1. Major themes in the book.
The Prince, written by Niccolo Machiavelli, is one of the firstexaminations of politics and science from a purely scientific andrational perspective. Machiavelli theorizes that the state is onlycreated if the people cooperate and work to maintain it. The state isalso one of mans greatest endeavors, and the state takes precedenceover everything else. The state should be ones primary focus, andmaintaining the sovereignty of the state ones most vital concern. Thestate is founded on the power of its military.
Therefore, a strongmilitary is vital to maintaining the state. Machiavelli believes thatmen respect power, but they will take advantage of kindness. Hebelieves that when given the opportunity one must destroy completely,because if one does not he will certainly be destroyed. The princeshould lead the military, and he has to be intelligent. An effectivepolitician can make quick and intelligent choices about the problemsthat constantly arise before him. He must also have virtue, which meanshe is strong, confident, talented, as well as smart.
A prince cannot beuncertain, because uncertainty is a sign of weakness. Fortune controlshalf of humans actions, and mans will control the other half. Virtueis the best defense for fortune, and virtue must be used in order tokeep fortune in check. The prince must take advantage of situationsbased solely on if it is best for the state. He should choose hisdecisions based on contemporary and historical examples. A princecannot consider whether his acts are moral or immoral, and he insteadmust act in an unbiased manner for the state. Also, it does not matterhow the state achieves its goals, as long as these goals are achieved. Finally, regardless of the personal morality involved, the prince shouldbe praised if he does good for the state and berated if he hurts thestate. Machiavellis principles have widespread influence, and they arequite similar to some of Thomas Hobbes ideas in Leviathan.
2. What does Machiavelli think of “the people” in the course of humanhistory?Machiavelli has a very low opinion of the people throughout history. In general, he feels that men are “ungrateful, fickle, liars, anddeceiver.” “They shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treatthem well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you butwhen you are in danger they turn against you.” Machiavelli basicallyhas little respect for the people, and he feels as though they have notearned much either. He uses this as justification for the use of fearin order to control people. He also feels that men are “wretchedcreatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep yourword to them.” This sense of fairness justifies breaking ones word tomen. Machiavelli also writes about how hard it must be for a prince tostay virtuous. He concludes that with so many wretched men aroundvirtue is hard to create in oneself. “The fact is that a man who wantsto act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so manywho are not virtuous.” Overall, Machiavelli is very pessimistic aboutthe abilities of the people. He feels that after examining peoplethrough history, his conclusions of wretched men are correct.
3. Discuss Machiavellis opinions on the uses of cruelty to accomplishcertain goals.
Machiavelli tells us that the sovereign must take whatever action isnecessary to maintain order in society. In time this will result in themost compassionate choice too. Machiavelli explains that, CesareBorgia, by using cruelty was able to achieve order and obedience inRomangna. This contrast with the inaction of the Florentines, whoallowed internal conflict to develop in Pistoia, resulting indevastation of the city. Therefore, a number of highly visibleexecutions can be a very effective means of controlling the people andin preventing a major out break of violence and murder. Machiavellialso cites the tremendous military successes of Hannibal. Even thoughHannibal led an army of different races over foreign soil, he never hadany dissension because of his reputation of extreme cruelty. Machiavelli further concludes that it is difficult to be loved andfeared simultaneously. Hence, one should always prefer to be fearedthan to be loved. During adverse times, the fear of punishment is farmore effective in maintaining control than depending peoples goodwilland love. Finally, excessive leniency will lead to ruin, becauseleniency is seen as a sign of weakness. A good historical example waswhen Scipios armies mutinied against him in Spain.
4. What countries in history are discussed most fully by Machiavelli? What does he in general have to say about them?Machiavelli talks consistently about the Roman empire and its rulers. Particularly, he stresses the importance of having a strong army andpopular support by the army and people. The Roman emperors proved to usmany times that a ruler who is perceived to be weak is the mostvulnerable to attack. Alexander Severus was controlled by his motherand considered feminine by his troops. He was a good ruler, but it wasthis appearance of weakness that led his troops to kill him. AntoniusCaracalla is another example of an erroneous ruler. He was a verystrong military leader who was a great fighter. Unfortunately, hebecame an incredibly cruel and harsh ruler over time, and he was hencekilled by a centurion. Machiavelli also includes the country of Italyinto much of his writings. He hopes to reclaim the land which has beentaken away from them. He feels that Italian princes have lost theirstates because they have not had armed people. Machiavelli tells usthat an “armed population is a stable population”. The Italian princesalso have not acted quickly, like a real prince should act. Julius IIdid act quick, and Machiavelli attributes this to his success. Inreality, the whole purpose behind Machiavelli writing The Prince was totry and help Italy free itself from foreign domination.
5. Evaluation of the book.
The Prince has been an incredibly important book. It was written inthe 1500s, but much of it still applies today. The book also hasinfluenced many people in history. Many philosophers credit Machiavelliwith leading the way in political science. They say this because he wasthe first person to take a rational approach at analyzing government andpolitics. Many of Machiavellis critics would say that he is to harshin his ideas, and that he even seems immoral. The truth is Machiavelliis only being honest with what he has observed consistently in historyto be true. The effect of his writing are still found today too. People still need virtue in order to be a good ruler or manager. Success is still to those who can make quick and intelligent choices. The government is still supported most by it amount of power. However,countries are held accountable today, and few would agree that the endjustifies the means as Machiavelli wrote. Overall, Machiavellis workhas lasted through the years, and it has proven to be a classic piece ofliterature by standing the test of time.
Category: Book Reports
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