January 1, 1532 - The Prince by Machiavelli
By Sage Christensen
“it is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
― Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
In the book The Prince by Niccol Machiavelli, Machiavelli introduces his ideas of ruthless politics and how to balance being liked and feared. The Prince had five main takeaways that are known as the ideal characteristics of a prince. The first one being that a prince must have no other thought in mind other than war and how to pursue it. Machiavelli states that a prince’s main focus must be on war and nothing else. Machiavelli implied that a prince should think more about war in times of peace than during times of conflict. Later on, Niccol wrote The Art of War which expanded on these concepts. Machiavelli also debates ideas of liberality and generosity. Niccol means that if one wanted to be generous as a ruler, it would eventually use up all resources. In addition, a prince cannot go from being generous to not, because they will be perceived as a cheap person who will become more unliked than in the first place.
In Chapter XVII, the balance of mercy and cruelty is mentioned. It is said that a prince should be considered merciful while still not being scared to be called cruel. The idea of punishing a few to avoid chaos is more realistic than not punishing any and having the whole rule fall. Soon after it is stated that “it is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” In short, this means that one cannot be feared and loved- you must choose one. When it comes to that one must be feared because men are ravenous. Lastly, Machiavelli declares that a prince must be like a fox and a lion because a lion can defend itself against wolves, but not against traps, while the fox can defend itself against traps but not wolves. Machiavelli uses the metaphor of the lion and the fox to allude to their strength and power of the lion who is able to defeat the enemy, but also be sly and have smarts and whit to be cunning against the enemy. Throughout the book, Machiavelli makes strong statements on how to be a strong ruler without being hated.
The Medici family was the most powerful familes in Florence, Italy for most of the 15th century because of their wealth and skill. In 1513, Machiavelli was accused of conspiring against the new rulers and he was secretly tossed in jail and brutally tortured. At this point he understandably did not like the Medici family because of this incident. However, he was released by Giovanni de ‘Medici that same year. Shortly after he wrote The Prince as an effort to impress the Medici family with his understanding of politics. Machiavelli ended up dedicating the book to Lorenzo de’ Medici because of Giovanni’s untimely death. Author Miles J. Unger said that “It was something of a job application”, or a way to gain power at the time. The Medici family didn’t want something as brutal and straight forward as it was to be exposed to the world, as a result they disregarded The Prince as well as Machiavelli himself. Machiavelli died in 1527 and it wasn’t until 1532, five years after his death, was it published.
Furthermore, Machiavelli introduced ideas of Absolutism to the world before most. For example, he states that the “ends justify the means”. This means that one should be willing to do whatever it takes if you want to get something from someone. This refers to Absolutism through its willingness to take harsh measures to get what one wants. Additionally, Machiavelli’s ideas towards punishment. Machiavelli was never an absolute ruler or in much power throughout his life. This is why his opinion is unbiased towards his unforgiving views on punishing people. Machiavelli was an extremely smart philosopher who was innovational in writing with his groundbreaking writings about politics, though they were not apricated in his time.