Lecture 12: Machiavelli, The Prince (Chapter 1-9)
Outline of the Lecture
1. Biographical Info, Important Dates, Intellectual Context
2. The Prince: Machiavelli’s personal context – a diplomat without a posting
3. Chapters 1-9
a. Heredity vs. new principalities
b. On the nature of political friendship (M’s critique ofAristotle’s Ethics)
c. The Roman view of politics/war vs. the contemporary view of politics/war
d. Centralized vs. decentralized principalities
e. New principalities acquires through skill vs. new principalities acquire
f. Coming to power through wicked actions vs. coming to power through the
support of one’s citizens
Machiavelli: Important Dates
1469: M. born on May 3 in Florence
1498: M. is elected head of the Second Chancery and soon thereafter secretary of the Ten
of War, the body in charge of the military and diplomatic affairs of Florence
1500: M. travels to the French court of Louis XII
1503: M. is in Rome to observe the Papal Conclave that results in the election of Julius II
1513: M. is arrested, incarcerated and tortured for suspected involvement in a conspiracy
against the newly installed Medici regime. M. Writes The Prince in the second half of
this year. During his forcer retirement, M. writes history and drama.
1527: M. dies on June 21
1532: First printing of the Prince
1559: M.’s works are places on the Papal Index of Prohibited Books
The Prince: Machiavelli’s personal context – a diplomat without a posting
• He tries to distill his experience into the basic fundamental laws of politics
• In order to be a good ruler, one need not and ought not be good. Good in the sense
of abiding by the strengths of conventional morality.
• The use of political power should be used by someone who is virtuous – this is
what was taught at the time Machiavelli was growing up
• Machiavelli rejects this moralistic view of authority
• Power not goodness gives on the right to command but goodness does not assure
The Prince: Chapters One and Two
How many types of states are there?
Heredity: When the rulers’ancestors have long been rulers (e.g. Florence under the
New: They are either entirely new (e.g. Milan in 1450) or they are added on to the
hereditary state of the ruler who acquires them (e.g. Naples added onto Spain.) Republics
Those regimes used to living under freedom, i.e. those regimes governed by the popular
government. M. Puts these regimes aside: “I have discusses them elsewhere.” He says i.e.
his Discourses on Livy)
How are regimes acquired? through fortune or through strength.
• People willingly change their ruler thinking that the change will be for the better
• In Chapter 2, the news for heredity prices was very good but all of a sudden in
Chapter 3, it turns very bad.
• The one thing Machiavelli suggests the usurp should do, in chapter 3, is whip out
all of its relatives. You take them to a seller and shoot them. To get a secure hold
on power, one needs to eliminate all the people in the family of power.
On the nature of friendship
Aristotle on friendship: “Each of them is both good without qualification and good for his
friend, since good people are both good without qualification and advantageous for each
other” (1156b 13-16)
Machiavelli on friendship: “It is in the nature of things that as soon as a foreign power
enters into a region, all the local states that are weak rally to it […] The Romans were
friendly towards the weaker rulers without building up their strength…” (Chapter 3)
• People become friends because each anticipates some good for him.
• Friendships only exist so long as the common interest that created them also
continues to exist.
• Every friendship is also potentially a relation of conflict.
• Friendship is viewed as more important than interest. It’s viewed as caring for a
friend as much as caring for yourself.
• Afriendship transcends relations of utility. This is the conventional teaching
Machiavelli tries to say in Chapter 3.
• Friendship for Machiavelli is a means to the good.
• M. believes that life is too shot and the only reason why you should be friends
with them is based on the standard “what have you done for me lately” or “what
will you do for me soon”
• The Prince forces the readers to see the evil truth about morality
Machiavelli turns to ancient politics to show us that politics is about looking at examples
of how to do and not to do things.
Romans and Louis
The main example of how not to do things in Chapter 3 is Louis the 12 , and the Romans
are the example of how to act. Somehow the romans did everything right, while Louis
did everything wrong.
Counsel of war Swift, decisive resort to force
Pre-emptive view of politics and war; make bad things happen to others
Act as if men are bad
The usefulness of deception
Counsel of peace
Soft power, i.e. expanding your influence by trying to benefit others
Placing your trust in fortune and in the honesty and good will of others
Act as if men are good
The necessity of honesty, charity, mercy, forgiveness, etc
• He is characterized by his desire to do good and put off war
• He is described as “squeamish”
What explains the difference between Romans and Louis? Christianity, of course.
• It’s Louis Christianity that makes him such an incompetent king. He trusted his
fellow men and god. He tried to keep his faith.
• Machiavelli shows us these are very bad habits in a prince.
• The ideals of Christianity are charity, mercy, sacrifice, love of god, forgiveness of
enemies, faith, life hereafter etc. but these so called “virtues” is what undermines
a stable and orderly community
• There’s also the power of the church as an institution.
• Louis wanted to divorce his wife: she had failed to provide the kingdom with
heir, he ought to divorce and marry someone who could produce him with a child
• He couldn’t do this though because he needed the pope’s permission.
• He also wanted to make his favorite advisor a cardinal.As long as the church had
an influence in France, it was necessary for Louis to gain some influence in the
Chapter 4: Centralized vs. Decentralized Principalities
Centralized: Power is centralize in the hands of one centr