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Analysis of Cesare Borgia by Niccolo Machiavelli

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Niccolò Machiavelli (1532) uses the portrayal of Cesare Borgia’s career to teach readers about establishing new principalities through others’ arms and fortune, which are gained with little to no trouble but are maintained with great difficulty. Borgia gained land through his father, Pope Alexander VI, and did not account for the fact that the Church owned the land once his father met an untimely end. Machiavelli goes on to Borgia’s dependency throughout his career was the main cause for his failure in maintaining his state. Yet to begin, Machiavelli deems Borgia’s actions praiseworthy and says that he does not “judge [them] superfluous to discuss” and beyond “reproach.” Machiavelli leaves the reader to conclude whether these actions include Borgia’s mistakes until later in The Prince. To elaborate his own consideration,

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Machiavelli shows the steps that Cesare Borgia took to set down the “great foundations for future power” throughout his career, including the missteps that led to his own ruin. Machiavelli first shows how Cesare Borgia’s resources of arms evolve throughout his career, from being very dependent to having his own arms. Machiavelli shows this when he writes, “Cesare Borgia came into Romagna with auxiliary arms, leading there entirely French troops… he turned to mercenaries… he hired the Orsini and Vitelli… and turned to his own arms.” Machiavelli communicates that Cesare Borgia turned to his own arms after eliminating the Orsini leaders, who were conspiring against him, helping him step away from the dependence he has relied on. The conspirators bring with them an implication of a weak infrastructure of Borgia’s power. It should seem that Machiavelli would again praise and uphold Borgia’s strong position as he “was the total owner of his own arms” after he rid those conspiring against him. Furthermore, this transition helps ameliorate Borgia’s power to a more reputable standard than while he was depending on other methods of arms. Machiavelli wants to convey, through Borgia’s ultimate failure, to those learning from his works the multiple ways one can be dependent.

Machiavelli then analyzes Cesare Borgia’s display of power in his actions towards the Romagna. Borgia put Messer Remirro de Orco in charge, who “restored the Romagna” by employing cruel and severe measures to bring law and order to the once lawless land. The law and peace, a more joined community, could help provide protection from invading forces. Though Cesare Borgia delegated this arduous task, when it was considered that this display of excessive power and cruelty was no longer needed, he publicly executed Remirro de Orco. Borgia then leaves him in two pieces with the knife alongside him to help show that it is disposed to be raised again. This action “satisfied” the soldiers and “stupefied” the people. Indeed, this kept the people from conspiring against him, while mollifying the need for the appearance of justice.

Machiavelli asserts that displaying acts of cruelties is necessary in certain situations, and if one analyzes the calculated execution that left the Romagna orderly and united, one sees it left Cesare Borgia blameless of the cruelty of Remirro de Orco. Machiavelli notices these manipulations of power, the use of Orco as a tool to bring order and divert hatred from Borgia. This calculating undertaking kept him feared, which is understood to be better than to be loved. Machiavelli notes that this is because the prince holds control over the fear he instills, and while it is better to be both feared and loved, it is unrealistic. Machiavelli allows the readers to come to acknowledge the power dynamics that Cesare Borgia utilizes to gain the people’s fear. Machiavelli helps the reader understand that these actions are what other princes should exemplify, without the dependency factor which Borgia has never fully stepped away from.

Deviating from previous praise, Machiavelli states that he would “only accuse him in the creation of Julius as pontiff.” Machiavelli helps outline Borgia’s failure to recognize the full extent of gaining one’s own arms or understand the implications it could have on his power. Through the same fortune of his father that allowed Borgia to gain the state did he lose it, making what seemed a valued asset a restrictive vice. After his father, Pope Alexander VI died, Borgia made the mistake of not using his power to keep Julius II, an enemy in the loosest term, from the papacy. In summary, Borgia’s mistake led to the “cause of his ultimate ruin” because he lacked the right of self-government on the land as it was primarily still the Church’s. Machiavelli is portraying Borgia’s inaction as a reliance and dependence on his father’s resources that have just run out. Machiavelli even goes as far as to say that Borgia would have been successful “if Alexander had lived,” although the author leaves it unexpressed as to how this could have been accomplished. Cesare Borgia fell ill at the time of his father’s death, seeming to further mimic his own ill-fortune in his political downfall.

Given the circumstances, Cesare Borgia is a study of a failed prince, even though Machiavelli depicts many of his actions as good, virtuous, and beyond reproach. His rise and fall are both attributed to the fortune of others, particularly his fathers. Machiavelli also contributes Borgia’s failure to his lack of understanding of the need to have one’s own arms, not just an army but land ownership as well, and his own inherent mortality. Machiavelli allows Borgia’s lack of control of his resources to highlight how much a vice dependency is while trying to gain land and power. This does not look upon favorably to the prince’s reputation, relationship with their people, and how much power they can exert and how. Machiavelli shows through this the virtues and vices that can cause one’s own ruin while trying to establish a principality through other’s arms and fortune.

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