The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
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Niccolò Machiavelli
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About the Title

While some believe that The Prince was meant to be a satire showing the way one should not rule, it?s generally agreed that the author, Machiavelli, intended for the book to be a serious and practical guide for ruling. The Prince is appropriately dedicated to Lorenzo de? Medici, the ruler of Florence. This book uses direct logic and simple prose, and it is not very abstract or theoretical in nature. It is clear that Machiavelli hopes to provide advice that is practical and readily understandable.

The scope of the book is outlined in the first two chapters.

It is important to realize that The Prince?s focus is on autocratic, rather than republican, regimes. The first chapter describes different types of princes and principalities, showing a sort of outline for the remainder of the book. Chapter III provides an overview of how to maintain principalities that have been recently created or that have been annexed by another power. These are situations in which the prince does not have familiarity with the people he will rule. The book?s primary concerns are also introduced in Chapter III. These are power politics, warcraft, and popular goodwill. These explanations are in a summarized form.

Chapters IV through XIV constitute the most important part of the book, in which Machiavelli provides practical instruction on a number of different matters. These include the different routes to power and the advantages and disadvantages of each; how to acquire new states and successfully hold them; how to address internal insurrection; how to forge alliances; and how to ensure one?s military becomes and remains strong. While Machiavelli does not explicitly discuss the topics of human nature, free will, and ethics in this section, his ideas on them are implicit in these chapters.

The focus of Chapters XV to XXIII is the prince?s personal qualities. These chapters? discussion is generally guided by the author?s underlying opinion that trying to adhere to high ideals leads to bad government. This idea is shown to be especially relevant with regard to personal virtue. While certain virtues may be admirable in their own right, sometimes princes who act virtuously may cause ill effects for the state. In a similar way, while certain vices may be individually seen as bad, there are occasions when vicious actions may be necessary for the state?s good. This line of reasoning is combined with another: the idea that the most effective way to maintain power is to have the goodwill of the populace. We see that it is much more important for a prince to have the appearance of virtue than virtue itself. Actual virtue may be a liability.

The Prince?s final sections show the work?s link to a historical context: the disunity of Italy. The author sets out his ideas about and explanation of the failures of Italian rulers of the past, and he pleases with future rulers to be wiser. He believes that Lorenzo de? Medici is the only ruler who can restore honor and pride to Italy.

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