Machiavelli's Virtuous Society

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Machiavelli intended The Prince to serve as a guide to creating and holding on to a principality. In it, he also characterizes a "good" society and the necessary tools for building one. Although Machiavelli conceives the republic as being the most practical form of government, he reasons that it is still possible to create a good society under a monarchy, as long as the leader of the monarchy follows the stipulated guidelines. Machiavelli realized that humans are predisposed to act perniciously and therefore it is the responsibility of the prince to exploit that nature in a way that will benefit society as a whole. In this way, Machiavelli's prince is an ideal crafted from the actual, rather than an actual crafted from the ideal.

Machiavelli saw himself as a practical person and believed society should be handled in a practical, effective way. "The principal foundations of all states are good laws and good armies." (Machiavelli, 115) It is the duty of the prince to lay out these firm foundations. Good laws are conditions set for an orderly life. Good armies are troops composed of the state's own citizens, not foreign mercenaries who lack the spirit of soldiers defending their own lands. It is important for a state to be self-sufficient and independent.

Machiavelli goes on to define specifically the different characteristics an effective prince must possess in order for the society to be good. The all-encompassing term Machiavelli uses for the prince's various necessary traits is "virtu." A ruler in possession of "virtu," while not completely free from the possible negative effects of fortune, is in far better position to deal with whatever circumstances may arise.

Intellect is a key aspect of the concept of virtu. A keen intellect will aid a ruler in search of greatness while ignorance will allow for misfortune and poor decisions. History should be studied rigorously and the actions of great men emulated. A smart ruler has advantages in all respects of...
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