Niccolô Machiavelli

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Niccolô Machiavelli

Niccoló Machiavelli (1469—1527) was an Italian political philosopher, historian, poet, and playwright from Florence. Serving in public office for 14 years, he went on almost 30 diplomatic missions for the Florentine city-state. During his diplomatic career, he traveled around Italy and to the courts of France and Germany, gaining insight into the world of Renaissance politics. In 1513 Machiavelli wrote The Prince, a book of advice to rulers on how to found a state and how to stay in power. The following excerpt shows Machiavelli’s views on how a ruler should build his reputation.

Inventor of Political Science

My intent being to write a useful work... it seemed to me more appropriate to pursue the actual truth of the matter than the imagination of it Many have imagined republics and principalities which were never seen or known really to exist; because how one lives is so far removed from how one ought to live that he who abandons what one does for what one ought to do, learns rather his own ruin than his preservation. “—Niccoló Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)

Niccolo Machiavelli, an intellectual and sometime government official, nearly lived an anonymous life. He was an educated man who had written plays hut remained an unknown citizen of Florence, Italy, well into middle age. It was not until the age of 44 that he single—handedly revolutionized the study of governments and politics.

Machiavelli was born in 1469 to a noble family in Florence, one of the intellectual centers of the Italian Renaissance. He received a solid education. During his twenties, he worked in Rome on behalf of a Florentine banker. Florence was experiencing political upheaval at the time. Lorenzo de’ Medici, the great banker and patron of the arts, had ruled the city until his death in 1492. His son proved to be an incompetent heir and was banished from the city. A few years later, the people of Florence decided to form a republic.

Machiavelli became an official in the new government. He served the city—state on several diplomatic missions that allowed him close observation of some of the leading political figures of his time. He grew to respect those who knew how to gain and use power. He also took the role of organizing a citizen—army for Florence, which he modeled after the army of the ancient Roman Republic.

Machiavelli’s militia did not have the fighting ability of Rome’s famed legions, though. In 1512, the Spanish army defeated the Florentine troops, and the Medici family once again took power. Machiavelli was dismissed from the government and retired to his country estate to write.

Among Machiavelli’s creations was The Prince. A devoted supporter of republican government, he nevertheless dedicated the work to the new Medici ruler of Florence. Machiavelli hoped The Prince would prove his intelligence so he could win a job in the new regime. He also hoped to spur the Medici family to unite northern Italy and insulate it from foreign interference.

Previous writers of political philosophy tried to describe perfect governments. Machiavelli had a different idea in mind. He wanted to understand how political leaders could best obtain and hold power. He thought that trickery was more effective in achieving these goals than honesty. He also thought that acquiring and maintaining power was more important to rulers than being a “good” leader. The chapter title “On Cruelty and [compassion], and Whether It Is Better To Be Loved or Feared” reveals the core of his view of government, which is based on his view of human nature:

It will naturally he answered that it would he desirable to he both [loved] and [feared]; but as it is difficult to be both at the same time, it is much more safe to be feared than to he loved, when you have to choose between the two. For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful and fickle, dissemblers, avoiders of danger, and greedy of gain.

His name became an adjective— “Machiavellian” came to describe any leader who used deceit to impose his or her will.

Ironically, Machiavelli was ruined by his own ambitions. The Medici gave him diplomatic work. However, when they were overthrown and the republic restored again, Machiavelli was tainted by his association with the Medici. He was turned down for employment and died shortly thereafter.

PRIMARY SOURCE from The Prince
by Niccolô Machiavelli
How a Prince Should Conduct Himself so as to Gain Renown

Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as great enterprises and setting a fine example. We have in our time Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain. He can almost he called a new prince, because he has risen, by fame and glory, from being an insignificant king to be the foremost king in Christendom; and if you will consider his deeds you will find them all great and some of them extraordinary. In the beginning of his reign he attacked Granada, and this enterprise was the foundation of his dominions. He did this quietly at first and without any fear of hindrance, for he held the minds of the barons of Castile occupied in thinking of the war and not anticipating any innovations; thus they did not perceive that by these means he was acquiring power and authority over them. He was able with the money of the Church and of the people to sustain his armies, and by that long war to lay the foundation for the military skill which has since distinguished him. Further, always using religion as a plea, so as to undertake greater schemes, he devoted himself with a pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors; nor could there be a more admirable example, nor one more rare. Under this same cloak he assailed Africa, he came down on Italy, he has finally attacked France; and thus his achievements and designs have always been great, and have kept the minds of his people in suspense and admiration and occupied with the issue of them. And his actions has arisen in such a way, one out of the other, that men have never been given time to work steadily against him.

Never let any Government imagine that it can choose perfectly safe courses; rather let it expect to hake to take very doubtful ones, because it is found in ordinary affairs that one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another; but prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and for choice to take the lesser evil.

A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honour the proficient in every art. At the same time he should encourage his citizens to practise their callings peaceably, both in commerce and agriculture, and in every other following, so that the one should not be deterred from improving his possessions for fear lest they be taken away from him or another from opening up trade for fear of taxes; but the prince ought to offer rewards to whoever wishes to do these things and designs in any way to honour his city or state.

Further, he ought to entertain the people with festivals and spectacles at convenient seasons of the year; and as ever city is divided into guilds or into societies, he ought to hold such bodies in esteem, and associate with them sometimes, and show himself an example of courtesy and liberality; nevertheless, always maintaining the majesty of his rank, for this he must never consent to abate in anything.

from Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince. Reprinted ill Robert Mayllard Hutchins, ed., Great Books of the Western World (Encyclopedia Britannica, liic., 1952), 31—33.


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. And if this be rightly considered, he will be seen to have been much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, permitted Pistoia to be destroyed. 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.

And of all princes, it is impossible for the new prince to avoid the imputation of cruelty, owing to new states being full of dangers. Hence Virgil, through the mouth of Dido, excuses the inhumanity of her reign owing to its being new, saying:

Res dura, et regni novitas me talia cogunt Moliri, et late fines custode tueri.

. ...against my will, my fate, A throne unsettled, and an infant state, Bid me defend my realms with all my pow'rs, And guard with these severities my shores.

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, 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.

Among the wonderful deeds of Hannibal this one is enumerated: that having led an enormous army, composed of many various races of men, to fight in foreign lands, no dissensions arose either among them or against the prince, whether in his bad or in his good fortune. This arose from nothing else than his inhuman cruelty, which, with his boundless valour, made him revered and terrible in the sight of his soldiers, but without that cruelty, his other virtues were not sufficient to produce this effect. And shortsighted writers admire his deeds from one point of view and from another condemn the principal cause of them. That it is true his other virtues would not have been sufficient for him may be proved by the case of Scipio, that most excellent man, not of his own times but within the memory of man, against whom, nevertheless, his army rebelled in Spain; this arose from nothing but his too great forbearance, which gave his soldiers more licence than is consistent with military discipline. For this he was upbraided in the Senate by Fabius Maximus, and called the corrupter of the Roman soldiery. The Locrians were laid waste by a legate of Scipio, yet they were not avenged by him, nor was the insolence of the legate punished, owing entirely to his easy nature. Insomuch that someone in the Senate, wishing to excuse him, said there were many men who knew much better how not to err than to correct the errors of others. This disposition, if he had been continued in the command, would have destroyed in time the fame and glory of Scipio; but, he being under the control of the Senate, this injurious characteristic not only concealed itself, but contributed to his glory.

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 endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.

Chapter Titles

  • Chapter I How Many Kinds Of Principalities There Are, And By What Means They Are Acquired

  • Chapter II Concerning Hereditary Principalities

  • Chapter III Concerning Mixed Principalities

  • Chapter IV Why The Kingdom Of Darius, Conquered By Alexander, Did Not Rebel Against The Successors Of Alexander At His Death

  • Chapter V Concerning The Way To Govern Cities Or Principalities Which Lived Under Their Own Laws Before They Were Annexed

  • Chapter VI Concerning New Principalities Which Are Acquired By One's Own Arms And Ability

  • Chapter VII Concerning New Principalities Which Are Acquired Either By The Arms Of Others Or By Good Fortune

  • Chapter VIII Concerning Those Who Have Obtained A Principality By Wickedness

  • Chapter IX Concerning A Civil Principality

  • Chapter X Concerning The Way In Which The Strength Of All Principalities Ought To Be Measured

  • Chapter XI Concerning Ecclesiastical Principalities

  • Chapter XII How Many Kinds Of Soldiery There Are, And Concerning Mercenaries

  • Chapter XIII Concerning Auxiliaries, Mixed Soldiery, And One's Own

  • Chapter XIV That Which Concerns A Prince On The Subject Of The Art Of War

  • Chapter XV Concerning Things For Which Men, And Especially Princes, Are Praised Or Blamed

  • Chapter XVI Concerning Liberality And Meanness

  • Chapter XVII Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared

  • Chapter XVIII Concerning The Way In Which Princes Should Keep Faith

  • Chapter XIX That One Should Avoid Being Despised And Hated

  • Chapter XX Are Fortresses, And Many Other Things To Which Princes Often Resort, Advantageous Or Hurtful?

  • Chapter XXI How A Prince Should Conduct Himself As To Gain Renown

  • Chapter XXII Concerning The Secretaries Of Princes

  • Chapter XXIII How Flatterers Should Be Avoided

  • Chapter XXIV The Princes Of Italy Have Lost Their States

  • Chapter XXV What Fortune Can Effect In Human Affairs, And How To Withstand Her

  • Chapter XXVI An Exhortation To Liberate Italy From The Barbarians


1. Drawing Conclusions: How did Machiavelli’s ideas and actions reflect his respect for ancient Rome?

2. Making Generalizations: Why is it appropriate to call Machiavelli’s work political science?

3. Making Inferences: What was Machiavelli’s view of human nature?

4. Perceiving Cause and Effect: Make a cause- and—effect diagram illustrating how a prince gains renown according to Machiavelli.

5. Recognizing Main Idea: Write a numbered list of tips for princes who want to gain fame and public approval.

6. Is it better to be loved, feared, or respected? Use Machiavelli’s points to prove your opinion.

List of Rules –Separate assignment the abovve

You are changed in writing a list of suggestions to rule the province of Vista del Lago. The ruling elite of the school has requested you create a list of 10 rules to gain and solidify power at the school. These rules must be connected to Machiavellian. Formulate these rules. Hint: gear the rules for a power figure such as principal or administrator. Remember the rules not the student wants.
Answer Key

Chapter 1, Section 1 HISTORYMAKERS
Niccolô Macli jatelli
Possible responses:
1. He hoped to establish a repub— lie, like ancient Rome, and he tried to create a citizen—army’ modeled on the Roman one.
2. Machiavelli’s work is political science because it attempts to describe and analyze the behavior of political leaders.
3. He (lid not think highly of human nature. He thought people were “ungrateful and fickle, dissemblers, avoiders of danger, and greedy.”


Answer Key

Chapter 1, Section 1 PRIMARY SOURCE
The Pri, ice
1. Informally assess students’ diagrams to make sure they understand Machiavelli’s advice.
2. Tips wiii vaiy 1)iit shOlIl(l iflclllde some of the following: set a good example, (10 great (leeds, encourage excellence, foster peaceful progress, reward success, sponsor festivals, respect local organizations, maintain a regal bearing. Informally assess students’ discussions.

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