Niccolo Machiavelli And The Prince: A Brief Analysis Of His Views On Power Politics

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A brief analysis of Niccolo Machiavelli's views on power politics, as put forth by his treatise, The Prince.
    During the period of economic revival of trade and commerce known as the Renaissance, the nature of political power was redefined by Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli entered the service of the Florentine republic in 1498. As both an administrator and a diplomat, Machiavelli traveled to France and to Germany, and knew political leaders throughout Italy. Unfortunately, Machiavelli’s official political life ended fifteen years later with the return to power of the influential Medici family. Machiavelli was forced to give up politics, which was his great passion, and was forced to live in near poverty. It was in this period of his life that Machiavelli wrote The Prince, now one of the most famous western treatises on politics.

     Machiavelli was aware that his own approach to political power was different from previous theorists. His major concerns in The Prince were the acquisition and expansion of political power to maintain or restore order. In his view, this was to be done by whatever means possible. According to Machiavelli, humans were “ungrateful, deceptive and deceiving, avoiders of danger, and eager for gain”. Political activity, therefore, must not be restricted by moral considerations. As Machiavelli said, “A ruler should do right if he can, but he must be prepared to do wrong if necessary”. Machiavelli was among the first to abandon morality as the basis for exercising political power. For Machiavelli, the success of an institution or ruler was to be determined by how well they acquired or preserved political power. He regarded the ideas of his predecessors as mere “fancies”, as he says in Chapter fifteen of The Prince; “…in treating this subject I depart from the rules set down by others. But since it is my intention to write something of use to those who will understand, I deem it best to stick to the practical truth of things rather than to fancies. Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from what is for he pursues his own downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good...”

     Machiavelli has long been considered the founder of modern politics because of his innovative approach to politics in of itself. In his own time, Machiavelli was considered a man inspired by the devil. However, Machiavelli was really a man who looked at the overwhelming problems around him and concluded that there was in fact a solution. According to Daniel Domo, a famous historian, “The Prince was a desperate effort to find a remedy for the wretched conditions into which his country had fallen”.

     It is ironic that The Prince, the classical handbook on ruling a state, owed its birth to the collapse of its author’s own political career.

© 2010 Gregory Markov

References and Resources

The Prince, By Niccolo Machiavelli

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Eragon By Christopher Paolini: A Brief Summary Of The Book

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