Historical Context of Machiavelli’s The Prince essay

In chapter XV-XVII of The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli turned his attention from the affairs of governmental bodies, to those of the ruler, in this case, a prince. The basis of his presented theory stated ruling men must not live their lives virtuously. In concentrating their energies in this area, men will fail as it is in their nature. He suggests princes try to live for the greater outcome of the people, live for the result as opposed to the virtues presented by God. In doing so, rulers free themselves to protect the state by any means necessary, thus facilitating a noble country rather than a noble man.

The ideals and welfare of the state must come first and foremost according to Machiavelli. The question is why would he recommend such errant behavior in the eyes of the majority? Given the historical context of the writing, one can see the political environment required a validation on the point, a justification for the behavior of the ruling class of people at the time. In solidifying the state’s welfare through whatever means necessary, the ruler becomes virtuous through the greater good in the end.

“It’s much wiser to put up with the reputation of a miser, which brings you shame without hate, than to be forced – just because you want to appear generous – into a reputation for rapacity, which brings shame on you and hate along with it,” (Machiavelli, 866). Machiavelli asserts that the ruler must use the money of others at hand in order to support governmental actions and referendums. This precise action was the norm for the ruling Medici family at the time. Machiavelli gives direct evidence to the usage (proper or not) of the community coffers and offers logical justification for using it to secure order.

“You should consider then, that there are two ways of fighting, one with laws and the other with force,” (Machiavelli, 868). Machiavelli goes on to discuss the validity of elitist actions in forcing the ruled into submission. By doing so, the ruler maintains his position and remains on the path to glory. Often times throughout the article, McCormick cites the use of the Republic to defend his assertions that the ruler must act in defense of the state, whether the populous would support the actions or not.

In other works, Machiavelli states the fallacy of the Roman republic in going against the community it served in order to do the right thing for the longevity of Rome. By following their lead, the prince can expect to be remembered for all eternity as a great leader of men and controller of monetary influence (McCormick, 300). Several viewpoints have emerged regarding Machiavelli’s motivation in the writing of The Prince, but as Dietz illustrates, the text itself points to the exact opposite of what a true political leader would advise.

She cites other research wherein the conclusion points to Machiavelli seeing the “Medici as the only alternative to chaos, and so wrote his advice book in reaction to an impending crisis,” (Dietz, 779). In trying to align the current rulers with a justifiable course of action, Machiavelli may have been trying to quell the common people (or plebs) into believing the greater good was the driving force before all seemingly harsh decisions. Another viewpoint on The Prince includes viewing the treatises as a means to uncover what was truly occurring behind close doors.

In exposing the truth of them motivations and pointing out the obvious errors in thought processes involved, Machiavelli was in fact showing the world the folly of their rulers and inciting them to rise up. The Prince is a staged dramatic representation of life in the times of the Medicis. In joking about Medici power and influence, Machiavelli offered the world a glimpse into the comic venue of political ideals (Dietz, 778). Dietz discounts a third interpretation in that Machiavelli created an actual living outline of steps to provide a new ruler the path to mollifying chaos and implementing order in a new realm.

“In The Prince, Machiavelli gives no specific advice concerning the foundation of republican institutions. Indeed, he does not deal with republics at all,” (Dietz, 780). “A certain prince of our own time, whom it’s just as well not to name, preaches nothing but peace and mutual trust, yet he is the determined enemy of both; and if on several different occasions he had observed either, he would have lost both his reputation and his throne,” (Machiavelli, 870).

As our text indicates, Machiavelli is most likely referring to the prince of Spain, Ferdinand. In aligning himself with a prince of the times, a friend and ally to the Medici, Machiavelli points out that his theories are currently in practice, and working quite well. Historically, Machiavelli was well provided for by the Medici family. It is no wonder he would have written a text regarding the ways in which they ruled Italy and justified their methods of government.

Whether he intended to secretly encode the message with a scathing tongue-in-cheek ridicule of the family, or simply sought a way to justify their methods to the people to quell the anger, one will never know. The bottom line is that Machiavelli did outline the behaviors of the Medici and many other ruling families of his time. In attempting to find the realities of the government and the logical foundations for its success, Machiavelli has offered the world a classic piece of discourse, a means to achieve his own end of remembrance and validation for generations to come.

Works Cited

Dietz, Mary G. “Trapping the Prince: Machiavelli and the Politics of Deception. ” The American Political Science Review, 80. 3 (Sept. 1986): 777-799. Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Morals of the Prince. ” The Norton Reader. Linda H. Peterson & John C. Brereton, (Eds). New York: WW Norton and Company, 2003. 864-870. McCormick, John P. “Machiavellian Democracy: Controlling Elites with Ferocious Populism. ” The American Political Science Review, 95. 2 (June 2001): 297-313.