POLS*2000 – Lecture #6 (After Midterm)
Thursday October 17 , 2013
Machiavelli, The Prince
• The first modern Political philosopher who separates himself from the thoughts of the ancients.
Topics to be covered
• Letter to Vettori (December 10, 1513)
• Dedicatory Pref
• Variety of other chapters
He held a very high ranking political position
• 1479-1492 The Medici family are the rulers
• In 1494 the Medici are expelled
• 1494-1498 a Dominican Friar holds power named Savonarola.
• 1498-1512 Florence now becomes a republic under Soderini. This is important because under this
republic Machiavelli holds office.
• After this the Medici return, and Machiavelli is no longer in power. His name shows up on a list of
popular conspirators who plan to kill Medici, and he is therefore imprisoned, tortured and eventually
sent to exile. From 1513 on he writes his written works, The Prince, The Discourses and the Art of
• The Prince is a manual on how to rule. He writes it in exile because being away from office pains him
and he wants to return.
Letter to Vettori
• Machiavelli is so desperate to get back to political life that he is even willing to work underneath the
Medici people, and says it when writing to Vettori in this letter.
• Even though these people tortured him, he wants it so desperately.
Gifts were supposed to be given to the Prince when they were brought in to rule, but Machiavelli does not have
much gold or possessions. Instead, he approaches the Prince and tells him that he will give him this book (The
Prince) because it will give him the knowledge that he needs to rule. This is kind of ballsy because Machiavelli
(a commoner, even though he had a political position) is a kind of commoner, and is telling the Prince how he
should rule, or at least trying to give him advice. This is not really a gift, and is more like a glorified job
application. Machiavelli is generally regarded as a teacher of evil. However this does not mean he is going to exert
cruelty on the people. It instead means that if you are a ruler or a prince, Machiavelli believes that you have to
learn to not be good.
Machiavelli being a revolutionary – how is this possible while he is in exile? He wanted to undermine the
Holy Roman Empire. He wanted to undermine Christianity. Nothing should interfere with the rule of the
Machiavelli is a realist. In the Prince he is defending a new order of things. Today we would call it the modern
state, and Machiavelli is the creator of this concept. It is a separation from secularism (The Church).
Machiavelli is envisioning a state that has been separated from Religion and put in to the hands of Princes.
Machiavelli suggests that you imitate those that are most excellent. If you can’t reach that far, you can at least
approximate it. He includes people like Moses, Romulus and some others. What are so special about these
people? They are founders that created stuff out of nothing. They impose their own form and talents, combined
with their strength of mind to demonstrate their excellency or Virtu (Not to be confused with Virtue).
Machiavelli wants to conquer in terms of re-evaluating terms that are traditionally used. Redefine the concepts
of good and evil.
According to Machiavelli, good is only possible because of the prior existence of evil. Even the greatest goods,
such as the founding and preservation of cities often require murder and other evils to have occurred before.
Cold and cruel calculation is often needed to found regimes. Normal politics depends on periods of crisis,
instability and revolution.
Virtu is manly self-assertion, veracity, ruthlessness, the calculated use of cruelty to achieve ones ends.
In Chapter 7, Machiavelli presents a real life example of Virtu. Chezere Borgia presents the Machiavellian idea
of Virtu. Chezere is the model for Princes who lack the skill and know how to maintain the state themselves.
Borgia ordered someone to go in to Romana and clean it up. Borgia told him to do whatever it takes to make it
peaceful, and as a result he kills people and so on to clean it up. Borgia now realizes that this guy is now hated
for his actions, and he realizes that he should go himself and frame his de