Few books have retained their verve and influence for more than half a millennium and Machiavelli’s “The Prince” has become a yardstick of socio-political perceptions of successive generations and has impacted every generation in every respect of the world.
Though the Prince was written in 1513 by Niccolo Machiavelli but it is still regarded as one of the most crucial yet controversial works in the field of governance particularly exercise of executive power that is widely known to point out the implications of this very powerful authority.
Though the Prince holds Machiavelli’s observations and reflections on Italian political history but is actually applicable in the universal scheme of things.
It was written in response to the decay of the Italian states system and it was designed specifically to captivate and transform its readers into appreciating, analyzing and adopting Machiavelli’s perspective and it was initially written and dedicated to Lorenzo De Medici, the ruler of Florence.
The author apparently was specific about his subject but unconsciously was addressing the larger matrix of subject and was prescient enough to deal with uncanny clarity of mind and brilliance of his arguments.
The sagacity of his perception was extremely profound and its ideas are still applicable in today’s societies.
Machiavelli’s goals and views as perceived seem to be in contrast with the humanist beliefs and teachings of his time.
As in his book he promotes a secular society and felt morality should be set aside as it obstructed power. He reflects that a prince should not consider whether his acts are moral or immoral while he acts in the favour of the state.
To achieve that, states goals must be the primary focus for a prince. If a prince acts immorally to achieve the states’ goals then it does not reflect his personal standards or beliefs, as it is a role that he plays for the state.
The effect of fortune on government and the course of humanity is an important theme in the book as Machiavelli believed that fortune played a major part in at least half of men’s actions.
The force of fortune was so strong that it was mentally in the back of every man’s mind, but there were steps that could be taken to lower the effect.
Furthermore, Machiavelli holds a very low opinion of most people and thinks they have been selfish towards the state. He concludes from his observations that men are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers.
He points out that they will accompany you when you are privileged and abandon or turn against you at the time of danger.
A prince therefore must be cautious while interacting with the people but should have a favourable standing amongst them.
The Prince was written and completed by Machiavelli in response to Italy’s persistent political problems and the emergence of a new rule in Florence. Therefore, with these two situations at hand, Machiavelli carefully devised the book and accordingly with precision.
The book was primarily focused on the responsibilities, aims and objectives that a new prince should concentrate upon. To explain his arguments, Machiavelli draws out examples from various historical episodes and his political experience.
He stresses in his book that political leaders should seek solutions from the past in order to cure current problems. His opinion revolved around that fact that instead of evolution and progress there was repetition as a recurring cycle of events shaped history.
This perception was obviously contrived and it can be seen reflected in most of Machiavelli’s arguments in the book that somewhat weakens his arguments to an extent. He further concludes that men throughout history have been selfish and cheats. They are not worthy of any lenience and therefore should be treated with the same measures as in the past.
This deduction still holds true in many respects though the social consciousness has steadily progressed with the passage of time debating the book’s central premise. However, in vast areas of the so-called civilised world the essential attributes as described by Machiavelli desire a lot to be altered.
The Prince has elicited more than its share of criticism but plainly enough it has been criticised both positively and negatively. Some have praised Machiavelli for his realism and irony in a subtle manner.
On the other hand, he is acclaimed for having his work seen as supporting a republican form of government by exposing the faults of princedoms and is praised for his ability to separate political from moral issues.
Machiavelli can also be seen as naïve, promoting fraud, force and immorality in politics, using beneficial ends to justify evil means and betraying republican ideals.
However, there is also a departure from classical models to a more humanist approach, when Machiavelli urges rulers to take on the characteristics of animals by using force when the situation requires.