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Essay: Is Machiavelli relevant in today’s society?

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Niccolo Machiavelli a political philosopher who wrote “The Prince” has a unique relationship with the subject that he wrote about. Machiavelli wrote his book as a manual on leadership and governing during the late Italian Renaissance. The book was also served as a handbook for the rulers. Niccolo says that he was not interested in writing about ideal republics or utopias. There are many reasons why Machiavelli is unique and different from his peers. In order to read his work and critiquing, the reader must fully understand and account the special factors and the relationship to his subject.

Piero Soderini was elected chief magistrate of Florence. Machiavelli quickly earned his favor. Machavelli achieved his military goals with his influence over the leader of Florence. One goal Machiavelli pushed for was the formation of a state militia. He believed that troops from your own land would be more loyal troops as compared to troops of various backgrounds. A council in charge of the militia was formed and Machiavelli was then later on elected the leader for his militia.

In 1508, Machiavelli got an opportunity to test his new militia. Florence decided to recapture Pisa and Machiavelli went to the front lines to command his troops. In June 1509, the city of Pisa was recaptured with success. Pisa was primarily owed to Machiavelli’s militia. In 1512 in Pisa there were many events that added up which resulted in an attack by Pope Julius II in Florence. After the war, Soderini was removed from the office and the Medici family took control of Florence. Machiavelli was removed from office when this happened due to Soderini being removed from office. Early in 1513, an anti-Medici conspiracy was found. Machiavelli unfortunately was accused of being an accomplice. He claimed he was innocent throughout prison. Finally, Machiavelli was released though restrictions. Machiavelli then went to live outside of Florence at a house he had inherited from his father. During this time Machiavelli wrote The Prince.

Machiavelli claimed The Prince to serve as a guide to creating and holding on to a principality, in ways that often benefited the people, though perhaps indirectly. Machiavelli remembered how well off the French were because they were united under one prince, and he wanted the same for Italy for he was patriotic and prized his freedom.

Machiavelli also intended the book to bring him back into favor with the Medici family, so he might regain his government posts and begin to enact some of his ideas. The Prince is dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, who was called “il Magnifico”. When Duke Lorenzo de’ Medici, who did not favor him died, and Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici came to rule Florence, the Cardinal had Machiavelli elected official historian of Florence. After five years he presented Pope Giulio de’ Medici with his eight-volume work Istorie fiorentine, for which he received 120 florins. In 1526, he joined the Pope’s army in the attack of the Holy Roman empire until its end in 1527. He then returned to Florence where he found the republic formed again, after failing to gain his old post in the government, he fell ill and died.
 Today we know him as one of the founders of philosophy of history and one of the first to create a political science based on the studying of historical actions. Machiavelli is also remembered for his historical and political writings, short stories, and comedies. Today we describe those who do bad deeds for the sake of political power as Machiavellian and their views as Machiavellianism, both words coming originally from the French.

Machiavelli politics was strictly bonded with ethics. Ethics which is the moral behavior of individuals, and politics being defined as the morality of individuals in social groups or organized communities. Machiavelli was the first theorist to divorce politics which he decided to do on his own. Machiavelli examined politics in a detached manner. He then analyzed ways that power could be acquired and maintained. In either situations he believed it will be a political success or failure. Although he was concerned about the situation being a failure or success, he was not concerned about the moral and political obligation or the political concepts. A conception of a good society informs most of his political writings.

His approach to writing stems more so from non philosophical writers as compared to philosophical writers.  This is also due to the increasing conceptualization of government policy. In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick, Philip iv of France, and Italian legalists held that the security and well-being of the state at times necessitated social acts which under ordinary circumstances would be considered morally reprehensible.

The Prince is unique, not because it explains how to take control of other lands and how to control them, but because it gives advice that often disregards all moral and ethical rules. About this Machiavelli states that “Because how one ought to live is so far removed from how one lives that he who lets go of what is done for that which one ought to do sooner learns ruin than his own preservation: because a man who might want to make a show of goodness in all things necessarily comes to ruin among so many who are not good. Because of this it is necessary for a prince, wanting to maintain himself, to learn how to be able to be not good and to use this and not use it according to necessity.”   The advice is not the common advice given to mayors, senators, presidents, and others in public office. Still, we know that the advice is practical and will best get the official more power or give the republic less problems.

Machiavelli goes so far to say that a prince does not need fortresses if your people really love you and would give you safe refuge in times of war. He then shows this in an example of a countess whose people did not give her refuge “In our times, one does not see that they [fortresses] have profited any prince, if not the countess of Forlì, when count Girolamo, her consort, was killed; because by means of it she was able to flee the people’s attack and wait for help from Milan, and take back the state. And the circumstances then were such that the foreigner could not help the people; but later, when Cesare Borgia attacked, the fortresses were worth little to her, and her hostile people joined with the foreigner. Therefore, then and before, it would have been more secure for her not to be hated by the people than to have had a fortress”

In order to understand his readings, you have to understand all of the subjects that he is writing about and everything that he writes about has a meaning behind it.  The Prince is different from other books about creating and controlling principalities because because it does not tell you what an ideal prince or principality is.  Machiavelli creatively explains through examples, which princes are the most successful in obtaining and maintaining power. Machiavelli draws his examples from personal observations made while he was on diplomatic missions for Florence and from his readings in ancient history. His writing has the mark of the Renaissance upon it because his text with Latin phrases and many examples are drawn from Classical sources.

The Prince offers political instruction about conquering local competitors and maintaining control over them. He recommends employing any means possible as exemplified in violet passages such as “And having taken this for his opportunity, he [Cesare Borgia] had him [Remora de Orco, a very loyal supporter of Borgia] placed in the square in Cesena, one morning, in two pieces with a piece of wood and a bloody knife beside him. The ferocity of which spectacle left those peoples at once satisfied and stupefied.”

In order to read his work, the reader must fully understand and account for the special factors and the relationship to his subject. While reading Machiavelli, there is a lot to take in and to consider.  The Prince is also a practical book because it does not tell the reader what the ideal prince and principality is. It tells the reader in great depth what actions and qualities have enabled a prince to best rule a certain principality. Machiavelli’s reasoning was correct in this because this was the time when frequent war and advice on the art of war was needed.  An issue of debate is whether Machiavelli is still relevant or merely of historical interest. Some traditions were disliked by Machiavelli, but he recognized them as inherent to human interaction.  People have not changed, and governments, although being very difficult is service to justice and rule of law continue to turn against their neighbors and their own people with regularity.  Machiavelli is just as relevant in today’s society.  Some details may need revisiting due to its age but the message still remains vital. When reading Machiavelli, one must grasp the relationship between the subject and the writer in order to fully understand the picture Machiavelli is trying to portray.


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