some respects "The Prince" is even revolutionary: Machiavelli says that a country cannot be governed by a set of moral or religious principles. If you keep faith in a Christian way and want your subjects to love you instead of fearing you, you will be second.
So this Book shows a picture of the true nature of power, which has not changed over the centuries. It offers a means to analyse the way of thinking of powerful people and of qualities needed to keep in power.
Machiavelli seems to me very modern even in political questions: although he writes for a monarch, he preaches the free life of citizens and a kind of free market-economy. He recommends to award those who are successful and therefore enhance the prosperity of the prince's empire.
A very important argument for a strong ruler is that otherwise there would be chaos and anarchy, in other words the real nature of people would emerge. The ruler must keep law and order, but must not harm his people in a disproportional way. This is what also a successful businessman in my opinion.
The Penguin-Classics-edition of this book is especially interesting because the introduction, which gives an insight into the political and social situation in the 15th century. This is very useful for understanding the content of the book because of the wealth of historical examples Machiavelli gives.
However, you have to be cautious applying the principles tought in "The Prince" uncritically. Sometimes they are too simple to be useful without analysing the particular circumstances diligently.
I think that everyone that reads this book will benefit from it. It is written in a short and simple stile, even if the 15th-century language sounds sometimes a bit strange to us.
on May 8, 2005
Perhaps it is fair to call Nicollo Machiavelli a teacher of the tyrants. After all, this early sixteenth century book has long served as a reference guide to the likes of Hitler and Mussolini, despots who ruled with an iron fist and unmitigated cruelty. Yet, certain aspects of Machiavelli's text might also serve in some capacity to aid a free society as well.
Written by Niccolo Machiavelli (a Florentine nobleman of the early sixteenth century) to a local ruler, "The Prince" is a short text of just over 100 pages which reads very much like a personal letter. The text was sent as a gift by Machiavelli with an explanation that he could not afford to purchase a gift and had written this instead. It is, at the very least, likely that the gift was meant to find the author a place in the royals hearts and obtain Machiavelli some recognition.
"The Prince" is simply a guide. It instructs the reader on becoming a ruler and in the maintenance of power. From launching attacks on fellow kingdoms to conducting oneself in public, this book covers it all. Machiavelli dictates that a ruler must be affable, yet must stand above others at all times. He must know how to please both his guards and his peasants. He must form alliances and know when to break them. He must never let down his guard.
More controversial are the many cruel "necessities" dictated by Machiavelli. Machiavelli unabashedly declares that when taking over (deposing) or otherwise unseating a leader you must kill all of his/her bloodline. There must be no one left to vie for the throne. And that is one of many of the mandates that has fixed him forever with a terrible reputation. One nickname for Satan himself is Ol' Nick, probably taken from the Niccolo in Machiavelli's name. When it comes to grabbing and maintaining power, Machiavelli pulls no punches. His suggestion of eradicating a leader's bloodline harkens one back to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 Russia, When Czar Nicholas and his family were slain. It is easy to imagine "The Prince" having been used as a reference by many of the world's cruel dictators.
Machiavelli also cites many examples from governments of his time, such as the emperors of the Roman Empire. In each case he explains why the leadership did or did not work and what we can learn from it.
I found this book very entertaining. "The Prince" is as harsh as anything being published today and enthralling, but it will appeal more to history or political fans than others. It is also short enough not to be too daunting a read. "War and Peace" it is not.
While Machiavelli's arguments are valid (albeit cruel) there is one bothersome detail in his work that serves as a blaring irony. Upon exacting on us some barbaric charge that bloodlines must be slain or that untrustworthy officers must be killed, the author will turn around and give reference to God and declare that a good leader should always keep aware of him. Ol' Nick vows to slay and then to do God's good work all in the same breath. Hmmm...
Fascinating. Edifying. "The Prince" makes me more aware of the world around me and even more certain that I never want to go into politics. One final thought is the much-used quote by Machiavelli, taken from "The Prince:"
"Fortune is a woman and must be taken by force."
That's a standard Machiavellian idea for you. Pick up a copy of The Prince, and judge the book for yourself. For those of you who HATE the idea of power and tyranny, let me make a contrasting recommendation -- a recent Amazon purchase I truly enjoyed -- 180 degrees opposite from the philosophy of Machiavelli - it's a book called THE LOSERS CLUB: Complete Restored Edition by Richard Perez, a very engaging, comic novel told from the point of view of an admitted "weakling." Thank goodness.
on July 8, 2004
Being as though it's on our school's required reading list, we have to buy a copy and read it.
I would have no problem if the book wasn't so boring.
The book talks about how a country should be ruled if it were to be successful, and he does it rather well. The only problem is he doesn't make it interesting.
I've forced myself through a majority of the book and I still don't see a real point in reading it.
Machiavelli might have been one of the best political writers in his time, but I have to say, let bygones be bygones.
on August 13, 2003
Machiavelli's immortal treatise on monarchical government, while not necessarily applicable in the strictest of senses today, nevertheless contains many valuable insights pertinent to the modern leader. Machiavelli has gotten a bad rap, and not all of it undeserved, but his work nevertheless contains some extremely valuable information. The likes of Hitler, Napoleon, and Mussolini have counted themselves among Machiavelli's disciples, and the term "Machiavellian" often is synonymous with deceit and evil.
So what is the use of Machiavelli today? After all, the book was written over 400 years ago, in the age of feudalism. Despite its age, Machiavelli's advice is very useful today. One of his best qualities is that he sees people for what they are, not what they should be. Where other philosophers concern themselves with how men should act (in an ideal situation), Machiavelli realizes that, in reality, men will not act as they should, and so his focus is on how men actually do act. If he has an overall pessimistic view of mankind, he is not entirely unjustified.
Of course, not all of Machiavelli's ideas are acceptable in today's world. Machiavelli asserts that the populous is weak, stupid, and easily contented. And though he believes popular support to be extremely important, he believes so only because this condition adds to the power of the monarchy. In today's world of democracy, this doesn't really fit. And his admonitions that the prince use hypocrisy and deceit whenever convenient are a bit hard to swallow. Still, if you REALLY understand what he's saying, it becomes clear that Machiavelli, while condoning these and other vices, says such unlawful practices should be indulged in ONLY when it will benefit the state. In his eyes, the end should justify the means.
In short, Machiavelli's work is a masterpiece of human thinking. We still have much to learn from this old thinker, and do ourselves a great disservice by dismissing his ideas as evil (in fact, his condoning of deceit is exaggerated to some extent). Machiavelli's methods are certainly dated and cruel in many respects, but many of his basic thoughts are very useful in today's world.