Because of what is going on in the world, books such as Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, and The Prince have regained popularity. I decided to republish my summary of The Prince (First published in June 2010). Although The Prince is about the rise and fall of countries; getting and keeping power; and the end justifies the means, you can use this as a metaphor for rise and fall of companies, rise and fall of industries, getting and keeping a job. I am sure you could identify other metaphors for yourself.
Introduction: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
I read and reviewed The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli which was written over five hundred years ago. And, it always amazes me how some books that are timeless classics are still relevant today. The Prince is one such book. I firmly believe we can use some of yesterday’s ideas to solve today’s problems if we step back in time and take a look at some of those classics. For those who like videos, I’ve found some YouTube Videos created by AntiGroupThink, which I have included.
After you read The Prince for yourself, or at the very least watch the five short YouTube videos, ask and answer the following three questions:
- Does the end ever justify the means? And if yes, in what situations?
- How do you get power and how do you keep it?
- Is power the end all and be all?
What is The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli About?
Niccolo Machiavelli worked in politics from 1498 to 1512, but his political career ended in shame, with him being arrested and imprisoned for 22 days. Machiavelli refers to Lorenzo Medici as the Prince. In his forced absence from politics, Machiavelli wrote The Prince hoping that given his republican credentials, he would be re-employed with the Medicis, thus returning to a position of power.
The Prince was written nearly 500 years ago, but some of the ideas are still relevant today. In The Prince, Machiavelli deals with the rise and fall of states, and the measures that a leader can take to ensure the states’ continued existence. The author’s focus is on how societies actually work. The book is very technical, and focuses on how to grasp and hold power, and offers advice on what worked and what did not work in advancing a political career.
For example, Machiavelli states “A man who is made prince by the favour of the people must work to retain their friendship; and this is easy for him because the people ask only not to be oppressed.
But a man who has become prince against the will of the people and by the favour of the nobles should, before anything else, try to win the people over; this too is easy if he takes them under his protection… it is necessary for a prince to have the friendship of the people; otherwise he has no remedy in times of adversity.”
Machiavelli was nicknamed “Old Nick,” another name for Satan, and the Jesuits called him “the Devil’s partner in crime.” While reading The Prince, I was often very shocked because some sections are very dark. However, once you get past that, it is filled with many parallels and contrasts to today. If you dig beneath the surface of what he is saying, the information can be transported to our time and used.
“As for intellectual training, the prince must read history, studying the actions of eminent men to see how they conducted themselves during war and to discover the reasons for their victories or their defeats, so that he can avoid the latter and imitate the former. Above all, he must read history so that he can do what eminent men have done before him….”
We could make this more relevant to us by interpreting it to mean that we must read history and study the actions of successful men and women to discover the reasons for their successes and failures to imitate their successes.
Machiavelli’s political thesis can be summed up as “I also believe that the man who adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise that the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the times does not.”
YouTube video of The Prince, Part One of Five. If you cannot view the video click here.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: Five +2 Great Ideas
- When trouble is sensed well in advance, it can easily be remedied; if you wait for it to show itself, any medicine will be too late because the disease will have become incurable. This means prevention is better than cure.
- Men willingly change their ruler expecting to fare better. That’s why we have political parties.
- When states are acquired in a province differing in language, in customs, and in institutions, then difficulties arise; and to hold them one must be very fortunate and very assiduous. One of the best, most effective expedients would be for the conqueror to go live there in person. This course of action would make a new possession more secure and more permanent.
- Whoever is responsible for another’s becoming powerful ruins himself, because this power is brought into being either by ingenuity or by force, and both of these are suspect to the one who has become powerful.
- Governments set up overnight, like everything in nature whose growth is forced, lack strong roots and ramifications. So they are destroyed in the first bad spell.
- A man who becomes a prince with the help of the nobles finds it more difficult to maintain his position than one who does so with the help of the people. As prince, he finds himself surrounded by many who believe they are his equals, and because of that he cannot command or manage them the way he wants
- Prosperity is ephemeral; if a man behaves with patience and circumspection, and the time and circumstances are right, he will prosper, however, if circumstances change and he doesn’t adapt his policy to reflect the change, he will be ruined.
Conclusion: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
I recommend that you read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli just to see how far, and sometimes not so far, that we’ve come. After you have read The Prince, what parallels can you make to events occurring in our world today? What are your great ideas?
Books by Niccolo Machiavelli
The Essential Writings of Machiavelli (Modern Library Classics)DiscoursesThe Art of WarThe New Machiavelli: New And Improved Machiavellian Concepts For The Modern AgeDiscourses on Livy (Oxford World’s Classics)
Some links are affiliate links.
Although The Prince was first published in 1532 (after his death), he wrote it in 1513. Machiavelli wrote his timeless classic to regain favor with the Medici family. The prince he refers to in his book, is Lorenzo Medici.
Pope Leo X, born Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, commissioned Niccolo Machiavelli, in 1519, “to draw up his report on a reform of the state of Florence.” Martin Luther wrote 95 Theses in response to Leo X selling indulgences, so there was a lot going on at once. The point I am trying to make, is that when we are reading the classics, it is good to know what was going on at the time, in the author’s external environment.
“In 1517, Luther posted his “95 Theses for an academic debate on indulgences on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg.”
The Theses went viral, and in 1518, he was called before Cardinal Cajetan, and commanded to renounce his theses, which he refused. “Here I stand. I can do no other.””
Related Post: Review of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses