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Name: ____________________ Beard – World History

Date: __________



Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513)

Read the following excerpts and analysis from Machiavelli’s The Prince and answer the questions that follow.



POLITICAL CONTEXT

Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy, and passed his childhood peacefully, receiving the humanistic education customary for young men of the Renaissance middle class. He also spent two years studying business mathematics, then worked for the next seven years in Rome for a Florentine banker. 

Italy at that time became the scene of intense political conflict. The city-states of Florence, Milan, Venice, and Naples fought for control of Italy, as did the papacy, France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. These events influenced Machiavelli’s attitudes toward government, forming the backdrop for his later impassioned pleas for Italian unity. In 1498, at the age of twenty-nine, Machiavelli entered the Florentine government. He met Pope Alexander’s son, Cesare Borgia, and helped him become the Duke of Romagna. It was Borgia who would do the most to shape Machiavelli’s opinions about leadership. Borgia was a cunning, cruel, and vicious politician, and many people despised him. Nevertheless, Machiavelli believed Borgia had the traits necessary for any leader who would seek to unify Italy.

One of his goals in writing The Prince was to win the favor of Lorenzo de’ Medici, then-governor of Florence and the person to whom the book is dedicated; Machiavelli hoped to land an advisory position within the Florentine government. But Medici received the book indifferently, and Machiavelli did not receive an invitation to serve as an official. The public’s reaction to The Prince was also indifferent at first. But slowly, as word spread, the book began to be criticized as immoral, evil, and wicked.

EXCERPT FROM THE PRINCE

Chapter XVII: Concerning Cruelty and Clemency, and whether it is Better to be Loved than Feared

Coming now to the other qualities mentioned above, I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel; notwithstanding, his cruelty reconciled the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. … Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only. …

Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse. But when a prince is with his army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties.

Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavor only to avoid hatred, as is noted.

QUESTIONS

  1. Describe the political scene in Italy during the Renaissance.

  2. Why did Machiavelli write The Prince, and where did Machiavelli get his inspiration for writing it?

  3. What is the answer to Machiavelli’s question- is it better to be feared or loved? Why?

  4. What example does Machiavelli give to explain his point?

  5. What should a prince avoid, and why?



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