Essay Paper on Niccolo Machiavelli
Due to a mid-century time of turmoil, Machiavelli set out to demonstrate his expertise as a political analyst in the hopes of winning back a position in the active political life that he desperately yearned. Machiavelli insisted on making his work original. The Prince addresses the most traditional of questions, the ideals of a prince.
His topic is not what made the work unique, but his approach is original. The Prince marked the first treatment of the theory of politics in which the exercise of power and the acquisition of power were discussed without reference to an ultimate ethical or moral end. Though it was written to appeal to the Renaissance state, many of its tenets still apply to modern politics. Machiavelli advances many arguments in The Prince. As previous theorists setup their arguments by exploring the nature of men and the purpose of government, Machiavelli decided to treat politics differently.
Italian states during the time were divided into republics that “preserved traditional institutions of the medieval commune by allowing a civic elite to control political and economic life, and principalities, which were ruled by one dynasty”. Machiavelli chose to focus on the principalities. He divided all principalities into two categories, new and established. The principalities could be passed down from a father to son, or acquired through military force or political fortune.
Machiavelli’s exploration of the nature of human beings was also distinct from his predecessors. Most earlier works of political theory stated that a prince needed to be moral above all things; virtue was essential. Machiavelli did not offer rules for good behavior in the common Christian sense. Machiavelli found most common “virtues” unnecessary and at many times detrimental to the political powers of a prince. He believes in “virtu,” an Italian word that was unrelated to the English word of virtue. Machiavelli’s virtu entails courage, strength, vitality and ability. Though most previous works had emphasized that the liberty in a republic depended on the virtue of the people, Machiavelli claimed that it depended solely on the virtu of the leader.
Though morality was not the aim, The Prince clearly advocates and recognizes the importance of certain moral qualities in reaching the most desirable ends. Specifically, it is important for a prince to not use force or treachery, but rather gain his ends by communication and persuasion.
Machiavelli uses an argument by analogy to portray the qualities that an ideal prince should hold. The ideal prince should be able to imitate a lion and a fox. The ruler needs the bravery and decisiveness of a lion, but also the sly quickness and elusiveness of a fox. A ruler also needs to always have a position on a matter since neutrality is a sign of weakness. A ruler should not hesitate to use his power, but should not abuse the power he holds. A ruler should not ask its citizens for intolerable tasks, otherwise they will rebel. With “good laws and good arms” a ruler can maintain its powers. But, to gain power in the first place, much more is necessary.
Power is gained through favor, luck, ability, complete evil, or favor of fellow citizens. A strong army is essential in gaining power. A ruler needs a task force that is loyal to him, men who will die for him, and fight for him. With a strong army, security can be obtained.
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