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Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince

During the Renaissance period of time, Italy was undergoing a lot of unsettling events politically. There were works produced by different humanists and philosophers with the one standing out amongst them being Niccolò Machiavelli. He was a philosopher, humanist and a politician who later came to write his book entitled, “The Prince”, a dedication to Lorenzo de’ Medici, prince of Florence, which garnered a lot of criticism to the point he was finally exiled out of his country. The intended purpose for writing the book was to make a guide for leaders and rulers on how to rule effectively, although some critics viewed it in quite the opposite fashion, as a guide on how not to rule. Important to note is the way he writes the prose of the book in a very logical and forthright manner while at the same time trying to explain and justify complex human behaviors. The theme of human nature as captured in the book is very central to his work and the advice he gives the prince. We see a deviation from what is considered norm and worthy to a celebration of vices, all in a bid to be good at governance. A recurring narrative is the fickle nature of human beings. He states that a person will only stay loyal and true to you as long as it suits them but will also readily turn against you when circumstances change for the worse. Knowing too well that people are both good and bad, he advises the prince to be equally shrewd and cunning in his dealings with his subjects and lean on his self-interests.

First Thesis

In the book by Niccolò Machiavelli, some themes are captured in his views and perceptions about how a prince is supposed to run his government. The occurrence of it is during the upheaval times in Renaissance Italy with Medici at the helm. In this paper, the focus is on one prominent theme: human nature. This idea is a characteristic exhibited by persons in society and is common amongst everyone. His observations are paved with a pessimistic opinion on human behavior and conduct. As is depicted by Machiavelli, human beings tend to be fickle and dishonest in their dealings, and as such, there is a need for the ruling prince to be shrewd in his governing. In the murky waters of politics and governance, he argues for the view that a leader is better feared than loved if both are not attainable concurrently. In the same vein, he seems to be of the opinion that human nature is unchanging and the weaknesses that dwell therein only exist to serve the person concerning the situation at hand and circumstance. According to Machiavelli, (1532), “Related to 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 it is much safer to be feared than loved when only one is possible. The reason for this is that in general men are ungrateful, inconstant, false, cowardly, and greedy” (Machiavelli, 1532). Emphasis is placed on the inherent self-centered nature of human beings and their unwillingness to act in the best interest of the state. It is, therefore, more important to be feared but also to avoid hatred if the prince is not loved. To achieve this, he advises the prince to keep off people’s property and women, going further to underscore the weird human behavior of a person quickly forgiving the demise of their father than losing their belongings. Also, he points out that love can is easily bought, but fear of punishment keeps citizens in line.

Second Thesis

Another aspect to consider is the deceit of human beings brought about by their self-interests. The focus primarily zeroes in on flatterers and from those whom the prince seeks counsel and advice. Machiavelli seems to push a narrative that a prince ought not to depend solely on the opinion of those around him and in the inner council but listen to all viewpoints, consider them then come up with his own decisions. One interesting bit in his observations is that the prince might lose the respect of his citizens if he keeps changing his choices because of varied opinions and advice from those around him. Also, Machiavelli explains that the prince ought to always seek out the opinions but only of the wise men he’s chosen. To quote him, he observes that, “Therefore a wise prince ought to follow the third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them alone the liberty of speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires and of none others” (Machiavelli, 1532). The implication is the prince ought to accept the truth from these wise men only and none other while also limiting their freedom to do so by listening to that of which he only inquires. To note is how Machiavelli brings out a part of human nature, contempt. The premise for this has to do with the fact that people eventually lose respect for a person in leadership with whom they have all freedom to criticize and speak truthfully without fear of victimization. Also, he further reiterates the importance of the wisdom of the prince as a personal ability. He stresses that a wise prince will take good advice negating the notion that a prince appears to portray wisdom because of his advisors. The prince who is not wise receives varied opinions from men driven by their deceitful self-interests unless they are of good repute in character, and because of this, the ruler is not able to accommodate all of them and make a right decision.

Third Thesis

Last but not least, Machiavelli touches on the human behavior of keeping their word. According to him, past successful rulers have held on to their kingdoms for long through cheating. He further goes on to say that the prince should not be inclined to be true to their word if the conditions that necessitated it or brought about the promise no longer exist. The basis here is that human beings are not inherently good but quite the opposite. As such, the prince ought to learn the art of using the rules and force according to circumstance. He well illustrates it metaphorically by the use of the lion and the fox where the fox represents trickery and the lion brute force and fear. The overall narrative being pushed in Chapter 18 boils down to the character trait of being a pretender. Important to note is how he explains the significance of appearance that a prince ought to project to his citizens. He mentions five qualities, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, uprightness and being religious as crucial for a prince to have them but be also ready to flexible to change his mind as when it suits him and his interests. In this chapter, he quips, “People are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that anyone who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived” (Machiavelli, 1532). This interesting observation of human nature is conceived on the bed of people being self-absorbed and caught up with their present needs. Lastly, Machiavelli captures a curious trait in people of them being easily fooled by impressions. According to him, the prince should, more importantly, appear religious which even if he goes against he can rest assured people will only see the honesty and good in him conquering and holding onto his territory. Since the prince has the support of the common man, any opposing opinion which falls within the minority holds no water and his reign is kept secure through such means.

Conclusion

Although Italy was evolving into a hub of intellectual and cultural discourse, Machiavelli felt that such attributes wouldn’t do much in the betterment of Italy and securing its political future. His radical view was based on the premise that, for a leader to rule for long and in an effective manner, he needs to have total control over his subjects. One of the ways he pushes for such a kind of rule is the instituting of a secular form of government, meaning the prince would not be tied down by moral social norms. Machiavelli felt that people mostly tended to look after their self-interests which was in contrast to the views held by humanists. To this end, he had his doubts as to whether such form of government would ever be achieved, which was the case several years late after the publishing of his book.

Works cited

Machiavelli, N., & Viroli, M. (2008). The prince (Vol. 43). Oxford University Press.

Machiavelli, N., & Viroli, M. (2008). The prince (Vol. 43). Oxford University Press.

Machiavelli, N., & Viroli, M. (2008). The prince (Vol. 43). Oxford University Press.

August 09, 2021

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