Machiavelli’s Political Thought and ideas in the Prince

Machiavelli's political ideas

Machiavelli’s Political Thought and ideas in the Prince

In politics, there are a lot of arguments and debates about whether political leaders should be moral or not in order to become successful. Can leaders who are just, keep their promises, and are kind be successful in politics?

In Machiavelli’s Prince, we find lots of discussion about conquering territory, war, acquisitions, and strategies for princes on how to acquire a region, and constant suggestions that a prince engaged in such activities cannot afford to be moral if he wants to be successful. This argument has become one of the most famous ones in politics, and it is often called the problem of dirty hands—a successful prince must get his hands dirty, i.e. be able to violate moral rules when needed to achieve success in politics.

In war, there should not be loyalty, pity, or kindness. A ruler should be tough and strict. Being a ruler is like holding a huge responsibility because the ruler will lead a large community or society. There are civilians, military soldiers, armies, and other people in these communities, and their security is ultimately in the hands of their leader. If the leader makes even a tiny mistake, he will encounter problems and everyone under his command will suffer. Machiavelli’s powerful arguments about the problems caused by kindness, loyalty, and pity of the rulers have made the Prince the most famous book on politics.

Because regimes are different, so acquiring them is also different. Because of that at first, Machiavelli talks about the different kinds of regimes. Unlike Aristotle, Machiavelli divides the types of regimes into two which are republics and principalities. Then, Machiavelli divided the principalities into two types which are hereditary and new principalities.

The hereditary is something that the princes get from their fathers or grandfathers. Hereditary princes should create a strong institutional foundation that makes their territory secure. The new Principalities are territories gained by the prince’s own arms (virtue), or with the help of a foreign military (fortune). Here, Machiavelli points out the essentiality of arms while seeking control of a new principality. In addition, Machiavelli divides new principalities into two parts which are completely new or partly new.

Machiavelli main ideas in the Prince :

Machiavelli gives plenty of attention to “acquisition”. It is an important topic for Machiavelli because a ruler has to know how to acquire a kingdom and how to maintain it. Machiavelli talks about two ways to acquire territory. A ruler can acquire territory either by his own arm or the arms of others. If the prince acquires the territory by his own arm, it means that he has virtue which means good admirable quality. This way requires toughness and skills that the prince must have that makes him capable of acquisition. However, if the prince acquires the territory with the arms of others such as foreign support or foreign military, it means that he has fortune or luck.

In terms of maintenance, having a hereditary principality is much easier than the new principalities. In mixed principalities, Machiavelli talks about that a prince has to be tough, and he has to use violence and force. Every Kingdom has malcontents who are dissatisfied with their rulers. A prince will need their help to conquer and enter new territory. However, the prince might face an issue, and the issue is that the prince might not satisfy them because malcontents want more than the prince can give to them.

In a new territory, the prince must take tough measures, and he does not have to be moral. Here, Machiavelli gives an example. He talks about the French king, Louis XII, who conquered one of the cities in the Italian Peninsula, Milan. Ludovico Sforza was the king of Milan at that time. For the first time, Louis lost it to Sforza, and then, he conquered it again. However, for the second time, he lost it but to Pope Julius II. Both losses were caused by King Louis’s failure to take the kind of tough measures. He did not use harsh measures to secure his control. Machiavelli suggests that using punishment is a fundamental component of governance.

Machiavelli's Mixed Principality :  

Furthermore, Machiavelli talks about two kinds of the mixed principality. The first one is the territory that is similar to the one that the prince has, and it is not difficult to maintain because the prince has just to remove the bloodline and kill the family of the old prince. Princes should earn people’s friendship and avoid their hatred. The second one is the territory that is different from the one the prince has. Rulers should be harsh in here. Because of that Machiavelli suggests five rules for princes who acquire a territory that is different from the one that he has. The first rule is to go and live there in person.

For example, when the Ottoman Empire conquered Greece, the Sultan went and lived in Greece. By doing that the ruler can see the issues that happen there, he can secure the possession, and the people get attention from the ruler. The second rule is to send colonies there. For example, the Ottoman Empire sent Turks to go and live in Greece because it is less expensive, and the people will be less upset. Machiavelli says that the rulers have to be tough and take lands from the locals and give them to the colonists. Rule number three is to support and defend the neighboring powers. Rule number four is to weaken the powerful, and rue number five is to prevent powerful foreigners from coming into his province.

Machiavelli gives examples of that by talking about Italians and Ancient Romans. He says that the ruler who follows the five rules are smart rulers, however, King Louis was not a smart ruler because he did not follow the rules. King Louis increased the power of the church while the church was the main power in Italy. It had two types of power which were spiritual and temporal. Then, King Louis brought Spain into his territory while Spain was powerful. Another mistake that King Louis did was keeping his promises. Machiavelli says that he should not keep his promise. A prince should only keep his promise when it benefits him, and if it does not benefit him, he has to make excuses and lie. (Ch.3, pg.7).

Moreover, Machiavelli talks about conquering territories that have an absolute monarchy and limited monarchy. He says that if a prince wants to conquer territory with one absolute power, he has to have only one strategy because only the king has power. However, if a prince wants to conquer territory with a limited monarchy, he has to have different strategies because both the king and the nobility have power.

For further explanations, Machiavelli gives examples such as France and the Ottoman Empire. He says that conquering France was easy, but maintaining it was hard because the nobilities were independent. However, conquering Ottoman Empire was difficult because it was difficult to find traitors, only the king was powerful, and the rest were loyal to him, but maintaining it was easy because the prince would only kill the king and the people would follow him.

Machiavelli' Three Rule on Republic :

In addition, Machiavelli explains how to administer republics. He gives three rules. 

• First, he says that the prince should ruin them. He has to destroy and spread them around. 

Secondly, he says that he has to go and live there in person. 

• Third, the prince has to create a new oligarchy state. The third was not very successful because in republics people are more active. 

There are greater haters, greater life, and more desire for revenge. Their lives are more active in the freedom that once it is lost, it leaves bright memory. Machiavelli suggests the princes should have harsh rules and punishments that will save the princes from their own ruin.

After that, Machiavelli talks about a private man who becomes a prince with his own virtue. Machiavelli suggests the princes use their ability to build their conquests because it will make a stronger foundation. A private man who makes himself a king of a new Kingdom must have virtue. He has to go and live there. Here, Machiavelli talks about the four greatest kings who had virtue and created their own kingdoms. They were Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus. For example, Moses received help from God, and he didn’t get the fortune.

However, he had the opportunity which was matter and form. The matter is the people, and the form is a new government, new rules, new gods, and a new army. The opportunity provides the matter, but the kings have to decide on the form. A great king has to take people from bad shape and slavery into freedom and good shape. This task is hard because the king introduces a new form.

Then, Machiavelli talks about armed prophets and unarmed prophets. He says that armed prophets won, and they were successful because they used force to make the people follow them. Examples of armed prophets are Mohammed, Moses, and David. Military force and punishment are effective ways to make people obey the prince. On the other hand, unarmed prophets did not win. For example, Jesus was killed by the Romans. He did not use force. He lost in the short term, but he won in the long term.

Machiavelli continues, and he talks about princes who gain territory with little trouble and maintain it with a lot of troubles. Here, he talks about the son of Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia. Cesare wanted to become the most powerful man among the Italians with the help of his father. Machiavelli shows how strong he was, and also what mistakes he made.

Machiavelli says that a prince can become successful when his power has a good strong basis. When princes get a territory with the help of someone, they have to work hard to create a strong foundation later, and this is a tough task. Cesare was good at establishing a stable foundation, but he couldn’t succeed, and it was not his fault because fortune did not favor him.

Alexander VI wanted to become the most powerful man in Italy. He used his son to do this. However, the issue was that everyone in Italy did not want such a powerful Pope. For instance, Venice and two leading families, Orsini and Colonna, hated Alexander.

Machiavelli suggests that if the existing powers are going to stop the prince from being powerful, the prince has to make troubles for them. He has to create disorder and increase his power. Cesare removed Colonna, but Orsini was still there. Machiavelli says that a prince can come to power by both force and fraud. The prince has to lie and trick those who prevent him from being powerful. Cesare started giving gifts to the head of the Orsini family. He invited them to a meeting in Sinigaglia. In the meeting, he killed all of them, and he started building his own army, and not to depend on other armies. Cesare made Remirro the governor of Romagna because Remirro was a cruel man. Cesare wanted to make peace and unique by making him a governor. When Remirro became the governor, peace and normal life came back to the region.

However, because Remirro was cruel, people hated him, so Cesare killed him. Cesare wanted to expand his territory more. He started seeking new alliances especially Spain, who had a problem with France. Cesare wanted to secure his position. However, when his father died, he was unable to win Spanish support, and he could not secure his position. Cesare had secured his position in three ways. He had ruined the families of deposed rulers, he had won over the Roman nobilities, and also he had got a large college of Cardinals that elects new popes. Cesare couldn’t win enough power and prestige. Cesare was between two powerful hostile armies, the French and the Spanish. Machiavelli says that Cesare made big mistakes at the end. He made Julius II the pope while Julius hated him. He did not secure the elections of Spanish cardinal (Ch.7, pg. 25).

Finally, Machiavelli talks about princes who acquire a territory with a crime. He gives two examples which are Agathocles in the city of Syracuse in Sicily and Liverotto da Fermo. Agathocles joined the military. He had great virtue and spirits. Machiavelli admires his skills and toughness. However, he had a bad reputation because he did bad things. He was a criminal. He used cruelty to acquire territories.

Like Agathocles, Liverotto da Fermo had great military skills. He wanted to become number one, so he killed everyone in his family. However, he died the way he got his power because he could not understand Cesare very well. Cesare called him for a meeting in Fermoy, and Cesare killed him there. Agathocles and Liverotto da Fermo came to power through infinite betrayal and cruelty. However, once they got power, they were quite safe because these cruelties were growing, and this is bad. They had to limit it, but they did not do that. It makes people not be safe or secure. The people will hate the leaders.

Machiavelli suggests that when there is civil disorder, princes should be tough, punish public people, restore law, and stop people who fight the prince. Once the threat is gone, the prince has to stop cruelty, and if he uses it wisely, it will be a virtue.

Conclusion :

To conclude, when we read “The Prince”, we see a lot of toughness, punishment, killing, and so on. It shows that a prince should have a dirty hand in politics. Machiavelli says that in politics leaders shouldn’t be nice if they want to be successful, and because of that Machiavelli criticizes Christianity. There shouldn’t be any religious explanation in politics because they will happen for reason and experience. The explanations should be secular.

Christianity teaches people to be moral, people shouldn’t lie, keep the promises, and be a nice guy, however, Machiavelli is against that.

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