The Prince

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Overview

Need to seize a country? Have enemies you must destroy? In this handbook for despots and tyrants, the Renaissance statesman Machiavelli sets forth how to accomplish this and more, while avoiding the awkwardness of becoming generally hated and despised.

"Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge."

For nearly 500 years, Machiavelli's observations on Realpolitik have shocked and appalled the timid and romantic, and for many his name was equivalent to the devil's own. Yet, The Prince was the first attempt to write of the world of politics as it is, rather than sanctimoniously of how it should be, and thus The Prince remains as honest and relevant today as when Machiavelli first put quill to parchment, and warned the junior statesman to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.

Described as a practical rule-book for the diplomat and a handbook of evil, this work provides an uncompromising picture of the true nature of power.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Machiavelli] can still engage our attention with remarkable immediacy, and this cannot be explained solely by the appeal of his ironic observations on human behaviour. Perhaps the most important thing is the way he can compel us to reflect on our own priorities and the reasoning behind them; it is this intrusion into our own defenses that makes reading him an intriguing experience. As a scientific exponent of the political art Machiavelli may have had few followers; it is as a provocative rhetorician that he has had his real impact on history.” –from the Introduction by Dominic Baker-Smith
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300064032
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/1997
  • Series: Rethinking the Western Tradition Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 775,166
  • Product dimensions: 8.18 (w) x 5.36 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a Florentine statesman who was later forced out of public life. He then devoted himself to studying and writing political philosophy, history, fiction, and drama.

Tim Parks was born in 1954, studied at Cambridge and Harvard, and moved to Italy in 1980. His translations from the Italian include works by Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino and Roberto Calasso He has written a number of novels, including the Booker-shortlisted Europa, and his account of provincial life in Italy, Italian Neighbours, was an international bestseller.

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Read an Excerpt

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Seventeenth Chapter: Concerning Cruelty and Clemency, and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved Than Feared

...Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed, they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince, who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or by nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for 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....

Twenty-First Chapter: How a Prince Should Conduct Himself So as to Gain Renown

...A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy, that is to say, when, without any reservation, he declares himself in favour of one party against the other; which course will always be more advantageous than standing neutral; because if two of your powerful neighbours come to blows, they are of such a character that, if one of them conquers, you have either to fear him or not. In either case it will always be more advantageous for you to declare yourself and to make war strenously; because, in the first case, if you do not declare yourself, you will invariably fall a prey to the conqueror, to the pleasure and satisfaction of his who has been conquered, and you will have no reasons to offer, nor anything to protect or to shelter you. Because he who conquers does not want doubtful friends who will not aid him in the time of trial; and he who loses will not harbour you because you did not willingly, sword in hand, court his fate....

Translation by: W.K. Marriott

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Table of Contents

Chronology
Map
Introduction
Translator's Note
Selected Books
Machiavelli's Principal Works
Letter to the Magnificent Lorenzo de Medici 1
I How many kinds of principality there are and the ways in which they are acquired 5
II Hereditary principalities 5
III Composite principalities 6
IV Why the kingdom of Darius conquered by Alexander did not rebel against his successors after his death 13
V How cities or principalities which lived under their own laws should be administered after being conquered 16
VI New principalities acquired by one's own arms and prowess 17
VII New principalities acquired with the help of fortune and foreign arms 20
VIII Those who come to power by crime 27
IX The constitutional principality 31
X How the strength of every principality should be measured 34
XI Ecclesiastical principalities 36
XII Military organization and mercenary troops 39
XIII Auxiliary, composite, and native troops 43
XIV How a prince should organize his militia 47
XV The things for which men, and especially princes, are praised or blamed 49
XVI Generosity and parsimony 51
XVII Cruelty and compassion; and whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse 53
XVIII How princes should honour their word 56
XIX The need to avoid contempt and hatred 58
XX Whether fortresses and many of the other present-day expedients to which princes have recourse are useful or not 67
XXI How a prince must act to win honour 71
XXII A prince's personal staff 75
XXIII How flatterers must be shunned 76
XXIV Why the Italian princes have lost their states 78
XXV How far human affairs are governed by fortune, and how fortune can be opposed 79
XXVI Exhortation to liberate Italy from the barbarians 82
Glossary of Proper Names 86
Notes 99
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Readers have differed sharply in their assessments of The Prince, as well as the character of its author, Niccolò Machiavelli, since the book's publication in 1532. In his own time, Machiavelli was known as the author of histories, poems, and plays (including a widely produced popular comedy). Highly respected as a statesman, he represented Florence on foreign missions and wrote reports admired for their style and substance. But the Catholic Church censured Machiavelli for his criticism of Christianity and for the tone and content of the political counsel he offered, especially in The Prince. By the seventeenth century, the name Machiavelli had become synonymous with diabolical cunning, a meaning that it still carries today. Modern readers exhibit the same ambivalence about Machiavelli himself, alternately recognizing him as a precursor of the discipline of political science and recoiling from the ruthless principles he frequently articulates. Both views of Machiavelli, as innovative modernist and cynical politician, have their origins in The Prince.

Machiavelli wrote The Prince in 1513, just after he was forced to leave Florence as a political exile. Dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici, the book is Machiavelli's advice to the current ruler of Florence on how to stay in power. It was also his effort, though unsuccessful, to gain an advisory post in the Medici government. The Prince was not published until five years after Machiavelli's death. Leaders as diverse as Oliver Cromwell, Frederick the Great, Louis XIV, Napoleon I, Otto von Bismarck, and John F. Kennedy have read, contemplated, and debated Machiavelli's ideas.

Machiavelli's treatise makes a clear break from the Western tradition of political philosophy that preceded him. Beginning with Plato and Aristotle, the thinkers of this tradition were concerned with issues of justice and human happiness, and with the constitution of the ideal state. Until its final chapter, The Prince is a shockingly direct how-to manual for rulers who aim either to establish and retain control of a new state or to seize and control an existing one. Rather than basing his advice on ethical or philosophical principles, Machiavelli founds his political program on real-life examples. When explaining what a prince should or should not do in pursuit of his ambitions, Machiavelli cites the actions of well-known historical and contemporary leaders, both successful and unsuccessful. Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli explicitly aims to give an unsentimental analysis of actual human behavior and the uses of power. "I have thought it proper," Machiavelli writes of a prince's conduct toward his subjects, "to represent things as they are in a real truth, rather than as they are imagined" (p. 49).

The accuracy of Machiavelli's view of human nature and the social world is debatable. Is Machiavelli simply being clear-sighted and objective, or is he providing spurious justifications for the worst impulses of those who seek power? In The Prince, the results of actions are what matter. Murder, the incitement of quarrels among citizens, the purchase of temporary loyalties, and betrayal: all are permissible—indeed, recommended—if they advance the prince's goal of attaining and securing power. In Machiavelli's view, the preservation of the state warrants such actions, since the state is necessary to ensure security, peace, and order for the people. He sets the ambitions of the prince and the need of the people for order side by side, seeing the two as complementary. Perhaps they are, or perhaps this equation is merely a self-serving way for those who crave power to defend injustices. To what extent the means that Machiavelli promotes in The Prince are justified by the ends, and whether the means actually bring about the ends, remain open questions.

Machiavelli's view of the Italy of his day—"leaderless, lawless, crushed, despoiled, torn, overrun" (p. 83)—underwrites the advice he gives in The Prince. It also leads him to end his treatise with an "Exhortation to liberate Italy from the barbarians." Machiavelli calls for "a new prince...to introduce a new order" (p. 82) that would bring unity and stability to the often warring city-states of the Italian peninsula. In this portion of The Prince and in some of his other writings, Machiavelli appears more idealistic and friendly toward a form of government that would give citizens a say. In his Discourses, Machiavelli portrays the ideal government as a republic that allows groups with differing opinions to speak openly.

Machiavelli thus sets the stage for an enduring discussion among his readers. Is he best understood as a seeker of unity and peace, concerned to make his advice practical and effective? Is he an opportunist offering aid and comfort to would-be tyrants? Do the moral and political goals he outlines in the final chapter of The Prince justify the actions he advocates in the preceding chapters? These questions seem destined to remain with us as long as Machiavelli's book continues to occupy a central place in modern political thought.

ABOUT NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI

What we know of the personal character of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is at odds with the treachery implied in the adjective derived from his name. Evidence suggests that Machiavelli was an upright man, a good father, and a husband who lived in affectionate harmony with his wife, Marietta Corsini, who bore him six children. Throughout his life, Machiavelli was a zealous republican. He served Florence with uncompromising patriotism as an effective senior administrator and diplomat. But his single-minded service to the republic of Florence ended when the army of the Holy League of Pope Julius II returned the Medici family to power as benevolent despots of the city. In the resulting political purge, Machiavelli not only lost his position in the city government but, when a conspiracy against the Medicis was uncovered in early 1513, he also was accused of complicity simply because his name was on a list taken from the conspirators. Thrown into prison and subjected to the kind of torture that forced blameless men to confess their guilt, Machiavelli nevertheless maintained his innocence and was eventually released.

Reduced to poverty, and with restrictions placed on his movements around the city, Machiavelli sought refuge in the little property, outside Florence, that he had inherited from his father. There he produced not only The Prince, which he completed between the spring and autumn of 1513, but also a variety of political commentaries and histories and a number of well-received literary works. After the death of Pope Julius II in 1513, the son of Lorenzo de'Medici (called the Magnificent) became Pope Leo X—one of three popes the Medici family produced. It was Machiavelli's hope that by dedicating The Prince to Lorenzo de'Medici, son of the most famous of all the Medicis, he would obtain an office that would return him to public life. That hope was in vain. Machiavelli died at the age of 58, still exiled from Florence.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Why does Machiavelli support his arguments by citing examples of real historical and contemporary rulers? Why does he emphasize his "long acquaintance with contemporary affairs and a continuous study of the ancient world" (p. 1)?
     
  • Does The Prince present justice as nothing more than the interest of the stronger?
     
  • What constraints on a prince's freedom of action does Machiavelli recognize?
     
  • Does Machiavelli believe that ethical considerations have a role to play in the conduct of a prince?
     
  • According to Machiavelli, what roles do fate and fortune play in human life?
     
  • Does Machiavelli believe that political entities are created by human effort, or do they exist naturally?
     
  • In securing the state, to what extent should a prince be motivated by the happiness of the people?
     
  • Why does Machiavelli believe that a prince must be willing to use force to achieve his ends?
     
  • According to Machiavelli, do moral ends justify immoral means?
     
  • How does Machiavelli define virtue?
     
  • Why does Machiavelli end his work with a plea for the House of Medici to liberate Italy?
     

  • FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
  • Under what circumstances is someone charged with upholding the law justified in breaking it?
     
  • Must political power always be a corrupting influence on those who possess it?

  • RELATED TITLES

I Samuel and I Kings (Old Testament); Matthew 22 (New Testament)
These books in the Bible deal with the tensions between religious and political loyalties.

Aristotle, Politics
In this exploration of the ideal state, Book V, concerning the maintenance of political power, is an especially pertinent antecedent to Machiavelli.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
The author presents a grim vision of human beings in their natural state, which becomes the basis for his argument that a practically omnipotent government is necessary to secure a basic level of justice and elementary freedoms.

John Locke, The Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690)
Chapter 14 examines the circumstances in which government can act in violation of the law or in the absence of law. Chapter 19 concerns the right of the people to overthrow a ruler or government when either has abused his power.

James Madison, "The Federalist No. 10" (in The Federalist) (1787-88)
This essay addresses the problem of factions that inevitably develop among citizens and the ways of controlling their detrimental effects without infringing on liberty.

Plato, The Statesman
One of Plato's major works of political philosophy, this dialogue explores the nature and virtue of a king or statesman.

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