Men have less hesitation about offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared, for love is held together by a chain of obligation which, because men are sadly wicked, is broken at every opportunity to serve their self-interest, but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never abandons you.
So says Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, his most famous opus. This political treatise was written in 1532 to Lorenzo de Medici, the then-ruler of the Florentine Republic, as advice on how to be a successful ruler whilst in prison. However, Medici disregarded the majority of Machiavelli’s advice, and ultimately exiled Machiavelli from Florence. Notwithstanding, The Prince is still followed by many leaders, whether political or not, and has miscellaneous uses and interpretations in many fields besides politics, such as business, law, and even science to a certain extent.
The Prince is a guide on how to obtain and retain power. He asserts that human nature is selfish and that social conflict is a natural phenomenon which aids in determining the best type of government. It primarily discusses the duties and struggles of a sovereign’s authority, with each chapter discussing a different aspect. Machiavelli is often concise and straight-to-the-point with his ideologies, often referencing them in later chapters. He also often uses historical examples to justify his claims. For instance, Machiavelli claims that utilizing help from auxiliary forces is futile and gives the example of Julius II and how, by entrusting help from France, received Swiss and Gascon troops in order to capture a territory. However, the Swiss and Gascon troops rebelled and the campaign was thus unsuccessful.
The chapters in The Prince are short and succinct, but carry a mammoth significance. For example, Machiavelli devotes one chapter just on a sovereign’s duty as a military commander. However, it is rather short; yet, the significance of the chapter is quite profound. For example, Machiavelli says that in order for a sovereign to be a successful military leader, he must survey and acquaint his army with the surrounding landscape and terrain of the location of the campaign. Moreover, many maxims can be derived from such chapters, such as “it’s better to be feared than loved” and “it’s better to look like you’re honest rather than being honest.”
Many leaders have followed Machiavelli, and the term “Machiavellian” was coined to describe somebody whose ideologies bear resemblance to Machiavelli’s propositions as presented in The Prince. It can also mean someone who is cunning and deceptive, two adjectives commonly used to describe Machiavelli and this treatise. His influence can be seen in the founding fathers and many presidents of the United States, many autocrats such as Napoleon, Stalin, and Mussolini, other philosophers such as Rousseau, Francis Bacon, and in the recent centuries, Nietzsche, and much, much more people. His propositions are applicable in virtually any setting that involves control or authority, and will see their destiny as per the current circumstances, e.g. the governmental environments of the three aforementioned autocrats or even the work environment of a business.
I would recommend The Prince to people who aspire to obtain power, general readers, and lovers of classic world literature and political philosophy. The edition which I read was translated by Wayne A. Rebhorn from Barnes & Noble Classics. As I have never read other translations of The Prince, nor have I read the original Italian version, I cannot say that this translation is the best. However, it read smoothy and pleasingly. The comprehensive footnotes significantly help in clarifying historical allusions, and the lengthy introduction enlightens new readers of Machiavelli by introducing the politics of 16th-century Italy, Machiavelli’s personal state of affairs, and other helpful clarifications which help demystify the political treatise. The feature which I found nifty was the inclusion of three additional oeuvres by Machiavelli, including excerpts from Discourses on Livy, another work of political philosophy. I also give a huge shout-out to my local library for possessing a copy of this masterpiece. #VisitYourLocalLibrary today!