The Prince and Machiavelli's Favorite Author of Tyrants

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Niccolo Machiavelli dedicated his life to his literature after being released from jail on the charge of conspiracy against the Medici family. Machiavelli wrote The Prince in hopes of influencing future princes on the ideal process of how to control a monarch successfully. He also wanted to obtain a place of power in the Medici government. Machiavelli’s work was questioned due to his unethical and immoral ideas that were unlike other works at the time because he dealt with reality while advising future rulers of Florence. Through his work, he expressed that for the preservation of the government, all means were justified.

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Machiavelli’s view of humanity tended to match the views of Renaissance humanists while still differing in some ways. Renaissance humanists admired the classical style of all things at this time. Machiavelli introduces many historical figures such as Theseus in order to express their achievements through their methods of ruling. Machiavelli also references to others that were thought to be cruel which also meant that they were viewed as strong and respected. At this time, this was unheard of. Machiavelli used these rulers as an example for people to understand that these men should not have been condemned but rather been used as sources to learn from. This also deviated usual Renaissance humanistic beliefs because he used these examples from reality instead of forming his writing from ethical principles. Renaissance humanists wrote their works based off of perfect states which hadn’t yet existed. Machiavelli’s view of humanity agreed with other Renaissance humanists because neither thought that the church should have any part in the government. Machiavelli’s realistic view in The Prince differed from the humanistic works of others that were religiously based. Machiavelli states, “And since they are sustained by superior causes which transcend human understanding, I will not discuss them”. Machiavelli describes his confusion with why the church rules one of the states by saying that no one could know why the church has power in the government.

The Prince was also compatible with individualism. Individualists believed that an independent mind set solely on the importance of self interest is the most beneficial way to rule. Machiavelli discussed the importance that individualism had on efficiently maintaining control of a state. He recommended that it was better to be consumed with self interest rather than wanting to benefit everybody. He believed that if the prince tried to be beneficial to everyone, then it could end up ruining his reign because he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the benefits that the people wanted. The only way to keep up with these benefits would be to charge them higher taxes, which would anger the people and cause trouble.

Most humanists during this time were conservatives who did not want change to the existing government. Machiavelli contradicts these beliefs in The Prince when he is advising new princes on how to rule a new principality that is foreign to the new prince. Machiavelli’s advice is to move to the new state. By moving to the new state, the prince is able to handle problems going on in the state more quickly. This is also important as the prince can see who his real allies are while also stopping any plans of overthrowing his reign. By stopping these issues in their tracks, the prince will be viewed as a serious leader who deserves the respect of his people. If the prince is viewed this way, then there will be less attempts at overthrowing his reign.

Machiavelli’s cruel and violent advice are incompatible with lots of church teachings at the time. Machiavelli’s famous quote “It is better to be feared than loved”, expresses this because he believed that the means used to hold the state by the prince were understandable as long as the only reason he used these means was for the better of the state. The best way he thought to be feared by the people was through violent acts against people who betrayed him. Although he thought this, he also thought that the acts had to have reason for the cruelty or else the people would be filled with hatred for the prince. At this time, the church was primarily focused on teaching of forgiveness. Machiavelli thought that if the prince showed too much of a compassionate side, as to forgive the law breakers, then from there would be more criminal acts. This also shows why Machiavelli thought it best to be feared because by being feared, it is easier to have order in the state.

Machiavelli also contradicts other humanists at the time through his usage of realism. Realism is the accepting of a problem and being ready to handle it accordingly. Machiavelli expresses that it is sometimes impossible to use morals when handling some situations if the prince wishes to keep control of his state. During these times, people thought of some rulers to be immoral. Machiavelli agrees with this but also thinks that it is absurd to believe that being moral is the best route for a ruler to take. The humanists of this time had not wrote their literature with the usage of realism. They used ethical and moral principles to establish their idealistic worlds, while Machiavelli focused on reality and used it to advise the princes on the most efficient way to rule and stay in rule of their states. Machiavelli’s usage of his experiences and studies from the past make his advice seem much more cruel. Machiavelli believes that these pieces of cruel advice are the most beneficial way to rule because he takes the mistakes made by other princes in order to correctly advise the future princes on how to rule.

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