One of the most notorious books of all time, The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli introduced the concept of the end justifying the means for the first time in writing. As Machiavelli points out repeatedly in the text, though, the concept had been employed many times in the past (and in various ways is still employed to this day). Most notably, perhaps, in the case of Cesare Borgia whose court Machiavelli spent time at during the fall of 1502 and winter of 1503. In many ways, the methods and historic fall of Borgia are the central theme of The Prince. Personally, I found The Prince to be one of the most intriguing historical texts that I have read. Not because I secretly harbor a desire to employ cunning and duplicity to achieve my ultimate goals, but because I seek to understand those who do.
Having read The Prince, though, I actually interpret it much differently than traditional historians. To me, Machiavelli lays out and identifies the way in which princes (royalty) must behave to keep their empires. Does he condone this behavior, though? Well, that all depends on how you read and interpret the text. I believe Machiavelli gives away his beliefs by dedicating the text to Lorenzo de’ Medici (clearly sarcastic), and the fact that in the beginning he explains that he will not discuss republics, but in fact does discuss republics in many places (slight of hand).
When it comes to the dedication, why does Machiavelli dedicate it to Lorenzo de’ Medici? The simple answer is that The Prince was a gift to Lorenzo. The more complex answer is that Machiavelli desired nothing more than the reinstatement of the Florentine Republic with himself resuming a role in it. That being his motivation, I believe that Machiavelli subtly argues for the republican form of government by pointing out the flaws of princely states, perhaps, hoping de’ Medici would see and understand this argument (of course, he didn’t and neither have many others). It seems to me that Machiavelli gives this away in the end when he praises the characteristics of the people, in spite of historical references to the contrary. Machiavelli does warn the people, though, with this line: “The mob is always impressed by appearances and results, and the mob is the world.” Definitely a means for princes to gain power, and something we need to remain wary of today. There are numerous other ways that Machiavelli subtly chastises princes, but for today the previous reasons are sufficient. In a future work, I’ll explain more thoroughly. For now, take my word that Machiavelli identified the characteristics of psychopathic princes so that the people being aware of their tricks might live in free republics in the future (Unfortunately, he also gave would be tyrants a game plan to build power; darn unintended consequences).
Like Machiavelli, I don’t want to be ruled over by a pious prince who derives his power from appearances and results that are not in the best interest of the people. My response to Machiavellianism, an unfair term that I believe should be called princeism instead, comes in the form of my poem: “The Lost Garden.” Indeed so much has been lost over the years; the future, however, is still unknown. For now, we make take solace in the fact that we will never be royals, and there is now a great song to go along with that line.
10 thoughts on “Literary Influence No. 4: The Prince”
I always thought he gets a bad press because he dared to be honest.
That very well may be true. It reminds me of the saying about Guy Fawkes being the only person to enter parliament with honest intentions. In general honesty is good, but as with everything taken to excess it can become harmful….
As I am soon to be beginning my Master’s thesis on the topic of how ancient authors such as Xenophon contributed to the Mirror for Princes style, concentrating on Machiavelli, I found this very interesting, especially the part as to whether Machiavelli condones the behaviours he lays out.
I’m glad you found this post to be interesting. As I usually do, I tried to examine my topic from an angle that appeared to be overlooked. Of course, sometimes that line of thinking can get me in trouble…. It sure is fun, though.
Great post post Cody and I thoroughly enjoyed the song.
Thank you very much. I’m glad you liked them both. This title was actually a late addition to my list. As so often happens, though, suddenly and unexpectedly my mind went down a different path….
I’ve never read this work but have always been curious about it. Thanks for giving me more insight into it.
It actually took me a long time to get around to reading The Prince. References to it kept popping up in other books that I was reading, though. and I finally decided that I had to read it for myself. Once I did, I was glad that I had. Thanks for the comment.
Great post! Entertaining and informative. Love the Lorde song too been listening to it non stop. Thanks for liking my posts, I look forward to reading more of your blog!!
I’m glad you love the Lorde song. I can’t get it out of my head. Thanks for your comment.