The Prince is by far Machiavelli’s most well known and important work. In 1513, after his exile from Florence, Machiavelli began this great work. In The Prince, Machiavelli dedicated it to Lorenzo de Medici, who never responded to the privately sent copy. Interestingly enough , the line of the Medici family represented the ineffectual leadership that Machiavelli disliked in The Prince. Machiavelli’s work has long been infamous for what some consider its harsh, unscrupulous methods of obtaining power and in ruling. Some even go as far as to say that The Prince was the writing of an evil man.
While on the surface, The work does appear rather harsh, Machiavelli illustrates his points with episodes from great men such as Julius Caesar, Cesare Borgia, and Pope Julius II. We come to the question, though, of whether his points truly were valid both in theory and reality. One point that Machiavelli makes is that it is good to be thought liberal, but it is bad to practice liberality. He says that if you practice liberality from the start, the people will basically become spoiled, and when you lay heavy burdens on them in times of war or depression, they will not consider you liberal anymore, and will dislike you.
However, if you begin your reign parsimoniously, you will be able to have lower taxes and provide for the country’s defense by exercising your prudence, and when the vast majority of people enjoy this, they will consider you liberal. I do not see this the same way as Machiavelli. Liberal does not necessarily mean careless. As long as the liberal prince is economically wise, lets his economy flourish, and is careful with how he spends the country’s money, he will not be forced to levy huge taxes any more than the “parsimonious” prince will.
The prince must be careful, but it is a bit extreme to say that he must be stingy and greedy. Another theory is that “it is not necessary for a prince to have all the virtues mentioned above, but it is very necessary to seem to have them. ” In other words, being a prince is like acting. It doesn’t matter what kind of a person he is, as long as the people only see the side of him they like. This is a very strong statement, and in my opinion is very sound. When you assume any kind of leadership role, people expect you to act a certain way, and when they don’t see what they like, they will hate you.
So, I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary to have all of the virtues of a good prince, although it is very difficult to stage the extreme hypocrisy. Take President Clinton, for example. He was an excellent president, as far as economic policies, foreign affairs, and personality went. And he would have continued to be considered so by the American people if he hadn’t gotten caught performing immoral judgements in his private life. In this case, the people saw a part of him that they didn’t like, and so he is now frowned upon.
What the people don’t know can’t hurt them, but how long can you keep the people from knowing? A third major thought of Machiavelli is that it is better for a prince to be feared than to be loved by his people. His main reason is that men have less hesitation in offending one who makes himself beloved than one who makes himself feared. “for love holds by a bond of obligation which, as mankind is bad, is broken on every occasion whenever it is for the interest of the obliged party to break it.
But fear holds by the apprehension of punishment, which never leaves men. ” I believe this is true to an extent. People will follow someone more readily when there is a punishment hanging over their heads. And while this might be good for the Prince, I would think that the people would end up being unhappy. After living their entire lives in fear, they would surely become tired of it and revolt. Machiavelli states that it is important to be feared but not hated, which I think is impossible to do. How could you like somebody you’re afraid of?
In this chapter, I would certainly not follow Machiavelli’s advice. Many of the ideas proposed by Machiavelli in The Prince might have been valid in his time, but have been outdated with the success of the democracy of the United States of America. The times in which this book was written was a time when hierarchy was all that was known, and so with that limited knowledge, this book makes sense. However, in the present day, we can see how it is possible to have a very productive government while following none of the rules set forth in The Prince.