Machiavelli’s The Prince:








· How Does Machiavelli fit in with the larger Renaissance Movement?


Machiavelli was a Florentine and therefore geographically very much at the centre of the ‘larger Renaissance movement’, his life was typical of the educated Florentine elite that centred on learning the humanities and classics and then being fast-tracked into government and consequently being at the forefront of the humanist movement.


He also contributed to the renaissance movement in literally terms, other than the Prince his writings were all fairly orthodox and fitted into the ‘conventional’ renaissance mould.


A child of the Renaissance


· What does Machiavelli think of the idea of ‘Virtu’, and how does this differ from Renaissance norms?


Machiavelli’s idea of the word ‘virtu’ was effectively the opposite of the Princely and Cardinal values of generosity, mercy and honesty and wisdom, justice, moderation and courage respectively.


This orthodox view accredits humanism as the key to virtu, and that in order to be virtuous one must be in possession of all the major virtues.


Machiavelli sought to challenge these views and used the term ‘virtu’ to describe whatever range of qualities the prince may find it necessary to acquire in order to ‘maintain his state and achieve great things’. In response to the cardinal and princely virtues M. came up with three key goals for a prince to strive for; honour, glory and fame.


He wrote in his book that although it is favourable for a prince to have all of the conventional values he also needs to be a ‘great liar and deceiver’ in order to be universally praised and judged honourably. M.’s perfect prince is one who has the ‘ferocity of a lion and the cunning of a fox’. Effectively he was encouraging a ruler to ‘play dirty’ in order to rule his state supremely. This selfish, ruthless authoritarian style of leadership was unsurprisingly shocking to the humanists at the time as it was seen as evil and immoral, the idea of needing to ‘lie to survive’ was a complete antithesis to what they stood for.


Skinner wrote about the prince is not to be placed in a category because it ‘completely ignores the concepts and categories in terms of what the other political theorists of his generation were accustomed to.’


· What is the Political and Historical context for Machiavelli? When was the book written, and why?


M. wrote the book in July of 1513 as an attempt to get back in favour the Medici, the new ruling family. After his quite high profile career in the Florentine government for thirteen years the book was intended to be ‘deliberately provoking’ in order to attract attention.


The Prince was written off the back of the Italian wars, which M. had been involved in politically as a Florentine ambassador, by the end of the wars he had been on four missions to the court of King Louis XII.


The wars were unmistakeably a disaster, in 1512 Spanish troops invaded the Florentine territory and sacked Prato, Florence surrendered and the Medici came to power.


In November of the same year M. was dismissed from the chancery and sentenced to a year’s confinement within the Florentine territory and in the early part of 1613 was tried for conspiracy, tortured and imprisoned. After his realise he writes the Prince.


M. had a deep interest in warfare and wanted to find a Military leader to liberate Italy, and for Florence to move away from hiring mercenaries to fight its wars and instead introduce conscription and create a professional army.


· Does morality come into this? Is M. guilty of spreading cruel, even appalling ideas, or is he a realistic man of his time?


Broadly, yes morality does come into this and there are distinct areas of conflict with M’s contemporaries. It is therefore to simplistic to just describe this as a difference in their moral view of politics, but rather a Skinner said as ‘two rival and incompatible accounts of what ought ultimately to be done.’


M. is not necessarily guilty of spreading cruel ideas, but this is how it was largely viewed as at the time. He was making an important analysis of leadership and what he thought needed to be done to succeed and undeniable many famous and successful rulers have adopted his or a style close to