The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

details
Title: The Prince.
Writer(s): Niccolò Machiavelli.
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Inc.
Format: Barnes & Noble Pocket Size Leatherbound Classic.
Release Date: June 1st, 2017 (first published in 1532).
Pages: 128.
Genre(s): Philosophy, Non-Fiction.
ISBN13:  9781435163812.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.

thoughts

Human nature has a funny way to materialize itself throughout history. You’d think that we’d be inclined towards good or evil and not bathe in all the grey. There are countless examples to illustrate what truly drives humankind and sometimes you wish it wasn’t just self-interest, profit, and vice. Whether we are born to be good or evil doesn’t, however, mean that we can’t strive to do one or the other and some philosophical politicians have looked into proving that sometimes going all bad isn’t always that bad. Known for his devious and immoral vision of politics, Niccolò Machiavelli has made a name for himself that will forever have him go down in history as a pioneer of practicality, unethicality, and insanity. At least when it comes to realpolitik, the man has established the foundation that will allow humankind to further understand their own nature.

What is The Prince about? Written by Niccolò Machiavelli and addressed directly to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, the Duke of Urbino during the second half of the 1510s, this thorough commentary is an in-depth examination of princedoms. He thus proceeds in an utterly rational and cohesive manner to demonstrate the various paths to acquiring the status of a prince within a state. He then explores the necessary resources that should compose a princedom and presents the advantages and consequences of various constitutions of the state’s army if the populace is meant to be under his wings. He follows this controversial yet insightful piece by divulging the necessary qualities of a prince if he wishes to dominate his playground. He finally concludes by exploring the composition of a prince’s political circle and what he needs if he is to be trusted and followed.

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Besides being one of the most influential and relevant masterpieces in political literature, Niccolò Machiavelli crudely and effectively writes a statement establishing his rigid demeanor and firm belief in the practicality of politics and viciousness of war. While it is easy to believe that kindness will lead you far in the race for control, progress, and societal tenacity, he clearly affirms with a rigid resolution that cruelty trumps morality. He further establishes that deception is also a quintessential tool to assure the prince’s domination and that a misleading appearance of kindness sheltering a killer instinct can bring you further in life than an innocent position of friendly submission with the population. His conviction that a morality-free vision of politics is thus expressed throughout his practical discourse and reminds the reader that sometimes the truth is not what we always want to hear.

Exemplified with real events centered around failed and successful princes, Niccolò Machiavelli meticulously rams his arguments into the reader by further concretizing his statements, making them near irrefutable as he presents the fall of various princes and the lacunes of princedoms when order is absent and naivety reigns. Although he doesn’t go into detail to contextualize his case studies—which was never the intention from the beginning—he nevertheless makes the reading experience effortless and proceeds methodologically to prove his case up until the very moment when he unleashes the beast and protests the unequivocal fact that morality does not have a place in politics and war when envisioned in the long term. The instant you read his perceived modicum of truth regarding women and fortune, you’ll quickly understand that this man is far more Machiavellian than his name proclaims.

The Prince is a riveting treatise exploring the place of morality within princedom and the consolidation of power through deception.


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39 comments

  • Machiavelli has long been associated with ‘the ends justify the means’ when it comes to politics, but there is a debate as to whether or not he meant ‘The Prince’ to be more of a satirical world, given his service to the Florentine republic. His ‘Discourses on Livy’ (which I’ll admit to not having read) trend toward republicanism and against the tyranny of ‘The Prince’. He was a high-level official in the republic of Florence and witnessed the tyranny of Cesare Borgia and Pope Alexander VI, so he witnessed both sides of that debate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have indeed heard that the content in The Prince might not reflect his ideology perfectly yet, through time, he has been associated to that Machiavellian mentality. I definitely would love to try ‘Discourses on Livy’ just to see what he had to say in that one though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, that Machiavellian mentality was ingraine in culture pretty quickly. I think it was referred to in Shakespeare somewhere. ‘Discourses on Livy’ sounds interesting, and I’d like to read it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  • I haven’t read this (yet) and so I wonder, when you write “morality” if it should be addendum’d (Judeo-Christian)morality.

    For some reason I was under the impression this was a big long book. But after seeing your page number, I think I’m going to hunt down a project gutenberg copy and add it to my non-fiction tbr. I can handle 150 or less no problem 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wasn’t trying to say you needed to re-write your review, but that the contextual use of the word “morality” by the author needed to be read with that addendum mentally added.

      Liked by 2 people

    • One interpretation I did not mention in my overly long comment below, is that “The Prince” is sometimes seen as an argument for the pre-Christian ethics of “Virtue” against Christian morality of Machiavelli’s times. That would either mean that it’s impractical to base a society on Chrisitian morality, as it’s unreachable by mortals, or even going further and suggesting it would not be desirable, as it goes against human nature. Lots of possible interpretations were suggested in centuries since the publication 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

    • I think it is indeed a must-read, alongside The Art of War, when it comes to some of the founding works in politics/philosophy. I’d be curious to see what you’d have to say from your point of view regarding his morality-free, ends-justify-means vision.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I think this is going to go higher on my TBR list. I’ve just started Gulag Archipelago (vol 1), so after I’m done that monster I’ll look into this. Gulag is 3 volumes and I know I’ll need breaks between, as my brother read it years ago and warned me it gets bleaker than bleak.

        So something I can vent on would probably do me good 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh man, those are some supeeeeeer thick books to read nowadays! I remember the OrangutanLibrarian reviewing those and making me add them to my TBR too. Maybe you’ll give me the necessary push to getting my hands on a copy. Who knows. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, she’s the reason I started them this year. I’ve had them for years but never really was “in the mood”. So grasping that bull by the horns and we’ll what happens.

            I figure with someone like Bernie Sanders running for President, I need to be reminded of what will happen to my country if a soft communist like him gets elected 😦

            Liked by 1 person

  • It’s not just a matter of politicians: when we read about the “big bad corporations” – either in real life or in fiction – it’s easy to imagine that their leaders have taken Machiavelli’s teachings to heart….
    A very thought-provoking review, thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  • I love “The Prince”. it’s one of my favourite classics. First widely known author (after antiquity, Thucydides is one of my other favourites 😉 ) to coldly analyse the real mechanisms of politics. He did not write a treatise about faithful knights and God-fearing kings, but codified what all the politicians around him were actually doing anyway. He did not invent cruelty or dictatorship, he got rid of the hypocrisy of his contemporaries. And that itself was dangerous, as the common people were not meant to see through the disguise of piety of the rulers. “Hypocrisy is a tribute that vice pays to virtue.” and without that tribute it’s more difficult to keep the masses pacified… ironically, one of the better known critiques of Machiavelli was written by Frederick the Great, a very cynical and ruthless Prussian king (“Anti-Machiavel”) whose arguments were largely moral in nature 🙂

    I’ve always seen “The Prince” as a major step in the creation of rational, secular society in the West. To see the things as they are, and be pragmatic about how they can be changed. Remember, Machiavelli was a republican politician in Florence who tried to actually keep it democratic, and the
    Prince he writes about has the aim to unify Italy for the betterment of its people in mind. Obviously, there are many dangers in his view of politics, but for me its refreshing and honest way of analysing it.

    On the other hand, in the way politics is conducted, seeing aim as justifying the means is obviously very dangerous. I’ve read Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” recently, and there was a great quote there from Lassalle:

    “Show us not the aim without the way:
    For ends and means on earth are so entangled
    That changing one, you change the other too;
    Each different path brings other ends in view.”

    So, the job of a good prince/president would be to balance the aims and means, to be both successful and not evil 😉

    But, firstly – if one of them has mouth full of slogans about morality and piety, his probably the worst scoundrel of them all.

    Secondly – even if we don’t want to get all Realpolitik in our actions, we should definitely be very realistic in our analysis of how the politics works. Otherwise we will be blinded by smoke and mirrors…

    There’s a great essay by Max Weber, “Politics as Vocation”, that I’ve always seen as a sort of continuation of this line of thinking in the modern world 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think an important element to add is that The Prince is probably one of the first modern reflections on political realism, and written from this particular perspective. Secondly, I personally always thought Machiavelli had great fun writing that book – it seems a bit sarcastic, or at least self- conscious enough not to take itself completely seriously.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I was honestly hesitating on acknowledging that “sarcastic” tone throughout the piece during my first read. I think I’ll revisit it after picking up his other work (The Art of War, The Discourses, etc) to see if he’s not pulling a Two-Face on us. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

        • Huh, I actually thought it was more of a predicament for him – acknowledging the baseness of human nature while exploiting that very same baseness either calls for a high degree of self-awareness and ironic depreciation or a truly Machiavellian (!) mind – and in all honesty, I feel there was more of the former in The Prince 😉 I’m actually reminded of Erasmus’s The Praise of Stupidity, but in a more pragmatic, serious way.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It’s just the thought that he might have actually been pro-Republican structure that made want to see if what he wrote was to please or a truly raw appreciation of that Machiavellian mentality!

            Gosh, y’all have read far more philosophical pieces than I could ever envision 😂 Will look into The Praise of Stupidity too now hahah

            Liked by 1 person

    • If the length of this comment does not tell us how much you love this classic, I don’t know what would. 😛 I am, however, really glad that you shared that with me here. I too think that this treatise is necessary to understand how you should act at the very core of yourself to both please those in power and the populace.

      I plan on reading Darkness at Noon soon too, so I’m glad to hear about this discussion being also explored in it. I do think that balancing both means and ends is not easy but that faking ‘acceptable’ means to achieve ends is clever and evil.

      I’ll look into Politics as Vocation; thanks for the recommendation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Max Weber is actually the inspiration of both our blog’s title (we reversed his ‘disenchantment of the world’ thesis) and my avatar (that honor he shares with Cthulhu 😉 ).

        Liked by 1 person

  • I think I read some Machiavelli in college, but I don’t remember the specifics. I definitely need to read the ‘The Prince’ and refer back to this review.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Oh, I love that when most of us are digging up the lighthearted comfort stories, you are studying 16th-century political philosophy! Having said that, I’m keen to read this at a later stage and very pleasantly surprised about the number of pages 😉 . Great review, you have given good insight into what to expect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pfft hahaha I’m making it a goal this year to sneak in more of these shorter pieces into my reading schedule and am glad to finally get around to reading these classics that have been on my TBR for far too long. It’s definitely a must-read, especially to see what a “ends-justifies-means” approach in politics is like.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Steadily working your way through the classics, eh? This is another I’ve not read, but that’s on the long list of books I’d like to. I think I may have downloaded an audio version from Librivox. That’s one way I’ve also been slowly “reading” the classics, by listening to some of them. Thanks for a great review. I’ve also enjoyed some of the comments from others. Very interesting discussions.

    Like

  • Ha! I always wanted to read this book as it is said to be a masterpiece and really interesting, but somehow it was never on top of my list so I never read it! 😅 However, your review makes me want to consider reading it again and see for myself what it really is about, especially since I read a book by Torquato Accetto (a less known Italian writer from the XVIIth century) who was inspired by Machiavelli and talked about the concept of “deception” and what he calls honest dissumlation… Very interesting and still pretty much accurate in our days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So many have probably thought that when they first heard of The Prince since I too was like you when I first heard of it in college. I know now that I’m glad to have taken the time to check it out and to further understand his vision of politics by reading the whole thing (it’s small after all) instead of just extracts.

      Ouuuuh, I like the concept of honest dissimulation. It sounds so evil actually hahaha I tried looking it up but it seems to have only been written in Italian hahah

      Thanks for reading, Juliette! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I didn’t think it was that small, maybe it was the motivation I needed to start reading it 😀
        The book is really interesting and sometimes quite fun as well! Too bad it has only been written in Italian!

        Liked by 1 person

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