Why Machiavelli Wrote the Prince

A photo of the manuscript

If Machiavelli were here right now, I wonder how might he explain his writing of The Prince? Many such as textbooks like A History of Western Society would claim that Machiavelli is trying to provide a how-to guide on political power and that “As a good humanist, he explores the problems of human nature and concludes that human beings are selfish and out to advance their own interests.” (McKay 415)

Mary Dietz, a professor at Northwestern University, makes a more interesting claim. In her book Trapping the Prince: Machiavelli and the Politics of Deception, she exposes the contradictory ideas from Machiavelli’s other works, his life, plain common sense and shoots down the idea that The Prince was political commentary. Instead, she claims that the book was written to trick Lorenzo de Medici into following bad advice. She says, “Machiavelli could not have been writing a book for republicans, because he never intended that they read it” (Dietz 779). According to her, Machiavelli only sent his manuscript to his contact at the Medici palace, it was never meant for the public. I personally wonder how Machiavelli made a contact at the palace and how the book was spread to begin with. Wouldn’t allowing the public to read the book have been another good way of taking down the prince? I’ve heard of other scholars pondering the reasons for the book’s creation, but never like it was a conspiracy.

But watch out, Prof. Deitz, here comes Macaulay. From looking at Machiavelli’s other works, he says that even though Machiavelli shows loathing of monarchies and tyrannies, he would have grasped at any government to hold Florence together. Macaulay challenges the theory that Machiavelli did not believe what he wrote and says,“We doubt whether it would be possible to find, in all the many volumes of his compositions, a single expression indicating that dissimulation and treachery had ever struck him as discreditable.”

Although it would be more desirable to think The Prince was a trick and the monarchy is not quite so bad, the ideas Machiavelli introduces seem like sound advice. His view that a ruler must be ruthless makes sense because a good ruler would not want to appear weak to enemies.

Works Cited:

McKay, John P., Bennett D. Hill, John Buckler, Clare Haru Crowston, and Merry E. Wieser-Hanks. A History of Western Society. 9th ed. B. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. Print.

Dietz, Mary G. “Trapping the Prince: Machiavelli and the Politics of Deception.” American Political Science Review. 80.3 (1986): 777-799. Web. 2

Peries, J.V., ed. “Modern History Sourcebook: Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859): Essay on Machiavelli, 1850.” Fordham University . Paul Halsall, 1998. Web. 13 Feb 2012. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1850Macaulay-machiavelli.asp&gt;.

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8 comments

  1. amandagowithit

    I do like the point that you added that Machiavelli seemed to have been writing a how to guide on political power, but with all the other things he seemed to have mention in it, do you still think that all the ideas were to tie back to “government”?

    • erinwritesagain

      Thank you for your comment!
      There is one theory that Machiavelli was writing in order to show a reality of human nature. From the perspectives of the articles I read, this idea doesn’t make sense because Machiavelli wasn’t writing to the people. Machiavelli would have realized that The Prince would have been interpreted politically, so I think it is safe to assume the book was intended to bring about some kind of social reform. What other things are you referring to?
      Thanks for reading!
      -Erin

      • amandagowithit

        I still wonder why would he focus on just the idea of government in his most famous book, but not show any of his other ideas. Do you think he could have written it not knowing that it was going to become so popular?

    • Thanks for commenting Amanda. I definitely think that Machiavelli had no idea his book would become so popular. These theories aren’t definite, and they could always be wrong. However, since he did not spread his book around, and only sent it to his contact at the palace, I think he must have wanted the effects to be political. I’m still a little unclear about what you mean by “other ideas.” Do you have some examples?
      Thank you,
      Erin

  2. harperlarp

    Erin: What an interesting interpretation! When I read “The Prince”, I didn’t see a conspiracy at all, but looking at the history behind it, it seems like a plausible conclusion. However, I’m still wondering what YOUR opinion on the matter is; why do YOU think Machiavelli wrote “The Prince”?

    • erinwritesagain

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading my post! I like the idea that Machiavelli wrote his book in order to influence Lorenzo de Medici even though it sometimes seems far fetched. It sounds logical that if he only sent his work to the palace, he only intended for it to be read there. Even though I agree with Macaulay that Machiavelli probably did not secretly condemn the manipulation he condones in his writing, I think the logic he uses has been twitched just slightly to make the conclusions faulty.
      Thank you for your comment.
      -Erin

  3. austin0907

    I never would have thought of Machiavelli’s writings like this if you hadn’t done the research you did! However, if Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” as a trick, why have all these scholars done such extensive studies on it if it really had no true meaning?

  4. erinwritesagain

    I’m happy to hear you liked my post Austin! I’m not really sure what you mean by “had no true meaning.” Even if Machiavelli’s writings weren’t meant to expose the evils of human nature, the book still affected the public. There have been many different interpretations of “The Prince,” so it is all the more famous for it’s controversies. Whether Machiavelli intended it to have an effect or not doesn’t negate the fact that it did. The work itself definitely has meaning, but the reaction is also important.
    Thank you for commenting.
    -Erin

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