The Prince


The Prince, written by Niccolo Machiavelli, is one of the


first examinations of politics and science from a purely scientific and rational perspective. Machiavelli theorizes that the state is only created if the people cooperate and work to maintain it. The state is also one of manís greatest endeavors, and the state takes precedence over everything else. The state should be oneís primary focus, and maintaining the sovereignty of the state oneís most vital concern. The state is founded on the power of its military. Therefore, a strong military is vital to maintaining the state. Machiavelli believes that men respect power, but they will take advantage of kindness. He believes that when given the opportunity one must destroy completely, because if one does not he will certainly be destroyed. The prince should lead the military, and he has to be intelligent. An effective politician can make quick and intelligent choices about the problems that constantly arise before him. He must also have virtue, which means he is strong, confident, talented, as well as smart. A prince cannot be uncertain, because uncertainty is a sign of weakness.


Fortune controls half of humanís actions, and manís will control the other half. Virtue is the best defense for fortune, and virtue must be used in order to keep fortune in check. The prince must take advantage of situations based solely on if it is best for the state. He should choose his decisions based on contemporary and historical examples. A prince cannot consider whether his acts are moral or immoral, and he instead must act in an unbiased manner for the state. Also, it does not matter how the state achieves its goals, as long as these goals are achieved. Finally, regardless of the personal morality involved, the prince should be praised if he does good for the state and berated if he hurts the state. Machiavelliís principles have widespread influence, and they are quite similar to some of Thomas Hobbes ideas in Leviathan.


Machiavelli has a very low opinion of the people throughout history. In general, he feels that men are "ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceiver." "They shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you Ö but when you are in danger they turn against you." Machiavelli basically has little respect for the people, and he feels as though they have not earned much either. He uses this as justification for the use of fear in order to control people. He also feels that men are "wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them." This sense of fairness justifies breaking oneís word to men. Machiavelli also writes about how hard it must be for a prince to stay virtuous. He concludes that with so many wretched men around virtue is hard to create in oneself. "The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous." Overall, Machiavelli is very pessimistic about the abilities of the people. He feels that after examining people through history, his conclusions of wretched men are correct.


Machiavelli tells us that the sovereign must take whatever action is necessary to maintain order in society. In time this will result in the most compassionate choice too. Machiavelli explains that, Cesare Borgia, by using cruelty was able to achieve order and obedience in Romangna. This contrast with the inaction of the Florentines, who allowed internal conflict to develop in Pistoia, resulting in devastation of the city. Therefore, a number of highly visible executions can be a very effective means of controlling the people and in preventing a major out break of violence and murder. Machiavelli also cites the tremendous military successes of Hannibal. Even though Hannibal led an army of different races over foreign soil, he never had any dissension because of his reputation of extreme cruelty. Machiavelli further concludes that it is difficult to be loved and feared simultaneously. Hence, one should always prefer to be feared than to be loved. During adverse times, the fear of punishment is far more effective in maintaining control than depending peopleís goodwill