1513 AD The Prince

Machiavelli wrote The Prince in 1513, within a few years of Erasmus’ The Education of a Christian Prince.  Different sources site slightly different dates for the books, so I’m not sure which was written first, but the two books couldn’t be more different.

Niccolo Machiavelli was born in 1469, and lived during a tumultuous time in Italy’s history.  The Medici Bankers, Italy’s ruling class, had been in charge for 60 years or so.  Niccolo’s entire family worked against them in order to obtain a republic form of government for their country.  The introduction to my book, written by Christian Gauss, says:

“An earlier member of the [Machiavelli] family had actively opposed the rise of the Medici bankers to power and had died in prison for his pains.  The Medici had established a relatively mild despotism which, while allowing older republican forms to persist, retained for themselves the substance of power.  None of the Machiavelli’s favored the Medici.  Niccolo’s father was a lawyer, and both father and son regarded themselves as republicans.”

Doesn’t this kinda remind you of the Empire vs. the Galactic Republic in Star Wars?  Anyway, after lots of political happenings that I don’t completely understand, the Medici’s lost power and the republic was reformed.  Here’s another excerpt from the introduction, as it explains things very well:

“…Machiavelli was elected Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence, which had charge of foreign and military affairs.  He was influential in shaping policy and there could be no higher tribute to his political competence than the fact that he was sent on twenty-four missions, including four to the King of France, several to Rome and one to the Emperor Maximilian.  After thirteen years of service, another turn of the political kaleidoscope brought the French back to Florence.  The Florentines, in panic, recalled the Medici, and Machiavelli in his turn was exiled.”

When the Medici’s came back, they arrested Niccolo for conspiracy, tortured him, and then exiled him.  While in exile, he wrote his works, The Prince being dedicated to Lorenzo Medici, the then-current ruler.

Machiavelli’s life work, as well as some of his other writings, would indicate that The Prince is more of a satirical work, perhaps quite bitter in spirit.  Interesting that Machiavelli’s name has come to be synonymous with ideas that quite possibly were the opposite of what he believed.

I did not read the entire book, even though it is very short.  I found the history behind it much more interesting.  But here is Machiavelli’s recipe for keeping control of a foreign land that you have conquered, just to give you an idea of the type of thought process found in The Prince.

First, uproot a few of the natives and establish colonies.  The uprooted people are now homeless beggars, so they won’t be able to do anything about it, and everyone else is pretty much left alone, so they either won’t care enough to do anything, or will be afraid of having their own homes appropriated and out of fear will do nothing.  Setting up garrisons does not work as well as establishing colonies.  First, there’s the cost of maintaining troops.  Second, this strategy goes against the rule that men must either be caressed or annihilated.  If you offend or injure (say, by placing troops in their town) men will exact vengeance.  To keep the peace you must either caress a man (give him whatever he wants) or annihilate him (make him a homeless beggar or afraid of becoming such).  So what do you say to that?