The Prince

The Prince

3.9 129
by Nicolo Machiavelli
     
 

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The book has been variously described as the first to analyze the role of the political elite; as the one that established the independence of politics from theology; as an early formulation of the political 'myth' required to galvanize apolitical masses into revolutionary action; as a practical rule-book containing timeless precepts for the diplomat; and, most… See more details below

Overview

The book has been variously described as the first to analyze the role of the political elite; as the one that established the independence of politics from theology; as an early formulation of the political 'myth' required to galvanize apolitical masses into revolutionary action; as a practical rule-book containing timeless precepts for the diplomat; and, most frequently, as the handbook of evil. Based upon Machiavelli's firsthand experience as an emissary of the Florentine Republic to the courts of Europe, The Prince analyzes the often-violent means by which political power is seized and retained, and the circumstances in which it is lost. Above all, it provides a remarkably uncompromising picture of the true nature of power, no matter in what era or by whom it is exercised.

Editorial Reviews

Annie M. Paul

No doubt about it -- this writer is hot. His works inspire countless knockoffs and imitations. His imprimatur gilds the covers of other authors' books like Oprah's golden O. His name has even entered the language as an adjective. But you won't see him signing books at Barnes & Noble or trying to talk over Charlie Rose. No doubt he'd relish the attention, but he's been dead for almost 500 years.

These days, Niccolo Machiavelli is generating a volume of buzz Tina Brown would envy. In the past couple of years, he's been the subject of more than 20 books, including Dick Morris' The New Prince: Machiavelli Updated for the Twenty-First Century, The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business and Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago. For the fairer (but no less devious) sex, there's The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women and for those mischievous little tykes, A Child's Machiavelli: A Primer on Power.

Of course, the buzz around Machiavelli has never really died down. Since his guide to getting and keeping power, The Prince, was published in 1532, Machiavelli's matter-of-fact instruction that rulers must be prepared to lie, cheat and steal to hang on to their thrones -- all the while acting the part of the benevolent leader -- has not lost its razor edge. Even in this era of cynicism, Machiavelli's view of humanity as greedy and self-seeking or stupid and easily tricked still seems remarkably dark -- and to some, remarkably relevant. The little Italian excites so much passion because his works divide readers into two hostile camps: those who admire his clear-sighted pragmatism and those who are repelled by his casual amorality.

His polarizing presence isn't limited to light reading, either. Now Machiavelli is making an appearance in a loftier realm: the speculations of sociobiology. In Machiavellian Intelligence: Social Expertise and the Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans (Oxford University Press, 1988) and Machiavellian Intelligence II: Extensions and Evaluations (Cambridge University Press, 1997), two scientists make a startling claim: Machiavellian behavior helped our early ancestors survive, and even drove the evolution of their brains. In other words, it made us human.

Andrew Whiten and Richard Byrne, both professors of biology at Scotland's St. Andrews University, apply the word "Machiavellian" to artful manipulation that serves one's own interests. In the communal living situations of our early forbears, they explain, those who could make the biggest grab for resources without getting kicked out of the group altogether -- that is, those who were most effectively underhanded and guileful -- were the ones who lived to pass on their (Machiavellian) genes. The competition to be the craftiest of them all created an "evolutionary arms race," write Whiten and Byrne, "leading to spiraling increases in intelligence."

Their supposition grows out of what's known as the "social intelligence hypothesis": the idea that it's not the world of objects that demands superior smarts, but our complicated and nuanced web of relationships. Sounds sensible enough -- but earlier theories had tied the development of human intelligence to the use of tools and weapons. (That dealing with relationships is the more cognitively complex activity will surprise no one who's seen modern-day man prefer a session with his power tools to a long talk with his wife.)

Machiavelli's survival-of-the-shrewdest philosophy has obvious parallels to evolutionary theory (were he writing today, he might thank, fawningly of course, Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins in his acknowledgements), and the researchers have embraced him as a sage. "Machiavelli seems to me to have been a realist, who accepted that self-interest was ultimately what drove people, and emphasized that the best way to achieve one's personal ends was usually through social, cooperative and generous behavior -- provided that the costs are never allowed to outweigh the ultimate benefits to oneself," says Byrne. Though the biologists' work doesn't draw directly on Machiavelli's texts, his steel-fisted, velvet-gloved approach provides the perfect model for the behavior they describe.

Evolutionary biology isn't the only academic discipline to borrow from Machiavelli: Psychology got there first. Almost 50 years ago, a Stanford psychologist named Richard Christie set out to ascertain just how many modern-day adherents Machiavelli had, and how they differed from those who disavow his ideas. Christie created a personality test based on statements taken from The Prince: "Most people forget more easily the death of their parents than the loss of their property," for example, and "The biggest difference between most criminals and other people is that the criminals are stupid enough to get caught." Test-takers were asked to rate how strongly they agreed with Machiavelli's acid observations. Those who endorsed Machiavelli's opinions Christie dubbed high Machs; those who rejected them out of hand were low Machs. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, but there's a significant minority at either extreme.

The unusual origins of Christie's test set it apart from the carefully constructed instruments psychologists ordinarily use. The survey itself measures only one thing -- whether the test-taker subscribes to the ideas of a 16th century Italian political philosopher. But here's the rub: In subsequent experiments in his lab, Christie found that our reactions to Machiavelli act as a kind of litmus test, delineating differences in temperament that he confirmed with more traditional personality inventories. High Machs, he determined, constitute a distinct type: charming, confident and glib, but also arrogant, calculating and cynical, prone to manipulate and exploit. (Think Rupert Murdoch, or if your politics permit it, Bill Clinton.)

Christie and his collaborator, Florence Geis, had deeply mixed feelings about high Machs, especially after watching them trounce other players in games the psychologists set up and observed in their lab. "Initially, our image of the high Mach was a negative one, associated with shadowy and unsavory manipulations," they wrote in their 1970 classic, Studies in Machiavellianism (Academic Press). "However, after watching subjects in laboratory experiments, we found ourselves having a perverse admiration for the high Mach's ability to outdo others in experimental situations." Almost against their will, they were impressed by the high Machs: "Their greater willingness to admit socially undesirable traits compared to low Machs hinted at a possibly greater insight into and honesty about themselves."

One of the many psychologists who have contributed to the now-substantial literature on Machiavellianism is John McHoskey, of Eastern Michigan University. In a major paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he made the case that Machiavellianism is, in fact, a mild form of mental illness. The tendency to exploit and manipulate others, he says, can be placed on a continuum that runs from Mother Teresa to Ted Bundy. "People who are way out on the far end are the crazed Hannibal Lecter psychopaths," he explains. "But in the middle, there's still a lot of room for differences, and the people who score on the high end you can think of as Machiavellian." (Of course, do-gooders like Mother Teresa might actually be engaging in a less blatant and therefore more sophisticated form of Machiavellianism. As Byrne notes, the ultimate Machiavellian bargain may be the one made with God.)

McHoskey's article argued that high Machs possess, to a greater or lesser degree, the qualities associated with classic psychopaths: a lack of remorse, pathological lying, glibness and superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self-worth. Even so, he refuses to denounce Machiavellians outright, however, cautioning that it all depends on context. We want our spies and sometimes our diplomats to be devious in the nation's service. Elected officials and other administrators must be at least a little Machiavellian to get anything done. A degree of impersonality toward human life is essential in a doctor performing bypass surgery, or a soldier engaged in warfare. Plus, McHoskey points out, true low Machs are kind of sucky. "They're the extreme opposite of someone who's Machiavellian: dependent, submissive, socially inept, shy," he says. In other words, be sure to invite a high Mach or two to your next dinner party.

Psychologists' emphasis on these individual differences in Machiavellianism sits uneasily alongside Byrne and Whiten's focus on the universal processes of selection and adaptation. According to the biologists' theory, every human is the end result of evolution's preference for the sly and cunning. (Byrne and Whiten don't make distinctions between good and bad intentions but instead focus on the means we use to achieve them.) Does that mean we're all Machiavellians? "Well, yes, to some degree," Whiten says. "For example, young children, from the ages of about 3 to 4, have been observed to attempt deceptions and to manipulate social situations to their own benefit. This seems natural to humans, and begins early."

Yet such universal theories on the mercenary motivations of human behavior create a kind of circular reasoning. It's impossible to disprove that we're all Machiavellian because any successful human endeavor -- whether it's feeding the poor or taking care of a loved one -- can be reinterpreted through the lens of selfishness.

After decades circling around this point, some sociobiologists are beginning to form other evolutionary theories that concur with the psychological vision that individual personalities engage in varying levels of selfishness and altruism and use a variety of methods to achieve their ends. David Sloan Wilson, of SUNY-Binghamton, believes that Machiavellianism is just one wrench in the tactical toolbox that humans have evolved over the eons -- and not one that all of us choose to use. "There's more than one way to succeed in social life," he notes. "There are exploitative ways, and there are cooperative ways."

In a 1996 Psychological Bulletin paper, Wilson proposed his "multiple-niche" theory which didn't exactly refute his colleagues' work on Machiavellian behavior but refused to allow it to claim credit for all human success. Some people do get ahead by being slick, Wilson suggested, but others prosper using more straightforward or altruistic approaches. (Wilson is also the co-author of a recent book on altruism, Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (Harvard University Press, 1998)).

"There are wolves," says Wilson grimly, "and there are sheep." He doesn't hide his visceral reaction to the former. "It's kind of scary when you appreciate that human life is like a predator-prey relationship, in which both are members of the same species," he says. Wilson describes the unsettling feeling of looking out over a class to whom he has administered Christie's test of Machiavellianism, knowing that a certain number of his students are hard-core manipulators. "We grow up thinking that we have to have this presumption of niceness" about other people, he muses, "and there's something startling about the fact that that's just not true."

But Wilson's message is ultimately an optimistic one: cooperative strategies can work as well as, and sometimes better than, exploitative ones. After all, Machiavellianism sometimes backfires: Its proponents may scheme and manipulate even when a show of submissiveness or an offer to share might more easily get them what they want, and they always run the risk of being found out and then sanctioned or expelled by their communities. As McHoskey notes, Machiavellians therefore do best in highly mobile societies, in which individuals are free to make their own fortunes and the expression of greed or self-interest is encouraged or at least accepted.

Sound familiar? Forget 16th century Italian city states -- 20th century America is a land of would-be Princes, a place where the grifter, the con man and the wheeler-dealer are both celebrated archetypes and real-life heroes. Perhaps that's why now, as the gospel of global capitalism spreads unhindered by other philosophies and Americans reflexively interpret politicians' words and deeds as motivated solely by strategic self-interest, Machiavelli is experiencing a popular revival. Whatever timeless truths he may have to offer, his message is perfectly pitched to this high-flying, high-rolling cultural moment, when image means everything and power is purchased at any cost.

Were he on the scene today, Machiavelli would no doubt revel in his continuing popularity, though he would likely have little use for the academic debates he inspires (students of literature and political science still argue if his advice to the Medicis was satire, all a monstrous joke). "It seems to me better to concentrate on what really happens," he coolly pronounced in The Prince, "rather than on theories or speculations."
Salon

John Gueguen
There is good reason to assert that Machiavelli has met his match in Mansfield.
Sixteenth Century Journal
Library Journal
Penguin strikes again with a wonderful new series called "Great Ideas" featuring 12 books by great thinkers dating back to the first millennium B.C.E. through the mid-20th century, covering art, politics, literature, philosophy, science, history, and more. Each slim paperback is individually designed, and all are affordable at $8.95. A great idea indeed. Snap 'em up! Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Booknews
An inexpensive but high quality translation of the classic Italian Renaissance statement of what has come to be called realpolitik. The translator, Paul Sonnino, presents an easily readable English but also takes care to render Italian words into English cognates or at least to use the same word consistently so the reader gets a sense of what terms and concepts Machiavelli repeated and in what context. Lightly annotated.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781495441660
Publisher:
CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
02/05/2014
Pages:
84
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

Niccolò Machiavelli to His Magnificence Lorenzo de’ Medici1

Those who wish to win the favor of a prince will generally approach him with gifts of what they value most or what they believe will most delight him. Hence we see princes being offered horses, arms, vestments of gold, precious stones, and similar accoutrements worthy of their grandeur. Wishing to present myself to Your Magnificence with a token of my deepest respect, I have found among my possessions nothing that I value or esteem higher than my knowledge of the deeds of great men. I have acquired this knowledge through my long experience of modern affairs and a lifelong study of ancient times, all of which I have weighed and examined with great diligence and brought together into this small volume, which I am now offering to Your Magnificence. Though I deem this work unworthy of being in Your illustrious presence, my confidence in Your benevolence persuades me that it will be accepted, and that Your Magnificence will recognize that I cannot offer You a greater gift than the prospect of Your understanding in the shortest period all that I have experienced and learned over so many years and with so much danger and hardship. I have not filled this volume with pompous rhetoric, with bombast and magnificent words, or with the unnecessary artifice with which so many writers gild their work. I wanted nothing extraneous to ornament my writing, for it has been my purpose that only the range of material and the gravity of the subject should make it pleasing. Nor do I wish it to be thought presumptuous that a man of low and humble condition like myself should presume to map out and direct the government ofprinces. But just as a cartographer will descend into the plains in order to study the nature of the mountains, and will then climb the highest peaks in order to study the low-lying land, so, too, only an exalted prince can grasp the nature of the people, and only a lesser man can perceive the nature of a prince.

I hope therefore that Your Magnificence will accept this humble gift in the spirit in which it is offered. Should You condescend to read and consider it carefully, You will perceive in its pages my profound desire that Your Magnificence will rise to the greatness that Fortune and Your qualities promise. And should Your Magnificence deign to look down from the lofty summit of Your eminence to these lowly depths, You will see how I have suffered undeservedly Fortune’s great and continuing malignity.

1. Lorenzo de’ Medici (1492—1519) was the grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Chapter One
Of the kinds of principalities that exist, and how they can be acquired

All states, all dominions that rule or have ruled over men, are or have been either republics or principalities. Principalities are either hereditary, with a long-established bloodline, or new. And the new principalities are either entirely new, as Milan was to Francesco Sforza2, or are like limbs added to the hereditary state of the prince who acquires them, as the Kingdom of Naples was to the King of Spain3. States obtained in this way are accustomed either to living under a prince, or to being free. They are acquired either with the arms of others, or with one’s own, either by chance or by skill.

2. Francesco Sforza (1401—66) was a soldier of fortune who became Duke of Milan in 1450.
3. Ferdinand the Catholic (1452—1516), King of Aragon, also became Ferdinand III of Naples in 1504.

Chapter Two
Of hereditary principalities

I will not discuss republics, as I have already done so at some length elsewhere. I shall only concentrate on principalities, and shall weave together the threads I have already laid out. I will show how these principalities can be governed and main- tained.

First, states that are hereditary and tied to the bloodline of their prince are easier to maintain than new ones. It is enough not to diverge from the practices of one’s forebears, and to handle unforeseen issues as they arise. If such a prince is of at least average ability he can retain his posi- tion of power, so long as no extraordinary or excessive force deprive him of it. If this prince is deprived of his state, he will find he can reacquire it if any misfortune befalls the usurper.

In Italy we have the example of the Duke of Ferrara, who resisted the assaults of the Venetians in 1484 and of Pope Julius II in 1510, for the simple reason that he had inherited an ancient principality4. A hereditary prince has less cause to mistreat his subjects, and so is more loved by them. If unusual vices do not make him hated, it is to be expected that he will be loved by his people.

The long continuum of the dominion obliterates the memories and issues that make men yearn for innovation, for one change will inevitably forge a link to another.

4. In fact, Duke Ercole d’Este of Ferrara managed to end the war with Venetians in 1484, while his son Duke Alfonso managed to stay in power despite excommunication and an ongoing war with the papal forces.


Chapter Three
Of mixed principalities

It is in the new principality that the difficulties lie. First, if the principality is not completely new, but is like a limb or extension added to another principality (in which case we could almost call the whole state a mixed principality), its volatility stems mainly from a difficulty inherent in all new principalities. This is that men will willingly change their ruler in the hope that they will fare better, a hope that leads them to take up arms against their old ruler. But in this they are deceived, because, as they invariably discover, their lot under a new ruler is inevitably worse. This is the result of another natural and basic inevitability: that you cannot avoid offending those whose new ruler you are, both with your armed soldiers and with innumerable other provocations that come in the wake of a conquest. You end up making enemies of all those you have offended during your conquest of the principality, and you find that you cannot keep the friendship of those who helped you to power, since you cannot satisfy them in the way they had envisioned. Furthermore, you cannot take strong measures against them, as you are indebted to them. Even with the most powerful army, if you want to invade a state, you need the support of the people. It was for these reasons that King Louis XII of France was quick to occupy Milan, and just as quick to lose it. Duke Ludovico’s own forces were enough to win Milan back the first time, because the same masses that had opened the gates for Louis, finding themselves misled in their hopes for a better future, could not endure the new prince’s offenses5.

It is a fact that once a prince acquires a rebellious state for the second time, it also proves harder to lose that state a second time6. This is because the prince who seizes the opportunity of the rebellion has fewer scruples about securing his position by punishing offenders, flushing out suspects, and strengthening all the places where he is weakest. In this sense, it was enough for a Duke Ludovico to make a little noise along the borders for Louis XII to lose Milan the first time. But for him to lose Milan a second time the whole world had to unite against him, defeat his army, and chase it out of Italy7. This followed from the causes I have already laid out. Nonetheless, both the first and second time, Milan was taken from him.

The general reasons for the first loss have been discussed. It now remains to discuss the second, and to see what recourse someone in Louis’s position could have taken to maintain himself more securely in his new acquisition. I must stress that the states a prince acquires and adds to his own are either of the same country and language, or are not. If they are it is much easier to retain them, particularly if they are not used to freedom. To hold them securely, it is enough to extinguish the line of the previous prince who ruled them. As for the rest, if the new acquisition’s former state of affairs is kept and there is no difference in customs, men will live quite peacefully, as we have seen in Burgundy, Brittany, Gascony, and Normandy, which for a long time now have all belonged to France. Although there is some difference in language, their customs are similar, and their people get along with one another quite easily. He who acquires such states and wishes to retain them has to make sure of two things: that the bloodline of their former princes is extinguished, and that their laws and taxes remain the same. This way, the prince’s new state merges with the old, quickly becoming a single body.

But difficulties arise when you acquire states in a land with differing languages, customs, and laws. To keep these states, you need good fortune and much diligence. One of the best and quickest solutions is for the new prince to go and live in his new state. This makes the possession more durable and secure. The Turk did this in Greece8. With all the other measures he took to keep Greece in his possession, had he not gone to live there he would not have succeeded, because once the prince is established within his new state he is able to see problems as they arise and can remedy them. If he is not there, problems become obvious only once they are dire and can no longer be remedied. Furthermore, if he is present, his new state will not be looted by his officials, and his new subjects can enjoy immediate access to their prince. This will give them more reason to love him if they are on his side, and to fear him if they are not, and foreign powers wishing to attack his state will respect him more. Hence, if the prince lives in his new state, it is difficult for him to lose it.

Another efficient remedy is to set up colonies in one or two places that will act as the shackles of your new state. If you do not set up colonies, you will have to send a great number of troops to secure it, while a colony can be established and maintained at negligible cost. The only subjects who will be affronted are those whose fields and houses will be confiscated to be given to the new colonists. But these dispossessed subjects make up only a small part of the state and will end up poor and dispersed, and so can do no harm. The rest of your new subjects will not be affronted (and hence will be acquiescent), but will also be frightened of transgressing, worried that they too might be dispossessed. I conclude that colonies do not cost much, are loyal, and will cause less trouble. And as I have already mentioned, those you dispossess cannot harm you, as they will be poor and dispersed. In short, men must either be flattered or eliminated, because a man will readily avenge a slight grievance, but not one that is truly severe. Hence, the offense done a man must be of the kind that cannot incur vengeance.

If you choose armed forces instead of colonies, you will spend more and will have to squander all the income from the new state in order to pay the army. This will turn the acquisition into a loss, and all your new subjects will end up offended, since an army, constantly on the move and constantly requartered, hurts the whole state. Everyone feels the pain, and everyone becomes your enemy. And these are enemies who can harm you, because though they have been defeated, they remain on their own ground. So in every sense, using armed forces is as useless as setting up colonies is useful.

It is also important when a prince has conquered a foreign state that he become the protector of the surrounding weaker powers, and do all he can to weaken the stronger ones. He must take precautions so that no foreigner equal in power manages to enter his new state. If he should enter, it will be because he was brought in by discontented factions driven by ambition or fear. We saw this in the case of the Aetolians who introduced the Romans into Greece;9 and in every other province in which the Romans set foot, it was with the help of some of the inhabitants. The order of things is that the moment a powerful invader takes over a state, all the weaker factions within it join forces with him, spurred on by their envy of the ruler who had wielded power over them before. In other words, the new prince has no trouble winning the weaker factions over, because they will willingly become part of his new state. He has only to see to it that they do not gain too much power and authority. With his forces and their favor, he can easily bring down those who are powerful so that he will remain the only arbiter in the land. He who does not follow this course will quickly lose all he has gained, and will be plagued by infinite difficulties while he holds power.

5. Louis XII occupied Milan in September 1499, but was ousted in February 1500 by Ludovico Sforza. Louis, however, managed to recapture Milan within two months.
6. Once Louis XII recaptured Milan, it remained under his rule until 1512.
7. The Holy League of 1511, organized by Pope Julius II, was an anti-French coalition that included Spain, Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, England, and the Swiss. The League managed to drive the French out of Milan in May 1512.
8. The Turks occupied Constantinople in 1453, and in 1457 transferred the capital of the Ottoman Empire from Edirne to Constantinople.

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What People are saying about this

John M. Najemy
I still consider Atkinson's translation of The Prince the best of the many . . . out there, especially with its extensive and extraordinarily valuable commentary. (John M. Najemy, Professor of History, Cornell University, 2007)
Mario Domandi
This edition of the The Prince has three distinct and disparate objectives: to provide a fresh and accurate translation; to analyze and find the roots of Machiavelli's thought; and to collect relevant extracts from other works by Machiavelli and some contemporaries, to be used to illuminate and explicate the text. The objectives are all reached with considerable and admirable skill. The reader senses Professor Atkinson's empathy and feeling for even the tiniest movements in Machiavelli's mind. Professor Atkinson has done a great service to students and teachers of Machiavelli, who should certainly welcome this as the most useful edition of The Prince in English. (Mario Domandi, Italica, 1978)

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