Niccolo Machiavelli was a 15th century writer whose name often evokes feelings of distrust and mischief because of the ideas outlined in his greatest work The Prince. This work has been criticized and referred to as the devil’s handbook. The ideas put forth in the book has been described as evil, immoral, and wicked. And these claims are justified because The Prince is a practical guide on how a leader can successfully operate a political system dominated by corruption and vice. It encourages the use of fear and deception in controlling the citizens of a country. It empowers leaders to do whatever it takes to maintain their position and control over their citizens. However, despite these negative characteristics, The Prince has continued to exert its influence on the political and philosophical scenery across the world.
To understand why Machiavelli wrote such a book, we must first recognize that the world he lived in is vastly different from today’s world. Machiavelli grew up in a time period were chaos and conflicts were the order of the day. There were wars between city-states, popes leading armies to the battlefields, and a constant change of government every few weeks. Machiavelli himself was educated by the humanist ideologies popular in the Renaissance Period and this influence reflects in The Prince. Later in life, he entered into public service, starting as a clerk and finally ending as an administrator in charge of his city’s diplomatic and military matters. It was this vast experience Machiavelli drew from when he penned down his masterpiece.
Going further in this article, we shall find out what influenced Machiavelli in writing The Prince:
He wanted to return to politics
One of the things that influenced Machiavelli to write The Prince was a desire to regain his position in the then Florentine government and to also redeem his political reputation. Before writing this work, Machiavelli had occupied several important political positions. However, hostile rumors about his plans to form a republic against the ruling Medici family damaged his political image. He was eventually accused, imprisoned, and brutally tortured by the Medici. However, when the Medici family discovered that Machiavelli was innocent of all the accusations, they let him go. But by this time, his political reputation was already in tatters. Machiavelli had to leave Florence to a nearby estate where he wrote The Prince.
Even while he was on a self-imposed exile, he still had interests in studying human nature and politics. So, he spared no expense in acquiring political insights and knowledge that would be useful to him in the future. Before long, he became desirous of returning to Florentine politics and also redeeming his reputation. In a bid to win the favor of the then governor of Florence, Lorenzo de’Medici, and to show how knowledgeable he was in political matters, he wrote The Prince. The work highlighted how much he understood the monarchical government. It also presented Machiavelli as a valuable asset filled with practical and expert advice that would be helpful in an official position. But Lorenzo treated the book with indifference and Machiavelli was never invited to serve in any political office.
He wanted to offer practical advice
Another reason why Machiavelli wrote The Prince was to offer Lorenzo advice on how to rule Florence long term and how he could also unite Italy. Machiavelli knew the dangers involved in a ruler losing control of his people. So, he tried to offer suggestions that would ensure that the Medici family would be difficult to overthrow and also rule forever. One of the advices he gave was for Lorenzo to develop an attitude of competence that would inspire admiration from his subjects while also instilling a fear of revolt or discord in them. According to Machiavelli, it was preferable for a ruler to be both loved and feared as this would ensure his continued stay in power. Besides, using fear tactics was the best way to ensure success as a ruler.
In addition, Machiavelli encouraged the Medici family to build a military force that would only be loyal to them and whose services could be used in eliminating potential threats. Furthermore, he urged Lorenzo to pretend to be generous to the needs of his people while spending the public money on his own plans. He also advised him to be deceptive and fake compassion while controlling his subjects with cruelty. At the time, Machiavelli’s ideas were shocking and scandalous because it placed personal success above personal morality. But as far as Machiavelli was concerned, evil was a trait that any strong ruler should have.
He was afraid of being punished by the rulers of his day
The unpleasant experience Machiavelli had with the Medici family where he was imprisoned and tortured left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. The brutal treatment he received at their hands obviously imprinted itself permanently in his memory. Also, this experience possibly aroused a feeling of distrust from the Medicis towards Machiavelli. It is understandable that even after the event had passed, the Medicis were still suspicious of him. Machiavelli understood this feeling and looked for ways to be on good terms with them. In writing The Prince, he tried to open channels of communication in which positive interactions between him and the Medicis could take place. Also, he wanted to save himself from any chance of future persecutions. Machiavelli envisioned that his work would become a symbol of loyalty and a safeguard to the powerful ruling family. Sadly, this was not the case.
In spite of all the years that have passed, the controversy surrounding Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince has not abated one bit. This notable political work is constantly been vilified for its extreme and immoral political views. However, even though it was a massive failure at the time it was published, the tactics embedded are still being referenced and used in the corporate and political world.
Photo Credit: Biography